April 26, 2016

“Indecision: Choosing a Career in Writing” by Rachael Allen

“Indecision: Choosing a Career in Writing” by Rachael Allen

[Photo: Manhattan. Which box do you choose?]

I want to be a writer. Well, what do you want to write? Novels, short stories, articles? Academic papers, scripts, speeches, songs? English, Italian, Spanish, marketing materials, instructional manuals?

I don’t know. Moreover, I don’t want to choose right now. And yet, in declaring a major, in finding summer jobs, in approaching the time when I will no longer have school to define myself by, it feels as though I have to choose—at least momentarily, to shroud that indecisiveness that jitters inside me.

In part, my confusion seems to fulfill the generalizations of an English major and perhaps, moreover, a liberal arts student—you do not have a set career path, you will not make much money. Even if you do find that sweet spot of a job, they are so difficult to get. Don’t you know? The print newspaper is dying! People buy books off of Amazon! No one reads short stories!


I Googled English major. Some key words: decline and fall, crisis, impractical, misconceptions, money. I Googled how to become a writer. After some wikiHow links, there was a Forbes’ article: “Why You Shouldn’t Become a Writer.” It’s rather depressing: “Just because you do write doesn’t mean you’re good. You call yourself an Olympic diver, but that doesn’t mean you are.

Here’s the thing: I consider myself a writer or, at least, on the way to becoming one. And yet when is this moment when I stop calling myself a writer and actually become one? There is no certificate or diploma to state this. There is no single person (or Google search answer) with the power to bestow the title of writer. Is it when you publish your first piece—on your family’s refrigerator, in your school newspaper, on your own blog, on another’s blog, in print? I don’t think there’s a moment as clear-cut as this. Writing is a strange mix of the incredibly personal, the constantly and mundanely necessary and, in some cases, the career-sustaining. It can be something you are and do and work to become. It can cross the party lines of fiction and nonfiction, of private and public.

Fitting with this freedom of definition, writing isn’t a career for which you need a prescribed set of academic courses to learn the material. Writing is something you can stumble upon—because of an experience, random knowledge, a knack for writing unbound by any writing courses. The author of Find Me, Laura van den Berg, came to my college a few weeks ago and in response to the classic question—when did you know you wanted to be a writer?—she told us she didn’t get into creative writing until college, taking a workshop on a whim and learning then that short stories were not called “little novels.” She was not a child who read, she said, contrary to many writers’ why-I-became-a-writer stories. And yet, here she was, writing these wonderful stories that I so admire.

I find myself most consistently in admiration of writers. When imagining myself one day not working around newspapers or magazines or books, I am jealous of those faceless people who will. Like many college students, English majors or not, I don’t know exactly what I want to do nor how I will get there.

But there will always be this: I love to write and read. These are things I cannot lose.

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allen headshot copy

This is Rachael’s second blog contribution to Fictional Café. Her first is here. Rachael is a sophomore at Bowdoin College studying English and Italian. She serves as editor-in-chief of Bowdoin’s arts and literary magazine, The Quill, and news editor of Bowdoin’s newspaper, The Bowdoin Orient. She loves to write (and read) both fiction and nonfiction, including monthly columns for her local newspaper. You can read these columns as well as other work on her blog: https://rachaelallenblog.wordpress.com.


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