Recently, I commented on a Facebook post, a link to a Buzzfeed story: 14 Books Every English Major Has Definitely, Totally Finished. Okay, first off, the title sounds like it was concocted by a teenager–“definitely, totally?” Talk about overkill! Not something one would expect of an English major, right?
To be fair, I wasn’t an English major. I started out an English major–but I switched to communications early on. I’m one of those authors who believes we don’t learn to be writers in a classroom–we learn by reading authors whose works we love, authors writing in the genres we want to write. By the time I went to college, I’d already been told by an editor at a major publishing house that I had talent, I just wasn’t ready for the commercial market. And at the time I wrote it, I’d dropped out of high school. I only ended up in college because of an accident (long story).
To this day, I wonder how much of that editorial assessment had to do with the embarrassing fact that I’d stupidly submitted a handwritten manuscript!
In my defense, I was only sixteen at the time. Brains haven’t completely formed at that age. But I’m getting off track here. Back to the claim that every English major has read the fourteen books on that list. I’ve read five of them. Maybe if I’d stuck with that English major, I would have read all of them–but probably not by choice.
The article made me think about how many of today’s bestselling authors were English majors and what they did before they were authors. Here’s some of what I found….
Not all of the biggest names in fiction even went to college. Nora Roberts didn’t. Neither did Janet Dailey, Jackie Collins or Jacqueline Susann (who had an IQ of 140). Roberts was a legal secretary; Dailey worked as a secretary at her husband’s construction business. Collins and Susann tried their hands at acting, with mediocre results.
Stephen King and Dan Brown were English majors, and both were teachers before publishing their first novels. Stephenie Meyer also has a degree in English from Brigham Young University–but ended up working as a receptionist. Laurell K. Hamilton has degrees in both English and biology. Tom Clancy majored in English literature at Loyola University, but was working at an insurance agency owned by his then-wife’s grandfather when he wrote The Hunt for Red October.
John Grisham and Scott Turow are lawyers–though Turow was also an Edith Mirrelees Fellow at the Creative Writing Center at Stanford and taught creative writing at Stanford as an E. H. Jones Lecturer before attending Harvard Law School. Danielle Steel studied fashion design and worked in public relations. Janet Evanovich was an art major at Douglass College at Rutgers, but ended up working as a temp until she launched her writing career. J. K. Rowling has a degree in French and Classics and worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International–but was on welfare at the time she created Harry Potter. Meg Cabot has a Bachelor of Fine Arts and once worked as a residence hall director. Daniel Silva has a Masters in International Relations and worked as a correspondent for United Press International before he became a bestselling author. George R. R. Martin majored in journalism at Northwestern and was a story editor /story consultant/producer for TV shows including The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast in his pre-Game of Thrones career. The late Sidney Sheldon also attended Northwestern and, like Martin, had a career in Hollywood before writing his first novel because he had an idea he felt wouldn’t work as a screenplay.
Novelists come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. It doesn’t require a degree in English, Literature or Creative Writing to have a successful career as a novelist. When I sold my first novel, nobody asked me to submit a resume or academic credits. They only cared about the manuscript–and that one was typed!