For many people, becoming a published writer, author or freelance writer is a dream on their horizon. However, not everyone has pursued a journalism or English degree and, therefore, the question many ask is: “Can I become a writer without a degree?” In short, yes, you can. There’s no pre-requisite for being a writer other than being able to write.
Becoming a writer…
As Leah McClellan writes for Simple Writing, “It’s true that writers need to know a few things, at least. And many successful writers — not all — have degrees, often in English or journalism. Plus, if you want to work as a writer in a company that requires a degree, well, then you need one.” She continues, “but when it comes to blogging, freelance writing, or even writing a novel or a non-fiction book, it doesn’t matter where you learned what you need to know. I’m serious… It’s not about the degree. It’s about what you know.”
Indeed, qualifications aren’t the most important part of writing. Ultimately, it needs to start with a love of writing and a passion for the topic in hand. Carol Tice for MakeALivingWriting.com agrees: “If I’ve learned one thing mentoring freelance writers, it’s this: Writers are hung up on qualifications… Desire is more powerful than a degree… Here’s the secret: Freelance writers never feel legit. We all feel like frauds. The successful writers just do it anyway.”
Although it may be easier to break into freelance writing with an English or journalism degree – largely because of the skills you will have been taught – it isn’t a pre-requisite. Maggie Linders of “Freelance Writing Riches” notes “I don’t have either of those things, and look at me now! I’m a former chemist, making a six-figure salary as a freelance writer.”
Writing for Hobby Lark, Sallie B Middlebrook PhD, comments: “You don’t need a college education to write a novel, as long as you love to write, are good at storytelling, and have the determination and persistence that it will take to see your project through to the end. I’m sure that millions of people start novels they never finish.”
Learning to write
Whether you study for a degree or not, ultimately, you need to learn the skills required for writing. As Sallie B Middlebrook continues to explain, “Although it’s the bottom-line truth that you don’t need a college education to write a novel, unless you were born knowing how to write them (and some very blessed people, I believe, were), then you will need to learn how to write a novel. It simply doesn’t matter whether you learn by taking courses taught by others, or on your own.” You can improve your skills and love of writing through practice, reading, blogging, courses, workshops, and many other methods. Work with whatever suits you and your learning style the best.
So with all this in mind, how do you become a writer without a degree?
Practice makes perfect
Ultimately, it takes a lot of practice in developing and honing your skill. While many people love to write and find a lot of it comes naturally to them, it still takes time working on your writing to get to the level you need to be in order to make money from it. This involves getting your spelling and grammar spot on. Also learning to edit your own work and cutting out unnecessary words can be hugely beneficial for you. Through writing on various topics, reading the work of writers you love, and submitting your work to various competitions and opportunities, you’ll find you grow as a writer.
Take courses that will help you learn
Although you don’t necessarily need an education, you may find courses are beneficial for getting ahead. The important thing is to make sure whatever you pick is right for you, otherwise it will be a waste of time. Look at the topics or styles of writing that they cover, the length of the study, how well respected the institution is, and what you will gain in skills by the end of it.
Create a portfolio
What most magazines and publishers want to see above everything else is a portfolio. They want to know that you can write and need to be able to see this in action. When you put together a portfolio, pick out your absolute best bits of writing. If you want to present yourself as an expert, try to show this by grouping together pieces on a particular topic. Creating a portfolio isn’t always straightforward and you may find you have to do several pieces of writing for free in order to kick-start your work. Alternatively, you may choose to become a writer for a site like Copify where you can quickly build a growing portfolio of work and get paid for it.
One of the greatest ways of becoming a writer without a degree is through getting your name out there, meeting people and building relationships with other writers and editors. As the popular saying goes, “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” By getting familiar with people in your industry, you will be able to hear about opportunities before anyone else and will also be the name they think of when they have a piece of writing that needs doing. It’s important to find out who the key individuals are in your industry, particularly if you are writing on a specialist topic. Look to speak to the commissioning editors as they are the people who have the greatest influence over your work.
Ultimately it’s about presenting your ideas for articles and looking to get them published. You will no doubt get knocked back many times, but keep persevering and it will eventually pay off. Hard work really is what gets you where you need to be. Have confidence in your ability; if you get told ‘no’ then move onto the next opportunity and don’t dwell. It’s important to keep sending out ideas regularly and not get too hung up on a rejection. The more you put your name out there, the greater chance you have of being published.