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Freelance Writers Don’t Need A Degree!

freelance writing schoolHi Anne,

I am thinking about going back to school to obtain a writing degree in the hopes of following my dream of becoming an author.

I currently have a Bachelors in social work and I work a full time job that I cannot quit. I would love to go back to school however I am having trouble finding the time to do so.

Is it necessary to have a degree in creative writing or English in order to obtain work as a writer?



Hi ME,

I don’t have a degree and many of the successful writers I know don’t have a degree. Some barely finished high school.

I don’t mean to be harsh, but if you want my honest opinion, going back to school is often a way to avoid writing.

I know it’s hard to write when you’re working full time, but many of us have found a way to do it until we could earn enough from our writing.

Often we were able to move from a job we hated to a writing job, and then to a part time job. We kept writing.

I know at least one person who moved overseas for cheaper living so he could afford to write.

Sure, going back to school can be worthwhile, but do it because you love to study, not as an entry into freelance writing. If you truly want to be a freelance writer you’ve simply got to write, and write and write.



{ 29 comments… add one }
  • I think if you want to pursue a degree in writing you should do so, but it is not necessary in most cases. I have seen advertisements that ask for degrees, but most of those ask for English OR Journalism. I have a degree in accounting–not related to writing at all. If you write well it is not necessary to have a degree. However, taking some courses in writing can certainly be advantageous if you have the time to devote to them without letting your writing suffer.

    • Anne

      Those mixed messages in ads are why I always went ahead and applied and just never said anything about a degree one way or another. Sometimes I got the gig and no one ever asked.

      • I think we’ve lost the context of the original question: does “ME” need another degree to obtain work as a writer, given that she can’t quit her job and hasn’t the time to go back to school? Clearly, the answer for her is a huge NO! Unlike most college majors, a writer can establish hisher “credentials” with a one page writing sample instead of a two page grade transcript or a three page CV. Why should the client read all that paperwork when all he needs to know is in the sample? A degree doesn’t guarantee competence. I could easily make a list of several dozen degreed people I’ve met who were absolute disasters anywhere outside academia. Degrees are more a measure of slogging ability than competence, and ME already has a degree. Here is wisdom equivalent to 120 semester hours of English Lit: Write every day. Write every day. Market every week.
        .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Watcher in the Night deciphered =-.

    • Actually, Brenda, your degree in accounting might have served as a benefit for you, considering that many clients represent mortgage or finance sites where such a background is necessary. Still, I know you have written for a plethora of different fields, so, you made yourself known and have proven yourself.

      My point: your degree might be a plus rather than a ‘non-essential’ in your case, considering the online market.

      However, taking some courses in writing can certainly be advantageous if you have the time to devote to them without letting your writing suffer.

      .-= Mark´s last blog ..Modifiers I: Redundant Discriptives =-.

  • Well, if I may contribute my own perspective, I have advanced degrees and I have found them helpful, not only in terms of knowledge one can acquire in the classrooom, but for the various other benefits that colleges offer, names the opportunity to meet other writers and those established in the writing field, and those organizations that will look very appealing on a resume/vitae. This is especially true if one wishes to someday teach in a university. The degree might not be necessary, but it won’t hurt and it can always help in a writing career.

    Also consider that going to school will allow one the opportunity to become exposed to a wide variety of related fields comprising the writing industry (and outside as well). For example: poets, novelists, publishing enthusiasts, marketing, advertising, and subjects in which one might be interested and develop a knowledge base for writing, such as history, literature, music, politics, science, just to name a few.

    That’s just the beginning!

    Anna, I respect you and your experience, but as one who has achieved so much academically (and am planning on going back for yet another graduate dehree), I feel I am in the position to challenge you. There are no good solutions or bad solutions, only what is preferable and desirable to the individual. I am proud of my degrees, as they have allowed me to become the educated persion and writer I am today, and thus have projected me into a light of being viewed and respected as a serious proffesional.

    .-= Mark´s last blog ..Modifiers I: Redundant Discriptives =-.

    • Anne

      We don’t disagree Mark, not really. There are times when I wish I had a degree or if not a degree, at least more time in a formal learning environment – as much for the contacts as anything else.

      • Well, it is never too late. With your accomplishments, entrance should be easy. You’d be able to contribute a treasure trove to the class or program. Heck, you might even be in line to teach. 🙂

    • By the way, I apologize for the typos: ‘names’ should be “namely” and ‘dehree’ should be “degree”. I was busy yesterday and writing/submitting fast.

      Shame on me!


      • Anne

        typos allowed here… a few anyway 😉

  • A degree is not a requirement to be an author and can just slow you down and drain your financial resources. More important are good basic verbal skills, considerable life experience (good or bad; it doesn’t matter, but bad is generally better than good), and perceptiveness. Write every day. Take a few night school courses and join a good weekly writers’ workshop. Observe the people you meet in your work. Carry a little notebook and jot down ideas for characters, situations, and titles. Read current books. Write every day. Study haiku writing for two or three months with a mentor–learn to select the precise word and to be concise. Submit pieces every month. Don’t get discouraged. Back up your files. Use online resources. Avoid perfectionism. Minimize TV watching and game playing. Don’t drink or take pills. Write every day.
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

  • Thank goodness a degree isn’t needed or I’d be out of a job! 🙂 I wouldn’t go back to school just to get a degree to apply for those jobs that do require one. I like your point that going to school could be a way to avoid writing. Procrastination is one thing we writers are very good at, I think!

