Writing Degrees Part 4

CC image by Joanna Penn

It’s time for the last installment in this series on writing degrees. I hope you have enjoyed the different perspectives so far. If you’re still deciding on whether a writing degree is right for you or you just want to learn more about what it’s like, I hope this will shed more light on it.

Some official background first. I graduated from the University of New Mexico as an English major with an emphasis in professional writing and a minor in business management. But if you showed me five different people with this pedigree, I’d guarantee each one would have gotten there differently.

Originally I was going to double major in English with an emphasis in creative writing and computer science. (Yes, you read that right.) Three weeks into my second semester, when the first computer science assignment was coming due, I realized I had no clue what I was really doing. And instead of pursuing creative writing wholeheartedly after I dropped the course, I changed to professional writing, partly because I was interested in it, and partly because it felt expected of me to have a slightly more “practical” degree than just creative writing.

I was good at professional writing, and I liked it for the most part. Mostly, I liked being good at it. God was gracious to give me a detailed enough brain necessary for the degree, but I still wanted to pursue creative writing. So I did. I never took a class I didn’t like if there was a more creative option.

Basically if you boil it down, I cheated. I have as many creative writing classes under my belt as I do professional writing ones, maybe more. Since the creative writing majors have already gone into the creative writing classes and I don’t have much more to add to their perspective, I will go a little bit into the professional writing ones.

CC image by Scott Kellum

CC image by Scott Kellum

The two intro classes were my favorite. I liked my teachers (got lucky on the second intro class since it was taught collaboratively, and the teacher I didn’t like was hardly there), and I liked learning about technical and professional writing on a broader scale. The formatting was my favorite. Learning about how readers read and scan for information was great. You go more in depth with programs like Word and PowerPoint and learn about other ones like Prezi. Most of it becomes about presenting yourself in the written form. You cannot escape a class without writing a memo and making your resume (again). You spend so much time on your resume in each class, it’s almost ridiculous. It’s like they think making your resume look awesome is enough to get hired after college.

The more advanced subjects get a little mind numbing. I took an editing class with a teacher I was not particularly fond of. Keep in mind, the English department is actually small. So if you come across a teacher you don’t like early on, you are likely going to be stuck with him later on when you really want to learn things. Anyway, the class should have been called technical editing, because that’s all it was about. Instead of learning how to really interact with clients, you learn about tracking changes in Word and how technology makes things different for editors. Instead of learning how to edit multiple types of things, you sit in the drudgery of a manuscript that isn’t even applicable anymore.

CC image by Nic McPhee

CC image by Nic McPhee

I learned that I hate technical editing. Or maybe I just hate editing fake technical writing. There were a lot of lectures in the class, not just on the subject but on how we all should care and the real world is harsh, why the one student in the back shouldn’t be on his laptop, blah blah blah. The group projects will drive you insane. They always say they will prepare you for the real world, but they’re mostly just annoying hassles. I don’t feel better able to handle the real world from any of my group projects in college. And I’m pretty sure there was an average of two per class.

I took a proposal and grant writing class, and that was about as exciting as it sounds. But it was probably the only class that felt like it had a real life application to it. We actually got to create a proposal for a non-profit organization and then they could use it or not (another group project, by the way). But again, I didn’t enjoy it. It was almost too specific to hear about what kind of detail you should include in a proposal. The research was exhausting, but I did enjoy formatting everything. I personally would not consider doing it for a living.

CC image by Scott Kellum

CC image by Scott Kellum

They do try to create hands on projects in these classes because they genuinely want to help students get jobs when they graduate. They even require you to take an internship class to graduate. It’s designed to get you an internship and help you build a portfolio of all the interesting things you did in that internship so you have materials to show in interviews.

I was the managing editor of Scribendi (a literary and fine arts magazine under the Honors Program) at the time, and I decided to cheat and use that for my internship. It seemed like a good idea, kill two birds with one stone and all, but it is probably the one thing I would change, despite the additional stress. Scribendi was the easy way out. I had already been a staff member. I knew what we were doing, and though it was a tremendous growth opportunity, I wish I would have done something in a professional environment because it could have given me the experience I really needed to get a job in my field right outside of college.

When I did finally get a job, it wasn’t in my field. Thankfully, I’ve had opportunities to use my degree at my job since then, but it’s still not what I envisioned when getting the degree. And that’s probably okay. Maybe a full-time professional writing position would have been too much right out of college. In any case, I’m here now and grateful I get to use my degree to help my coworkers.

CC image by Joanna Penn

CC image by Joanna Penn

I love editing, even the more technical documents like manuals, when I get to initiate it. I love creating documents to make mundane information more approachable. Formatting can be a headache, but I love figuring it out. The classes gave me the foundation I needed to learn all that. But the way I really learned all that was by doing it. Over and over for many different groups not in school and other side projects. Each new thing I created helped me get to where I am now, and I’m still learning.

If I was to leave you with any sagely advice, it would be to put your all into whatever you do. Whether you get a degree in writing or a degree in something else or no degree at all, don’t do what you do half-heartedly. Really think twice before taking the easy way out. Don’t let your expectations or someone else’s expectations burden you into disappointment. I like how my particular college experience ended up, overall. The things I was involved in and the people I met really helped shape me and give me skills I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Without them, without the classes and the extracurriculars, I wouldn’t have had the skills or the confidence to help found this magazine.

I hope you enjoyed this series. If you have comments for any of us or want any of us to expand, all you have to do is ask.

By Tracy Buckler