A Deconstruction of the Anxieties Associated with English majors, Fiction Writers, and Beyond

In this final installment of "Are We Doing It Wrong?," Dana Diehl, current editor-in-chief of Hayden’s Ferry Review and soon-to-be MFA graduate, speaks about her life as a writer and offers advice for those feeling wary about writing as both a passion and career choice. She also asserts that pandas are the cure to cynicism.  

Circa 1990, an artist at work.

Circa 1990, an artist at work.

Shelby Heinrich: Have you always gravitated towards literature and writing? Was there a specific moment where you knew that you wanted to pursue writing fiction?

Dana Diehl: Even as a kid, I loved telling stories and making books. My parents were very encouraging, and I think they were the ones to plant the seed that I could be a writer if I wanted to. For a short while I wanted to be an architect. And for a longer while I wanted to be Steve Irwin (with less crocodile-wrestling, more mammals). But even then, I knew writing would be part of my future. I’ve always had a lot of disparate interests, and writing seemed like the best way to explore those interests without having to give any of them up.

SH: You chose to pursue a Creative Writing major in your undergrad. Did you have any kind of hesitation concerning this? Did anyone try to kind of deter you from this?

DD: A few people suggested I pursue a more lucrative major. But I was eighteen and very, very stubborn.

SH: Do you feel that there are any incorrect preconceived notions surrounding pursuing a degree in English, or pursuing writing as a career?

DD: There’s a preconceived notion that the Creative Writing/English degree is easy, which is so far from true. There’s also a preconceived notion that there are no jobs in writing. I’ve been going through the job search process for the past month or so, and it can be very hard and frustrating. But there are also way more options than I imagined. Writers can be teachers, they can be copyeditors or copywriters, they can be journalists or editors or reviewers. The list goes on.

SH: You recently completed your MFA thesis (congratulations, by the way!) and will be graduating very shortly. Are you excited? Nervous? Where do you ultimately want your writing to take you (I know this is a loaded question. You can interpret it however you want)?

DD: Thanks! I feel all of those things! Nervous, terrified, hopeful, excited. Today, I am mostly excited.

Where do I want writing to take me? I want writing to take me to unexpected places. I want writing to introduce me to people I would have never met otherwise. I want it to keep me learning, I want it to enter me into conversations that are important and meaningful. To give you a more concrete answer, though… I’d love to continue teaching, which I’ve found to be so satisfying and complementary to my life as a writer. 

SH: Do you have a message for all the haters who think that the pursuit of writing and literature isn't a lucrative path?

DD: Haters gonna hate! Also, this video.

SH: What advice would you give to those who are considering either majoring in English or pursuing fiction and/or poetry, but are feeling a little hesitant about their choices?

DD: It’s probably smart to be a little hesitant. Writing can feel like a passion project. You put in a lot of work and effort, and sometimes you aren’t awarded in immediate, obvious ways. That said, if it’s what you love, you should do it. During your time as an English/Creative Writing major, learn and read and write as much as you can. Go to all of the readings. Form writing groups with you friends. Get involved with a literary magazine. Cultivate your literary community. A degree in Creative Writing or English is what you make it. Make it something you love, something that you can carry with you beyond graduation.