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Lately I've seen more than one solid writer hesitate because of the lack of a degree. Although I'm eternally grateful for the opportunity I had to get my own degree, and I feel it strengthened my writing, I recognize that a degree isn't absolutely necessary for a successful career in freelancing.

What are your thoughts on formal education? Do you believe in the School of Hard Knocks? Have you had a discussion on your own writer's blog you'd like to link? Please do share with your fellow writers!

Meanwhile, read up on the need (or not) for a writing degree.

As always, best of luck!

November 2, 2007 at 9:59 am
(1) Sharon says:

Since I am sans degree at the moment, (I’m working on it) I sincerely hope the answer is “no.” I am, however, a strong believer in continuing education and life-long learning in the liberal arts. Writing classes are great and courses that help with the business of writing, such as query letters and portfolios are also extremely beneficial. But, I think one of the most helpful tools a writer can have is a library card. If you want to be a good writer, read. So, is a degree all that important? Probably not. But, continuous learning sure is.

November 4, 2007 at 10:46 pm
(2) wmrbrown says:

Good Golly No!!!!

Check out Ray Bradbury’s career!!! His formal education stopped at high school. He spent a lifetime writing great works. After high school he sold newspapers by day and spent his nights in a library expanding his knowledge of the world.
A degree is not needed. A desire for knowledge and a desire to share it with your fellow human beings is needed!!!!

November 5, 2007 at 6:44 am
(3) Sandra says:

I think one of the real advantages of the Internet Age is that it’s removing some of the gate keepers who have the power to say that someone is worthy of being heard because they hold a degree, have had the right experience, or fit the personality type that the office wants to have.

Maybe you need a degree to get a job with a top newspaper or to become a technical writer at a big pharmaceutical company, or to pursue any number of writing careers (or, at the very least, having a degree makes you much more likely to succeed). However, today, anyone with a voice and drive can build a huge audience with a blog or website, and can make a career, and even become rich, without any other credentials at all.

I think that’s awesome.

November 5, 2007 at 11:08 am
(4) Sonya says:

It depends.

I don’t mean to put a pin to any bubbles, but yes, credentials can really matter. Ray Bradbury was an exception to the trend, and he lived in a much different era. If you are hoping to do any freelance corporate work, you will be very disappointed when communications managers pass you over for the degreed AND experienced candidate. It will happen. I don’t say this to be discouraging, but the market you are seeking to pursue will often have stringent degree/credential requirements. Get to know these requirements and save yourself some heartache from losing out to those who did get an English/journalism/creative writing degree. I am speaking from a position of experience, and not hoping to quell any dreames. You have a lot of competition, regardless of the market you pursue. Getting the degree lets editors, hiring managers and corporate communications managers know that you have tenacity when it comes to your writing.

November 5, 2007 at 1:09 pm
(5) Chris says:

Although I do not possess a writing degree (I pursued graphic arts instead) I feel I am very successful because I am a damn good writer regardless. I have written hundreds of articles (all paying markets and published a children’s picture book through a traditional publisher).
I practise my craft daily and view my writing as my profession not my hobby. I am sure that a degree may have opened up some doors sooner but it has been my experience that if you have something revelant to write for a specific market, your writing skills are top notch and you are professional – an editor does not care whether you have a degree or not. What counts is your ability to determine what the editor needs and deliver your product as promised.

November 11, 2007 at 2:11 pm
(6) Amy Derby says:

I do corporate writing work, much of it for law firms, and I don’t have a degree. Sure, a degree might be beneficial in many cases; I’m not anti-education by any means. In my case though, a lack of degree hasn’t mattered, so I’d never discourage a writer from pursuing freelancing simply because she lacks a degree.

November 15, 2007 at 12:52 pm
(7) Kevin Combs says:

Freelancing is really about adapting your knowledge and skills to a client’s needs. Expertise in a topic can create compelling and authoritative writing.

As publishing continues to democratize over the internet, a writer’s value is increasingly defined by creating satisfying messages for a consumer of information. Demonstrating a history of meeting an audience’s needs with your writing trumps qualifications.

And if my daughter happens across this comment– Stay in School! I worked hard to send you to college.

