When I was a double major, going for both a BA and a BS, I was often asked, as all college students are, what I was going to do with my degrees. Unfortunately – sometimes jokingly and other times disapprovingly – I was occasionally encouraged to choose one or the other. Encouraged to focus on only one subject. In many ways, I’m glad I didn’t listen.
Earning a science degree taught me almost more about writing than my English degree did. Here’s why I’m grateful for my BS.
It taught me how to be concise, but detailed
In chemistry, at least at the college level, you aren’t allowed to just write that a chemical changed from clear to blue. You have to be able to explain, in simple terms, why that chemical changed, what kind of change it was and the implications of that change. And there isn’t always room in lab reports to write long, detailed explanations. You have to make it short and simple, yet as detailed as possible. You don’t get points with literary agents for being long-winded in your prose. Quite the opposite, actually.
The same goes for social sciences. You have to be able to understand the theories behind behaviors and patterns. That is how I learned to write about more real, believable people. That is why I fell in love with the concept of characters.
It showed me why people do the things they do
When you don’t know much about psychology or sociology, you fall into the trap of writing too many stock characters and stereotypical plot lines. You write with the belief that someone with a mental illness is dangerous. You write thinking formula romance novels are realistic (uh … maybe). It’s not your fault: you don’t even realize you’re doing it. But it happens, and it’s something successful writers grow out of, as long as they learn how people actually work – and why.
Good writing is realistic and believable, and before taking science courses, I’m not sure I really understood how to write dramatic stories that weren’t so stereotypically tragic it hurt. All my characters were the same. They had the same issues and dealt with them the same ways. I can’t say I’ve completely turned that around, but I’ve gotten better.
It made me a more well-rounded person
I loved my English classes and my professors, but I never learned as much about the world we live in as I did in the classes I took in the physical and social sciences. In my English courses I learned how to analyze and communicate, but over on the other side of the academic spectrum I learned the backgrounds of the literature I was analyzing – the history, the facts, the laws, the theories. Some of the things we read and wrote about, I never would have understood as well as I did without the added knowledge those science classes gave me.
I also had to volunteer a lot for service hours, so I spent a lot of time helping people and listening to them and traveling places, which is where the ideas from some of my favorite original stories have come from.
I’m glad I went to college. I’m glad I didn’t skip out on the opportunity to learn just so I could spend all my time writing. But I’m especially grateful for my science professors. You taught me how to write less and say more. You showed me how the real world works. You let me be a thousand things and know a thousand facts without judging me. I’m a better person for that – and a better writer, too.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.