Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Question of College Majors

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I'm often asked what's the best college major for someone who wants to be a novelist. There is no right answer. I will say that most creative writing programs are not designed to help you get published. And most don't teach writing craft tips to help you improve at genre fiction. I've talked to writers who, after graduating with a bachelors in English or creative writing, still had to go to writers conferences before they got published. And it was at conferences that they learned how to improve their storytelling techniques.

But every author has a different story.

Here are a few authors who majored in English:
-Stephen King
-Douglas Adams
-Tom Clancy
-Arthur Miller
-Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel)
-Amy Tan
-Stephenie Meyer
-Dave Barry
-Toni Morrison
-John Updike

And here are a few authors who majored in another field:
-John Grisham was a lawyer.
-Michael Crichton studied medicine at Harvard.
-Robert Ludlum was working as a Broadway producer.
-Danielle Steel studied fashion design.
-J.K. Rowling majored in French.
-Larry Niven majored in math.

And there are plenty of authors who didn't go to college, but continually worked hard at their craft until they sold their first article or book. Here are a few:
-Mark Twain
-Jane Austen
-William Shakespeare
-Charles Dickens
-Agatha Christie
-Ray Bradbury
-the Bronte Sisters
-George Orwell
-H.G. Wells
-Jack London

In case you didn't know, I majored in fashion in college, hoping to someday start my own wedding gown design business. But if I were to go back in time, I think I'd have majored in marketing or business. When I started writing, I didn't realize that, should I succeed, I would become a small business owner and that marketing my "products" would be so very important. I think a business or marketing degree would have been useful. Or even accounting, though I shudder to think how agonizing an accounting degree would have been for me. I had one accounting class in college and that was more than enough.

What about you? Are you in college now? If so, what are you studying? And if you are still in high school, what are your college plans, if any?

64 comments:

  1. Wow, thanks for the post! I was just wondering about this last night. At the moment, I am thinking I will either get a degree in Creative Writing, English, or Journalism. There are some good colleges nearby, like K-State.
    Thanks, this is very helpful!

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    1. *shake head* KU is much better. :)

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    2. Oh, goodness. And I really liked you, Samuel... :)

      Actually, for writing, KU probably is a stronger school.

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    3. Uh oh. No fighting allowed here, guys. :-P

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    4. You brought the wildcats. *shudder* bleh :)

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    5. You said: "There are some good colleges nearby, like K-State." I was merely trying to affirm what I thought was brilliant decision making :)

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    6. KState is good for journalism I think, but other than that....eh...... :)

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    7. Oh Ms. Williamson, I believe these two need a time-out...

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  2. I want to get a double major in communications and political science and then go to law school. I would really like to get a triple major, because you have to pick a focus within communications and I would like to do both Mass Communications, which covers journalism and media production, as well as Public Relations & Strategic Communication, which covers PR, advertising, argumentation, & campaigns. If I don't go to law school, I think it would be really nice to work as a campaign manager or in public office if I can't stay at home and write.

    I would also like to minor in Econ, but we'll see what my parents have to say about that, because unless I'm taking 21 credit hours each semester, that will probably take 5 to 5 1/2 years of collage, and I'm not sure how my parents will fell about that.

    Thanks for the great post, Jill!

    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. That's funny b/c that is almost exactly what I want to do minus the communication because I have a pretty good handle on it since I have been competing in Speech and Debate for five years now. I wanted to either Major or Minor in Economics because I love economic principles and theories then I was talking to one of my friends and he was explaining just how much math there was in Econ and I decided I couldn't do it. Math sooo isn't my thing.

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    2. Nice, guys! I love that you're got a plan!

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  3. I intend to go for an English major and a minor in either marketing or psychology.

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  4. Not really sure what I want to do in college, but it's good to know that having a college degree in creative writing isn't vital, since I wasn't really into that idea. Still, the love for language hasn't gone away, and I'd be interested in majoring in Spanish, maybe, or Science.

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    1. Not vital at all. Study what interests you! :-)

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  5. I'm glad for this post. One of the things I always feel as though I have to explain is that although I want to be a doctor, I don't actually HAVE to major in writing, I can major in any backup plans I might have

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  6. I was just wondering the other day if I was strange because I wasn't planning on majoring in English or anything like that...
    I would like to study American history (which is kind of weird because I enjoy reading contemporary fiction better usually....)
    Thanks! :-)

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    1. History is cool, though I didn't like it as much when I was younger. I'd get a degree in history now. :-)

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  7. I'm a freshman in college, and I'm still trying to decide on a major. My college doesn't offer an English major, but I am taking English composition (my teacher loves me and gives me a's- just kidding. I work for them) and I'm trying to get some kin of business major but I have no idea.

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    1. You want something that interests you and that can get you a decent job while you write so that you can live too. But if it can complement your writing, that's a bonus.

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  8. I am in college now and am working for an Anthropology Major. It is the study of human history and culture and is a huge help in world building, as well as creating depth of character.

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  9. I honestly really hate the question "What are you going to do after high school?" right now. Because I just...do. not. know. My interests have changed a lot recently. Right now, I kinda like science--specifically psychology. But I just don't know much about college yet, so...

    Thankfully I just started high school this year, though, so I don't need to know for a little while. :) Thanks for the post!

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    1. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was a freshman, Amanda. Volunteering in my community helped me realize what I wanted to do.

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    2. You don't need to know yet, Amanda. You've got time!

