Should I Go to College? Why Getting a College Degree Is Still Important for Aspiring Writers

blog1016

You’ve been writing a long time. For as long as you can remember. All you want to do, you’re certain, is become a writer. But doesn’t everybody go to school to get a degree in English or something?

That’s not what you want. You want to write. Is it worth paying all that money and spending all that time and energy studying something you never even want to use professionally?

College is essential, regardless of your chosen career path. If you’re thinking about not even giving it a go, keep thinking. Getting a degree, even as an aspiring writer, is more beneficial to your future self, and your career, than you might realize. College, these days, is inevitable.

But don’t let that discourage you from a bright future as a writer. Here are a few things you’ll learn along the way, things that will make four years of stress and hard work worth the time, money and effort.

You’ll learn the most effective speaking and writing strategies

College students spend a lot of time complaining about papers, projects and presentations without stepping back to realize the skills they’re developing in the process. Even if you’re not in a creative writing class or writing articles every week, that doesn’t mean you’re not still learning how to structure and present arguments on a variety of topics.

Professors don’t just give out those assignments to have something to grade. Regardless of the subject matter, college courses teach you the most effective writing and speaking techniques out there. You’ll need them to pitch story ideas and carry yourself professionally, even if you do find a way to make a full-time career out of writing.

You’ll learn how to work with all kinds of people

Two words: group projects. You probably have yet to meet anyone who loves them, and that’s exactly the point professors try to make when assigning projects to be completed in groups. Again, it’s not just to make grading easier. It’s to teach you an important life lesson, over and over … and over again.

In your lifetime, you will work in groups. All the time. You will work with people who put way too much effort into every little thing, and you will work with people who do their best to get away with participating as little as possible.

It’s not exclusive to schoolwork. As a writer, you’ll work with all kinds of people: agents, editors, other writers, people who love their jobs as much as you hopefully do, as well as people who don’t. College prepares you for this much more efficiently than you’ll initially realize. Just push through it. You will not regret it.

You’ll learn what you do and do not want to do career-wise

Many students embark on their collegiate endeavors thinking they know exactly where they’re headed and what they want to do after graduation. Many of them change their minds, sometimes more than once in a four-year time span. Taking a variety of courses, both in your major and outside of it, will introduce you to a whole new world of possibilities you may have never even considered before.

Without that experience, you might actually end up struggling to find where you fit in the publishing world. The best way to figure out what you do and don’t want to do is to learn about the industries and careers available to you. As an aspiring writer, you might start out in marketing, PR, administration, some career you never thought you wanted. Often, though, laying a foundation early on gives you the freedom to build your portfolio and continue to write, which will, most likely, come in handy later.

Even freelance jobs want to see that you have a degree in English, journalism or communications. There is no escape. But you won’t regret taking the time to write a little less to study a little more. It will all be wroth it. We promise.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Your Characters Might Know More Than You Do

Even though I have about twenty thousand four hundred and sixty eight things left to do before I go to bed tonight (I just violated AP Style and I don’t care – BLOG FREEDOM), I must interrupt my seemingly endless stream of productivity to bring you this important announcement:

My characters are keeping secrets from me.

And yours might be, too.

It started yesterday, with the scene continuing and finishing up this morning. There I was, minding my own business as the narrator and all that, and all of a sudden, as Callie was sitting next to a headstone (it’s important, but don’t worry – SPOILER ALERT – Ashley does not die before the novel ends), she started having this flashback.

So then I was stuck writing about her life as a college student, as a comparative parallel to Ashley’s life before she ended up where she is now in the present, and who eventually appears, seven years in the past? ASHLEY DOES. That’s right. My own character neglected to inform me, until yesterday, that she and the other main character in my story had met before the events summarized in the past began.

Seriously? How is this supposed to make me feel?

I don’t know whether to be offended or impressed. I mean, if Callie can go an entire 23 days knowing something I don’t, that’s worthy of admiration right there. But, ahem, WHO’S THE WRITER HERE? I don’t think I appreciate having to add in an entirely new complicating factor to my story just because my character, the one who actually still communicates verbally in the present, kept her mouth shut.

