I don't remember if this happened near the end of fall term or at some time during winter term, but I remember loitering on the first floor of Anderson Hall one night, a few feet away from its lobby, sitting on the cold tile floor.. I was sitting across from a few friends of mine and directly next to someone I had just met that evening, a girl whose name I can't remember and who I haven't spoken with since. The conversation, which had previously revolved around tabletop gaming and the future of animation, eventually turned into a discussion of homework. This new girl mentioned that she had a lab write-up that she was procrastinating on--she was some sort of science major, probably biology. As someone who finds most scientific study difficult, I expressed my delight at not having to write for any lab based courses.
Of course, the girl asked what I was studying, if I had such issues with science. And when I informed her I was a Creative Writing major, I got the most blunt response I've ever received. She laughed a highly pretentious, derisive laugh, and didn't even bother attempting to keep the arrogance out of her voice when she asked me why I wasn't studying a real major.
I've grown used to this sort of dismissive reception over the years, although people are usually more polite about it. For the most part, many of them encourage it outwardly before asking with obvious worry how I hope to turn it into a career. Sure, every now and then I'll get someone like this girl above who thinks of the program as a soft option with little practical value, but few will say it to my face and fewer still will say it with such obvious disdain.
The reason I'm talking about this now is much of my homework time has been monopolized by my ENG-319 course, Advanced Fiction Workshop. As an upper division creative writing course that required both pre-requisite coursework and instuctor permission to enroll, the expectations are way higher, the writers much more devoted to the craft, and the workload more intense than any writing class I've taken as an undergrad to date. As you might expect, we do quite a bit of writing in this class, and not just on our own semester long projects--we read and respond to each other's work in both written and oral workshopping, and we dissect professionally written short stories by writers like Hemingway and Dahl and discuss what precisely makes their stories so great. All 10 of us in this class have been hard at work preparing rather long short stories as our major projects, works of original fiction lasting anywhere from 18-25 pages (which can run anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 words, give or take a couple hundred). For some of us, it's the longest work we've ever had to write, and we're all determined to make it as great it can be.
Last week, we had a draft of the project due for class critique, and I spent way too many hours trying to get my piece just the way I wanted it. I even had to work through my 20th birthday to get my draft done in a way that didn't make me completely cringe. But in all the time I spent working on it, I made another realization about why I enjoy writing as much as I do: it's really challenging. Writing pushes me in ways that conducting chemical experiments or researching ancient history doesn't. Unlike many academic subjects, there are no facts or figures you can memorize when it comes to writing--all you have are tools and an intuition. There is so much that goes into crafting a perfect scene, so many little, subtle details that can cause dramatic shifts in tone and meaning. With every word, writers walk a fine line between understanding and confusion. Every time you sit down to write something new is like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle, where you have pieces of a big picture and a vision of what that big picture might be, but only a vague idea of how to start putting it all together. And when that puzzle is finally complete, you can take pride in a job well done.
I don't get that feeling when I'm doing anything else, even when I'm making music. Writing is constantly engaging my mind, forcing me to think in ways I might not have thought before, taking me to places I've never been to, and then allowing me to drag others there with me. I learn as much from my drafting mistakes as I do from my successes. It's hard, underappreciated work, being a writer. But when I do it, I feel so fulfilled, like I'm doing something actually worth it. That's why I'm glad a Creative Writing major exists, because it offers an outlet, a clear trajectory I can follow to improve my writing abilities. Moreover, it offers me a chance to communicate with writers just like me, writers who want to improve in something that has such meaning to them. Classes like ENG-319 are more than stepping stones on my way to a bachelor's degree--they're individual journeys of self-discovery that I might not have otherwise been able to take.
And when you boil down what college really is, that's what it's all about. Self discovery is anything but useless. No other major out there could have instilled this in me. That's why I'm proud to tell the world what I study.
Clayton is a sophomore creative writing major from Meridian, Idaho.