Not Everyone Can Write a Paper

By Kirsten Carney

Posted on

Life as an English major isn’t as easy as people might think. Sure, we read books and
discuss them while math majors slave away at finding the derivatives of multi-variable
equations, but just because one sounds easier than the other doesn’t make it necessarily
true. Four of the girls I live with are business/math majors and they are constantly on
my back for doing nothing but reading chapter four of Frankenstein for the fifth time
while they pull allnighters and skip classes to study for their next accounting class.
In fact, they take it one step further by even saying that there is no real use for reading
those books and writing pointless explanatory papers and that the only reason I have
chosen this route in college is to “take the easy way out.” I am setting out to prove once
and for all that being an English major is one of the most difficult and one of the most
rewarding majors that one can choose while in college.

The simplest complaint that non-English majors have to make about us is our homework
load. No, we don’t slave over our calculators or stay overnight in the lab dissecting a
specimen, but we have just as much (if not more) of a homework load. The issue of
writer’s block is one that we must negotiate but subjects like math and science need not.
We can stay up for hours at a time late into the night getting nothing done but burning
our eyes out by staring at a blank computer screen. Break Time down the street comes
to expect my 3am visits during the weeknight and the employers and I have moved from
small talk to a discussion of the paper I am working on as one of them punches my
“frequent buyer” coffee card. Kat, my accounting major friend, is constantly working,
making mistakes, erasing, and adding on to her problem. She makes more progress on
her fifty problem assignment in an hour than I might on a typical three page paper,
simply because my ideas have not started flowing. Writing a paper depends on making
original claims about ideas while math depends on replicating ideas that already exist, so
working on an assignment that may seem easy in reality could take hours.

Along with this subject of homework comes grading. English majors receive nosympathy
from teachers in other subjects, particularly the sciences. Science teachers typically (or
at least the teachers I have come across, high school and college alike) have an attitude
that English is an easy subject. I find that this same attitude is adopted by my friends,
who seem to have the idea that being a doctor or accountant is a much more practical
and prestigious job. In reality, English majors have a much more difficult task because
there is a finer line between right and wrong answers in our subject. Okay, before you
say this makes it much easier, stop to think about everything this might entail. Anyone
can be taught to plug numbers into the quadratic formula and come out with the correct
answer, or to add exact amounts of a chemical to get an exact substance. Not everyone
can be taught to write a grammatically correct paper with a good thesis and points to
support it. Some people are not able to voice their thoughts on a piece of paper. Even if
I do not understand how or why logarithms work, I can at least plug the numbers into the
equation and get a correct answer. If it comes out wrong, there is an exact reason and an
exact way to fix it. Writing a paper does have some formulas, related to grammar and
but often these can vary along with the tone and the point of the paper. Tests

over particular pieces of literature are never simply about plot, which can be right or
wrong, but rather about comparing two subjects or trying to find a different perspective.
Answers can often be vague and what I may think is a good point, a teacher might think is
invalid and off topic.

The job market is often a problem and a benefit of our major at the same time. For starters,
it can be difficult to find a job because there are so many options, but options that are not
necessarily related directly to English. We can be editors, teachers, writers, journalists, or
we can write reviews for movies. Most people think that the only job for English majors is
teaching, but even if I did want to be a teacher, the job market for teachers, especially
females, is weakening. The good thing about having a degree in English is that employers
see us, despite our bloodshot eyes and shaky hands, as a person who can efficiently
communicate their ideas in both written and oral forms. This is a huge benefit because
even the most casual assessment of my generation shows this is a rare skill, and even
business employers view this degree as something that could potentially be very valuable
to the company. So although there are many options for English majors and it can often
be difficult to find a suitable job that narrowly meets one’s particular interests, employers
see this degree as a skill with broadly applicable value.

English majors perceive people differently which often can affect our social lives. Often,
I correct grammar very off-handedly, and my housemates are intensely annoyed by this
habit. Although I tell myself that I will stop correcting them, I can’t stop myself because
I will be driven crazy if my friend does not fix her sentence. Correcting grammar isn’t all;
sometimes I notice word patterns in how some of my friends speak. For instance, Heather
often uses the word ‘may’ in place of the word ‘might.’ It’s not that it’s technically
incorrect; I just notice how she uses this word. She will say “I may go and get a soda after
practice.” Rebecca always starts her stories with “I once…” Blake always uses the word
ya’ll and the word ‘halfway’ instead of ‘sort of’ such as “I’m halfway tired.” Not only do I
notice these patterns, after a certain period of time, I always point these patterns out
multiple times until the person becomes conscious of how they use their words. English
majors are taught to look for meaning behind simple words, sentences or phrases, which
is something that I am so used to doing that I try and look for deeper meanings in
regular conversations with friends. The tone of how they speak to me throughout a
whole day or even for a single conversation instantly strikes me as a metaphor or an
allusion, which can cause misunderstandings. One morning when my boyfriend
returned from his early class to wake me up for my class, I detected that his tone with
me was different than usual and I interpreted this tone as irritated because he was short
with me, didn’t look me in the eye, and didn’t ask me how I slept. I left as quickly as
possible to avoid a confrontation. It turns out that while I read his tone correctly, I
has misinterpreted its cause: he had failed to calculate a math problem correctlyand
had no problem with my sleeping habits. Trying to look into the deeper meaning of
tone and words, something that English majors do compulsively throughout all of
their classes, can often get us into trouble when we fumble our interpretations.

My major is not just an academic subject; it is a way of life. It is something that
encompasses everything I do in my life. I am consciously aware of how I speak, why I say
certain things, and I almost always use correct grammar. There is never a time when I am
not conscious of what I am thinking or what others are saying. On the basketball team trip
to Hawaii, we all had a few nights to go out as a team and we all decided to walk around
downtown Honolulu and explore the night life. After we had seen enough were trying to
find a good club to head to, one of my team mates yelled out to the girls walking ahead of
us, “Where is the boy’s team at?” Although I was not really paying attention as I was being
pushed down the sidewalk in a shopping cart and didn’t even care about the answer to the
question, I yelled out to her “Don’t you dare end your sentence with a preposition,
freshman!” To this day, Ann still laughs about how I was aware of her grammar even while
sufficiently inebriated with my life on the line. (If Ann had lost control of her language, she
could have easily overturned the shopping cart.) English majors are constantly burdened
with the implications of our studies: bad grammar is everywhere, and it seems to seek us
out relentlessly. Who ever heard of a calculator pursuing a math major down the street?
For us, there is never a rest. So, we will pick up our Red Bulls and cheap Break Time coffee
(Hopefully it was the 7th, and therefore free, punch on the frequent buyer card) and
continue on down the road of blank computer screens and three rough drafts without
a second thought to the life we could be leading had we put on our lab coats and calculators.

Kirsten Carney

Author’s Note:

As an English major, it can sometimes be frustrating when maths and sciences are viewed as more practical for the real world. “Not Everyone Can Write a Paper” explains why written and oral communication is not as easy as some make it out to be, and how it really can have an important use in the real world.