“So you wanna be a teacher?”
That is the first question I get whenever I tell family, friends or even random strangers that I am an English major. They don’t ask what I want to do with my writing until I clarify my career aspirations. They don’t ask or give positive feedback about the path I’ve chosen for my life (although some of them try their best). It’s all talk of how jobs are lacking for those with an English degree, how it’s a useless major, a waste of time and money; the humanities are dying out and there’s not much to do with it. Articles in magazines, online and more just seem to stress this supposed fact.
I graduated just a couple of weeks ago from Smith College with a Bachelor’s in English Language and Literature. The journey as an English major had ups and downs—there were days I felt like I could conquer the world because of the brilliant ideas and interesting turns my professors noted and applauded in my papers. Other days were filled with self-doubt, uncertainty and comparing myself to others based on class discussions of a text or our paper topics. As an introvert, it can be much harder to share your original and insightful thoughts on literature with your peers.
The self-doubt is nothing new. All writers, I finally accepted, have gone through these same emotions throughout their careers. They eventually overcome them and put them aside as I have been able to do lately. But, the journey of staying an English major and fighting for my passion was at times agonizing as it was rewarding.
I went to a community college for my first two years after graduating from high school. My community college had the option of majoring in Creative Writing as opposed to just English. That’s where my doubts really began to bubble to the surface as I worried—way too much I confess—about my future, my grades and what path I really could take. By my second year, I really questioned if I could make it as a writer, or if I was making a mistake by majoring in something that I now take seriously.
But I chose to take the risk and stick with it because I believed in the possibilities of publishing books one day, becoming a better writer and proving other people wrong. Plus, the classes I took for my Associate’s such as Creative Writing for the Theatre, Women and Literature, and Children’s Literature encouraged my creativity and gave me chances to explore genres or crafts I was not as familiar with.
My mom was very encouraging all those years and assured me many times after high school not to listen to the numerous articles talking about salaries English majors make, the job prospects and so on. I could do anything I wanted instead of sticking to one particular career path. The possibilities were endless, and more people who could actually write well were needed in today’s job market. Fast forward to my final year of college.
The demons came back.
I felt like I made a mistake. The love for writing was losing against my dying confidence and worries about my thoughts and ideas both creatively and academically. I didn’t feel good enough. I always loved reading, and writing. I was taking interesting classes. My professors gave me advice.
Was college killing my path as an English major too?
I attended workshops offered by my college’s English department around creative writing, the publishing world and so on the year before. However, I walked out of them feeling very discouraged. I kept feeling it was hindering, not helping, my endeavors because there were so many hurdles and things to consider: do an MFA, don’t do an MFA, where to publish, what career, what to write that would sell and how to even make a living.
Maybe those of you reading this have been in my position with these numerous worries and hopes. The voices of others telling you what to do or not do, considering changing your major so you had a job lined up with good pay, and assuming a bleak future when you major in ANY of the humanities in college, not just English or Creative Writing. ANY art, in my opinion, has dealt with similar criticisms.
The doubts may have been in control during that time, but those lights that appear at the end of those long tunnels always come forth, and they came just in time when I entered my final semester. My confidence was returning by this time. I recently subscribed to Poets & Writers magazine and I had been researching writing retreats and residencies. I was struggling to find time to actually sit down and write while working, taking classes, spending time with friends and so on. I was finally taking my path more seriously and rekindling the love I once had before I started college.
The English Department at Smith has these talks called “Literary Lunches” each semester that are composed of various professors and guests talking about writing, the new directions they have taken in the classroom, their work and more.
The final two I attended gave me a clearer picture and the hope I needed after graduation as an English major, and as a writer. These were the final two lunches that changed my perceptions: a panel of professors and writers in the English department talking about being a writer in the world and a talk by the Fiction Writer-in-Residence that school year, Ruth Ozeki, with her friend, author/editor Carole DeSanti. Hearing these professors—and writers—talk about their doubts, triumphs, balancing time to write and strategies to keep writing when going through writer’s block left me very hopeful. I felt inspired, reassured about my future.
The talks provided just the inspiration I needed.
By the time I graduated, I was walking away with a sense of pride as an English major. I felt like anything was possible and like I didn’t have to stick to the fears that were put in my head. They still happen, but I try to remember why I made the decision to major in English and why I write: because I love it, and using my words to help people and give them hope.
Writing and majoring in English is who I am. It is my passion, my most vulnerable and powerful self and the place where I can freely express myself without fear or judgment.
Yes, the sciences are needed just as much as the humanities. But, I believe the arts, English included, are still valuable. We need to answer those critical questions about literature and how to improve our writing and tap into the creative parts of ourselves that were sometimes beat out of us when we were younger. Express ourselves in ways the sciences cannot.
English majors are just as relevant today. We still need creativity, and hope. Dare to be real.
Dare to be an English major despite the doubts.
If you need more reassurance, here’s another piece of advice that helped. Near the end of the semester, the career services lady at our career center told me how the skills English majors have are needed in the workplace: writing, communication and research skills. These skills are useful for ANY field today from environmental lawyer to technical writer and so on.
It can be done.
Do I regret being an English major? No! I could never see myself majoring in anything else (though I wish I would have been able to major in theatre as well because I’ve developed a love for playwriting).
Do I still have the doubts? Absolutely! Ever since I came home from college, I’ve struggled to figure out what job would best fit me, where I would want to live and what path to go in my writing next. Novella or novel? Writing residency or full-time job? Short story or poetry? Writing contests or retreats?
Really, you’re not alone if you have days where you ask yourself, “Why on earth did I become an English major?”
Maybe one day I might reconsider becoming a teacher. But, I honestly don’t want to. For those of you who love teaching and are majoring in English, more power to you! For me, that’s not my calling. My calling is a published author, blogger and whatever else may come a few years from now.
Don’t give up if you are an English major and feel lost. There are resources to help. If it weren’t for the literary lunches or encouragement from my professors, who knows where I’d be right now post-college.
I don’t regret graduating as an English major. You shouldn’t either for the creative gifts you have been blessed with.
We are still needed, so keep fighting and winning against the doubters and naysayers! Don’t regret your passion, whatever it may be!
For us English majors, the fight goes on, but not quietly. Let’s keep majoring and fight that good fight.
I’ll end with this quote I found online from Neil Gaiman: “The one thing that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristin Rivers is a recent college graduate, fiction writer and aspiring playwright. She is a lover of books and cats who wants to use writing and words to heal and give hope to others. She recently earned a Bachelor in Arts Degree in English Language and Literature from Smith College and also holds an Associate in Arts Degree in Creative Writing from Holyoke Community College. Kristin is currently researching jobs and writing residencies while working on her first novel in the Christian Romance genre. She also started a blog called The Writer’s Soul to chronicle her post-college journey and inspire fellow writers and has also contributed posts to The Voice, a fansite around her favorite musician and role model, singer-songwriter David Archuleta. She currently lives in Massachusetts.