Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What should I study if I want to be a writer?

Last Friday I spoke at a Career Day here in town. It's my second Career Day talk and my third school visit, and at each event I've been asked the question What's the best thing for me to study in school if I want to be a writer?

If you want to be an engineer, you study engineering. A teacher, teaching. But writing is funny.

I know very few writers who actually majored in creative writing. It's more common to come across those who studied English, but usually they intended to teach, not write.

The beautiful thing about writing is that whatever your life experiences are, you take them into your writing. Like John Grisham likely wouldn't write the way he does had he not been a lawyer. Or my friend Sarah Sundin - pharmacist by day, novelist by night.

What's great about this is that you're not going to screw up your chances for being a writer by choosing the wrong degree. It's not like getting your degree in hotel management and then deciding you want to be an architect.

If I had it all to do over again, I think I would have majored in English and minored in business/marketing. I say English because I'd like to be "better read" than I currently am, and business/marketing because being a novelist is like being a small business. It would be handy to have some formal education in business and not just be "winging it."

If you're interested in writing historicals, I'd look for my opportunities to take history classes. Medical thrillers? Study up on science.

So don't limit yourself to thinking being a writer means a degree in English or Creative Writing. In writing, you really benefit from being a well-rounded person. Gives you a better pallet for creating diverse characters.

Got a writing question? E-mail me. And if you've finished reading this post and thought, "Man, I really wished Stephanie had talked for longer," don't despair. I also blogged at Girls, God, and the Good Life today.


  1. This question played a huge part in my decision to attend "The Great Books School." I figured there was no better practice for writing great books than reading great books. =) So I've at least got the "well read" thing checked. The business and marketing . . . yeah, still figuring that part out, LOL.

    I love hearing about other careers led into the way an author writes, though. All those doctors and nurses writing medical dramas . . . and Tom Clancy was an insurance agent in MD, which the insurance agents I worked for in MD always reminded me of as I sat there typing up novels over my lunch break. =)

  2. OH, yea, I've asked this question to mum a lot... she suggested journalism. What do you think?:)

  3. Journalism was also suggested to me a couple times, Emii. I think it's a good option ... if it's something you'd be interested in doing.

    Over the weekend, I met a college girl who wants to be a writer but is studying social work right now and just taking a few writing classes here and there. If you can find another career you'd be interested in, it seems wise to get whatever degree you'd need for it, and just find opportunities for writing along the way.

    But again, there's really no wrong way to go about it.

  4. My official line in high school (because we had to have a career choice on record for our program of study) was journalism. However, one problem I had that dissuaded me from actually going that route was the need to stick to bare facts, LOL. I am SO a fiction writer--the truth just seemed so boring . . . I kept catching myself wanting to embellish. =)

  5. Same reason why I'm a louser journaler :)

  6. And maybe that's why so many stories are so stretched from the truth -- they're all destined to be fiction writers! :P

  7. Lol, Emii! I hadn't thought of that before.

  8. woah, totally needed someone to tell me that (well I actually read this but counts)! funny thing, I'm majoring in business management

  9. I'm so confused as to what will be of me after high school. I love writing, I love books, and just reading in general and this definitely helped me a lot. Thank you and good luck in everything to all of you!!(: