1. Lady Savage
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    Lady Savage New Member

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    English Major

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Lady Savage, Feb 12, 2010.

    So, I'm a senior in high school, standing at a crossroads in my life. One of the big questions I'm pondering at the moment is what I want to major in when I'm in college. How useful is an English major for a prospective professional science fiction writer (if things go my way)? Here's how I feel based on what I know about majoring in English: I would definitely love to take classes dedicated to literature, language, the experience of literature and creative writing, but I would probably get impatient with critical and analytical writing and nonfiction.
     
  2. The Freshmaker
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    The Freshmaker <insert obscure pop culture reference> Contributor

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    I don't know what your potential colleges offer, but my college (USF) has three degrees in the English department: Technical writing, Literature, and Creative Writing. It sounds like you want a creative writing degree. Literature (which you'll have to take a lot of anyway) is more geared toward analysis and criticism. And from what I hear, the only people who do technical writing are usually pre-law.

    It is not a practical major to go for. You have to really be adamant about all that "following your dreams" stuff to go for creative writing, because there's not much you can do with that degree besides teach (supposing that you don't end up with a huge book deal).

    I'm working toward my degree in creative writing right now. I tried three other majors before this (education, design, and computer science), and I just realized that this is where my heart is. If I need to, I'll go back and complete my computer science degree to pay the bills. But creative writing is what I want to do. And it's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun. I love my classes, and I feel like this is what I should have been doing all along.

    You have to decide if this is for you, or if you want to go a more practical route. If you're really into your writing, it's very fulfilling on a personal level.
     
  3. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best science fiction writers seem to have strong backgrounds in science. Physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy...get a degree in any science, and since you must also take electives to complete your degree, pick such electives as creative writing and English Lit.

    ps You have a lot more good job potential with a science or technical degree than with an English degree, just in case your dream of writing science fiction doesn't work out.
     
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  4. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    I back NaCl's comment about science fiction writers having strong backgrounds in science. Any sci-fi novel comes with its fair share of research, but it's all the better if you actually take those courses. Your imagination, in writing, is your greatest strength, but you need a solid foundation too. Besides, those classes will probably pose millions of questions worth writing about. :) And, too boot, B.S. degrees are usually worth more these days, just in case sci-fi fiction doesnt work out for you. It's a tough gig; that's for sure.

    There are also specific courses (not majors) for sci-fi writing; not all schools offer such a course, but I know at my university, it counts as a science credit.

    I dont really have experience as to "how useful" an English degree is, as I dont have one, nor do I plan on pursuing one, but what I will say is this: an English degree can take you a long way in the world of literature, but that doesnt necessarily mean it will, especially in the world of creative writing. There are plenty of popular authors who majored in other subjects or didnt even attend university at all, while there are also plenty of English majors who have never published.

    Good luck in whatever you end up deciding. :)
     
  5. Lady Savage
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    Lady Savage New Member

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    Yeah, my neuroticism is definitely surfacing in regards to this issue because there are so many possibilities. My other great passions are theater and anthropology, but neither of those fields offer particularly high-paying jobs unless you're Emma Watson or Indiana Jones. I suppose I don't have a lot of life experience, but I know that I really love writing, I think that my ideas are worth reading (but who doesn't?), and I would like to take a few years trying to work as a full-time writer. It's the one activity I do regularly that sustains my energy instead of sapping it. (Well, I suppose sleep is another one.)

    An interviewer I had recently told me that now is not the time for me to be worrying so much about my future, that I should pursue what I'm interested in and the job thing sort of works itself out once you graduate, but he was an Electrical Engineering major at Princeton, so that advice might not exactly apply to me. I'm actually fairly competent at programming, science and math, but logical, analytical fields don't have the same appeal that writing does for me. Appeal is a weak word. Science and math leaves me vaguely satisfied, instead of the intense, somewhat religious experience of writing something that you're really proud of and the associated feeling of everything connecting and a million explosions in your head and a million parts clicking together and working in harmony, and the hum of angelic choirs in the background.

    I'm just really glad that most people muck around in college for two years before declaring a major.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    neither does writing!

    you'll be much better off majoring in some field that being degree in will earn you a decent living, since the vast majority of those who think they want to be full-time writers never get to where their writing pays the power bill, much less the rent...
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You should consider taking science classes since I'm guessing they'll be useful with some of the finer points of science fiction. It's probably also more practical from a financial point of view. As for the writing aspect, I believe the only way to get better is through reading and writing. You could theoretically become the greatest writer without having ever taken an English class.

