No Degree? No Problem!


Tuesdays with..guest blogger, Justin Birch.

A College Degree isn’t Necessary to Become a Writer

While many students are taught that it is imperative for them to receive a college degree to be considered a great writer, the truth is attending college isn’t always necessary. All it takes for a writer to be successful is perseverance, focus and a willingness to take advantage of the resources available to them. In fact, writer’s workshops, online education opportunities and movement grants can provide a writer with all the tools of the college graduate without the expense or the time. Not everyone can attend college but anyone with a love of words and the work ethic can become a successful writer.

For example, Gore Vidal never went to college and he is arguably one of the most respected writers of the 20th century. He received his literary education from the fine literature available to him in his grandfather’s library. Similarly, Jane Austen wrote some of the most memorable books of the last 200 years before a college education was even an option for a woman.

One of the primary ways that people learn to write in college is by reading. It is a given that anyone who wants to be a writer also loves to read. Yet while pursing a college education one is forced to read books that they wouldn’t ordinarily read. It might not be a science fiction lover’s first instinct to read seemingly dry 19th century literature, but writers learn from extending themselves and challenging their minds. As such, aspiring writers should read anything and everything available to them. They should read interviews of famous authors, and read those authors’ favorite books.

In order to be successful, it is crucial for writers to find an outlet where they will have the opportunity to workshop their manuscripts and receive feedback from other writers. Yet, this doesn’t need to occur in a college classroom. Check local newspapers, bulletin boards at bookstores and Craigslist for writing groups in your town. However, of you can’t find a group in your area, you can always start your own. All it takes is a group of writers who take their writing seriously and will commit to meeting regularly, although it is of the utmost importance that they understand the concept of “constructive criticism. There are also many wonderful online writing groups like Coffeehouse for Writers .

Those interested in writing can also attend online writing classes and receive professional critiques and coaching at sites like Gotham Writers Workshop. Likewise,  Writer’s Digest , has a Web site that offers webinars, tips and prompts, and books for the writer who wants to learn the craft without sitting in a classroom.

Another option for writers with the financial resources, is attending large-scale workshops. Going to workshops can be an invaluable experience. These conferences provide the opportunity to attend seminars and meet with industry professionals like agents and editors, as well as best-selling authors. Like any other career, writing involves networking, and the connections made at a conference or workshop can make a big difference in launching a writing career.

The best way to become a writer is to write. While the blank page can become daunting and it is easy to assume that only people with impressive degrees are qualified to write, all a writer really needs is a platform for sharing their work and the courage to plough forward. An enterprising writer who would like experience writing and building an audience should consider blogging. A blog can usually be set up for free and from day one the writer can begin interacting with readers and finding their voice.

As with most things in life, practice is the key to success. As such, the more one writes the better they become. In the current publishing culture it is more and more difficult to get your foot in the door. Thus, any writer waiting for permission from the establishment to write will never compose anything but e-mails.

Ultimately, one of the reasons many writers pursue a college education is that while they’re in school that they are often having their education paid for by student loans, allowing them to use any surplus loan money to support themselves while they write. For writers who begin their careers without a degree the National Endowment of the Humanities provides many grant opportunities. Better yet, the organization provides awards to a significant number to authors who are inexperienced and not college graduates. The National Endowment for the Arts is another resource for grants to help support fledging writers.

Being a writer doesn’t require a college degree. A reader won’t refuse to read a book or an article because the writer is completely focused on their craft and not necessarily on the pursuit of a degree. An aspiring writer simply needs to be willing to take advantage of the resources available to them and success will be theirs.

Justin Birch wanted to be a high school teacher, and then a college professor, before encountering the difficulties of graduate school and professional academia. Now, as a writer and editor, he works to promote the quality and availability of undergraduate education in America.

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14 Comments

Filed under Education, writers, writing inspiration

14 responses to “No Degree? No Problem!

  1. Rene Peterson

    I will agree that one does not need a college degree to be a writer and there are many ways to further one’s education and improve one’s writing. One also does not need to attend a formal ballet school to be a dancer, but it sure helps a lot! There is much to be said for exposure to literary works that one may not choose to read voluntarily. It is easier to navigate many pieces of literature as well as styles and forms of writing with a knowledgeable guide. A good teacher will push their student beyond what the student perceives as their boundaries. Also, college requires a certain degree of skill for entry which means that fellow students have already met a certain bar. Classes can then move on beyond the basics and focus more on literary analysis and writing craft to a level not easily followed when students have skill gaps.

    • Silent

      Lol a certain bar, then obviously your not educated enough to be aware of the writing geniuses who never had a degree who are so successful that these college grads could only ever dream of becoming as successful. I agree, it’s a hindrance…to ones progress :).

      • Silent

        I also believe that life experience us far more important since you may have as many degrees as you like yet if you have lived life under a rock it will show in your “work”.

  2. Wendy Schmidt

    Too much formal education and analysis can kill the creative spark. A student can become so involved in seeking approval from the small university audience that they lose their own unique voice in the process.

  3. Pam

    Although I respect and applaud a formal college education, I do not think it is necessary in order to become a successful writer/author. What I do feel is necessary is living life with passion, living one’s truth, living authentically and honoring the drum that an individual marches to. I have not acquired a college degree — many reasons for that. What I have acquired is true grit life experience and the ability to express those experiences raw, heartfelt, and clear. Writing has been my salvation.

  4. Ely May

    This is something I have been fighting for awhile. My family raised me with a college first mentality and I have tried it and encountered many walls in trying to follow my dream of writing. I have conflicting emotions on doing the logical thing and following my heart and throwing logic to the wind. Your article really helped me see the whole picture. Very well put.

  5. Sandy

    I came upon this website after my decision today to drop my writing classes in pursuing my master’s. I love to write. I am proud to say I am a middle school English teacher. Thinking getting my master’s would make me a better writer, I began my classes. I’m creative but not analytical. These classes were informative but did nothing to help me in my creativity perhaps because they are SO analytical. After much thinking I decided instead of spending the money and time on these classes, I would use that time to write, write, write. I’m not saying higher education isn’t important. I’m saying there are some that are just born with it. Am I one of those? I guess I will find out. If not, I know I can always go back to the university with my money in hand and pencil behind my ear.

  6. Love this post. Made me feel so much more validated in my own writing. Especially since my degree has nothing to do with any kind of english or literary degree.

  7. Pingback: No Degree? No Problem! | Mrmakeuwrite's Blog

  8. Pingback: Week 4: Uhh…But I Didn’t Go To School To Be A Writer! – Newbie Freelance Writer's Tribe with Carla D. Wilson Laskey

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