HomeWriting LifeDo I have to go to college to be a writer?

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Do I have to go to college to be a writer? — 4 Comments

  1. I have a BA in creative writing, and it’s done very little to enrich my life. Several of my fellow creative writing students graduated and went on to MFA programs for the reason that they wouldn’t have the discipline to write anything without a structured program. I figured I’d be better off learning discipline and craft on my own. Otherwise, was I just going to go into program after program because I didn’t have any actual discipline? I had just done nanowrimo around the time I was considering all this stuff, and using a creative writing program as a crutch seemed so disempowering in comparison.

    The more I learned on my own, the more it became obvious that my degree program taught me basically nothing. And unfortunately, it seems that the program I was in is fairly typical. If you can already write, they’ll try to cultivate that. If not, they won’t teach you. If you can write, but insist on writing genre fiction, you might get a stern talking-to in the professor’s office. (This happened to me. I probably should have been tipped off when she came in on the first day of class and said,”We are here to write art, not entertainment.”)

    I took How to Think Sideways a few years ago, and I consider that to be my real creative writing degree.

    • I’ve had a lot of folks with writing degrees tell me the same thing.

      My rule on fiction is this: I’m here to tell you a story. History will get to decide if it’s art or not.

  2. Completely agree. There are a million reasons to go to college, but it’s not any kind of a prerequisite to becoming a successful writer. I’ve witnessed post-Masters’degree candidates (in education, no less!) who appear illiterate on paper and sometimes in their speaking ability. There is nothing in a college curriculum to help you tell a better story.

    • “I’ve witnessed post-Masters’degree candidates (in education, no less!) who appear illiterate on paper and sometimes in their speaking ability.”

      So have I.

      And my “college” education consists of two years of nursing school from what was then a technical school that became a community college a couple of weeks before I graduated. If I’d wanted to pursue a BSN, my credits would have transferred. My post-high-school formal education required one semester of “English for nurses,” offered just to make sure people who were going to have to chart would be a able to.

      If you want to be a writer, you need to be a heavy reader, you need to read both broadly and deeply, you need to pay attention to words, and you need good grammar skills. Being a good speller helps.

      Beyond that, you need to learn how to tell stories — and that’s a teachable and learnable skill. But from everything I’ve gathered from folks who did go to college, and who then take my classes, not one often taught in colleges offering degrees in literature.

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