    If you really want you could double major in English and one of the sciences. But that depends on how much work you want to put in.
     
  8. rory
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    rory Contributing Member

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    I gonna agree more with The Freshmaker here. Everyone has given great reasons to go to school for something that will get you a real job, but nothing beats going to school because you love it. Because love absolutely everything about every single class you're taking. I spent three years and way too many thousands of dollars getting two diplomas which give me job opportunities with less than minimum wage. Woohoo! But I don't regret it all. It was terrific, and I loved what I learned. Of course, now is reality check time and I'm going back to school come fall with huge student loans to keep me company on the long lonely nights I stay up studying to get a job where I can afford to eat.
    For me what it boiled down to was, how fast do you want to grow up? I went out a played and did what I wanted, and now I figure I'm about ready to join the real work force... After the seven years of school I have ahead of me, anyways ;D

    Good luck! No education is ever wasted, and its fun to know a lot of different things.
     
  9. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I think there are much better uses of your time and money than to focus on writing in university. If you want to be a science fiction writer, get a science degree. It's generally a much more useful degree. Most of the people I know with English degrees either got very lucky, or did an extra year after they got their BA to get something more practical.

    All the books you read while taking an English degree, you can read anyway, and the writing classes are simply a more structured, face-to-face environment than this one. Since I can't speak for everyone, I'll say that in my experience, I developed far more skills by doing reviews and recieving them here than I ever did in a structured class, especially since they usually have curriculum guidelines they have to follow. Besides, if you really want to take a class, you can take one as an open elective, and (as far as I know) still be able to get all the credits you need to get a science degree.

    Another thing that the only Canadian to make it as a full-time science fiction writer pointed out to me is that if you want to be a writer, you have to know stuff so you have something to write about.
     
  10. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'm an English major, and I have to say, if all you want to write is sci-fi, you're much better of with a science degree. If you study lit, you're studying pretty much exclusively literary fiction, drama and the classics--sci-fi hardly gets a mention unless you happen to have a particularly progressive professor who has no problem with introducing genre fiction into the taught canon (and even then, they stick to the well known sci-fi classics...Asimov and Dick and such).

    Studying lit is definitely a good idea (a lot of the writers I like have degrees in English lit), but only in the general sense that it teaches you to understand language a lot more thoroughly and theoretically than other people might, which is why those authors I mentioned tend to write exclusively literary/experimental fiction. For mainstream genre fiction, I'm certain a science degree would be more helpful, since literary prowess isn't so highly valued.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If I limited my learning to degree programs, I'd not know a third of what I've learned over the years. You don't have to pursue a science degree to study science, or a literature degree to learm literature.

    A degree serves one purpose. It douments your exposure to knowledge in a particular field to someone who has a need to gauge your expertise in that subject. Usually that someone is a prospective employer.

    I have a Bachelor Degree in Information Technology. I earned it less than two years ago. Most of what I know about Information Technology I learned years, even decades before the courses I took in for the degree. What I did learn in the proicess of earning the degree applies to nearly any degree program: how to research, how to evaluate an argument's logic, how to present anargument convincingly, how to work effectively with a team, how to present material to a group, etc.

    The degree you study for is a career decision. You don't need a degree to write, unless it's a degree in a nonfiction topic for which your readers seek credentials before they will take you seriously. Publishers and readers have little interest in the degrees held by their fiction authors, as a general rule.

    Earning a degree is expensive. It's often necessary to get hired in particular careers, but it is a heavy investment, and you should consider carefully whether you will recoup the costs.

    So choose a degree program by the paying career area you want to enter. If that career is writing, good luck! It may be useful to complete a degree for the general growth you achieve, but most writers won't earn enough to pay for such a degree. It's good to have a steady career to keep a roof over your head and food on your table.
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then again, if you think you might like to be a teacher, study whatever the heck you want. You can be a teacher no matter what you took in university. You just have to also do a year or two of teacher's college afterward.
     
  13. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    My major in college was Biology and I earned a minor in English (although I took more hours in English--long story). But I was preparing to be a teacher, and I chose the two fields that interested me most.

