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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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