Elite Daily writers are welcome to post their writings to their blogs after publication. So, without further ado, here is the original version of my article (link down below).
Like many would-be writers, I majored English in college. I brushed off the comments about the degree’s lack of marketability, or if I would “teach English” someday, and dove headfirst into the subject. It was trying at times – it definitely put me into a position where I forgot what reading for pleasure felt like – but I don’t regret my degree in the least. The English degree makes a lot of sense for fiction – and nonfiction – writers. Dissecting previous works and understanding what made them successful is vital information. Plus, almost all writers carry a deep, passionate love for reading as well, which makes the gravitation over to studying English as a subject that much more powerful.
However, for my aspiring writers currently in college now, it’s important to take a step outside of our writing workshops and English literature surveys. We need to make use out of the classes outside of our required core courses, because there are other subject matters that will make us better writers:
This is first on my list because I actually minored in Sociology. More often than not, I was the only English major in my Sociology courses. I would self-consciously joke that I was actually majoring in non sequiturs, as it felt like the two subjects I studied the most were on opposite sides of the spectrum (and campus).
But learning how about people think and act in group settings is crucial as a writer. 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. It demonstrates that major issues in a society can find their roots in the subtlest of values; that racism and sexism and all other forms of bigotry have nuance. Nobody behaves in a vacuum, and a better understanding of how communities work will make your fiction more believable and your nonfiction more universal. And it can open your eyes to problematic concepts that you might have been transferring over to your writing as well.
It just makes sense that, on top of understanding humanity on a macro level, gaining better insight to humanity on the individual level is just as 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 on a personal level will translate into more well-rounded characters. Engaging stories present people as they truly are, warts and all. No one is just black-and-white “good” or “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 do a particular action before writing about said action.
What it means to be a man or a woman – and how we interact with one another — is the foundation of any worthwhile read. And it is far too easy to fall into stereotypes and two-dimensional characterization when writing characters who are the opposite gender of you. Gender Studies is more than studying issues surrounding women; it covers the whole spectrum of identity, representation, and the issues that affect us all. If nothing else, Gender Studies might help you become more aware of the characters you create and avoid any toxic archetypes in your story.
Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, right? All you have to do is look at the cyclical nature of issues in today’s society to realize how true that is. A good history class is more about memorizing dates and names; it will dive into how and why events had unfolded the way that they did.
No one enjoyed answering the 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. There is an event, a catalyst; an event that takes shape and spawns a multitude of reactions and other events. Grasping the intricacies of history can help you create your own intricacies. Perhaps an event or series of events from the past will even inspire your next work.
The field of philosophy takes an even harsher beating than the English department. I feel for philosophy majors every time I hear a variation of the remark: “You’re getting a degree in philosophy? What, so you can quote Socrates while flipping burgers?”
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 in a different way. You don’t have to ascribe to the concept of nihilism to perhaps create a character who sees life in a very nihilistic way. Allowing yourself to think in a different way than usual will help fire up those creative tendencies and potentially get you out of any ruts or writer blocks.
There are some easy go-to subjects that I didn’t discuss; namely journalism and communications. While both are important subjects that can contribute greatly to your ability to write, both subjects are exactly that: easy go-to subjects. Sometimes, as writers, we get stuck in predictable paths that we hope will help us in our craft. But to be a good writer, we need to be a good human. We need to understand the ins and outs what it means it be human; we need to be well-rounded, because our writing is exactly as limited as our views on the world.
Likewise, for all college students, we are exactly as limited as our views on the world. Being a better anything means being a better person. It means understanding life outside of our area of study, even (and especially) when we get the blinders on, worried about getting our core requirements taken care of. Because life is a lot more than where we get our paycheck; it’s about unraveling the ins and outs of what makes us tick and why. With the price of a college education these days, our time in college is a precious commodity, and it is on us to make the most of it.
Read the Elite Daily version here: http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/five-college-subjects-will-make-better-writer-aside-english/785299/