Why I Write: An English Major’s Take on the English Major
When you step onto the Bloomsburg University campus, you’re met with an astounding diversity of students with an astounding diversity of majors. Some of these majors pop up more often than others the more you talk to people – nursing, for example, or education, or audiology/speech pathology, or American Sign Language Interpreting, just to name a few of the more common ones.
English, on the other hand, is a major you’d be hard-pressed to hear about on your everyday walk across the quad.
I am an English major. I’ve always known I’d be an English major – I love to read, and I love to write. But the thing is, whenever I have a conversation with someone about my major, the first idea that usually comes to their mind is, “Oh, so you want to go into journalism, then?”
And I tell them, no, my focus is in creative writing. My true passion is writing stories, not necessarily articles.
I don’t blame them for immediately going straight to journalism. After all, it’s probably the most common occupation that comes to mind when someone says they want to have a steady, reliable income while writing for a living. And yes, ultimately, I do want to write for a living… just not for a newspaper. Journalism as an occupation just doesn’t quite appeal to me.
So how come? If journalism isn’t the end goal, what else can a person do with an English degree – especially one focused in creative writing, of all things? What’s the appeal to such a niche major? And why on earth would anyone even want to write more words than necessary after they graduate from their final years of formal education?
I can’t answer for all English majors on campus – after all, there are other focuses to choose within the English track besides mine – but speaking for myself, at least, the appeal of creative writing is the freedom to create, explore, and inspire.
My dream job is to write fiction novels. Some people will say that authors become fiction authors because they “have a story to tell,” and that’s not entirely wrong. I do have stories in my head, bits and pieces of scenes, dialogue, character designs, and I want to get them all down on paper. I catch a glimpse of an interesting cave or a knot of root during a car ride, and I immediately imagine a civilization of cave-dwellers forming a vast subterranean community, or a pair of fairies using the root for shelter during a storm. I might walk past someone on campus, and I’ll think to myself, “Wow, I know exactly how I would describe that hairstyle in a story,” and I might go on for a little bit in my head, coming up with words to match what I’ve seen. I’ll lie in my bed at night, and I’ll think endlessly about a conversation two characters might have, generating the dialogue on the spot and walking through it while trying to go to sleep.
Maybe I just have an overactive imagination, but there is no doubt in my mind that writing stories is the best outlet for that imagination that I’ve found. It’s my favorite form of self-expression, just like how others might prefer to play an instrument or make art out of clay or post religiously on social media. All of these are creative – all of them involve creating something to express oneself, be it music or art or a public name for oneself. Majoring in English is helping me cultivate my creative outlet.
But I don’t just write because I “have a story to tell” – or two, or three, or twenty. I write stories because it lets me explore anything and everything that interests me through the lens of someone else, all while sitting at my desk in my room.
There are places I want to visit. I want to see the trees tower over me as I walk under the canopy of a jungle. I want to poke my head into every secret door of a sprawling fantasy palace, uncovering forgotten chambers and secret passageways behind the tapestries on the walls. I want to watch a South Asian city boom with life around me during the height of one of their empires. I want to explore these exotic locales to the point that it feels like I was really there.
There are people I want to meet. I want to follow a teenaged apprentice around as he navigates his rural fantasy village and learns his trade from his gruff but kindly mentor. I want to stand beside an African queen as she rises to power on the savannah and leads her people to victory and prosperity. I want to sit down and have tea with a samurai and learn all about her personality, her aspirations, her past, and her deepest fears. I want to delve into every one of these characters and fully explore what makes them who they are.
There are things I want to do. I want to be an officer on an intergalactic battleship, chasing down aliens and defending the solar system with holographic screens spread before me and my laser pistol by my side. I want to watch the love of my life perform in a jousting tournament before me and my fellow members of the nobility, in preparation for a grand dragon-slaying quest – which I secretly plan on joining, as well. I want to go to high school in 1957 and sip milkshakes with my girl-friends in our poodle skirts while we talk about school and drama and current events in mid-century America. I want to live these experiences through my characters and through my words.
It’s not just me who I want to experience all these things – this applies to my readers as well, perhaps even more so. I want to take them with me and show them these amazing places and things.
And I want to show them representations of themselves in my work.
There are no limits to the stories and characters I can create, and I am no stranger to the power that the written word can have over someone, both negatively and positively. I write to reach out to my reader and pull them into my tale by always, always, making sure there is diversity in my stories, so that everyone can get something positive out of them.
I want a young lesbian to watch herself rise to become queen of a fantasy land, with her lady-love ruling as her queen by her side. I want a Latino transgender boy to watch himself liberate a planet from an alien invasion alongside his gaggle of best friends on their spaceship. I want a black girl with ADHD and anxiety to watch herself topple a corrupt dystopian regime almost single handedly. So, I create characters who are just like them, and I send them off on these grand adventures.
In a sense, I write stories to send a message to my readers. I write to tell them that they, too, have gone on these adventures, and lived and grown alongside my characters, in the hopes that someday, it will empower them to do great things in life.
This is why the English major appeals to me, and this is why fiction-writing is my focus and dream. I want to create worlds and develop characters and combat the forces of evil, but I also want to speak to my reader and inspire others. I obviously haven’t published any books yet, but I sincerely hope that such a thing will be in my future. Majoring in English is giving me the skills I need to make that future a reality.
I’m in no way bashing on journalism, or saying it’s less important. Journalism as a profession is just as incredibly valuable to the community. In fact, when you get down to it, it does much of the same thing that fiction does – journalists tell stories, too. They explore the lives of people, take readers to locations all over the world, and inspire the public with tales of heroism and inclusion. They inform the community of important goings-on and warn them about future hazards.
But for me, nothing can compare to the freedom of pure, creative fiction – to putting my own original content down on paper and drawing readers into a world never before seen.
We English majors may be few and far between, and creative writers even more so, but we know what we’re doing in choosing this academic path. We’re not just going to touch the world – we’re going to create whole new ones from scratch, and take you there with us to explore them.