An English Degree does not a Writer Make

English Degrees and Becoming a Writer

I’m starting to wonder if former writers for The Onion are working at NPR. On the drive to work this week I’ve been listening to a series of sob stories about soon-to-be college graduates who are having a difficult time finding their first “real” job. The headlines on NPRs website read like something straight from America’s Finest News Source.

Aspiring Writer Questions Value Of English DegreeAccounting Grad Didn't Figure On Job Rejections Dream Of TV Job Remains Elusive For Montana Grad

All joking aside, the story about the aspiring writer, Heather Lefebvre who racked up $85,000 in student loans, caught my attention because there’s a big misconception out there that you need an English and/or creative writing degree to become a successful writer.

Having written a memoir, a novel, and a third book coming out later this year (surprise!) and worked in the corporate environment as a writer for over a decade, I can safely say becoming a writer has more to do with taking the time to learn the craft of writing then going to college or even having a degree.

Writing isn’t like riding a bike where you learn it once and do it over and over again without thinking. Struggling to create believable characters or a unique plot is something most writers improve upon with each novel and spend their lives trying to perfect. You’ll learn more by sitting down and writing your first book then you will in a lifetime of taking writing classes.

As a member of a local writing group I get a chance meet a lot of other authors. Of those I know personally, I’d say half have a college degree. Of the college grads, there are only a handful of English and/or writing degrees among them.

The writers who don’t have college degrees, half of them have attended college and the rest have no college at all. Some of the most prolific and successful writers in the group have little or no college. Instead they were stay-at-home moms who liked to read and write stories and ended up turning it into a full time career.

Just like painters, photographers, and musicians hone their skills through practice, you become a writer by writing and then doing lots of rewriting. A BA in English or a MFA in creative writing doesn’t translate to becoming a published author—even though many people with those degrees think it should.