Monday, December 7, 2015

What Should I Study In College If I Want To Be A Writer?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Since I talked about writing the climax of your story last Monday, and since I've been in a series about writing a novel from beginning to end, it makes sense that today I would talk about denouement or great last lines or something related to The End.

But, writers, I'm limping my way into this week. My weekend involved one kid going to the E.R. to be rehydrated when he couldn't keep anything downincluding his anti-seizure medsand then two more members of the family succumbing to the same stomach bug.

So instead of pressing on, I'm answering a question I get asked probably once a month. What's the best thing to study in college for someone who wants to be a writer? Is it creative writing? English? Should you  have a backup plan? What if you also want to be a teacher/accountant/engineer? Can you do that and be a writer?



The good news is there is no one right way to do this thing.. Being a writer isn't like being a lawyer or teacher or any other number of jobs where you have to get a certain kind of degree before you can perform that job. Writers take very different paths on their way to becoming published authors.

Here are the most common questions I get asked about college and being a writer:

Stephanie, what did you study?

I didn't. I went to a college prep high school ... and then flaked out on college. I had in my head that I needed The Perfect College and that when I found The Perfect College, it would already feel like home, and I wouldn't be so stinking terrified of leaving my parents.

No surprise, I never found such a place. When I loved the full-time work I was doing as a receptionist for a meeting planning company, I opted to continue working full-time, move into an apartment, and pursue writing in my spare time. I've never regretted this decision. I have the life I always wantedsplitting time between writing and doing the mom thing—without having to spend the money for a degree. For me, this was the best choice.

But if you had to go to college, what do you think would be the most useful degree to get?

Even though I'm very happy with how my life has turned out, I still see lots of value in the college experience. If I was doing it all again and went the college route, I think it would have been most valuable for me to get a degree in something related to owning a small business and marketing. Being a writer is like being a small business owner. As a writer, you're producing a product, selling that product, keeping track of money, developing a brand, and lots of other things that college classes could help with.

Do I need a back-up plan?

Only if you need to make money. I've been a published author for 6 years now and there's no way we could live on the money I make. It takes a long time to get published and even longer to make money you can count on. So if you need to make money when you get out of college, then yes, you need a plan for that.

I also want to be a (teacher, lawyer, fill in the blank). Can I write too?

YES. If you have any other interests, pursue those! Especially if they come with useful things like a job after college. The great thing about being a writer is that it's all useful. Do you know how many times I've thought, "Man, I wish I were a psychologist/doctor/lawyer/web designer/history teacher?" Anything else you pursue is only going to enrich your writing. Yes, it may take away some time from it, especially in the beginning, but writing has a way of working itself into the nooks and crannies of our lives.

If I want to study creative writing in college, where should I go?

I'm so out of touch with who has good programs. I've heard a lot about Brigham Young University and University of Iowa. I'm positive there are lots of great programs out there, and thatunlike what I thought as a high school seniorthere is no single Perfect College that everyone must go to if they want to be a great writer. Studying writing, especially from a great teacher, has a lot of value. But writing on your own, pursuing stories you love, and pushing through the hard times is what will eventually get you published.

Any other questions about studying writing or writing as a career that I can answer? I may be slow to respond today due to the state of health in the Morrill house, but I'll get to it as soon as I can!

45 comments:

  1. I loooooove this. So much. I'm in my senior year, and I want to be an author. But I'm so tired of people telling me there's no money in writing and my dream is going to crash and burn. I want to study writing. I want to study other things. I want to study whatever I want. : D

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    1. I understand! Others mean well when they say that. Honestly, for most novelists, there's very little money. And the money we do earn comes after LOTS of investment. So I get why people say that. But there are lots of jobs out there for people who are good written communicators, so there's more opportunity out there than many realize.

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    1. Thank you! So far I'm fine and the baby is fine, but my husband and the two big kids have really had a time of it! I think we're on the tail end of this thing. That's what I'm telling myself anyway :)

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  3. Fabulous advice. Thanks, Mrs. Morrill! (Also, I hope everyone at the Morrill house feels better soon!)

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    1. Thank you! I hope so too. Nursing is not my gift!

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  4. Exactly! I want to be a writer, but I also want to a scientist (I love physics).

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    1. That will be very useful! I know lots of writers who wish they loved science :)

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  5. Great post! I think I've already chosen what I'm going to do for that season of my life, I'm just going to be skipping college. I don't feel like it's for me. But there's a community college I could go to- which I wasn't thinking I wanted to do- but there's a program for homeschoolers to attend there two years early, and everyone acts like they expect me to go. So, we'll see, but I'm hoping not, it does not appeal to me.
    I hope your family gets well soon!

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    1. I understand. I haven't regretted my choice to not go, but I bet I wouldn't have regretting going either :)

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  6. I study Anthropology and Religious Studies. I've found that they help a lot in world building and create all sorts of plot bunnies.

