Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Salute to Non-English Majors

It still amazes me that I'll be graduating college (university to my non-US folks out there) in less than a month. I'll now have a slew of letters behind my name that mean I spent a lot of money, effort, and time learning something.

That "something" wasn't English. Or literature. Or the social sciences. Or pretty much any other area of study that would have involved reading fiction or writing mounds of papers.

In fact, I didn't even take an English class in college. All the papers I wrote were for classes outside of my program or to fulfill Honor's requirements.

I spent my time learning how to place IV catheters, wrapping my head around how electrical conduction differs in the canine and equine heart, memorizing methods of action for various drugs, and trying to understand how to comfort someone who has lost their pet to disease.

I'm almost a licensed veterinary technician, if you're wondering.

Getting here didn't involve writing papers. It didn't involve studying literature or story structure or marketing.

But I think it made me a better writer.

When I was getting ready to graduate high school, I told a friend about my plans. He had read several of my WIP's and knew that I rarely went anywhere without a book. He was shocked that I wasn't doing something writing related--not even minoring in it. He asked me if I planned to continue writing and how I was going to improve if I didn't take classes in writing.

The answer? I carry my daily experiences with me. They shape my writing, how I look at life. Now that I'm in the hands-on portion of my learning, I deal with distraught people on a nearly daily basis. I see how people react to stress, how they react to death, how they react to not being able to save someone they desperately wanted to save. I know what it feels like to have someone depend on you, to blame you for something that's not your fault, and to feel in way over your head. I've seen the look of despair on surgeon's face who has been on duty all night and is now being asked to scrub back in one more time. I've experienced the panic of watching a patient slip away and trying to find something to bring them out of the downward spiral.

 These are not so very different than the things we write about in fiction.

Am I saying that every writer should become a veterinary technician? Certainly not. What I am saying is to find a career you enjoy, even if it's not full-time writing. Let that shape your understanding of people and characters. Live life to the fullest and let your writing flow out of that.

Working part time at an espresso bar? Take advantage of being able to people-watch.

Majoring in engineering? Understand what goes into the science behind everything we see, build, and use.

Working with a roofing crew over the summer? You'll know first-hand what it means to work hard all day.

Whatever you do, you can shape it toward your writing. There are craft books to help you learn some of the finer points of writing and to develop your skills. For me, not writing for classes helped me to enjoy writing as a reprieve from my daily routine. (That's changed a bit this year, as I've had to write reflections on my experiences in the clinic; I've noticed that my urge to write has dwindled a bit during this time.)

The bottom line? Don't feel like you have to be a writing major to be a writer. You can still write, even if you spend all day painting, or using a staple gun to nail down shingles, or looking at chemical structures. Take what life has taught you and run with it. Learn from it. And write about it.

Did you study literature or English? How has your major or day job shaped your writing?


  1. Lovely post, as always :) Congrats on (almost) being finished! That's so amazing. At the moment, my studying is really holding my writing up, but that's ok. I'll get there in the end :)

    1. Thanks! It can definitely be challenging to balance studying and writing.


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