No, but it might give you a head start. If you’re seriously considering taking up writing as a job then you need a wealth of skills in research, language and phrasing – but these can also be learned outside the classroom.
What’s covered in an English degree
An English degree considers the complexity and beauty of the language. It will suit you if you enjoy reading and analysing books, plays and poems. It also looks at what language means and how children acquire language. Students also learn to craft and assemble language in a way that can be used for communication, like creative writing, teaching, or advertising.
Jobs associated with an English degree
There are many directions as a writer after completing an English degree, not all of them in the use of language. These include a copywriter for websites and blogs, an editorial assistant in a magazine, a teacher of English as a foreign language teacher to non-native speakers or a publishing house proofreader. It also helps get you on the road to jobs such as an information officer, secondary school teacher or social media manager. There are dozens of English courses available across the country and graduates enjoy a starting rate of up to £22k.
Across all the various types of writing-related jobs are the need for outstanding story writing skills, an excellent grasp of grammar, creativity and the ability to meet deadlines. You’ll also need to have good business management skills to market yourself as a freelancer and grab the experience you need to build your reputation.
Famous writers with no degree
J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author, says her parents never thought an English degree would get her anywhere so she studied French instead. She earned a B.A. in French and Classical studies from the University of Exeter. Other famous and respected writers without degrees include Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells and Charles Dickens. An English degree is no automatic path to success as a writer. Connected subjects which might prove useful include drama, music, performing arts, history, languages or media studies. It’s more important to be able to give great evidence of why someone should work with you than prove you have qualifications.
How to teach yourself
Professional writers produce a wide range of materials. While some work on novels or short stories which they submit to publishing houses, others focus on information products like leaflets and websites. It’s worth looking at the breadth of materials that writers and copywriters work and produce samples to either pitch for work, or just develop your ability to produce them.
One of the early challenges to crafting the art of writing is to work out your own style, and how to adapt it. Are you a romantic writer that uses tons of flowery language? That might be good for some styles of publishing, or maybe a book author – but not so good for online content. There are also many technically gifted yet boring and unsuccessful writers. The most important thing to develop is an ability to use your words. You need to learn to move people. You must be entertaining, educating, and inspiring. Your reader is the most important consideration.
The importance of practice and work experience
The only way to craft your art, whatever degree or training you undertake, is to practice. You’ll need to work on your ability to come up with ideas that will sell, research things well and be able to change the way you express ideas according to your audience. You’ll also need to have confidence in your writing, be able to accept criticism and remain positive.
On a day-to-day basis that can mean joining a local writers’ group, entering writing competitions or blogging. Some good advice is to write every day, learn how to get past blocks in your flow, do timed writing sessions and get over your own perfectionism. You could think about taking creative writing courses available at local colleges or online, but prolific author Stephen King says the most important thing to do is actually read and write daily. You should also look at ways to get your words out there.
What to expect as a writer
Once you’ve perfected (or started to develop) your ability to write, the next step is to look for opportunities to have your work published or to join an editorial team. While the majority of writers are self-employed freelancers, they may be taken on for short-term contracts in television, radio, screen or theatre. You can also pitch stories as a freelancer to try and build your experience and expertise.
There are also some opportunities to be employed as writers in residence in particular communities or organisations. However, these gigs will rely on an impressive portfolio of your abilities, so work on your collection of writing samples. It may be useful in the beginning to look for jobs that may not offer great compensation but bring the opportunities to build your skills. However, don’t undervalue yourself as you start to build your reputation and look for better rates and opportunities.
Writers work in locations all over the world and new technology means remote ways of working, like our community of freelance writers, are becoming more popular. The highest concentration of writers in the UK is currently in London and the South of England but thanks to the fact most writers are freelance the work may often be solitary. It’s also difficult to achieve job security. On the other hand, most writers are home-based and can fit their work around other commitments. There are some opportunities for travel – particularly to conferences, events and festivals.
How to work as a writer with no degree
So the answer to “do you need an English degree to be a writer” is definitively no and some of the world’s greatest writers are fine examples of that. To get started in the writing industry, however, you’ll need to actively look at publishing houses, publications or outlets that might suit your style of writing and interests – and then pitch to them. Present a story that plays to their interests and shows your special talents and angle. And practice, practice, practice. It’s a joy to write for a living but getting there can be hard work. Good luck!