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  7. I'm a senior, also. I'm head of heels in love with Taylor University, but I have no idea how to pay for it.

    Taylor's Professional Writing program is geared toward publication and the business side of writing -- you are published in your first semester. There is non-fiction, freelancers, and journalists in there, but also a fair number of novelists. Amanda Lueduke graduated from there; I first saw here on a post here.

    I this is what I really want to do. I feel like it would be the best path for me. Everyone wants me to go into sciences and while I like them, I do not love them like I do writing.

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    1. I've heard a lot of good stuff about Taylor University! Mostly from Amanda :)

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  8. Wow this is so freaky. I'm a high school senior and I've already applied to and been accepted to the college of my choice as an English-Creative Writing major. But I've been conflicted over what I should do to make money as well cause I completely agree with what you said. I plan on sticking it out on my own after college and settling down at 29-30, no kids though. I've been thinking about minoring in Journalism or double majoring. Do you think the two would work well together?
    Anyone could answer this as I would like some feedback.

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    1. I think they're a great fit with each other, but my understanding is that journalism is a tough field to find a job in. Something like marketing could benefit you in your personal goals, but it could also help you get a job writing marketing copy for a business in the meantime. Just a thought!

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    2. The only downfall is the fact that unlike everyone else here, my choices are sort of limited. I don't like math and I'm very bad at it. I'm not a fan of history. And science is not something I'd be happy doing my entire life. I have a very tiny personal talent pool. All I'm good at it is writing and fashion which I why I wanted to go into fashion journalism. Sadly my chosen college has no classes related to fashion at all.

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  9. I needed this post so much! I've been thinking a ton about this lately, conflicted. I think I'm going to do something like Journalism and Business Marketing. Thank you!

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    1. Those could be a great combination, Caroline!

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  10. Amaaazing. I'm at the point where I have to figure out what to do in College, and this is so encouraging!

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  11. Great post! I've been thinking about this a lot, even though i'm only a freshman. my only conflict is that i want to major in either science or math and get a job in one of those areas. my only question is that is it possible to work in a completely different area and publish a novel, with out it taking over your life? i know a lot of authors do like conferences and do presentations at schools and collages and stuff.

    thank you so much and i hope your family get better soon!

    ~K.A.C.

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    1. I think it's not only possible, but it's a reality for many authors to work full time and do the writing thing. Writing is one of those jobs where there's always something more you could be doing. You can always revise one more time. You can always make another marketing push. You have to learn by trial and error to say, "This is how much time I can commit to this right now" and just do your best with what you have.

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  12. Thanks for this post! I think I would like to major in communications when I go to college. Writing books is something I would really like to do all throughout my life. Other jobs I'm interested in would be teaching at an elementary school or being a DJ on the radio. Supposedly Communications major helps with all of that! Which is awesome! The main thing I want to do with my life is follow God's plan for me :)

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    1. Which is the best goal you can have, Eliza :)

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  13. Yuck, I've been sick all weekend as well! So I've been trying and trying to decide what to major and minor in (I'm a hs junior currently): after college I plan to be a foster mom and missionary working with kids through softball, but since neither one of those will really pay the bills, I was thinking about studying English or journalism to have perhaps a part-time editing job. However, I just completed freshmen comp I and II at a local college, and I honestly could care less if I ever analyze a short story again! I'd also like to publish novels a little further down the road so would creative writing be a good bet as a major? My other struggle is that not all colleges have creative writing as a major, but all have English.

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    1. Sorry, Hailey :( I hope you feel better soon!

      Creative writing won't hurt you, certainly, but I can't think of a single writer friend of mine with a major in creative writing. If your goal is to use your degree to make money, I would pick something else. Writing you can learn much cheaper from blogs, conferences, paid critiques, and just plain doing it.

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  14. Wow, this has got me thinking.

    I'm still a long way from graduating high school but I've always known I've wanted creative writing to be a sideline job. Maybe I'll take up law, architecture, or psychology-or even media and advertising (people say I can come up with decent catchphrases and captions.)

    But that's still a long way to go. What I think works for me though, is when people ask me what I want to be in the future, I answer: "I honestly don't know, but I know I'm definitely going to keep writing." :)

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    1. Those all sound like great choices, Andrea!

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  15. So much wisdom here, Steph! Thanks for sharing it. :-)

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  16. Oh no! I hope everyone feels well soon. I'll pray for your family.
    Thank you for addressing this topic. It's one I've had to give a lot of thought to recently. I think I'll go to Taylor University, since they have a 100% publication rate for their students (while they're still in college!), and I've heard a lot of good things about it through ACFW. But I think I might have marketing as a minor. Lol, I'm afraid I ranted longer than I intended to. Anyways, I hope your family gets well in time to enjoy Christmas! Thanks again :)

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    1. I hear good things about Taylor University too. I haven't looked into it myself but it seems like it could be a good choice.

