Do I have to go to college to be a writer?

There are apparently 7000 different ways to ask this question, and since I have only answered a couple hundred of them in the past two weeks, I’m trying to get ahead of the curve here.

The answer is no. Not just no, but HELL, no!

No, you don’t have to go to college if you want to be a writer, and you could be a happier, more successful writer if you don’t. You certainly won’t start your writing career a “moderate” $25,000 to $50,000 dollars in debt.

You don’t have to have a master’s degree.

You don’t have to have a high-school diploma.

Having a high-school diploma, a bachelors degree, an MFA, a PhD in literature, or anything else will not improve the marketability of your work.

Publishers will not buy your novel because you went to Yale or Harvard or Podunk Community College.

They will buy your work because you have written a good story they think they can make a profit selling.

I’ve written a LOT about this.

Here’s what I have:

Do you need a college education to write?

And then everything else on the right sidebar of this page: Articles, FAQs, Quizzes, and Workshops About Writing and Being a Writer.

 

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

10 comments… add one
  • Darnell R. Aug 21, 2020 @ 1:59

    I want to do this! I have two books written but I have no clue how to print or self-publish!

    • Holly Lisle Sep 14, 2020 @ 8:31

      If you have revised them, have had them beta-read, have fixed your bugs and reader issues, and have then either edited them or had them edited (revision and editing are NOT the same thing), then I’d strongly suggest reading David Gaughran’s Let Get Publishing series.

      As for getting the books into print — long topic, but I have a Mac and use Vellum for my ebooks, and have used both Amazon and Lulu. (Though Lulu was years ago, I loved it. Amazon back then started refusing to carry any books by them. I’m not sure if that’s still a problem.)

  • Max Sep 6, 2019 @ 14:16

    This was actually pretty good for me. See I’m a freshmen and since school just started last month I’ve been thinking of ways to actually publish some of my work. I’ve been told i have to have a Bachelors degree to succeed and a lot of education, but i write fantasy books. Even so i have to know a few things. I try my best to actually add some ‘big’ words into the book but it only bores me. Reading this made me realize i don’t have to change it up to be formal, but i can keep it my style :)!!

    • Holly Lisle Oct 6, 2019 @ 16:08

      I went from being a registered nurse with an ADN to being a full-time novelist. No matter where you are right now, you can get where you want to go if you’re willing to do the work, and willing to learn the job.

    • alaria Dec 10, 2019 @ 22:21

      I totally hear you. I am also looking to be a self propelled author. I plan on doing it just when I finish High school. I am going to my diploma because I won’t drop out. But no college. No debt. So, I wish you the best of luck

      • Holly Lisle Dec 16, 2019 @ 14:42

        Good luck. Remember that it’s a job, and to succeed at it, you have to show up every day, even when you don’t feel like it.

        And kick ass.

  • Kris Mar 30, 2017 @ 9:57

    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.

    • Holly Lisle Mar 31, 2017 @ 7:45

      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.

  • Jean Mar 16, 2017 @ 14:49

    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.

    • Holly Mar 17, 2017 @ 5:05

      “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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