There are people who want nothing more in life than to write. Thankfully, our civilization is heavy with poetry and intrigue, passion and knowledge from writers driven to put down on paper what has never been recorded. For this effort we should be grateful, as the road to becoming a writer is sacrificial. It is a solitary and romantically misleading existence as there is no simple rubric for finding success and happiness as an English major.
In Joyland, Stephen King wrote, “When you’re twenty-one, life is a road map. It’s only when you get to be twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure.” Deciding on English as a focus in college can be as simple as following your inner-map. Confidence and emotion let you know that declaring your major is the right choice. However, not being sure how to actualize it is a bit more tricky.
It doesn’t need to be that way if you’ve awakened the writer within. All you need is a little guidance.
College Studies as an English major
Though there are a few, not many writers I know left high school and immediately declared English as their major during freshman year of college. For many, myself included, it took time to determine a path, moving from one area of study to the next to discover what made them happy. In fact, some didn’t come around to it until enrolling in an MFA program for post grad studies.
English as a major incorporates a broad swath of possibilities. There is teaching of course, spanning from elementary to high school levels. Practicality makes achieving a teaching certification a worthwhile pursuit, though the salary leaves much to be desired. Even if teaching isn’t on your radar, it’s not a bad idea to minor in education as a fallback when employment options are lean. To gain a teaching certification after college is a complicated and costly process, so earn it when you have the time and dedication in college to do so.
plan Your major
Aside from teaching, many English majors choose a more philosophical pursuit in literature studies, often in conjunction with a career path in higher education. These are lives filled with academic discourse and arguments on the meaning of this work of writing versus that work of writing. The end goal for many Lit majors is to teach at the college level. In order to do this, however, the English major will need a higher degree than just a BA. Know also that you will be required to teach intro classes to pay the bills for the first few years to earn your professorial stripes.
While in college, dual majors are not uncommon between disciplines such as English Lit and Foreign Languages, or English Lit and Neurology. It’s all about knowing what your end goal is and building a course of study to support it.
considering salary beyond education
An English major isn’t all about teaching, however. There are lucrative positions in the private sector that pay well for those trained to write well. Marketing firms seek creative directors. Publishing houses need editors and talent acquisition specialists. Websites, newspapers and magazines want journalists. The movie industry craves original scripts. Television needs directors, actors and agents.
There’s no end to the positions available to an English major looking to broaden their horizons. It simply means focusing on disciplines in college to create a base experience fitting the desired field of employment.
Even as a young English major still in school, there are countless possibilities to realize this. It is a matter of knowing what opportunities exist and how to zero in on the most productive. From a monetary as well as a resume-building stand-point, find what works for you. Think of it this way- you can find yourself a job working minimum wage flipping burgers part-time after class or you can determine your own path by writing for your supper.
professional writing as a young English major
Entering the world of free-lance writing without much of a resume can be a tough path. However it is helpful to remember that everyone starts without experience. It’s those you produce and improve who find success.
That isn’t to say you can’t make a good living at writing. You simply need to know how to go about it in a way that will fulfill your needs. My father once told me to do what makes me happy. Otherwise, why would I be doing it? Balancing personal satisfaction and putting food on the table is a matter of finding your happiness and making it work for you.
For developing writers, there are countless opportunities to make some money online. Job boards such as Zerys, Blogmutt and Fiverr offer platforms for writers to contract their services to clients. Often the pay is no better than minimum wage. However, as an unskilled writer trying to improve your chops would you rather be paid to write copy for a website or twiddle your thumbs doing nothing?
novelist as a career
Creative writing isn’t an easy paycheck, so beginning a career as a novelist while still in college is the perfect situation. You have food and a place to live without worry of what tomorrow might bring. Just as with the world beyond the school’s walls, the focus is to always be writing. There’s not much money in the field early on, so understand that your freshman works are a learning curve.
Once you have a degree in hand, it’s going to get tougher. Unless you have a benefactor willing to foot your expenses until making it big, you are going to need a job. Understand that writing comes first, find employment that works around your writing schedule. If your circadian rhythm has you more creative at night, work during the day. If your fluids run hot when the sun comes up, find employment with the third shift.
- Write every day.
- Know how to write.
- Write what you want to read.
- Finish what you begin, even if you don’t like it.
- You get paid only when you publish a book.
- Find a publisher that works with you.
- If you can’t find a publisher, publish it yourself.
- Do it again, only better.
The point is, if you want to be a novelist, you must produce a body of work. Some books you will like, some you won’t. The point is to continue writing, knowing that your audience will find you if you are faithful to your creativity.
Preparing For a Professional Writing Career
The key to any English major making something of themselves is preparation. Writing a daily column for the New York Times is a commendable goal, but not everyone is going to succeed with such lofty ambitions. Write where the need arises. Network to find more places to produce for. This can be websites or weekly newspapers where good writers are always in demand.
Whether it’s an internship or a part-time gig, take writing seriously. Good wordsmiths are hard to find, so cultivate a positive reputation. Be someone who can work under deadline and follow instructions. Keep in mind you are being paid to write for your boss or client, not for yourself.
Use college as a resource. Take every opportunity to earn credits in professional writing, marketing and fields related to your career path. Audit classes that you think would be a good fit and keep a sharp eye on your future.
As an English major, it can be anything that you want if you work toward it.
I’d love to hear your feedback on aspects of being an English major. Please leave your comments below.