On writing

Which university course should you choose if you want to be a writer?

One of the questions asked of Robin Hobb over at the recent reddit AMA was how important she felt her higher education was to her writing. (This is my interpretation of the question, because it wasn’t phrased quite that way.) The answer was, not very. Robin didn’t complete university.

As thousands of people around the world will testify, it hasn’t impacted her writing at all.

Many writers know early that they want to be writers. Thus when it comes to choosing tertiary education they instinctively go for what are perceived as the ‘writing’ courses like journalism and literature. Not everyone wants to be a journalist, so our would-be writer often chooses to study literature.

Sometimes it’s the worst thing they can do.

The only reason you should take literature as a major is because you like literature, not because you think it will make you a better writer.

If you want to be a writer you’re actually better off majoring in something else.

Why? Because writers need things to write about. They need passions and new experiences. Literature may help you appreciate great writing, but can it spark an idea for a fantasy about King Coel and the dying days of the Roman Empire? Maybe, but that particular spark is more likely to come to you as a history major. Can it spark an idea for using sodium channels in the body to build humans who can’t feel pain? Unlikely, but a science major might find that particular idea amongst their journal readings.

University is a time to expand your horizons. Use it, and your writing will be richer and more unique for it.

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