The English Major’s Handbook, An Edition

Do not expect your friends to read the books you so passionately shove at them. 

Never give up hope that one day your STEM-major friends will feel inclined to read for pleasure. 

Spare yourself the effort of demanding sympathy from those who never have to write papers. It’s fruitless to compete. 

Stop what you’re doing right now, take a seat, and decide upon an answer to the question you will never stop hearing: “Oh, an English major? What are you going to do with that though? What are you doing after you graduate?” You’ll always need it sooner than you’d like to expect. 

Make an extra effort to befriend other English majors. Many of them will not seem approachable at first. Especially if they slammed your contribution during class discussion. There will be times during the term, though, when you will want someone to articulate for you the specific pleasures of falling for a poem or a book or a writer.  

Understand early on that everyone expects English majors to be well-read. They don’t need to know the truth. 

Befriend non-Englishy people too. You’ll want them around during those face-plant-on-your-bed nights when the frustrations of your stifled, aching soul paralyze you. They’ll remind you of the constants in life, like your mutual love of mozzarella sticks. 

Grab some poems, meet up with a handful of friends at a place dark enough to hide any number of nightmarish apparitions, and read them aloud. The ghosts will hold themselves at bay. 

Spend more time in your department’s home base and relish the sweet surrender of falling for a building that’s creaking everywhere, heavy with novels, echoing with last century’s student poetry, and harboring chipmunks sleeping under the armchairs. 

Write as much as you can. Jot a sentence down whenever you remember to do so. You’ll be glad later that you have that tiny piece of yourself to reread. 

Discover stories that lie outside of the Dartmouth bubble. Write them. Share them.  

Stay engaged during workshops. Praise only in earnest, critique with purpose. Be patient--eventually someone will write something that makes you jealous. Use this moment as inspiration.  

Write for yourself, but also for others. Submit your writing, but not your will, to campus publications. Find a friend whose advice you respect. Exchange writing and feedback. 

Find a poem that resonates with every piece of yourself. Save it for the nights when you are disillusioned. It will remind you why words are important.  

Talk about books with your professors, your friends. Doing so might feel uncomfortably intimate. Do it anyway. There is value in letting someone watch you love something.  

Allow yourself to read People Magazine alongside The New Yorker. It will not make you any less of a person.  

Resign yourself to living in the throes of existential crises. When you are constantly thinking about meaning, it will make you question your own.

Master the cynical slouch: lean back in chair, cross legs, prop side of calf against table, place hands behind head if confident. On insecure days, bury chin in scarf and avoid all eye contact.  

Stop pretending to have heard of the obscure theorist that everyone keeps mentioning. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you do not know something.  

Laugh bitterly about the prospect of grad school. Joke about the job market for PhD’s, notice your disillusioned professors, contemplate the chance that you’ll end up teaching in Middle-Of-Nowhere, Idaho. Perhaps you’ll apply anyway despite all of this.  

Remind yourself that you love literature. The last dregs of this passion will keep you slogging through novels and Greek dramas and volumes of poetry. Just before you weary of the whole enterprise, there will be a word or a sentence or a paragraph or an idea, and it will somehow be enough reason to continue. 

Be concise.  

Start your thesis before senior spring. Avoid writing fifty pages in the last two weeks.  

Go to office hours. You would be surprised at how much help professors will give to a student who is invested in something. 

Never stop looking for writing talent on campus. Some people are terrified to set words down on paper, and these are the ones you’ll be glad you took the time to listen to.
 
Keep the advice coming -- there’s space below.