But then, how can I hold it against her? She’s smart, after all, I guess smarter than I originally thought. I really need to keep an eye on them, especially when I go on a writing hiatus starting December 1 so I can, like, pass my classes and ace my biochemistry final and all that. They might start writing the story themselves while I’m gone.

Now wouldn’t that be interesting.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

The Double-Life Dilemma

This whole pattern of posting one day and then ignoring my (now, virtually 2.5) readers for the next thousand weeks needs to end. College may be a nonstop marathon of biochemistry and nutrition-related articles, but that doesn’t mean I should be allowed to abandon my roots. I’ve posted on this blog (through its various name changes) at least once per month since 2009. That’s a pattern I won’t let fizzle out (even if it kills me).

It wouldn’t actually kill me. It’s a hyperbole.

Do you want to know what I’ve really been up to since my last post (besides drowning in chemistry concepts and reading articles until my brain wants to fall out)? Missing my novel. A LOT. But besides the fact that I have no time to work on it (do not tempt me with NaNoWriMo; I’m seriously trying to talk myself out of it), I’m afraid that if I do go back, I won’t be able to jump back in. That’s always been my problem. A friend of mine worked on her novel off and on for a few years before she finally finished it. Once I stop, I have a really hard time going back.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Probably not. There’s probably some theory or psychological phenomenon already out there that explains it (but if there’s not, seriously, don’t tempt me to come up with one). I really do love the story I worked on this summer, though, especially since it’s been my “baby” since freshman year when I made an attempt at writing a TV pilot. Same characters, more in-depth story. I think I just need to go back and read some of it. Right?

Wrong. It’s all about avoiding temptation here. If I go back and read it, I’ll be XYZ times more likely to start working on it again. Need I elaborate? College student. Senior. Double-major. NO.

I can wait until December. I can wait until December.

You’re shaking your head right now. You’re saying, “Why don’t you just write a short story? Get those ideas out of your cluttered collegiate head, missy.” If only it were that easy. I can’t write short stories on a whim. I can scrawl out a chorus or poem in about five minutes, but my stories are too complicated for it all to fit into a smaller amount of pages. Go back and read my posts about my Disorderly characters – COMPLICATED.

There are ways around this dilemma, but those include (1) never sleeping, ever, (2) drinking multiple pots of coffee per day, and (3) failing biochemistry. And as you can (hopefully) guess, all of these things are BAD. NOT POSSIBLE. NOT HAPPENING.

I would say been there, done that, but that would get me on a rant about my currently unfinished memoir, and we are so not going there right now.

But, speaking of which (sigh), I have successfully avoided so much as opening the document that holds the contents of my memoir thus far since August. Yes, I know I’m avoiding it on purpose. Yes, I know this is delaying my grieving and coping processes. No lecture necessary. But if you do want to “spam” me with daily persuasive reminders to leap back into the abyss, be my guest.

Within reason, of course. I do have a life outside of this virtual universe. Ask my friend(s). They’ll tell you so.

And now that we’ve mentioned avoiding the eventually unavoidable, I do have about 204 more things to do before I go to bed.

This is the life of a college (wannabe) novelist.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Confessions of a College Introvert

It is 7:21 pm. on a Sunday night. I have been doing homework, running, eating and sleeping (but mostly doing homework) nonstop since Saturday morning (yesterday). I like doing homework. I like running, too. Sleeping I don’t get along with all that much, especially when I have articles to write but my bed is all, “Dude, seriously, it’s lonely over here.” Food is a plentiful necessity – always around, always being blasted with microwaves or chopped into pieces or consumed between time-consuming projects. But it’s all about balance. We can’t just do homework all the time, or run 24/7 (that might hurt after about an hour or so), or eat constantly or sleep through the sunshine. There has to be a little bit of everything. Right?

You may have noticed I didn’t mention anything about interacting with other human beings. Before you start worrying, let me clarify: I did talk to people. I went to a musical Friday night, and the girl sitting at the front desk of the rec center complimented my workout shorts (because they matched my Team World Vision shirt?). Her replacement by the time I walked back out told me to have a nice day. And I do have roommates, ones nice enough to pull me out of my Henry James craze long enough to point out that there are gross insect-like aliens crawling all over my plant (which meant I had to toss it into the dumpster, but hey, nothing lives forever).

