Oh, I got going about this the other day. This got me going so much that I’m going to move blog posts around so that I can have this come out closer to what time it actually is. Oh boy. Here we go.
So it’s no secret, if you look back through the archives here at I Am Not Lost, that I have strong opinions about writing degrees, and if degrees make the author. (My opinion is no. My father is a published author, and his degree is in theatre. There are plenty of authors who didn’t study English or writing. But.) I have an MFA in Creative Writing. I chose this because I believe it was the best path for me. I can only speak for myself there. I don’t claim that it’s necessary, and sometimes it might even be unwise. But let’s talk specifics.
On Twitter the other day (this was Thursday night, the 9th) I came across a user who asked the following question to a well-known, popular, traditionally published author: “Any advice to an aspiring writer on choosing a university major? (Current plan is English because I love reading.)”
The author’s response? “English major = “Want fries with that?” 🍟. Pick something that will give you enough money to write what you want.”
I was livid. Steaming. So angry. Fastest way to set me off is by telling young writers this kind of bullshit. (And while I know you can go find who said this on Google, I won’t put their name here.)
Sure. Right now, I’m working as a server at a cafe/bistro. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not end goal material, but it’s helping to pay the bills while I look for something better. I have run into a problem of “being over-qualified” at too many interviews. Places where I’m applying to be a secretary. A receptionist. Basic, simple, customer service skills.
“You have a Master’s degree. Why are you looking here?” Because this is where my experience is. Because I want to be an author, and that requires having some kind of stable job to pay bills with. Because you’re looking to hire. I’ve been asked by people at my current job why I’m there, if I have a Master’s. “Because you hired me.” Go be a teacher, they say! Okay. If it were just that easy. I’ve applied. I’ve asked. I’ve tried.
And yet here I sit, working at a cafe, waiting tables. The classic starving artist, penniless and destitute.
But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have gotten my degrees. That doesn’t mean I did something wrong.
I would have been utterly miserable in a STEM-style degree. Science and math have never made much sense to me. Technology is great, but the specifics get way beyond me very fast. Engineering? You’ve got to be kidding. No one wants me to be an engineer. I’ll kill people, and be mortified. It wouldn’t work. I’ve been a writer since elementary school. I started my first serious writing endeavors when I was eleven. Had finished my first (rough) manuscript before I graduated high school. Had the beginnings of many, many more. I’ve done the National Novel Writing Month challenge every year since 2006, and won every year since 2008–and one year I wrote 50k words on TWO. DIFFERENT. BOOKS.
A writer is who I am. English was a foregone conclusion.
I’m not saying any of this to brag about my accomplishments. Anything I’ve done is small and insignificant. But once upon a time there was an English student like me, desperate to fund his education, working anywhere he could: janitor, gas station attendant, laundry worker. He did everything he could, just to get through that degree and do what he loved.
And now, Stephen King is one of the best known names in current genre literature.
Pick something that will give you enough joy to write what you want. Enough energy. Enough faith. Yes, enough money. But sometimes that means starting at the bottom. I’ve decorated cakes. I’ve waited tables, I’ve been a cashier. Stephen King pumped gas. I could go on, but I think you all get it. Very few of us get to just step off the education train with a brilliant degree and a job, and then have the benefit of being able to write in the evenings. Maybe you have to work two, three jobs just to keep a roof over your head. Maybe you went to school and got a degree in urban planning, and then had your plans fall out from under you, and in this economy, no one is looking for you.
Not everyone can be a nurse.
Not everyone can be a lawyer.
Not everyone can be a scientist, or a mathematician, or a biochemical engineer, or a behavioral ecologist.
Some of us have to be the servers, and the cashiers, and the actors.
Some of us need to do the rest your degrees have–according to you–made you too good for you to do.
Let your degree teach you how to think, not what to think. And don’t let anyone tell you that pursuing your dreams is a waste of your time.
Work hard. Play harder. Never give up, never surrender.
Follow your heart, and use your brain. The rest will follow.