What’s Your Major?March 10th, 2008
I know this is supposed to be a journal about my most private thoughts but it’s not really, because if it were no one would speak to me ever again, especially vis-à-vis my views re: baby showers, which match this girl’s completely–minus the sports part (I can’t even get my cell phone to show me my emails, let alone sports highlights).
Anyway, it was a thrilling weekend here at Chez Cabot, we spent a lot of time playing “Where’s Gem?” because every time there’s a thunderstorm my husband’s incredibly stupid cat chooses to cling to whatever piece of deck furniture she is sitting on instead of using her cat door to come inside, because she is so transfixed with fear of water falling from the sky (she will, however, use her cat door to come inside every time she senses anyone is about to use half-n-half in their coffee. So go figure).
Sometimes she drools when she sleeps.
So at four in the morning in a hailstorm with blinding lightning crashing all around, both myself and He Who Shall Not Be Named In This Blog were staggering around the backyard going, “Here kitty kitty,” only to find her clinging soaking wet to a lounge chair. Not even UNDER the lounge chair. That’s how dumb she is. But we love her.
But get this: if I open the refrigerator to take out milk for my Cheerios, she goes, “Ah-ah?” Like, she KNOWS what a carton of milk is. This is because some stupid tourists who rented a place down the street once gave her some milk (milk is bad for cats).
Worse, she can tell that the SHORT carton is cream, and when she sees it, she goes MENTAL (“AH-AH! AH-AH!”) It’s really hard not to give her a tiny amount just to shut her up. (And because she’s so darn cute when she talks like a monkey).
Anyway, many thanks to those of you who kept Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls on the New York Times Bestseller List last week, holding strong at #6! Thanks too to those of you who purchased copies of She Went All the Way, re-released in a fancy new format and also selling strong!
I’ve gotten a lot of mail recently (more than I can ever hope to answer, but Nancy and I are working on it, and one of the things we’re working on is actually really answering it, not just sending a note saying we can’t, although please recognize a response may take several weeks) and one of the questions I get most often is:
What should an aspiring author major in in college?
A lot of people think the answer to this question is obvious (creative writing, journalism, or English), but to me it’s really not. I know a lot of writers, and very few of them majored in these things. I actually know more people who majored in these things who DO NOT write professionally than do. What does that tell you?
What it tells me is that when you’re in college, you should keep your options open and explore lots of things.
(As a side note…that’s why when I hear stuff like that many of the Ivy Leagues are offering free tuition to students from middle income homes—but only if they keep a straight A average—I get so sad. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great schools are offering free tuition…but why only to super smart kids, who’d probably get scholarships anyway? Creativity can’t be measured by grades, and lots of great middle income kids occasionally get Bs and even *gasp* Fs. And why the caveat that they keep a straight A average? How can students do what they’re supposed to do at that age—try new things and find out who they are—if they don’t have the option to fail? Saying to these kids, “Here’s free tuition…but only take classes you know you can ace. Don’t try anything challenging or new that you might get a C in!” does a disservice to them and to our country.)
But that has nothing to do with what aspiring writers should major in in college. Which is, in my opinion:
A) Something that interests you.
College is a time to explore and try new things (um, unless you might get a bad grade and lose your free scholarship. Then, I guess, don’t risk it). When I started college, I refused to declare a major until I absolutely had to (at Indiana University it used to be that you didn’t have to declare a major until you were a junior. I have no idea if that’s still true). Majors I toyed with: Social work, psychology, medieval studies, African art history, costume design, sociology, and painting.
You’ll notice none of those have to do with writing or English! That’s because when I was sixteen I met an aspiring writer at a college party who was an English major who warned me the English department would suck any love I had for creative writing right out of me.
I was so scared this might happen to me, I never took a single English class at IU the whole time I was there (I tested out of freshmen comp. I did take a few creative writing workshops though).
Years later I met that guy again in New York. And ended up marrying him!
And now I’m a writer and He Shall Not Be Named In This Blog.
What does that tell you about what you should major in in college if you want to be a writer? But maybe he’s a unique case.
B) Something useful.
Just because it took me almost ten years after I graduated to get published doesn’t mean you won’t get your novel published right away. But just in case, major in something useful, so you can get a job after graduation to support yourself while you’re busy writing during the weekends (unless you have a trust fund or Mom and Dad are going to give you a hefty allowance).
What is a useful major? I don’t know. But it seems like people always need computer programmers or teachers or nurses or social workers or physical therapists or accountants or stuff like that. One thing you should not major in is ART like I did because when I graduated there were no ART jobs. Which is how I ended up working in a New York University residence hall for ten years.
On the other hand, I really loved that job, and I’ve gotten a lot of good material out of it.
That’s another thing to think about: getting a job out of college that will give you something cool to write about. I know a girl who got a job as a chef for the circus. I can’t WAIT for her book about her experience cooking for the CLOWNS.
C) Whatever you need to major in in order to get your parents off your back.
If your parents are hassling you about your future, you may have to major in whatever it is they want you to just to get them to pay your tuition.
I wouldn’t say this if I hadn’t heard from tons of you (“My parents don’t support my dream of being a writer!”) whose parents have threatened to cut you off financially for following your dream. I am telling you right now—it is not worth having your parents yank your financial support just because you want to be a novelist and they want you to be an actuary. The secret you know and they don’t is: you can always write on the side.
As I’ve illustrated above, you don’t HAVE to major in English or creative writing to be a writer.
Yes, we all want our parents to believe in us, and I know it hurts that sometimes they can’t or won’t or just don’t. That’s why for some of us, keeping quiet about our dreams is better than Taking A Stand. Parents don’t always understand. That doesn’t make them bad people. It just makes them parents who love you and want what they think is best. They’re only doing it because they love you. Try to convince them, but if you can’t, tell them you changed your mind and Have Seen The Light. Yes: you’re lying. But you’re doing it for the greater good.
If you really want to be a writer, the last thing you want is your parents yanking their financial support, leaving you with tons of student loans to pay back.
So I suggest doing whatever you have to to get them on your side, even if that means lying and majoring in something that isn’t your dream job. Try to work out a compromise. If they want you to go to med school and you can’t see yourself sticking it out for eight years, try bargaining. Say you’ll be an actuary instead. Being an actuary still sounds impressive, but it’s less time in school. I would prefer it if you went to medical school because then you could cure what’s wrong with my va-jay-jay, but we all have dreams, and I’m willing to put mine aside for you. You see how I love you? Just like your mom. OK, sister.
You can sneak in a creative writing workshop here and there.
And guess what? Nobody ever didn’t publish a book because they were an actuary.
And now, I have to go find my husband’s cat. Because it looks like it’s going to rain. Ah-ah. I mean, goodbye.