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 down—including his anti-seizure meds—and 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 wanted—splitting 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 that—unlike what I thought as a high school senior—there 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!