English majors

The Corps of Wannabe Writers



These are the two articles that came through my Facebook feed JUST TODAY written by aspiring writers, both of them effectively failed in their field. Semi-anonymous article-length exposes or inspiring stories or harrowing profiles of the victimized written by these people thrive anywhere and everywhere in media. I’ve seen at least four this week. I’ve seen no less than ten this year, and January ended just a few minutes ago. You can’t get away from them, because it’s in this generations identity to write them.

The writing is usually decent quality. It should be, as your tax dollars certainly provided loans to finance the tens of thousands of dollars of tuition spent turning Jane Q. Public into a functional scribe, and possibly paid for it outright. English, literature, and creative writing majors, those are the media’s unpaid agents in the field.

They follow a predetermined path:

  • Wannabe writer naturally can’t find a job writing, so they take some other job they don’t like, at Wal-Mart or the TSA or a titty bar, who knows.
  • The new job turns out to be horrifying, to fold into topical subject matter, or to have “really interesting people” working or spending their time there, who’s stories desperately need and deserve to be told!
  • Wannabe writer engages in the highest form of social activism today: informing the public. And hopefully, making money and a name for themselves in the process.

Maybe they see themselves in that sort of secret agent light, penetrating the seedy underbelly of government corruption or corporate ruthlessness or the dank of the sex trade. Or maybe they see themselves as normal people who are also natural allies of the oppressed and hopeless, sharing their misery for a little while, getting to know their struggles, until they unveil their Secret Weapon: I’m a fuckin’ writer, yo! I can get people to CARE about this bullshit!

It’s inevitable. In a culture where being conventionally successful is passe and where uniqueness and authentic self-expression are values in themselves, writing looks amazing to a huge number of people. This generation breeds wannabe writers because writing has everything young people look forward to having in a career.

First of all, it’s respected by interesting people: if you’re an writer who manages to maintain a permanent address and make his electric payment, chicks will dig you more than, say, an insurance claims adjuster.

Second, writing is one of those jobs in which most people do it in wretched poverty but a few become wildly successful, and kids like that because beating the odds has narrative appeal. It looks like being broke is inevitable statistically, but much like being a pro athlete, an actor, a musician, or owning certain businesses, all the stats that make success look unlikely for normal people do not apply if you’re talented. The sky’s the limit.

Third, every American kid who’s been born since 1946 has had their ego souped up to make them think that they’re really creative and special, and therefore, super-talented. So this should be no problem!

Fourth, it means you can – in theory – make a huge difference by drawing attention to important causes, and therefore be a totally relevant everyday superhero in your own mind. Writing has the potential to focus people’s attention, and thus, it gives the writer power. Maybe you can gain a following, become a celebrity… it could happen, right?

Fifth, know that none of these kids think they’re going to end up doing the shitty writing, composing tampon ads or assembly instructions for Chinese toys. So most of them see themselves as future freelancers, beyond accountability to any sort of authority figure, typing on the beach and sticking it to the man, with his “rules.”

And finally, speaking of which, it’s flexible: no matter where you go or what you do, you can write about it. Egotistical people think they can make it all sound really, really interesting, too.


So obviously, supply of people trained in writing has massively outstripped demand. No parent will tell their children today, “look, your dream of being a writer is childish and you need to learn how to do a real job.” Everyone knows those parents are terrible people, and since the state is paying for the degree more often than not, what do they care? Pursue your dreams, blessed child!

In some ways, it’s kind of funny. Marx thought of labor in terms of the capitalists’ reserve army, but what modern capitalist society has actually produced is a reserve army of writers. They are everywhere. If you’re in a position of responsibility, you’d better hope you don’t actually hire one by accident. If you see “English major” on an application for employment, then you’d better burn that shit. No matter how poorly they understand what you’re doing, they will think they get it, they will think it makes you an evil fuck, and they will publicize it in the worst possible light, until they bleed it of every microsecond of public attention.

Terrible, terrible people.

And I admit that, yes, at certain moments, I am one of them. I didn’t waste your tax dollars, but I do occasionally allow myself to think I can change something I don’t like in the world. The difference between the kids and myself? I’m old enough to know that most of the changes a writer can stimulate in this world would be for the worse in the long run, so I can occasionally wake myself up.