Going to Virginia Tech, I end up having a lot of friends that are in the Engineering department. Or the Science department. Or Math. Or geo—the point is, I feel like English is one of the smaller departments here. Most people think of Virginia Tech as an engineering college first, a science college second, and anything else seventh.
Normally this doesn’t make me feel so bad, especially when I get a look at the kind of stuff that my friends in all those sciency departments have to do. Whenever I see my engineering buddies studying or doing their homework, I thank whatever powers may be for being an English major, where I don’t have to put up with all that tedious busy work.
But every so often, I get really frustrated with how the assignments in English work. And then I start to envy my friends with the tedious busy work. At least they have set right and wrong answers to their problems.
Not for me. Nope. When you’re writing, there isn’t a right and a wrong answer. Nothing is really set in stone. You just have to write and hope that what you’re doing is good. There aren’t any answer keys to use for your essays. There are no cheat sheets on having a writerly voice. It’s a shot in the dark with no guiding light.
Well, okay. That’s not entirely true. There isn’t a whole lot of “right” when you’re writing, but there’s certainly “wrong.” Like spelling and grammar: those can be very clearly wrong. And having a terrible story, that’s wrong. Being boring or repetitive, totes wrong.
I guess what I’m getting at is, sometimes I think it’s really terrifying to be a writer. We don’t have the same kind of clear path to correctness that other people do. And when that happens, I think it’s easy to start bemoaning choosing to write when we could have been in a technical major which, while perhaps not easier, would at least have more structure.
And it’s easy to forget that writing is so wonderful precisely because of how free it is. Because if you take ten great writers and give them all the same objective, you will get ten very different results. Because the fact that there’s no set right answer means that sometimes you can get something that’s better than simply “correct”—you can get something beautiful.
Because sometimes I just… really wish that writing was that simple.