Tag Archives: writers

Should Author Hopefuls Attend College?


Happy Monday, everyone!

6881499716_e8f46fa096_zSo I’m doing a slightly different post today. Over the weekend, I read a blog post talking about how college isn’t necessary. In fact, the post went as far to say that college was a waste of time. (The author of the post received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Both from prestigious institutions.)

Though the author provided an exhaustive list of careers options that don’t require a four-year college degree, most of those professions require experience. It seemed that the author expected to graduate with her master’s and immediately get a six-figure salary job, while she was still in her twenties and with very little to no experience in her chosen profession. (And she wasn’t too happy about having student loans.)

At one point, she talked about my choice of bachelor’s degree: a BA in Clinical Psychology, stating that you should only get a BA in Psychology, or any sub-set of psychology, if you’re going to get your PhD and become a professor or practicing psychologist. (She went on to state that if you go to a four-year college, you should choose your major based on the level of salary you can get.)

When I was working on my bachelor’s, I fully intended on earning my PhD, however life happened and my interests changed. Now, I work in pediatric allergy and immunology research, and am considering transferring into HR (all the while finishing my master’s in fiction writing). Perhaps, I’ll end up receiving a PhD…in editing. (Or, even better, become a published novelist, who makes enough money to live off her writing.) I’m not sure yet.

What I am sure of is that without college I wouldn’t have the job I do, and I would have missed out on a ton of life experiences.

If you’re more practical and salary-oriented, think of college like this: with so many people having college degrees, in order to stand out, receiving more advanced degrees is even more important. Having a bachelor’s doesn’t hold the weight it used to. Plus, college is a great way to network, and as I’ve gotten older – and I’m betting this is the same for you – I’ve realized how important social networking is. Most of the time you get a job or a promotion, or really any opportunity, because of the people you know. The smallest acquaintance can open doorways.

As for the author’s list of jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, while it’s true that you can enter those professions either with an associate’s degree or without any degree, most people end up earning their degree or multiple degrees while working and gaining experience. That way they can get promoted or switch careers if they so desire.

I’m not saying everyone should go to college. College isn’t for everyone. There are some people in my family who attempted college and realized it wasn’t their path. I am arguing that college can be very important. College has the potential to help you both immediately and later in life by providing life experiences, broader opportunities, flexibility, and increased chances of promotion. It can also help you get your foot in the door. (I worked in a psychiatric hospital for a year, and while I was applying for the job, though the job requirements stated only a high school degree was required, I discovered that everyone who applied had at least their bachelor’s degree.)

I realize my master’s in fiction writing isn’t the optimal choice for making money, but I don’t regret the program. My writing’s improved, and more importantly, I found a sense of camaraderie and support (and some phenomenal critiques of my writing) that I was looking for. It also doesn’t hurt that I enjoy my master’s because I love to write, and I love being around people who are as passionate about writing as I am.

Sometimes, doing something you love beats out earning potential. After all, we only have one life. Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide what’s important.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Tax Credits.)

Why Writers Are Looked Down Upon

The other day someone asked me what I do for a living. I told them I work at a hospital, and then I hesitantly added that I’m also a graduate student. Why was I hesitant? Attending graduate school is an important step in many career paths. It can open a lot of doors and many people look up to individuals with advanced degrees.

However, I knew the next question the person was going to ask. “What graduate program are you in?”

4744982425_fe42abfa42_mWhen I answered, “I’m in a masters in writing program,” the reaction was almost uniform. It seems that most people look down on writers. I’ve even had a few family members ask what I’m doing to move forward with my “real” job. One person said to me, “Don’t good writers automatically know how to write?” As if every person in a writing program is incapable of writing well and therefore requires help.

Here’s a short list of authors who attended either an MA in writing program or an MFA program: Lauren Oliver, New York Times bestseller, Elizabeth Kostova, recipient of the Hopwood Award, Richard Ford, recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and Jhumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

I’ve wondered why so many people look down on writing programs and writers in general. Unless an author is financially successful (J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice, Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, etc.), people expect writers to have ‘real’ professions, such as being a teacher, a lawyer, or an editor.

I think writers tend to get looked down upon because:

  1. Most people think they can write and publish a novel. There have been multiple instances where I’ve heard people say, “I’m going to write a novel someday,” “Writing isn’t that hard,” or, “Haven’t you been published yet?” They don’t realize how much time and energy go into writing a full length novel. Nor do they understand that getting an agent and then a book deal is like finding the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. (Getting an agent doesn’t solely depend on how well a book is written. Timing, what published books are popular at the moment, the mood of the agent, the query letter, connections, luck, etc. all play a role in whether or not a writer snags an agent.)
  2. Writers = artists. Like most forms of art, whether painting, music, or dancing, writing is seen as a hobby. It’s something to do in your spare time. It’s not a serious profession. Very few people can live off the money they make from writing. Very few people make any money from writing.
  3. Writing is a lonely road. Unlike many other types of jobs, writing is an individual process. This means that people don’t see how much time a writer dedicates to his story. It’s not only about writing those 80,000 words. There’s revisions and editing, getting people you trust to read your work and critique it (this stage is about the only one with outside interaction, until you query), and then there’s more editing.

There’s a prejudice against writing as a serious pursuit. However, writing takes a huge amount of dedication. Many people who begin a novel never finish, and out of those that do, many don’t go back and do the necessary revisions to make the novel publishable. Even if a novel is in its best condition and a writer has multiple people telling him to query because they loved his novel, there’s no guarantee that an agent will pick up the book. Writing takes resilience and one heck of a backbone.

