Like many hopeful writers, I majored in English. I brushed off the comments about the degree’s lack of marketability and ignored people who asked if I planned to "just be an English teacher."
It was trying at times, especially when it made me forget what "pleasure reading" even meant, but I don’t regret my degree in the least because it makes so much sense for writers. Dissecting previous works and understanding what made them successful is vital.
Plus, most writers carry a deep, passionate love for reading, as well, which makes the gravitation to studying English much more powerful. For aspiring writers who are currently in college, however, it’s important to take a step outside of writing workshops and English literature surveys.
We must make use of classes outside of our required core courses because peripheral knowledge in other subjects will make us better writers.
Learning about how people think and act in group settings is crucial for writers. Sociology shows just how pervasive our environment is; how even the tiniest changes in a group’s behavior can radically alter an entire person’s mindset.
Major societal issues can find roots in the subtlest of values; racism and sexism and all other forms of bigotry have nuance and can manifest in an assortment of ways.
A better understanding of how communities work will make your fiction more believable and your nonfiction more universal. It can also open your eyes to problematic concepts, which you might have been transferring to your writing, as well.
It makes sense that beyond understanding humanity on a macro level, gaining better insight to humanity on the individual level is also important. The same way we are products of our environment, we are also products of the mechanics in our minds.
Understanding the ins and outs of what makes someone tick translates to rounder characters.
Engaging stories — fiction or nonfiction — present people as they truly are, warts and all. No one is black-and-white, “good,” “bad” or “crazy,” and a good story addresses those shades of gray. At the very least, a writer needs to understand what might drive a person to a particular action before writing about said action.
What it means to be a man or a woman, and how we interact inside and out of our own gender, is the foundation of countless worthwhile reads. It is far too easy to fall into stereotypes and two-dimensional characterization when developing a character of the opposite gender.
Gender studies are about more than studying issues women face; the course covers the whole spectrum of identity, representation and issues that affect us all. If nothing else, gender studies might help you become more aware of the characters you create and avoid toxic archetypes in your stories.
Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, right? Examining the cyclical nature of issues in today’s society illustrates how true this sentiment is.
A good history class is about more than memorizing dates and names; it will dive into the hows and whys of events that already unfolded. In some ways, a good history class is a sociology and psychology class, rolled into one.
No one enjoys answering ubiquitous, “What was the cause and effect of this particular moment in history,” questions from high school history tests.
But, life is a series of causes and effects. Grasping the intricacies of history can help you create your own intricacies and perhaps, an event or series of events from the past will even inspire your next work.
At the bare minimum, philosophy classes force you to rethink old assumptions. Even if it is just to crank out a five-page paper, philosophy will make you see things differently. You won’t have to ascribe to the concept of nihilism to create a character who sees life nihilistically.
Allowing yourself to think differently will help fire up those creative tendencies and potentially get you out of any ruts or writers blocks.
Sometimes, writers get stuck in predictable paths that we hope will help us in our craft. But, to be a good writer, it's necessary to be a good human. It's necessary to understand the ins and outs of what it means to be human.
We need to be well-rounded because our writing is exactly as limited as our views of the world. Given the price of college, it's a precious commodity, so it is up to those of us lucky enough to experience it to make the most of it.
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