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May 22, 2015

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Major Options for a Fiction Writer

For the 1st time ever I felt compelled to respond to a question on Yahoo Answers. That is the question was interesting enough and I had relevant advice to mention. The question was from someone who wanted to be a fiction writer who was asking advice on what she should major in in college, her aunt recommended Journalism which she’s not at all keen on and she’s thinking of going for a creative writing major. It sounds as though she’s serious about being a fiction writer and she mentions developing her writing skills as the key factor behind the urge to attend college. [view the question & other answers submitted]

The answer I submitted:

If you despise journalism do not under any circumstances study it as your major, you will only grow to hate it more as time passes. No offense to your knowledgeable aunt, but you are the one who would have to deal with the consequences of majoring in something you despise. I too loathe journalism, I took a journalism class once due to late registration, and will never be into doing that type of writing. Though I have nothing against doing a few interviews for my blog.

Some thoughts on how best to approach your dilemma:
* If you truly want to excel as a fiction writer, you may be better off not majoring in anything specifically writing related.
* College is very expensive. As far as majors go, creative writing is a not a particularly functional degree. 
* If you need to earn a living on a day to day basis and do not have the luxury of waiting for your writing to find it's place amongst the stars: you need more marketable skills (a more marketable degree) that will BOTH enhance your fictional writing goals and interests & be easy to use for a day job. The day job will likely be necessary for quite awhile while further honing your writing skills, completing your initial fictional novels (assuming novels will be your main format), and more to cover basic needs and bills.
* English & Writing classes have a tendency to attempt to systematically destroy all things a fiction writer loves, especially when taken on as a major.
* I also hear you can't do much with an English major; except maybe become an English or writing teacher. Though additional teaching certification is typically required. Perhaps being a creative writing teacher might be the way to pay the bills, perhaps major in teaching (or major in whatever is the most applicable relevant major for becoming a writing teacher is) and minor in creative writing. All while using your down-time and summer vacations to pursue a fiction writing career, it could be a good way to go. The discomfort of dealing with people would be offset by teaching the awesome creative writing classes. I personally found my semester long creative writing class in high school beyond beneficial.
* Buy books on writing, grammar, punctuation, techniques and so on. Read them and explore the methods and exercises within them on your own. Explore any facet of fictional writing that peeks your interest. Take notes about what you like and dislike while studying said books.
* While reading fiction pay close attention to the wordplay in the story and the ways in which the story is crafted and held together. Know what you like and what you dislike in the way the author told the story and strive to keep your own tastes in mind as you write your own stories. This is something no degree can offer and no teacher can teach you, yet it is extremely important to developing your skills as a writer.
* Take a creative writing class as an elective. And/ or add a creative writing correspondence course from a reputable source (check with the Better Business Bureau while selecting your correspondence school). And/ or try taking a creative writing class at a community college or via your local community center, or some such thing.
* The major that I think could be most beneficial in your situation- business. All the better to market your writing & manage your fictional writing career, and useful in numerous day job type fields, it has the added bonus of being a day job choice that will not overly deplete the creative juices you will need to pour into your fictional writing work.
* Also, psychology is a great minor for someone who is very interested in writing fiction. Knowing the psychological angles could really enhance your fiction writing so long as you avoid writing stuff that sounds pulled from some psych 101 tome. Additionally, it would compliment a business major. If you don't like dealing with people I would not opt to make the psychology your major. Though realistically, a psychologist is dealing with far less people on a regular basis than say a cashier at a grocery store and in a much more controlled environment too, not that I'd ever recommend psychologist as a day job for a fictional writer type. At the very least whatever minor you choose should be something that can enhance your writing.
* You might consider minoring in creative writing and choosing a more widely marketable skill for your major, in a field that will enhance your writing career.
* Join a creative writing support group or something similar.
* You might consider postponing college a bit longer or skipping it entirely, until after you have tried out many of the other less expensive things I have mentioned. If after trying those out creative writing is still your passion, then consider whether or not you want to go to college for it. A college degree really isn't necessary to be a fiction writer. If something in which a degree would be worth the money you'll spend on it sparks your interest later on down the road consider it then for that.
* According to Sherrilyn Kenyon, NY Times best selling author, paranormal romance, in an interview I saw awhile back (as well as other random writers and people in the publishing field) - there is more money in non-fiction. So be sure to learn those skills as well. Who knows you may enjoy doing something like writing non-fiction e-books to supplement your income, possibly even someday you might find yourself writing non-fiction books about fiction writing techniques.
* If the only reason you're are planning to go to college is to hone your writing skills then I'd recommend not going for any degree at this time. You'll hone them more by habitually writing, and perhaps auditing a couple of relevant classes, and many of the other things I've mentioned.

* I read the first page of the writing sample you included. I might read more later if I have time. I would say that you have solid grasp of many key writing fundamentals. Though you could use a bit more study of proper use of punctuation. In many instances the way you used punctuation I found distracted me and pulled me out of the story. Your punctuation became less distracting as I went down the page- illustrating nicely the principal that to write well one must simply keep writing. The story itself shows promise and potential. I loved the line about his hair looking ridiculous if he didn't "set it into palatability."

My job - Artist/ Writer, owner of Bent Realm Studios
My college experience - I was only able to attend for two months. Five years later I'm still paying that off and I'm not even close to finished. I did meet my fiancé, the love of my life because I went to the school I went to, when I went, majoring in what I majored in (which in fact was what I expected to get out of it, though I did think it would be a nice bonus if I got a nice career out of it too). The major had been Video Game Design. I also learned some valuable useful info while there that benefit my ultimate writing and art goals.
Correspondence course - art
I've been writing and drawing seriously since 1994, but I have only begun the genuine attempt to make a living with it this year. I wanted to do do something very specific with my work long before the means to do exactly as I wished even existed. I also wanted to develop my skills majorly prior to making this attempt. I prefer writing fiction but don't mind writing reference-centric non-fiction.

What would I have done differently- Practiced writing and drawing with specific goals and deadlines more often than I did.

I hope that helps even if in only a small way. Who knows, maybe it’ll help someone else even. But that’s my $20 on the matter (my two cents adjusted for inflation). And drat I just noticed that I accidentally used “you’re are,” bizarre how much difference the display makes in editing. I also just noticed what actually posted to Yahoo Answers was drastically cut short. That is incredibly irritating. The submission process did not indicate a character limit, nor did it inform me I had passed it. I’ll have to edit it to include a link to this post. World –1 Me- 0… wonder if it really is a good idea to start keeping score on that…my impulse would be to retro-count the score too. *sigh*

Writers, what have your experiences with the usefulness of college degrees been? Artists? Crafters? Makers? Who has stuff to add to what I said? Who has majored in creative writing? Did you graduate? What were you able to do with said creative writing degree? Who else has character limits make them randomly feel like beating a coconut to death? What other majors would you recommend for someone who wants to be a fiction writer?

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