“You know, there’s no market for writers anymore.”
“So, you’re going to be a teacher.”
“I hope you like Ramen.”
These are the three most common responses when I tell someone my major in college. While poking fun at English majors is one of America’s favorite past times, it is discouraging to have my main interest written off (pun intended) as something I cannot pursue as a legitimate career. To be fair, I’m not sure I want my profession to be based solely on my English major. Everyone seems to boil down my career options to two: teaching or living as a starving literary artist. With every interaction, I grow tired of defending my intellectual aspirations, trying to convince each person there are plenty of jobs for which I’m qualified. I’m comforted by the fact that there is plenty of demand in the labor market for someone who can communicate effectively and compose a nicely worded, professional email. In my experience as an intern at Swenson Book Development, I’ve learned three things about how to think about my major for launching my career:
(1) Consider other plans besides graduate school
Getting a degree in the Romantics is not a viable option for earning a reliable wage. Writers do not make money, despite the countless hours of blood and ink put into their work. I thought graduate school might be an expensive and time-consuming way to guarantee myself a career, however, I’ve learned that if I want to pursue writing as a profession, the money spent may not be worth it. There are plenty of employers looking for someone who’s creative and can channel that into concise and effective writing. Insurance companies, public relations, nonprofits, and law firms are just some examples of businesses which need someone with writing talents and a happy-go-lucky attitude at the thought of someone paying for their words. Graduate school no longer means a guaranteed career. However, there are countless opportunities to work as a writer, without working only as a writer.
(2) Distance yourself from your words
Feedback about your writing is difficult to accept. Writers themselves tend to be their harshest critic, but reading or hearing the same discouragement from another person only adds to the sting. It’s important to understand that when you receive negative feedback about your writing, go with it and don’t take it personally. Take some time to process the edits or changes made, and return with a clear head. The editor is not attacking your character or effort, but simply looking at how you’ve formatted your words and trying to help your work reach its full potential. Instead of combating the feedback—my writing is perfect and needs no corrections—remember to accept the criticism knowing that someone is actually, truly taking the time to read something you wrote.
(3) Expand your horizons
I dream of working my way through Europe and living only off the income from words I produce, but I know it is a dream. Following Hemingway’s footsteps isn’t a realistic career path. It’s important to remember that in order to write, you need to gain life experiences. So, get outside your comfort level and try new things, if only to make a good story out of it. Expanding your range of experiences will not only help you attain new skill sets, but also give you something interesting to write about.
These three lessons do not deter my dream of a writing career. Instead I recognize public perceptions about English majors provide less support and more discouragement for writers and I can combat those. If Ramen truly is your favorite meal and you would love nothing more than living with ink-stained hands, I’ll be excited to read your newest piece and edit.
Alanna Rieser is in her third year at Lawrence University studying English and French. She spent last semester studying Literature, History, and French Immigration in Paris and lived on the left bank where she participated in the Parisian way of life enjoying coffee, crepes, and pastries. Originally from the Chicago area, Alanna is an avid reader, dancer, and kayaker. She serves as campus ambassador for the Study Abroad program and as Vice President for her sorority, Delta Gamma.