November 21, 2007 at 11:07 am
(8) bhavna says:

I dont have a degree but despite that i have made a start this year and have been fairly successful for a beginner. I feel what the editors need truly is that a good write-up as per their requirements. For this a writer should do his/her homework and get acquainted with the market.Knowing what to send where helps and this comes from experience. But maybe a degree would open doors sooner and tell you how to sell your work which you otherwise have to learn by hit and trial.

November 23, 2007 at 3:04 am
(9) Sophia Zale says:

First off, this about.com, blog thing of freelance writing, makes me happy. =)

It’s funny, sure, because I dream of being a writer without actually writing. Then I blame it on writers block, when really I’m too anxious to settle down and knock it out. I feel like I have to read the dictionary first to use some great words, and then I decide maybe I have to go back to school. This is where I’m at, back in school at twenty-four. And ya know what, maybe if I didn’t procrastinate like a fool, I’d be somewhere writing on a salary, possibly, but I don’t think so. And you know what that does to the brain? It makes you feel like you weren’t cut out for it in the first place, then you start second-guessing the whole thing, all over again. Finally, you think you’re an idiot and will never be a writer, ever. All while signing up for the advanced writing classes.

Why the hell not? I have other goals, I just want to get hired at a magazine, I haven’t been so lucky without that paper. I’m “going for it” to structure my writing and calm the hell down, it makes me so nervous. Hey, if I don’t make it as a writer I can still try somewhere else. Besides, isn’t the “four-year degree” a broad requirement? I can probably be a “legal secretary” or something… Oh wait I already was one without the degree…

it’s like pulling teeth for $40,000 a tooth if you don’t want the infection.

November 13, 2008 at 11:07 pm
(10) Substance says:

This article was very informative…
I find myself agreeing on some of the things that were mentioned.
Attending writing seminars, workshops, signing up for college courses and gaining a degree is something that can be a benefit for one’s future. Most writers who are renowned achieve a MFA, are professors at colleges and/or universities, writing text books to occupy their time and maintain a certain lifestyle. I’ve been told from professional writers that it’s wiser to keep your “day job” and write professionally. Just because you have one to five books on the shelf doesn’t make you rich and famous. You still have to pay for marketing and advertisement, printing cost, delivery of shipment, artist for book cover designs, etc, etc. Understand that yes, to you, you are going to be the main critic of your craft, but if your not doing something to challenge and critique your art. Where’s the drive to push harder? The one person who will be attracted, that enjoys your work just as much as you enjoy writing it, can make or break you. That is the true degree received as a writer. But if you feel a piece of paper with BA or MFA printed on it will help advance in your craft – go for it. If you don’t feel a degree is necessary-go for it! Just know it won’t happen over night, it takes work, plenty of rejection and plenty of passion. In the meantime, trigger your focus on what will make you happy, go get you’re “The Writer’s Idea Prompt book” to avoid your dreams being deferred by writer’s block!

Keep that Ink Alive

May 19, 2009 at 3:49 pm
(11) mariah says:

i am only 13 but i am really interested in writing. my teachers have an interest in my heartfelt words. my one teacher ms.abeyta brought one of my pieces to her proffesors and she enjoyed it. said that i was meant to be…. ha ha. well i am doing a project and one of my slides has to do with the fact of being in college or getting a degree. i wanted to know if u needed one. personally i want to go to college , but if someone that wants to write and cant go to college for some reason should not let education stop them….
mariah. if u wannna contact me i fu have any riting tips my email is ashleebcali@aim.com

August 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm
(12) Tina K says:

I’ve written a novel. I’m still awaiting publication. I graduated high school but, didn’t want to continue my education. I worked as a musician, traveled a bit. I will continue to work on my vocab. Not sure I agree that it is necessary to constantly have input from other writer either. It’s nice to have other people to bounce ideas off of but, Stephanie Meyer has a degree. I liked Twilight but, not well written. She used a reused , obviously looked up in the dictionary while sitting at the computer. Writing is an art! And, in my mind should be expressed as one. You need to write from your gut! With time, and practice. Your emotion will paint the picture that you are looking for in words. Just keep writing…editing…writing…editing…writing. That is all any of us can do. Degree or no degree!