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  17. This post is perfect! Thanks so much for sharing. I'm a college freshman who's still not entirely sure what I'm doing, and this could not have come at a better time :)

    I'm so sorry to hear that your family is sick! I hope it hasn't been too serious. Praying everyone feels better soon!!

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    1. Thank you, Joy! My husband and big kids slowly seem to be on the mend around here, and the baby and I are still healthy.

      I'm glad you said that, Joy. I remember feeling so much pressure to know exactly where I should go to school and exactly what I wanted to do, and I know my friends felt the same way. The truth is, there's time to figure it out, even if you're already in college.

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  18. Stephanie, thank you so much for posting this.

    Writer's Digest University and their tutorials is a great idea to check into and super simple.
    Having a marketing or business degree or at least some training, comes in very handy.

    If I could offer the same advice we gave each of our children when it came to college, it would be, "Pursue what you believe you will enjoy and the money will follow."

    After all these years of fretting over what degree I needed to become a writer, I realized all I needed to do was to write.

    This decision can be stressful, but one son has changed his degree 5 times before he finished. So don't sweat it. Life has a way of working itself out.

    Hope you and your whole family get well. : ) I so enjoy reading your posts.

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    1. Thank you so much, Cindy. What awesome advice. So many of my friends who thought they'd found The Perfect School wound up transferring somewhere else. Or those who thought they knew what they wanted to do discovered they were a better fit with something they didn't even know existed until they went away to college. Like you said, it has a way of working out.

      I haven't looked into Writer's Digest Tutorials. Thanks for the tip!

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  19. I might go to college to get a teacher's certificate... Because I might need it in the future if it becomes a must for homeschooling your kids. Who knows where God will take me, though. :-P

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  20. A question... If college is not an option, how do you recommend that a writer continue his "writer's education" and improve his writing?

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    1. Great question!

      Here's how I did it without college:

      I wrote. I wrote a lot.

      I read book after book about the craft - Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King were the first two that I discovered. James Scott Bell has lots of great ones, and his are very clean.

      I read lots of books in the genre I wanted to write. I went to those authors' websites and soaked up their story and any resources they had for writers.

      I went to local writers conferences that I could afford. I listened to their advice. I made writer friends. We traded material and critiqued for each other. Mostly it was helpful, but I also learned to ignore advice that was dumb. Like the writer who told me I shouldn't name Skylar's boyfriend Eli because it sounded Amish to her.

      I read lots of blogs. And if you want an amazing, free education on writing, start listening to the Writing Excuses podcasts. There's gold in there. http://www.writingexcuses.com/

      But these things only work if you keep writing along the way.

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  21. Can you recommend any particular methods or resources that can help a writer (like me) who is still struggling to complete that first novel? I want to do it right, if you know what I mean, even though I realize that there is probably no wrong way to write just any novel, I do want it to be somewhat good ... is it silly to feel insecure about writing a novel?

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    1. I hope so, because I ALWAYS feel insecure about the book I'm writing. Here are my thoughts on your first one:

      1. You're doing a very hard thing. Telling a big story from beginning to end is hard work. Which is why for a long time, I only wrote story beginnings. Pushing through to the end taught me so much, though, and it's a big milestone for a writer.

      2. "Somewhat good" is a great goal for any first draft. Here's a link to a post I did on how bad a useful first draft can be: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/08/how-bad-can-bad-first-draft-be.html

      3. Do your best to just have fun. That's your job right now. You don't need to worry about how long it is or what Grandma will say or if you're telling the story right. Try to have fun with the creation. You can fix mistakes in edits - that's what they are for!

      And here's a link on tips for finishing first drafts: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2014/05/5-tips-for-finishing-your-first-draft.html

      Press on, Mallory!

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    2. Thank you! That is so encouraging and helpful! So far I have only written novel beginnings, with bits and pieces of middles and ends. There is one that calls to me to finish it though, and I have lots of ideas ... perhaps too many. I'll take your advice and just not overthink or worry about it. That is good to remember-that writing a novel is supposed to be hard, because it is! I'm very excited now to just keep writing and see what happens:)

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  22. This is so encouraging. I'm studying to be an elementary school teacher (because I love kids) and I'm surprised about how many people have told me I should changed my major if I want to write. I've kind of been second-guessing what I want to do, but after reading this, I am so glad that I decided to study education. Thanks, Stephanie! (:

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  23. THIS WAS SO HELPFUL!! Thanks so much. I want to be an interior design but also a writer. Also, I've been wondering, is getting published similar in other countries, for example Australia?

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  24. This is such an awesome post! Though I do hope to be a full-time writer someday, I'm actually not planing to study writing in college. I might take a few classes, but I'm mostly going to focus on getting a teaching degree, and develop my writing craft by simply writing. :)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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