Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advice for Creative Writing Majors

A long time ago, someone asked Owl what she wished she’d known when started college as a creative writing major. Owl behaved very irresponsibly. She made a crack about being an economics major instead. This is the advice she heard when she majored in creative writing.

Owl has decided it's bad advice. First, it’s untrue, because Owl as an econ major would have been Owl weeping into her pillow clutching a teddy bear. Second, all it does is tell people their dreams are stupid. Owl is deeply sorry and full of regrets. She’s spent weeks thinking, and this is actually what she’d tell a younger Owl.

Forget about grades. Good writing is not about grades. You will get B’s you don’t deserve and you’ll get A’s you don’t deserve. Pay attention to the feedback instead. Figure out what should be discarded, and what you should use to get better. Praise comes and goes; the work stays.

Say thank you. A professor will scribble “senseless emotional drivel” at the top of your first assignment. (Welcome to college.) Your classmates will cross out all the poetic twists you slaved over. (Overwrought). Your friends will circle the parts where they fell asleep. (Every other paragraph). It will hurt. Sometimes they’ll be wrong. Mostly they’ll be right. They’ll show you what you can’t see. Say thank you, so they’ll keep showing you. It’s easy to tell someone they’re great. It’s harder to tell them to grow. People who like you tell you good job. People who love you tell you how to get better. Love them back. Thank them for caring and do better.

Ignore the haters. Freshman year of college you will walk into the cafeteria and find a group of engineering and pre-med boys clustered around a table ranking the most useless college majors. Creative writing will be at the top. They will tell you, you are going nowhere. You will believe them because that’s what everyone says: you are going nowhere.

Ignore them. Seven years later you’ll run into one of them. He’ll still be in the same town. He’ll tell you he burnt out, stopped going to class, and eventually gave up all together. He’ll tell you he had dreams, but he was too scared to act on them. It’s easy to tell someone they are useless. It’s so much harder to do something. Do the hard thing: do what you love.

Befriend the people you admire. There are people who are so talented that you get nauseous: the girl in your poetry seminar who writes in two languages, the girl in your intro seminar whose stories make your heart bleed, the girl in your fiction class who can spin a plot like nobody’s business. Make friends with them. Today they’re your roommates, your friends, your competition. Tomorrow they’ll be your lifeline.

You will leave college one day. You won’t have workshop, you won’t have your professors,you won’t have anyone to edit your work. You will have your girls. The first will ask you the tough questions and sort out your crazed commas. When you are homesick halfway across the world she will write you emails telling you it’s okay to be panicked. You will travel to Myanmar together. The second will read through your drafts and mark them up for weak writing. She’ll take you out to brunch when you get burned out at grad school and remind you that writing and pancakes make life worth living. The third will stop you from publishing a god-awful essay just so you can get another byline. Somehow she'll even do it tactfully. She’ll host you at the drop of a hat whenever you come into town to say hello, and at her house you will always sleep well.

Good people, people who tell you the truth, people who spill over with talent are hard to find. If you are lucky enough to meet one, keep them close.

Trust yourself. Everyone will tell you writers don’t get paid. Because of this, you will apply for a line of sensible business jobs. You will believe that only the best and the brightest get paid to write, and that you are not, and never will be, good enough. There is no such thing as being good enough. No one is good enough and everyone is good enough. Think T.S. Elliot and think Twilight. The first step for getting what you want is being brave enough to try. You want. Now go. Go write.


  1. oh boy

    Forget about grades

    I really wish someone had told me this, like, since 1st grade. I've spent so much of my life competing for grades that I can't get out of the habit anymore, even though now I think it's kind of dumb :(

  2. Right? And the fact that they don't exist?? How are we supposed to get through life without them?

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