Why An English Degree Kinda/Sorta/Somewhat Makes You a Better Writer

I started off with this clip of Tyrion Lannister from HBO’s George R. R. Martin adaptation, “Game of Thrones,” because reading isn’t just important to royal dwarf princes.  It’s important for all writers.

However, don’t confuse knowing how to read with knowing how to write.

You need both.  Don’t ever forget that.

From Then to Now

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was nine years old — when I got my hands on Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and started writing stories in my spare time.  I did well in most of my high school English classes, and with that success, I decided to major in English in the hopes of becoming a great writer.

I studied the great English poets, the playwrights, the fiction writers across all time periods, and writers from multiple cultures and backgrounds.  I can tell you a transitive verb from an intransitive verb, what a chiasmus is, and much more.  I can write research papers.  I can craft sound arguments.

I can write and read pretty darn well.  It’s what I was trained to do.

But… I’ve realized that all of the reading and critical thinking I’ve done for English literature, while beneficial to my fiction writing, has paused my fiction writing skills.

Wait.  What?

It’s been a little less than a month-and-a-half since I’ve graduated from college with an English degree, a Japanese minor, and a Creative Writing Emphasis in Fiction.  In between hearing from the MFA programs I applied to, I’ve been working on my novel.

And while writing, I’ve discovered that my other writer friends have improved, while I seem to be… stagnating.

This isn’t fair, I thought.  I’m the English major.  I studied the literature — the language.  I wrote short stories.  I did critiques.  I know how to write a good story.  I know how to write properly.  So, why? Why am I making these bad habits? And why do I get mad when people try to help me get better, even though I’m not doing so hot?

First off, comparing myself to others in a negative way was not helping me.  It was just digging a bigger hole for myself in terms of guilt.

Secondly, I was confusing being an English major with being a great writer.  When I took an advanced poetry class, a biology major was one of my fellow students, and I can’t tell you how astounding of a poet she was.  College degrees don’t determine who is a good writer and who isn’t.

As one of my writer friends put it, there’s one thing that separates good writers from great writers: mentality.

“Just Do It!”

Yup.  Shia strikes again.  I know this video is old by modern meme standards, but Shia Labeuof gets a video in this post, too.  Because what he’s saying is important for all writers.

The only difference between a good writer and a great writer is how much they write.

So write.  Just do it.

Make no excuses.

Write every day.  Write one word.  Write one sentence, one paragraph, one page — anything that will help you write every day.

If a book is a whetstone for the mind, a book is a whetstone for your writer’s pen — your inner creativity and writing skill.  By sharpening your writerly sword with books, you’ll have a sharper vocabulary.  You’ll be able to recognize plot holes and character flops.  Every now and then, your knowledge might get dull, and you might need to review the basics, in which case you’ll need to review a book you’ve already read before.

But having a sharp sword means nothing if you don’t, and won’t, swing it.

If you don’t swing your sword — if you don’t write, you won’t improve.  Like a new squire practicing training stances and certain techniques, you need to know how the act of writing feels.  You need to listen to your brain.  You need to watch yourself write on the page so that you can go back and correct your mistakes so that you won’t make them again.

You need to be vigilant, diligent, and persistent.  An English degree can certainly help you — train you to be those things, but you won’t grow as a writer unless you put in the work and write.

So, get out there, my readers-who-write.

Write.  You’ll get better.

Trust me.

4 thoughts on “Why An English Degree Kinda/Sorta/Somewhat Makes You a Better Writer

  1. Definitely something we aspiring writers need to remember. It’s difficult to maintain a daily writing habit if we expect to write pure gold every time we put pen to paper (or keyboards to word documents). Thank you, because I needed to hear (read) this.


I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s