Friday, March 10, 2017

An Open Letter to the English Degree: You're Not Worthless

Diana Gabaldon, author of the OUTLANDER series, recently tweeted about the unsavory choice to major in English, and the internet responded…well, as the internet usually responds to comments that are destructive and full of ignorance: with force.

Not only was her tweet a slap in the face to English majors, but it was also a jab at those who work in the fast food industry. As someone who waitressed six years to put herself through college, and who then worked at least three jobs at any given time in order to set herself up for the life and career she wanted as a writer, this is not only offensive, but disappointing.

Now, I’m going to take a moment here and start off by saying that my English degree has quite literally provided me with everything that I have in this life, both professionally and personally. That's not to say that all of this would have been impossible without the degree, but rather enforces the fact that the degree, itself, is not in fact, worthless. Every job that I’ve landed has been because of either  my verbal skills, my blog, my publications, my teaching experience, etc., all because I was mentored and taught how to communicate efficiently, effectively, and properly.  

After earning my degree in English Literature, I went on to continue my education by earning a MFA. While studying at university,  I met my publishers at an open-mic poetry reading and then went on to earn five Bram Stoker award-nominations, publish four solo poetry collections and one novel, go to Ireland, work in a corporate office for an accounting firm, and continue to write and travel and earn a living based off skills that I 100% wouldn’t have if I wasn’t for my education.

I’ve met life-long friends and wonderful colleagues during my studies, and in the process of doing blog tours, and conferences, readings and fundraisers, I’ve met and been published alongside my heroes, all while paying my rent and still being able to splurge on an Italian-leather briefcase that I picked up when I was helping run a writer’s residency in Dublin, Ireland.

Now, the counter argument here is that one can get a variety of the same jobs and go on to still be a writer and get employed without a degree in English, and yeah, that’s true. You can. But keep in mind, you’ll be going up against people in the job market who have an English degree and who most likely have sharper skills and a more intricate background of internships, magazine experience, and editorial work than you do. 

Furthermore, the English degree also teaches you how to:
  • Create and maintain a blog;
  • Create a website;
  • Conduct an interview (thank you, journalism background);
  • Overcome your fear of public speaking;
  • Write a proper query letter;
  • Write a book summary;
  • Write a book review;
  • Learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry;
  • Meet and connect with critique partners, writing groups, and beta readers;
  • Research industry standards and not only read the nuts and bolts of what is required of an independent writer, but understand the practices and concerns of signing a contract, maintaining a business and doing your taxes; and
  • Learn how to write a scholarly paper with a clear thesis statement and properly cited sources according to the format style of choice.

If I didn’t major in English, I wouldn’t have a community of readers and writers who support me and lift me up when the words don’t want to come. I wouldn’t have the outlet to create stories that are properly developed in regard to character, plot, and setting. I wouldn’t be able to pay my student loans because writing has always been my best, most marketable skill, and without it, I would have majored in something that bored me or perhaps gone on to work in a field that wasn't fulfilling, probably ended up quitting, and then did something that paid me less than what I deserved. But most importantly, I wouldn’t have been happy because I would have chosen something else that someone other than me thought was more practical to my life. I would have been miserable working in a full-time job that I hated because it’s what I had to do in order to survive, and then maybe, sure, I would have written occasionally when the depression wasn’t too bad, or when I had the energy or desire to do so because my work flow was 45 hours a week, and my travel time was an additional 10 hours a week on top of that, and then the laundry needed to be done, and the bathroom needed to be cleaned, and on and on and on…

But yeah, my degree was a bad decision.
Happiness is overrated. 

In total support of the English Degree,
Stephanie M. Wytovich