So no, you can’t just be by yourself all the time, either. But we introverts need our “introvert time,” and that’s not hard when your other roommate’s boyfriend comes to visit (again) and you have so much to do it wouldn’t even matter anyway if someone invited you to do something fun, because you used to be able to wake up at 4 am and stay up until midnight, but you’re old (21) and can’t do that anymore without about a pot and a half of coffee in a 24-hour time span.

Oh, I’m also limiting my caffeine intake. Shocked? Impressed? It’s not like I’ve banned myself from it, I just don’t make more than one pot in a day (and if that doesn’t tell you anything about how much I used to drink compared to now, nothing will). I figure I might as well get used to not being dependent on coffee now, since next year I might be a poor starving intern who can’t afford fancy flavored coffee creamer or pumpkin lattes from Starbucks.

But let’s not think about that right now. We’re still safe, in The Bubble, with a nice “free” apartment and parents who buy us food and coffee and professors who give us chocolate just because it’s Monday.

Well, that happened last Monday. I’m not counting on it happening two Mondays in a row.

Though, I do love chocolate.

Where was I? Oh, right: balance. Balance the homework (which we need to do to graduate) with the running (to keep our muscles happy) with sleeping (to keep us sane) and food/coffee/chocolate (to keep our brains functioning properly). And people. Never forget the people. People are awesome. Even when you’re scared of them most of the time.

Don’t take it personally. This is why I blog, not video-log. I used to do that. Don’t go looking for them, though. Please.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Why Writing a Memoir is the Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

I don’t write about personal things in my blog. I don’t write about my school (much) or my friends (not because I don’t love them) or even my family all that much (they’re just too cool for that, for real). That’s not what blogs should be for, in my personal opinion. Humanity invented diaries for a reason. Unless you’re Anne Frank, I really don’t feel like the entire world needs to read about your personal life. Personally.

However, as a writer, I must confess to the common yet sometimes unforgivable crime of writing about people I know in my books.

There’s a subtle way to do it, of course. Name changes, shifting facts around, maybe even changing hair or eye color. Personalities usually don’t vary too much, since that’s usually why a writer might feel the need to convert a real-life person into a fictional character in the first place. You can’t be sneaky with the names, though. Don’t make “Jake” into “Drake” or “Holly” into “Molly.” Not okay.

While some might do this to get back at people for being mean/rude/unprofessional/horrible, I’ve never done that. I’m very quick to forgive, and though I never forget (who does?), I’m not here to gossip about people with an author’s disguise on or do unto jerkfaces as they’ve done to me. I’ve only ever done it with friends, mentors, maybe even family on occasion. People that have built me up, made me stronger, acted as my support and never left me for sorrow.

That’s why writing this memoir is giving me a headache.

“So why don’t you stop,” you want to type in the comments, “if it’s so painful?”

Because a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do.

Why is this the hardest thing I’ve ever had to sit down and write? Because I don’t get to make anything up (I’m not that kind of non-fiction writer). I don’t get to decide the ending, or if the main characters break up and then make up again. I don’t get to choose whether two roommates got along or fought, or whether friends stayed friends or drifted apart. I have to write the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. This is how the book begins (before the first line, a note to the world):

“I promise to tell the truth, the whole story, every detail I can and can’t recall. I promise I won’t pretend to be anything I’m not or say things I don’t mean. And I promise, you won’t be sorry you gave this all a second chance.”

Is this targeted toward anyone specific? No. This is my promise, the promise I made before I even wrote the first words of my story. As I’ve said since the beginning, it’s not supposed to be easy, digging down deep and reliving all the things I’ve tried to hard to forget. But as I’ve also said, I never forget. It’s a matter of being brave, of going back to those dark places, of re-experiencing those moments I thought were too much to handle the first time. No one has to go through that. No one should ever be forced to face their past. But if you don’t, how will you ever really discover who you’re supposed to be?