October 7, 2010 at 7:55 pm
(13) Tucker Jensen says:

I’m like an undecided voter when it comes to figuring out what to do in life. I just can’t make a damn decision and make it final! Writing to me seems to be one of those things where most people who enjoy writing, think that they can make some sort of a living out of it at least once in their life. Like a middle-age crises, everyone goes through it. Well, I’m having that “one time” right now. I’ve recently purchased several renowned books that correlate to the art of freelance writing, however my real dream is to become a travel journalist.

So why the hell not can someone without a degree be just as successful as someone who can? Ask yourself, does that question even make sense? Okay I’ll answer it for you: No, it doesn’t. Anyone can make it as a writer, as long as they have the talent, the experience, and the drive. Most places will ask to see examples of your work, and yes, they WILL research other examples on their own, especially if they’re serious about hiring you. That is why I apply often to any online freelance writing jobs that seems to fit my own expertise. I have already received one job writing about non-profit organizations, and eventually, my resume will build, and build, and build, and eventually, I will have what most larger companies look for. (Hopefully it’ll be something like the New York Times.)

So hey, don’t feel discouraged, pick up that pen, or laptop. Smile a little and close this silly web page. But most importantly, keep on truckin’!

Or writing in your case.

March 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm
(14) Clare says:

Hi I’ve a half written book and I’m stuck but will figure it out. I work full time and have started Open Uni. I feel bombarded with information and I feel glazed with information. The idea is/was to do creative writing and to get ideas on how to write better. It’s just I feel so stupid and like I don’t belong – everyone else does better. My just be me talking wrong and it’s going to take five years part time. I am not against hard work. Does a degree mean a better future with money guaranteed? I don’t know.

October 5, 2011 at 10:03 pm
(15) Chree says:

Hi Clare, I feel like I’m in the same boat when I’m just sitting in my creative writing class. I don’t feel the same passion I feel when I follow my own ideas. I do appreciate all of the great writers before us but I have a certain genre I enjoy writing about, and that does not fit into their ideas. So I’m not sure I want to continue with the writers degree at the moment but maybe I’ll come back to it in 10 years.

October 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm
(16) freelancewrite says:

I left my MA in Pro Writing program (well, I have 9 credits, soooo I feel that’s SOMETHING), because the dedication requested (go to conferences, present, get published in academic journals, and teach, and attend my own classes) was too much for me. I didn’t check out the program thoroughly enough- I should have known better- it was at a MAJOR research U. Will someday get into a better program for my lifestyle….

October 20, 2011 at 9:53 am
(17) Loulou says:

I started writing at the age of fifty. In the last year, my stuff has been getting published. I’m not going to get rich doing this. The fact that I don’t have a degree in creative writing hasn’t held me back. I have several reference books on writing and I read interesting fiction to help me understand the process. Mostly I write stories and poetry based on my experience and imagination and humor. Those are not things I picked up at a university. No, you don’t need a degree. You need perseverance and creativity, a little bit of luck and belief in yourself. By the way, it really helps to use spell check and correct punctuation. It also helps to find good, trustworthy publishers. There are a lot of scams targeting newbys.

January 10, 2012 at 2:02 am
(18) Nita says:

I am 34, mother of two young ones. After wasting so much time n money in my certified public accounting tests, I hated accounting. I have degree in accouting so after moving here I thought to pursue the same. I like writing. For me, i want a satisfaction in life, the emptyness of having no carrier is depressing. So i think writing will make me feel good, and one more thing that when I talk to people and we discuss some real life incident. My mind starts telling me “oh, this could be one of the chapter of my novel”. This new year I am committed myself to write once a week for two hours, i know its nothing if i want to be a writer I need to write everyday but I will see may be or may be not writing is for me. But my peace of mind only come with doing something creative and if that brings money even better. I gets nervous when back home people ask me what I am doing? I want to able to say “I am writer, i write novels” but when this will become will truth? I dont know what I am doing in my life? Raising kids is not just enogh, my mind keeps telling me “do something” i dont have to go out to work but I have tried working for people but thats also does nt bring satisfaction. I think to get that I will have to write a novel or My mind will make me go crazy! Wish me luck!! I wanna have novel out before I hit 40.

January 10, 2012 at 9:13 am
(19) freelancewrite says:

well Nita, you’re on the right path- you sound like you are dedicated. Yes, GIVE (GIFT) yourself 2 hours a week of writing. Keep a notebook with you and write down those moments. FINISH your novel, don’t edit it, don’t second guess it- FINISH it. Then take the net step.

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