When it came time for me to transfer to a four-year university and pick a a major, everyone told me the same thing, “Don’t major in literature!” They all had different reasons for saying this to me, and while all of them were well-intentioned, I decided to major in Literature and minor in Creative Writing anyway because when I tried to think of something else I wanted to do more, I couldn’t think of a single thing. Literature and writing are really the only things I’ve ever had a passion for, and if I was going to spend all that money and all that time studying something, I wanted it to be literature. So, that’s what I did. But I’ll be honest, there are still some reasons why literature might not have been my best idea, and it’s important to consider those things before making a decision. So, let’s talk about some upsides and some downsides to being a Lit major
Studying literature in college isn’t like studying literature in high school. In high school, we’re all reading the same books and they’re usually the classics, and they might not be something that you find particularly interesting. The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein. There’s nothing wrong with these works, but not everyone wants to study them beyond that surface level. There are other important books in the world, people who are studying literature and creative writing in college might want to focus more on something they want to teach or something they want to write. College courses are much more specialized in this area. At the school I attended, we were given the option to take courses that looked at Sci-Fi and Fantasy works, some that focused specifically on American authors, and even some that focused only on children’s books. The option to branch out in college is really there and can open up your mind to things you didn’t know existed.
Whether you’re majoring in creative writing or literature or both, you’ll probably want to take some writing classes. Writing classes are important to being a literature major, just like literature classes are important to being a writing major. These are two things that feed off of each other. Chances are good that you won’t be able to do one without the other if you really want to understand your field of study. And while some high schools might have offered writing classes, mine only offered one: Creative Writing. That was it. One general course with a very open curriculum. But in college, the writing classes are more specific to its writers and therefore more fun. The college I went to offered poetry classes, short story classes, screenwriting classes, etc. Sure, it’s easy to take writing classes somewhere else, maybe even online, but not the way you can take them on a college campus with other writers who are right in your same boat.
Finding communities of writers in the digital age isn’t always a struggle. With websites like Wattpad and writing.com, you can join critique groups and find people all over the world that are writing in the same genres as you and connect with them. But having a writing group right in front of you, in person, is a little different. When you’re meeting with a writing group (or a class, which is basically just a large critique group), you’re getting a chance to get feedback in real time and have discussions with the people around you. You have the opportunity to have conversation. Plus, you have people who don’t write what you do, and that can be as valuable as having a group that does. College writing courses have writers and readers of all calibers, and it can often be invaluable to have the perspective of someone completely outside of your field.
This one can be kind of tough. Mentors are not hard to come by in the writing community, but when you take writing courses on a college campus, they often come with a built-in mentor who can share their knowledge with you. However, writer beware that your built-in mentor isn’t always what you’re looking for. Just like anywhere in life, you’ll connect with some professors and not others. Some will be excited about helping you and some will feel like you owe them something for their help. Make sure that you’re looking for the right people and listening to the right mentor. My time in college led to excellent teachings by some incredible professors who later became friends, but there were also those just looking for a paycheck.
A good reason that not a lot of people who might really want to major in literature or writing choose not to is because it really limits what you can do with your degree. That’s not to say there aren’t really great options for people who have literature or writing degrees, but compared to those who might get degrees in business or the sciences, there might not be quite so many options. But if you’re interested in trying to make writing a career or even something like teaching or editing, literature and writing programs are a great option. There are ways that a writing and literature degree can be versatile, especially since many non-specialized jobs are just looking for a degree of any sort without needing it to be any kind of degree in particular, but there are definitely other degrees that have more versatility. So, I suppose, all of that was to say, it depends on what your overall plan for your career is as to whether or not a degree in the arts is a good idea.
This might seem the same as the “jobs” issue, but it’s actually not. You can have a pretty clear focus: being a writer. Being an author has been my main focus for as long as I can remember. It’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do, but as you probably guessed, unless you’re an extremely well-established NYT Bestselling author (Stephen King, JK Rowling, James Patterson) there isn’t much money in the writing game. Publishing is a very hard game to break into but even harder to succeed at. Not to be the Debbie Downer. I definitely am not here to ever discourage people from being writers. But it’s hard. Very very hard. So while this is actually a con for being a writer, it’s also a con for choosing a writing degree.
I once had a friend who told me that she chose not to going into literature and writing in college because she knew that if it was something she had to do for school and not something she was doing just because she loved it, that she would eventually start to hate it. Now, this hasn’t been the case for me, but I’ve known a plethora of writers who have been given the chance to write as a career but had a hard time because once it became a job, they found that they lost their passion for it. This is the kind of thing that’s just going to be different person-to-person. Not everyone will have an experience like that, but a lot of people do, so it’s something to beware. When I transferred to a four-year university, I was taking writing classes and literature classes and not only did I not have much time for personal writing, but I was also putting all of my creativity into stories and poetry for my writing classes and there wasn’t much left for my own work.
This one can sort of be a pro or a con, depending on what your purpose for choosing writing courses is. There aren’t too many schools who have excellent writing programs in the United States (if that’s where you are). We writers are a bit of a dying breed. At the school I went to, the writing program was small enough that the classes were limited. These classes were excellent, most of them taught by incredible teachers, but there wasn’t an option for what I was doing, which was writing novels, and I knew there were other students from the writing department that wanted to focus on novels, too, but because there wasn’t a professor who wanted to teach that, there was no option for it. I’m sure this was true for other types of writers in the department who might have wanted to focus on other things, too. But for someone who isn’t sure what they want to write, this might be an opportunity to discover that. See? Even our pros and cons have pros and cons.