If you emerge unscathed from the process of your own writing, you have not gone deep enough.
I feel like being an English major (with emphasis in creative writing, mind you) sort of allows me to continue to not make up my mind about what I want to do. You can take an English degree to all sort of different areas, and a writer really has to be so many different things, which largely involve the study of people. You have to know what’s going on in the world, you have to know yourself, you have to know psychology and history. A great benefit though is that I have a greater scope of seemingly unrelated classes that can speak to my focus. I have license to dip my feet into every pond, and that is one sense in which my major really suits me.
I do however have to deal with feelings that I should be doing something more specific – I know I would make a great clinician in the field of psychology or counseling, for instance. Those also sound a bit more respectable than ‘professional essay writer’. Also, something more science-y would cultivate discipline more than wit, and I’m doing the exact opposite. I rely on my wit to save me from my lack of discipline. I sure do come up with some snappy fucking rejoinders nowadays, though. You can’t say most of the time as a math major that getting drunk helps you with your assignments, but when your class is Intermediate Poetry and you just happen to be clever when you’re drunk (at times), it’s a different story. Besides, if I can make all my future bosses laugh then they won’t mind that I do everything behind schedule.
I changed my glasses to match my major so I wouldn’t have to change my major to match my glasses.
In a way, being a truly good English major (with emphasis in creative writing) is hard, probably not harder than say for a physics major, but comparable in a different way. You’re not just learning things, you’re figuring out your own world, deciding what it looks like and how to make others see it. You must create your own answers, and often provide your own questions. In many of my writing classes I must go through honest personal growth, because I’m writing about my own life. And truly, the biggest challenge for a writer is becoming useful to the world. Writers spend time with what others don’t bother to see as essential, descend smelly stairwells into levels of the self that many don’t have the strength for, and necessarily illuminate life. Our work allows you to learn from the worst of life, without having to be so unfortunate as to experience it, or to know the best of life, even if you can’t touch it yourself. Half of our work occurs quietly at a desk, and the other half occurs in every place imaginable. To write about a corner of experience, you must know that world, and to know that world, you must live in it in some way. If you emerge unscathed from the process of your own writing, you have not gone deep enough.
So, to the writers like me, who have a sense of direction but no sense of destination (and an emphasis in creative writing): know that you have jumped into the best kind of ocean, and that you are carrying the responsibility of the philosopher and the poet to be flipped head over heels, to spend time not knowing which way is up, and to come back and tell what you saw and felt when you were there. You may not always be appreciated, or well paid, but if you are meant for it then you will be remembered.
Or you might just get really good at writing cereal commercials, I don’t know.