Welcome to the first Dear Adroit feature! This week, we asked our readers to send in their questions about this mysterious, elusive land that we call the literary world, and I— Amanda Silberling, a frizzy-haired, slightly frazzled writer trying to navigate this world myself— will do my best to provide the best guidance that I can. In this debut edition of Dear Adroit, I tackle your questions about the merits of pursuing writing vs. something entirely different in college, and how you know when you’re ready to start publishing.
I’m a high school junior, and everyone around me is starting to talk about college. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so I plan to study writing in college, but it seems more practical to study something else and just write on the side. What should I do?
Along with nearly every other young creative, I faced the same dilemma. After about the forty-seventh time when someone says, “So, you know it’s really hard to make it as a writer, right?” the self-doubt really starts to hit. Parents everywhere may groan, but I say ignore the self-doubt. Whether your calling is writing or multi-variable calculus, I can’t stress enough how important it is to follow your passion. The prospect of unemployment is scary, but I think that working a job that I hate until I’m seventy is even scarier.
So, you’ve decided to pursue the dreaded English & Creative Writing major– now what? No matter how idealistic we may be about our art, it’s hard to ignore that there is potential risk. I think that it’s important to apply to colleges that can support you in your literary endeavors; that way, if you seem doomed to live the starving writer stereotype, you have classmates and faculty to help you get on your feet. In fact, the primary reason why I committed to Penn was because of its incredibly supportive and dynamic Writers House. When you decide where to apply, make sure you find out whether or not this school can become your own personal literary haven-— look up the writing professors, see how frequently they host author events, read student reviews of English classes, etc.
It’s okay to be a writer and choose not to focus on writing in college. We have amazing writers on Adroit staff who are medical students (I don’t know how they do it). Hell, our own Founder & Editor-in-Chief isn’t even a English major (he’s a Communications major with a Creative Writing minor). If you choose not to major in an artistic field, just make sure that you always make time for writing— the worst thing any aspiring writer can do is not write.
I want to start publishing— how do I know when I’m ready? I don’t want to start young and regret it when I’m older.
You’re right— it’s awful to publish and then want the piece gone. But once your work is online or in print, it’s never going away. I’m eighteen now, and I already regret what I published when I was sixteen. I very much believe in something that I refer to as “writer puberty.” We’re all still young, so our writing changes rapidly. The poems I’ve written this summer are far different than the poems I wrote in March. The poems I wrote in March are far different than the poems I wrote in January. But “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “better” or “worse.” If you feel confident that a piece of writing is 100% done, will never be edited again, and is good enough that you won’t feel ashamed when your pompous writer friends bring it up at the bar when you’re thirty, go for it. Just make sure you’re publishing in respectable places— that’s a double-check. If a well-known, reputable publication wants to showcase your work, odds are, you did something right. How do you know if the publication is reputable? That’s for another edition of Dear Adroit.