Yet, though I know all of this, it still can hurt when I see peoples’ reactions to my chosen graduate degree. Yes, writing is most likely not going to set me up for life, but I don’t write because I’m looking for financial gain. I write because I love writing. I wouldn’t be happy if writing wasn’t in my life, so though non-writers have difficulty understanding why I’m pursuing a path that has few outward benefits, I’m going to continue doing it…and spend my free time hanging out with other writers.

Why do you think people tend to look down on writers?

(Photo courtesy of Gerrit Schirmer.)

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

The year is almost over. A new year is about to begin. These next days before we say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015 are a time to declare resolutions for the coming year. Some will resolve to lose weight or save money, but as writers, our New Year’s goal(s) tend toward writing.

341866875_a0e8c69f1e_oHere are some common resolutions for writers:

Make time for writing (consistently).

This is easier said than done. As writers, we know what we have to do to get a novel or short story written. We have to sit down and write. But, since most of us have jobs, families, various chores and errands, pets, other interests, trying to stay fit – not to mention needing sleep – it’s easy for our writing to get pushed to the side.

However, there is time to write. We just have to realize it. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes on some days. Set goals for yourself. Maybe try to get 250 or 500 words written a day. Or work on outlining. Writing isn’t just about getting words down on paper. It’s also about doing research for your work, outlining your story, etc. There are some days where the time I allot for writing is all research!

If you write everyday, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, you’ll find yourself accomplishing a lot more than putting off writing for a month and then spending seven hours in a writing fury. Not only will you have to remember what you’ve already written, but you’ll have to get back into your story. Both of which take up valuable time.

Finish or start your work.

Whether it’s a novel or a short story, you are determined to finish what you’ve started or begin putting that great premise down on paper. It can be frustrating to have an unfinished work laying around, but it’s easy to put off continuing working on it. The same applies for beginning a novel or short story. Why not write your goals down on a calendar or tell someone about your goals? Find a way to make yourself accountable to finish or start your work.

If you make the resolution to finish your work, that includes editing and revising. Make the work as close to perfect as you can. Then, reward yourself and work on a new goal: submission to agents.

Edit your work.

A fair amount of people think writing the novel is the hard part. That part is challenging, but what takes longer and is more demanding is revision. As the author, you get to a point in your work where it’s hard to see what needs to be improved. This doesn’t mean to stop revising. It means to get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work, unless you are one of those lucky few who can step back and look at their own writing from an objective point of view, as if they had never seen or heard of the story before.

(I only know of one person who can successfully take an objective view of his work, which is why I’m in a critique group. I don’t catch all of the little things (and the occasional plot hole) missing from my work, and I very much appreciate those people who take time to review my work. Without them, my writing wouldn’t be as clean as it is.)

Submit your work.

Don’t submit until your work is ready. It can be tempting to submit to magazines or literary agents before you’ve finished editing, or sometimes before you’ve completed the first draft, especially when most agents take at least four weeks to get back to you. Resist this feeling. By waiting until your work is ready, you have a better chance of getting accepted.

Get involved with other writers.

Be supportive. Writing isn’t easy and it tends to be solitary. Not to mention how writers tend to be harsh on themselves. I don’t know about you, but there are times where my negativity gets the better of me. The way I help overcome that? Knowing other writers, talking to them, and supporting them. I know I’m not alone with the emotions and negativity I sometimes feel, and it helps to both encourage other writers (and be genuinely happy for them when they get published) and hear other writers encourage me to continue pursuing my goal of getting published.

Call yourself a writer (and believe it).

This one seems deceptively easy. But saying, “I write,” is different than saying, “I’m a writer.” Writing is more than a hobby. If you want to get published, you have to commit, and one of the most important things you can do to help yourself commit to writing is to admit that you are a writer.

It’s a little scary to admit that, especially if you’ve never been published because you may fail and never get published. That’s something I think about a lot. One thing is certain though. If you don’t call yourself a writer – if you don’t make that commitment to writing – you will have a very difficult time being successful in your endeavors.

I’ve talked in terms of getting published. Not everyone has that goal. Regardless of whether or not you want to get published, writing takes commitment, and in order to do your best, you have to call yourself a writer. More than that, you have to believe it.

One of the best little bits of writing on writers I’ve read is from “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks. I first saw this piece on a Writer’s Digest blog (http://bit.ly/1c3L8ca) and liked it so much I thought I’d share it here:

We are lucky. Very lucky. We are writers.

Sometimes that may seem more curse than blessing, and others may not regard what we do with any more esteem or respect than mowing a lawn. To an outsider this can appear to be a hobby, or maybe a dream that eludes most.

But if that’s how they view you, they aren’t paying enough attention. If you are a writer–and you are if you actually write–you are already living the dream. Because the primary reward of writing comes from within, and you don’t need to get published or sell your screenplay to access it. …

Whatever we write, we are reaching out. We are declaring that we are not alone on this planet, and that we have something to share, something to say. Our writing survives us, even if nobody ever reads a word of it. Because we have given back, we have reflected our truth. We have mattered.

Enjoy the New Year. Embrace your resolutions. Write.

What resolutions are you making this New Year’s Eve?

(Photo courtesy of Naeema Campbell and Tim Hamilton)