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Monday, June 15, 2015

Dear Degree-less Writer

Dear Chrys,

Do you need a degree in English Literature to get published?

Dear Degree-less Writer,

First, I’m going to say that any degree can help a writer. For example, a degree in Criminal Justice could be valuable for a mystery writer. And a degree in English Literature can teach you a lot about literature and even influence your style.

A degree in English Literature is something nice to add to your bio as well as your resume when you query, but publishers don’t look at this as make-or-break. Granted, some might check to see if you have one, but it’s not a requirement. There are countless authors out there who are published and don’t have a degree.

For some reason, many writers just starting out (with nothing more than a dream) believe they need a degree to get published or to get noticed by a publisher. This is false.

I do not have a degree of any kind. As a matter of fact, I don’t have a traditional high school diploma. I have a GED. But guess what? I’m published!

I don't believe you need a degree to be an author. Your writing will speak for itself. A writer could write positively beautifully and not have a high school diploma, while another could write horrendously bad and have a degree. If you have the talent then it won’t matter if you have a degree or not.
Image from Pixabay.

What Degree-less Writers Can Do:

1. Practice.

Write as much as you can and re-write if needed. Re-writing a story is a great learning opportunity.

2. Read

Look for books on the writing craft and study them. Pay attention to what these authors are telling you, take note, and try it for yourself. You may agree or disagree. That’s all part of learning.

3. Challenge Yourself

I created a 30 Day Writing Challenge. Check it out, it may inspire you.

4. Read

Yes, I listed this twice. On top of reading books on the craft, you should be reading in your genre and even outside your genre. Not just for pleasure, but to learn how the authors you enjoy get you to relate to their characters, how they describe scenes, etc. Even read blog posts about writing. There is so much information out there just waiting for you to find it.

5. Beta Read

Beta reading for others and having others beta read for you are two ways to learn a lot about writing and editing.

6. Workshops

Taking classes and workshops can also help. I’ve never done either of these. Yet. But I know they can aid a writer greatly.

So, remember, you can get published without a degree. But if you want a degree because literature is your passion then by all means...go for it!

Chrys Fey

QUESTIONS: What do you do to learn about writing/editing? Do you have a degree? Do you believe having a degree is the only way to get published traditionally? 

Have a writing-related question? Leave a comment and I may turn it into a post right here!

Author of Hurricane Crimes, 30 Seconds, Ghost of Death, and Witch of Death. Blogger. Reader. Auntie. Vegetarian. Cat Lover.

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Charity Bradford said...

Great post! My degree is in Elementary Education, but I don't write children's books. Everything I've learned, I've learned through blog reading, craft reading and some wonderful conferences. Having said that, I agree that the most important thing you can do is keep writing. If you don't practice what you're learning nothing will change.

ELAdams said...

I learned far more about writing from beta reading for other writers and reading articles and blog posts on the internet than I did from the Creative Writing part of my degree. I think a lot of writing degrees aren't really geared to novel-writers and I found some of the comments from tutors (who didn't read my genre) a bit unhelpful and off-putting (how can you put a grade on a writing portfolio?). I'd definitely recommend learning through doing - through writing, reading, and critiquing others. It helps to have beta readers who actually read your genre, too!

Jeffrey Scott said...

As always Chrys, great advice.
And what you say is so true. Just because you receive training in something does not mean you will automatically be better than someone without specific (official) training.
As for myself, the only degree I have is 350°. Which is the temp I bake cookies at, which I consume when I write.
Hey! Go with what works, I say.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I mentioned in one of my posts last week about how writers with degrees other than writing let their area of expertise creep into their work. My degree is in Health and Physical Education with a science minor so I always have some science going on in my novels.

Huntress said...

I don't have a degree either. Unless you count the one-year secretarial "diploma" I received in college. Shorthand anyone?

One of my favorite writing tricks is to dissect an established author's books, paragraphs, and sentences. Pick the sentence or phrase that hooked you. Now ask yourself why. Note your emotions. What grabbed you. Dissect the sentence structure. How the author placed nouns, verbs, descriptive words.

A creative writing course is great and I am not against adding a degree to your resume. But teaching yourself is just as important. Practice is the key.

A most excellent post :D

Anonymous said...

Great post! I've always wanted to go to school for creative writing (before changing it to something more.. useful, I guess) but I never thought it'd better my favor with publishers. Tons of writers I read don't have degrees, so obviously it's not necessary. :)

Chrys Fey said...

@Charity, I've learned through blogs and books too. I've never been to a conference but that is another way to get valuable knowledge.

@Emma, I do think Creative Writing classes are catered to teaching only one thing or just the basics and don't delve deeply into plot, characters, etc. Beta readers are the best! And I definitely would only use beta readers who work/read your genre.

@Jeffrey, go with what works is great advice.

@Susan, I think it was your blog post that triggered me to write this because I couldn't stop thinking about it. That and someone did ask that question.

@Huntress, teaching yourself is probably the best way to learn how to write. It's hard to have someone else teach you. And often how they do it is not how you do it. THANKS! :D

Chrys Fey said...

@Madilyn, I always wanted to get a degree in English Lit and go to school for creative writing, but circumstances made that impossible. So when I got a contract without a degree, it felt like a victory. :)

Liz A. said...

My degree is in physics, and that's done me no good in the real world. But I read a lot, and I practice writing, and that's what's made me a better writer. Many people have careers in fields that they did not go to school for. It's just a matter of plugging away and "learning on the job".

Chrys Fey said...

@Liz, a degree in physics is pretty neat to say, though. ;) You're right. Goals change and life changes. Sometimes we think we'll do one thing but end up doing something completely different.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic advice. I agree that a degree isn't necessary to become a writer. I have a diploma in Creative Writing, but I learned FAR more over the years of querying, writing, reading, practicing, and always trying to better myself than I did while earning it.

Janie Junebug said...

My degree in English means a great deal to me because I love words and books and writing. Studying literature and language helps me understand more than I did before I obtained a degree. I think people can get along just fine without one, though. People learn to write by reading and writing. Do. Don't be a mere onlooker.


Yvonne said...

Great post! I know writers how are degreeless and are not only published but are doing amazingly well for themselves. A degree is feat of it's own. It took almost seven years for me to receive mine, but I have it. Anyone can get anything they want, if they work hard and really, really WANT it. :)

Chrys Fey said...

@Christine, I've heard a lot of people with a degree in English Lit or Creative Writing say that they've learned more through those same things than they did in class/school.

@Janie, if I was able to go to school to get a degree I would be extremely proud of it, but I wasn't able to. "Don't be a mere onlooker." That's great advice! You can't reach a goal or succeed unless you DO something.

@Yvonne, a degree is a feat of it's own and an amazing one. Even though I know a degree isn't necessary to get published or an agent, there are times when I still yearn for one. :)

Luna said...

Thank you for this post and great advice! :)

Chrys Fey said...

@Jamie, you're welcome! :)

Janie Junebug said...

It took me twenty years to get my BA in English.

Love again,

Chrys Fey said...

@Janie, twenty years. Wow. This is amazing! Good for you. I like that determination. :)