Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Do You Need a College Degree to be a Writer?

Photo: Mary Gober
Hi all,

One of my readers recently asked me if you need any formal training (English or Journalism degree) to become a freelance writer. The answer is a flat-out “No”. While I am a big proponent of a college education (and am currently paying for my own child to get one) and I think an English or Journalism degree would give you an edge, I also do not believe that everyone needs to have completed college to become a freelance writer – or any type of writer. Talent, grammar skills, a willingness to learn and a great dictionary and Thesaurus is probably what most beginning writers need to start a writing career.

What a College Degree Can Do for You

A college degree can give you a great basis and understanding of the English language, grammar and the skills to write perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs. In college you will read all the great writers and learn about style, structure and nuances. You will pick apart every story you read and try to figure out what “exactly” the writer is trying to tell you in every paragraph. You will learn to write in appropriate styles and learn to edit. When you graduate, a college degree will help get you into the doors of magazines, newspapers and big websites and can lead to copy writer jobs, editor jobs and even management. A college degree can help you get where you want to go much faster – however, if don’t have any actual natural writing talent, it may not get you there very fast.

What a College Degree Can’t Do for You

While a college degree can give you the tools to be a writer, it certainly cannot give you what a writer really needs – talent, imagination, the ability to sniff out a story or the ability to write sentences that flow and make people want to read more. A college degree will not guarantee you will sell your novel or any of the articles or stories you send off to magazines. A college degree will not ensure you success as a writer – it will only get you ready and you will have to do the rest by yourself.

So, How Do You Get Started?

If you do not have any formal education in writing, but you love to write and you have some natural talent, then you need to start by learning everything you can about writing. Read articles and books on writing for magazines, websites or newspapers (or on writing novels), learn how and where to sell your work and then just write. You’ll never get anywhere until you write that first article, first news story or first chapter of your novel. Don’t worry about your past education – just write.

Famous Writers Who Didn’t Go to College

For a little more inspiration, here are a few writers who did not go to college. If you don’t know who some of these people are, it is because you didn’t take that college literature class – but you can always read their work on your own. (By the way - if you are going to college - stay in college.  I don't want you to drop out and have your parents mad at me.)

Jane Austen – Novelist

James Cameron – Screenwriter Titanic and Avatar

James Fenimore Cooper – Novelist

Charles Dickens – Novelist

William Faulkner – Novelist

F. Scott Fitzgerald – Novelist (You MUST read his work!)

Jack London – Novelist

George Orwell – Novelist

J.K. Rowling – Novelist (Wrote a little series of books starring Harry Potter!) Ooops!

Now, just get out there and write!

Happy Writing,


2012 Writer's Market2012 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market (Novel and Short Story Writer's Market)


  1. Deanna,

    I enjoy your blog, but I have to send in a correction. JK Rowling did go to college. She has a BA and a PGCE for teaching. I found this out after talking with friends and researching after one of them corrected me.

  2. Hi Twix,

    Oops! Thanks for the correction. It seemed to me that I had read she'd gone to college too. I should have checked this fact out more carefully.

  3. I am a college graduate and I am working as a freelance writer. However, I believe and agree that you don't need to be a degree holder to become a writer. For as long as you know how to analyze and synthesize ideas, then you are good to go.


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