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  10. I'm still in high school and I'm not sure what I'll do at university. Probably something related to arts or humanities.
    I'm not going to major in anything English-related, though. Writing (and aiming for publication) will be in my future, but I don't want a degree in that. Also, I've heard that most university creative writing courses are very dismissive of genre fiction, and as a fantasy writer that's not ideal for me.

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    1. Yes, many are. I have a terrible time visit colleges because many professors don't like my kind of writing. And, well, I'm not a big fan of literary writing, either, so I guess that's fair. LOL

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  11. I want to work for the State Department when I get out of law school because working for the State Department means not only do you get to work in every area of politics but you also get to travel a lot which would be fantastic and great experience for my writing. So whatever it takes to be equipped for that. I will probably major in Political Science and minor in French or History or something like that.

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    1. Wow! That sounds awesome, Lauren. You go, girl! :-)

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  12. Hmm, I don't know what I should go in for. I have thought about taking mid-wife classes though. I hardly recognized any names of the people who went to college but I recognized almost every name in the category who didn't go to college! :) Hehe.

    HP

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    1. Ooh, midwifery would be exciting! When my little brother was born, the midwifes didn't get there in time (we lived in Alaska) and my dad had to deliver him!

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  13. Great post! I want to double major in English (or Creative Writing if the college has it for BA) and Graphics or Web Design.

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  14. I'm currently in the last year of my studies, and then hopefully next year I can do one executive year at Uni and that will be majoring for me in marketing. It's nice to read that would be one of the things you would have liked to do Jill :) I never really tought about it how i would fit actually with writing. When I choose to go major in marketing I wasn't that passionate yet about writing, but it seems all pieces of the puzzle are fitting here ;)

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  15. Great post :) Just wondering, if I wanted to be a literary agent or editor, what college classes would I have to take?

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    1. That's a little harder. There aren't college majors for those professions. Chip MacGregor wrote a blog post about becoming an editor: http://www.chipmacgregor.com/blog/career/is-there-a-career-path-for-an-editor/

      One of the best things you can try for is to get an entry level job at a publishing house or agency and work your way up the ladder over time.

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  16. I plan on studying law (possible as an undergraduate here, because school is so intense!), political science or anthropology - or maybe even social justice.. However, most of the things I wish to study would make me no more employable than simply staying at home and writing nutty sci-fi!

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  17. I'm planning to get a Bachelor of Arts, just because I think I'll enjoy it. I'll probably major in some English/literature course, and minor in psychology. I may want to be a teacher so I might get an Education degree instead.

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  18. I'm right in the middle of my year 12 exams at the moment so the timing of this post was a little freaky. I've applied to do a Bachelor of Science (probably majoring in maths) next year, to then go on and do teaching.

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  19. I'm finishing up senior year right now, but I'll be going to a private college and majoring in English Literature/Professional writing with a minor in music. At first I considered going for something else that would help me make money, but I decided to follow my passions and do what I love.

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  20. I'm planning on duel majoring in History and Bible, get a masters and phd in Archeology. Museum Curator is where I would love to end up. One of the things that make a good Archeologist is their ability to write, so I've go a head start. Plus, historical writing will probably be in my future : )

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  21. Thanks for the comment about you would have gotten a Marketing degree. I just finished my Bachelors in Marketing, so that was nice to hear. :)

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    1. :-) You'll have to share your genius with all us non-marketing majors sometime, Leah. And, congrats on your degree!

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  22. I'm twenty-one and have no plans for college. I am totally for higher education and life long learning but I don't think college would be a good fit for me or the best use of my time and resources.
    For higher education I have gone through a John Maxwell coaching program (he's pretty much the leadership expert of the world) and am a certified coach of his. My dad is the CEO of a good-sized Insurance Agency and I get to learn tons of business advice and strategies from him. =)
    So right now reading a lot of business and educational books, traveling, and just making a point to learn from my experiences is my form of higher learning. It seems to be working out just wonderfully for me. ;)
    Great post by the way! I really liked it how you included the different authors and what they did for school.

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    1. Sounds like you're working hard, Aidyl. And it sounds exciting too.

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  23. I am a Creative Writing major at the University of Washington in Seattle! My ultimate career ambition is to be an editor.

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    1. Cool! You can do it! There must be some good-sized publishing houses in the Seattle area.

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  24. I want to study English and since I live in the UK, my heart is set on either Oxford (eek!) or Kings College London. Like Adria above, I would like to be an editor when I'm older, probably in acquisitions, and I'd pursue writing in my spare time as a hobby. I've also considered teaching, but I'm not sure I'd have the patience with certain students...

    Wow, I had no idea Agatha Christie never went to university. It was the last ever episode of Poirot yesterday for us Brits :( I cried my eyes out and shrieked, "NOOOOOO!" Primrose Everdeen-style at one particularly evil cliffhanger. Oops :)

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    1. LOL! Go after that editing dream! Try and get an internship or an entry level job with a publishing house, if you can. That will help.

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    2. Thanks so much! I'll see if anywhere will take me this summer. Sixteen should be old enough, right? I think that's the age you can get a job in the UK. Right now I'm just volunteering at a charity shop, though, to get some sort of work experience.

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  25. I believe I will follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain...in the college respect anyhow. ;)

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  26. I'm bound for Pensacola Christian College. In fact, we just took a college trip there last week, so this subject has been on my mind A LOT. Interesting that Creative Writing wouldn't be all that helpful…but I guess I can see why. PCC has a lot to choose from, though, so I'm sure I'll find something. :)

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