You don’t need a degree to write

Some words of wisdom for today’s post.

You don’t need to go to school to learn how to write. Don’t feel like you need that BA, or BFA, or MA, or MFA, or PhD to know how to write. That’s not to say that you don’t learn anything in these programs, and that the degrees are useless, but that no writer should feel obligated to have a degree. I’ve met several writers who are incredible storytellers, novelists, and writers who don’t have a degree in anything writing based, or don’t have a degree period. And I’ve met people who worry about their own skills because they don’t have a degree.

You don’t need a degree to write. That piece of paper, and that time in school will not magically transform you into a writer. Some programs can really help some people learn how to write, while for others, it just burns them out, or turns them from writing completely. For me, I’m in the second camp. The longer I stay in school, the less I want to write, and the more burned out and frustrated I get (which is ironic since I am now getting my Master’s  in English).

A degree doesn’t make the writer. The only way to be a writer is to write. It doesn’t matter if you have a degree in biology, history, engineering, or no degree at all. What matters is a love for words, a passion, and obsession for words and for telling a story. That’s what makes a writer. A degree in English is no guarantee that you’ll be published, that you’ll be able to put out work.

An English program can teach you discipline, writing to a deadline, taking and giving critiques, and give you some great connections with other writers. However, some programs can be very rigid in what kind of writing is allowed, some can be very dismissive and ugly towards genre writing. A lot of it depends on what program you join and what it has to offer. I really suggest looking into programs seriously. Email professors and ask what their opinions on what you want to write. Look for programs that encourage writing in that type of writing, or be prepared to be frustrated.

In my personal experience, very few academic based programs encourage any type of genre fiction (there are exceptions to this like the MFA programs at Seton Hill), so if that is what you want to write then proceed with caution. But if you want to eventually be a professor in a college or university of writing or English in general than you will need to work towards an MA or MFA at the least, and make sure the degree is terminal (that determines if it qualifies you to teach or not). The way the market is going, if you really want to teach, you may do best to go all the way to a PhD at this point, but proceed with caution. The humanities have been hit hard by the economic recession, adjunct professor jobs pay (if you’re lucky) barely liveable wages, and getting into a tenure track position can be very difficult.

But never feel obligated to need that degree to be taken seriously as a writer. Read, live, and write, that’s all it takes to be a writer, and no piece of paper or years of classes can change that.



  1. Laura W. Said:


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