    As was said, having a background in the sciences will benefit a SF writer greatly. In the end, if you major only in English, it may be difficult to find a job, or a career that interests you. Writing may not take off, or at least support you and possibly a family. If you ask me, double major. It will give you better job flexibility and also provide you with a wider experience to draw from as a writer.

    Terry
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    True, but you don't need to go to college to learn a field of study.

    If a double major is a practical option, go for it. Not all schools let you declare a double major, or even a major and a minor. You may have to complete onne degree, then plan a new program for the second major, with the additional cost that entails. Personally, I think that is only useful if you have a use for the diploma in both majors.

    I find that I can learn most topics much more rapidly on my own. School often just gets in the way. There is no reason you cannot strike off on your own program of learning. If you need help, find a mentor in the field. And certainly there are some areas where you need to find an instructor for a time, such as learning a musical instrument.

    But ultimately, all learning is from your own efforts. Don't let school get in youer way.
     
  15. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    While self-taught is a viable option as Cogito suggested, very often that piece of paper (be it a diploma, or a proof of some sort of training/certification) is what either gets the individual the job, or later on allows an individual to advance in a career as opposed to someone who lacks it. Fair, not necessarily, but often true. I've seen it happen.
     
  16. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Since the OPs question didn't mention high-paid jobs, I can only say that studying English Literature was one of the most enriching experiences of my college career, and the skills I learnt were useful later in many other jobs as well. I had to study the literature and poetry of WWI as part of my social history degree.

    Knowing basic science will benefit you if you only want to do science fiction writing, but what happens later if you decide to branch out to other genres?
    To me, as a basic rule, you study for a humanities degree if you want a writing/creative type career, and a science degree for science-based jobs.

    There's plenty of crossover, though. Plenty of scientists write beautifully and many people who have an interest in the humanities are also good at science. My grandfather was a surgeon but he also wrote and published books about local legends and was a wonderful artist, and my uncles and many of my cousins took after him...
     
  17. moldypeaches
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    moldypeaches New Member

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    I am considering pursuing a creative writing major myself, and I think that doubling up on majors would be your best idea. Either that, or majoring in some sort of sciences, and then going back for another four years to take creative writing. I know that a lot of people will tell you that it will be incredibly hard to get anywhere with this type of major, because it's just like acting, or painting, etc. And I have had numerous people tell me that I will never get there and in the end, it will be a waste of my time and money. But I swear, if you try, it will so be worth it. Good luck.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's probably worthwhile to note the cost of completing a degree program in the USA is exorbitant. That's why I emphasize that it isn't worth it unless you need the diploma for your career, whether it is a requirement in order to be considered for the job, or just makes a difference in the salary range you can achieve.

    Education is a must, but not everyone needs a diploma. I didn;t have one when I became a research chemist, nor when I changed professions and became a software engineer. Now, however, the market is much tighter for bit jockeys, so I completed my degree. The downside is that it put much of my self-education on hold. And, of course, there are the student loans I now must repay.
     
  19. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah yes, the fees...I certainly couldn't afford to send my kids to the UK or US to study.

    NOTE: Universities in France cost practically nothing and life in France is also VERY cheap, although you have to do a year's French and pass the language proficiency exam at the end to start your degree course proper. But well worth considering if you have a sense of adventure and want to study something the French excel in, like medicine or architecture.

    I was fortunate enough to be one of the golden generation that was actually paid by the British government to fill one of the universities that had been thrown up in the late sixties/early seventies (although I didn't get a maintanance grant like most).

    There seem to be a lot of Brits going to the US to study now that they have to pay at home to go to university. I suppose the fees vary according to uni and course?

    I loved university, but it's absolutely true that a degree is really not necessary for many professions in many countries. It is essential for everything in Turkey, and for some professions in France, though--these are the only two countries that I know a lot about concerning the job situation these days.

    I like the website called 'notgoingtouni', although this is about Europe, mostly the UK.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    in what part of france?... i've been to all parts of the country, on many trips from the 70s on, lived in poitiers for a year in 2000 and have never found it to be 'cheap' much less 'very'!
     
  21. Wavanova
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    I'm an English specialist (probably going into a Masters of Creative Writing program soon), and I'll say flat out that an English major won't really help your writing at all. It will make you much more knowledgeable on the subject of literature and writing, but that's really it. If you REALLY like literature (aside from science fiction, because you study barely any science fiction over the course of most English majors) and are prepared to read a LOT of books, then do an English major. If not, don't even think about it.
     

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