Hello writer bees!
Today, I’m posing a possibly controversial question.
Do you need a degree in writing to be considered a “proper writer”?
To some, getting a college degree makes you a bonafide writer, or a better writer than most. Others feel they can be storytellers without the diploma to back them up. And some young writers have a hard time choosing what they want to study, and if a degree in writing is even worth it.
I want to share my experience. Hopefully, it can give younger writers a bit of insight. Goodness knows I needed some insight when I was just a fledgling. For those of you who don’t know, I graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. in English. What do you do with a B.A. in English? How did that experience impact my journey as a writer? I’ll be diving into everything, the good and the bad.
Why I Chose to Pursue an English Degree
Let’s backtrack first. When I was in high school, I discovered my love of writing. I had an amazing teacher who encouraged my artistic aspirations. Without her, I probably wouldn’t be a blogger or an aspiring author right now. As I decided what college major I would pursue, no other subject could compare to English and creative writing.
I had a lot of ideas for a potential novel. Writing stories in various genres really interested me. I loved fantasy and mystery and historical drama and everything in between. Ah, to be young and full of inspiration. Wanting to narrow down my focus and find my niche, I thought going for a English degree would help me find the genre I’d eventually publish in someday. Like “Congrats! Here is your diploma! Also, you are a mystery writer! Now go write a whodunit and be on your merry way.”
Earning my B.A. in English was a wonderful experience. It wasn’t easy. Lots of late nights, lots of reading material, lots of stress. And I don’t regret a single minute.
While in college, my fiction writing classes were full-on workshops. Gathering around with fellow writers, discussing each other’s stories. I learned how to constructively critique someone’s work and became more mindful of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. We read each others short stories and offered feedback in a really safe and sensitive environment. Don’t get me wrong, I was so nervous letting others read my work. But once you realize we’re all in the same boat, it’s not so scary. That was my first taste of a greater writing community.
Also, the very first draft of my current WIP sprouted in that class. Sharing that story in particular with my classmates was like the ultimate test run for my work-in-progress novel. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear more about that particular workshop session.
Remember when I said I was looking down to settle with one genre to write in? It didn’t quite work out as I expected. In college, I read everything. And I mean everything. Like I was reading Beowulf and Arthurian legend in the morning and Hemingway and Christie in the afternoon. Real talk? My narrator was born after reading an Edgar Allen Poe story. If anything, my horizon only expanded. Once I graduated, I was even more undecided about what genre I wanted to publish in. I really gained an appreciation for literature across all genres. By reading various genres and styles and time periods, a sturdy foundation was built under my feet. Maybe it’s strange to say, but I felt like I had a wealth of source material I could refer to and be inspired by. If that makes sense.
Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, is it?
Hard to Find a Job
After I graduated, It was tough finding steady work. I applied for many publications and ended up with a pile of rejection letters. Apparently, a bachelors degree in English isn’t enough to prove you are good at writing. That was a newsflash to me. I wanted to make a living as a writer, and it just wasn’t happening. Frankly, It was a dark time for me. Finally, I fell into freelance work, starting out as an unpaid intern. Around the same time, I started this blog. Then, more freelance opportunities opened up. And today, even though I’m stuck in a cubicle at an office day job, the passion for writing has not ceased. I’m still working on my goal to write a novel, after office hours, of course.
The B.A. in English gave me a solid foundation. My brain thinks differently about literature and storytelling because of my time as an English major. It was a valuable, rewarding experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Well, maybe a finished novel.
Do you need a degree to be a proper writer?
In my opinion? No.
You know that quote from Ratatouille, Anyone can cook? I believe anyone can write. A degree doesn’t make me, or anyone else, a genuine writer. We all have imagination and creativity inside of us. Anyone can write a story and be considered a writer.
Do you think you need a degree to be considered a proper writer? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. And if you earned your degree in English/Creative writing, how has that experience impacted your journey as a writer? As always, I love to hear from you guys.
Also, get your magnifying glasses ready! May of Mystery is right around the corner, less that 2 weeks!
Stay safe and keep writing,