Don’t ask, “Who am I?” You’re never someone in the present-tense, because the present is always changing. You were someone, you’ve become someone else, but you’ll be come someone entirely different in the future. It’s not a constant line, no straight edges or predictable outcomes here. You’ve been broken, you’ve come a along way, but you still have a long way to go.

That’s how I personally define strength – realizing how far you have climbed but knowing there’s always more mountain you can conquer if you’re ready to go.

I won’t stop climbing, no matter the altitude. Writing a memoir, at 21, hurts. But believe me, it will all be worth it. It will all be worth the struggle.

Just wait.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Deep Breaths, Deeper Thoughts

After trying my hand (okay, foot) at a little classic Wii Fit yoga, I’m definitely sore but satisfied. I liked the deep breathing part, since I’m totally not good at that at all (even though I’m a singer, and should have learned by now).

I know I really should do other things on Friday nights, like socialize and eat pizza (normal weekend activities for college students). But yoga seemed like a good idea, and I didn’t fall over. My trainer even told me I have great posture.

Since that’s absolutely 100 percent not true, I’ll forgive him for lying and try again tomorrow.

ID-100192667

I don’t know why he/she/it is sitting on a green world. Why green? Why not blue or purple? Those are calming colors too. Someone’s discriminatory against the entire visible spectrum (except for green). Shame on them.

My next task (after I do dishes, AGAIN, because somehow I am one small person yet I make a sink’s worth of dishes in less than a day) is to – FINALLY – work on my memoir. It’s almost been a full week since I even opened it, and I hope that’s given my brain enough time to process where I want to go next. I’m thinking I’ll just open the document and start writing – not necessarily where I left off, but really, I just need to let go and let it happen.

That’s when words become meaningful – when you’re not forcing them to come out. When they just start flowing, you know you’re not going to get anything much better than that out of your brain once it’s over. Not until it happens again, anyway. I haven’t had one of those Word Explosions in awhile, but I think I’m seriously due for one. Maybe Sunday, when I don’t have quite as much to do or quite as many places to be.

I’m going to miss having time to write once classes start again.

Oh well. Life goes on.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Time to Lose

I think I’m losing my mind.

Okay, so maybe I’ve started one too many blog posts with that exact statement as a lead. Maybe it’s true, and tiny pieces of my brain really are peeling away at subtle intervals without my knowing it. I mean, I don’t normally color-code things THAT often. Especially not my closet. Ever.

IMG_4330

So yeah, maybe it’s time for a transplant. Just let me keep the creative part.

I’ve written three articles and a short bio already today, not to mention the usual journaling scrabble and what feels like a thousand e-mails. I don’t think I realize how much we write every day even when we’re NOT “writing” until I have nothing on my agenda other than – you guessed it – writing. I’m even writing about writing as you’re reading this and shaking your head, hoping I get that transplant pretty darn soon.

I think the more time I spend alone, the more ideas I get for diving deeper into my memoir – but the less motivation I actually have to open it and start writing. It’s scary, getting into the tough stuff I’ve always made sure to avoid writing about. But it’s also necessary. And I always describe one of my annoying personality traits as “stubbornly determined,” so I guess even if I don’t want to write it all down, I’m still going to eventually.

I miss my novel. Meh.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Wacky Writing Wednesday

I’m ready to start writing again. I haven’t done much more than journal lately, and I think now that I’m going to have at least some free time before school starts a week from today, I really want to get into it. Articles (for multiple publications), maybe a little memoir too. Yeah. I just verbed that.

I’ve been watching “Full House” for pretty much the past three hours, just because it’s on and there’s no one else here and I can quote every single episode almost by heart (don’t judge me!). Aw, it’s the episode where Michelle tries to get a new mommy! I might cry. For real.

Hey, they’re skipping episodes. That’s not cool.

I really need my roommates to get here soon. I’m losing my mind. Which is probably why I’m not getting much writing done. Seriously, I need a life. I have one. But clearly I need more friends.

Characters are not friends. They are voices in my head that control what I type on a blank page. Are you worried about me yet? Don’t be. It’s the coffee that’s doing this to me. What more did you expect?

