“Do I need a degree to become a writer?” It’s an ambiguous question I get most often from writers who want to be published. The answer is “no”.
Do you need a degree in English, creative writing, journalism or literature to become a published author? “No.”
Do you need to study the craft of writing to become an even better writer?
There are many paths to publication. Sometimes work or study in a field other than writing sparks a person’s desire to write and leads to a writing career.
Harper Lee studied law in college. What she learned in Law School led her to write To Kill a Mockingbird, the Pulitzer Prize award-winning novel about a lawyer and racial injustice in the 1930s.
Barbara Kingsolver wanted to be a classical pianist, but instead she studied biology and earned a Master’s degree in ecology. She transitioned into writing freelance as a help to editors. On her website, Kingsolver writes, “. . . editors knew they could send me into a biotech lab or epidemiology office, where people seemed to be speaking in tongues, and I’d come out with a printable story in lay-person’s English. I was glad for my training.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a medical doctor who supplemented his income by writing. His Sherlock Holmes character made Doyle one of history’s most famous mystery/crime writers. Doyle said Holmes was inspired by the real-life figure of Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, whom Conan Doyle met in 1877 and had worked for as a clerk.
Kurt Vonnegut studied anthropology, but was unhappy with his college classes. His wife, his first muse, encouraged him to write. After becoming famous, Vonnegut spoke up in support of writers with non-literary backgrounds. When he heard writers talking about sending notices to college English departments about literary opportunities, he suggested, “Send them to the chemistry departments, send them to the zoology departments, send them to the anthropology departments and the astronomy departments and physics departments, and all the medical and law schools. That’s where the writers are most likely to be…I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature.”
Finally, I offer myself as an example. No, I’m not famous or even a well-known writer, but I’m published and happily self-employed freelancing. I studied music in college. In my sophomore year, I switched my major to elementary education. A required children’s literature class led to a Master’s degree in library science. I loved writing, but I hadn’t thought to pursue it as a career. I submitted several writing samples to Golden Books in Wisconsin, and I was offered an editorial job. I learned the business of publishing there and then I set out on my own to freelance.
Do you need a college degree to become a writer? No. But to get published you need talent, willingness to learn by self-studying the craft, practice and, of course, patience.
Write and learn.
The world is your classroom.
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