Whenever I tell someone that I am an English major, they automatically assume that I either want to be a teacher or a novelist.
No, I do not want to be a teacher. Perhaps one day I will write a novel, but from where I’m standing right now, I hardly think I can make a living off of writing books. I worked for a book publishing company over the summer, and let me tell you, just because you write a book doesn’t mean that you’ll immediately become the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. People have to want to buy your books and as more are published each year, it has become increasingly difficult for writers and publishing companies to sell books.
According to a recent study that Bowker Report released in September 2016, over 700,000 books were self-published, while over 300,000 books had been published traditionally by actual book publishing companies. Pew Research found that the average American only reads between 1 and 5 books a year, and seeing as about a million books are published each year, it is much easier to publish a book than it is to sell it.
With all that in mind, people shouldn’t be surprised when I say that writing a novel is not on my list of priorities once I graduate from Whittier College. Would I like to write a novel someday? The answer is yes. However, I am not going to put all my eggs in one basket. I’m going to get a day job, because the chances that I’ll be able to support myself selling books are pretty slim.
Now just because I am going to need a day job does not mean that I will have to resort to teaching. Honestly, I don’t know where people get the idea that English majors can only be two things. Believe it or not, I have more options than people could wrap their minds around. I can be a journalist, a lawyer, a lobbyist, an editor, a publisher, a screenwriter, social media manager, a web developer, nonprofit executive director, the list goes on.
Heck, I can even be a hedge fund trader on Wall Street. Don’t believe me? Author of For the Love of Money, Sam Polk was a hedge fund trader on Wall Street who ended up making millions of dollars. You know what he was before he ended up on Wall Street? That’s right, an English major.
Another thing that bothers me is that people outside of the English realm seem to think that being an English major is a walk in the park. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “You’re an English major, how hard can that be? All you do is read?” or “You’re just an English major, I’m a science major,” then I wouldn’t have to worry about being in debt after graduation.
I don’t know what gives people the impression that English is easy. Junior Nazarely Narvaez told me that she and her friends have even been laughed at. If it were so easy as many people claim it is, then why do I find myself cringing several times a day at the sight of horrific grammar and spelling. If you’re such an expert in the English language, writing basic sentences shouldn’t be a challenge for you.
What do you think an English workload looks like? I have had several non-English majors tell me that my work is nothing compared to what they do. I mean, of course we can’t compare our work to each other because they are completely different subjects. Just because you think highly of your major doesn’t mean you can discredit mine. Without English majors who would fix your grammar and spelling? Would politicians have to write their own speeches? Obviously that isn’t working for Donald Trump.
English majors don’t lollygag around. This may come as shock for you non-English majors, but reading can be hard. I mean, have you read Beowulf?
It may also surprise you to know that we do not find pleasure in everything that we read. In fact, I spend most of my time stress reading and find it extremely hard to actually enjoy the book that I’m reading. You try reading fifty to a hundred pages from three or more books each night and tell me that you find it fun. I honestly wish I had the time to read for pleasure, but unfortunately I have deadlines to meet.
Don’t forget, on top of all the reading, we also have papers to write. I remember my sophomore and junior year I would have one to two papers due each week. I find it funny when a non-English major complains about having to write a paper because I am literally writing something all the time.
Once, one of my non-English major friends said, “Writing papers shouldn’t be that hard for you. All you basically do is write how you feel about the book you read, right?” No. Not right. I don’t spend hours on end talking about my feelings toward the book. I do something called critical analysis, which means I have to try to interpret the author’s purpose for writing whatever it is he/she wrote. Believe me, this is harder than it sounds.
“You try writing pages upon pages based on books that you can’t look up on Sparknotes, then try to connect that book to life, culture, and everything around you,” Sophomore English major Rika Drew-King said. “Oh! And don’t forget to have perfect syntax and punctuation every time. Then tell me being an English major is easy.”
English is not an impractical major. According to Business Insider, people who major in English actually learn skills that make them crucial to the political and business worlds. “English majors work well under deadlines, communicate effectively, and think creatively,” reporter Alison Griswold said. “Today, written communication reigns: email, instant messaging, texting, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. That means writing skills are incredibly important. English majors know how to write crisply and concisely, and also have a strong grasp of tone. In business communications, for example, English majors will understand how to tailor their language to fit the company.”
The only correct assumption people make about English majors is that we read a lot, which is pretty obvious. Aside from that, non-English majors have no clue what it takes to be an English major and what we are capable of.