    • Anne

      And I’ve gotten writing gigs without a degree even tho’ they asked for one.

      • Well, good for you, Anne!

        I never said that degrees were necessary, only that they couldn’t hurt. As I see, certain positions in the industry do require the degree. It does look good on the resume, even if it isn’t what ultimately get you the job. The ability to write and one’s commitment get the jobs and allow one to keep them.
        .-= Mark´s last blog ..Modifiers I: Redundant Discriptives =-.

  • KathleenL

    And not to belittle Mass Communications degrees… they are like many other degrees… You can have an Associates degree in one subject… say Equine Science (like me) and the Bachelor’s in Mass Communications — News Editorial and follow that up with a Masters’ in a third subject – Not that I am willing to go back and put more good money on the schoolin’ bill. And Still not be directly employed as a horse trainer, a journalist or…. And it’s not just the Journalism field … But if you can work for others while still using your trained talents then you can use different parts of your education to be gainfully employed.

  • Autumn

    I agree that a J-school degree is not necessary (though mine has been helpful). I wouldn’t go back to school just to get an English-related degree, since many jobs I’ve seen that ask for a college degree are not always picky about what the subject was. I think asking for a degree is a way to weed out applicants, and also a way to spot people who finish what they start, basically. Most gigs I’ve gotten never ask whether I have a degree at all, as they just request good past samples. I do have a few really good gigs that require a degree, but to be an author, it is definitely not necessary. I’d take a few related classes at a community college, but going for another few years and spending thousands of dollars is really not required.

  • KathleenL

    Anne – I know that the bigger the newspaper the more they want the bloody finished degree. But a solid portfolio with clips outweighs the Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism I am three classes away from having. (Life happens and interrupts sometimes – but the writing has not ever stopped)

    The education and training I was lucky enough to obtain while at the university has helped me, but I was a published author before I studied the subject formally. Again, my self-starting, go-getting, deadline hitting performance and, again, my clips helped me to get the magazine jobs.
    As a Freelance Writer I get the jobs due to my Work Listing – resume-esk.
    I found the university education a help in learning things I had not been able to learn on my own.

  • Just noticed ME is interested in becoming an AUTHOR…if what they mean by that is “novelist,” absolutely NO credentials are required! Take a novel-writing class if you like, or buy a good book on story structure, and you’re good.
    .-= Carol Tice´s last blog ..Tips for Avoiding Loser Writing Clients =-.

  • I’m an N.D. — that’s no degree — and I think it’s only really an issue if you want to move into editing. That’s where I see the degree mattering more. If you go to school, go to a top school for the connections. I’ve written for a section of the Wall Street Journal, for crying out loud! I find most publications and Web sites don’t care if you learned to compose a strong English paragraph at Columbia or under a freeway overpass. If you can write in a compelling, clear way, you can find work.

    Rather than going back to school for a degree, there’s also a middle ground I took — just take a few college-level extension classes in magazine writing or journalism or whatever is your area of interest. Those few basics will take you a long way.
    .-= Carol Tice´s last blog ..Tips for Avoiding Loser Writing Clients =-.

  • Your reader should focus her writing on the social work niche that she knows. I will say though, in GENERAL, I’ve seen many jobs that ask specifically for a degree in journalism, English, etc.
    .-= Allena´s last blog ..Successful Freelance Writing Can Be Scary =-.

    • Anne

      Yes, Allena, many jobs to ask for a degree – such a request is often a way just to reduce the number of candidates. I’ve nothing against a degree, but writing is the key, with or without one if you (one) wants to be a freelance writer.

      • Hello Anne,

        May I point out that some programs geared to the writer, such as creative writing, do allot ongoing and considerable time to write? Workshops have now become an integral and essential part of many writing programs, simply because those who run them are writers themselves and know how important it is to write—and write and write and write. Going [back] to college need not take away from writing time, at least not completely. English majors know all too well that they will be writing up a storm, even more so for graduates in English.


        • Anne

          Sure Mark, and instructors that actually write, sell their writing, can sometimes be of real help.

          • It is true that many don’t on a regular basis, only because they are busy with their classes. I have been in the classroom, too, so I realize how hectic, tedious and time-constraining the job can be, especially when one is juggling two or three classes of 30-40 students each and then having to deal with departmental obligations on top of that.

            By default, however, the instructors must continue to publish in order to keep their jobs, and, according to one professor, new CW instructors (those who haven’t yet published) are required to publish at least one novel during their contracted tenure, which lasts about six years, although this might depend on the particular institution. Sometimes it is hard to balance everything.
            .-= Mark´s last blog ..Modifiers I: Redundant Discriptives =-.

  • I agree that writing is possible without a degree. Freelance writing requires you to WRITE. (Anne, you are so wise!)

    However, to be a journalist you have to have a degree. I don’t regret my journalism degree, but I’m glad I got it when I was young. School is time consuming. I know because I was foolish enough to go to grad school (to get a theological degree, of all things). I still have a few classes left, and am not ready to go back yet.

    You have to ask yourself what type of writing you want to do. If it’s journalistic, then by all means, go to J-school. If not, then read well-written sites (like this one), and get to writing.

    • Anne

      Do you really need a degree to be a journalist these days? I know that hasn’t always been true. (And thanks for thinking I’m wise!)

  • april

    This was very helpful. I think too often we are convinced that we need a degree to get a rewarding career, but it is nice to hear that freelance writing is possible without a college degree.

    • Anne

      I’m glad I don’t need a degree.

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