I’m really excited to start writing news and campus life articles again. I feel like I haven’t really tried one since I started experimenting with styles during my internship the past two semesters. I always wondered whether or not adding color was okay in a news story. It is, if you do it right. I’m ready to practice!

I’m ready to conquer the world!

I need to stop drinking coffee. Unless I buy this.

Screen shot 2013-08-21 at 10.18.00 PM

Yeah. I think I’ll do that instead.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

You Are Your Novel’s Muse

Guess what? It’s cloudy again, and too cold to sit out without a sweatshirt (I’m a wimp when it comes to temperature, it’s true). So I’m stuck inside, still procrastinating on packing, because even though I’m 80 percent sure I’m moving back to my apartment on Sunday, it just doesn’t feel real yet. And then there’s the whole suitcase factor. I still have to dive deep into the depths of our basement to find them. College student problems.

You’ll be happy to know that I did end up working on my memoir yesterday for a good hour or so. The thing with writing about your past is that you can’t just tell the story in the order of the way things happened, necessarily, and you really can’t write it in order, either. I’m learning that when I sit down to work on it, I have to write about what’s on my mind. What/Who have I been thinking about lately? How does that tie into the message I want to get across? It’s a very different process than writing a novel, article or short story. And I think I’m really starting to like that.

The whole reason I’m doing this at all is to come to terms with a lot of things I’ve been through that have shaped me over the past 21 years, and I feel like you can’t be at peace with yourself or the way you live your life until you’re able to embrace the people that hurt you, love who you have become and know who you want to be. I’m only in the process of figuring those things out, and writing about it helps a lot more than I thought it would. I think the reason for that is, I’m not writing it all down for anyone else. I’m writing it for me. So I’m speaking to myself, in a way, as I fill the pages. Honesty leads to trust, which leads to healing.

I don’t know what I would do without a keyboard, or paper and a pen. I’m glad I don’t have to think too hard about what the alternatives would be. I have my words – and sometimes that’s all I need. Sometimes all anyone ever needs is to release the voice no one else gets to hear, the one you have the power to ignore, tolerate or accept with grace.

Figure out the things that make you become real. Never let them go. Ever.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

A Head in the Clouds

The one day I can actually spend laying in the sun all day…and the sun won’t come out. Sign from the writing gods? Maybe. Nudge from God Almighty? Questionable. I mean, I did read through my GRE registration forms and hey, I did devotions this morning. Fifteen credit hours and an online internship don’t leave too much room for tanning. I’m exceptionally pale and I leave next week. Here’s to hoping for a clear of the clouds in the dreary Midwest.

I really should take a little time for writing today – and not writing an article or journaling or even a blog post (though by the time I do go to sleep, I will have completed each of the above tasks). If you’re a writer, you know how freeing it can be to get away from the real world for a little while to hang out with your characters, explore a new world or figure out a new problem (and how to solve it before your characters do). I suppose the same goes for reading as well, but you don’t get to choose how that story ends. Unless you were a ’90s kid.

Yeah. I just went there.

Want to know something funny? I had to stop in the middle of that rant, get up, and go stand on the back porch during the five-minute span of sun peeking through the clouds. But don’t accuse me of being addicted to tanning. If it’s not summer, I’m usually too busy to be outside. It’s the miserable truth. Welcome to the life of a double-major undergraduate student.

The fact that the biggest decision I have to make in the next twelve hours is whether I want to work on my memoir or my novel is pretty much okay with me, though, and just about makes up for the fact that apparently the weather wants to pick a fight with me on this wonderful Wednesday. Maybe I should try to do something more productive. If that exists.

I could pack. But I probably won’t.

As long as I don’t wait until Saturday night to pack everything up, I’ll be good to go. Despite my best efforts to crush its head, the small bit of chronic procrastinator left in me still takes a swipe at my obsessive task lists every now and then. Let’s hope I can get myself to at least locate the multiple suitcases I’ll need to fit all my…..stuff.

No, I don’t mean stuffed animals.

Not all of them, anyway.

IMG_4287

Love&hugs, Meg<3