Do You Need a Writing Degree to Make Money as a Writer?

The answer to the question, “Do writers need writing degrees?” depends on who you ask! These tips for aspiring writers are inspired by a reader’s question and based on my writing career – I’m a full-time blogger and writer. My degrees are in Education and Psychology, from the University of Alberta.

do writers need degree to writeIf you dream of supporting yourself as a writer and want to make money writing now, get to work! If you’re not into online writing, read books like 88 Money-Making Writing Jobs. by Robert Bly. Dig around until you find the type of writing work you’d love to do. Don’t forget that writing for money is a career, not a hobby.

And, follow Mark Twain’s writing advice: “Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.”

Good ol’ Mark Twain’s tip is less applicable today than in his day, because I know aspiring writers can earn money the first day or week they start writing. That’s the beauty of e-zines, content sites, and blogs.

Here’s Ashleigh’s question, on Making Money Freelance Writing – 5 Ways to Support Yourself as a Writer:

“I’m sixteen and really struggling about the future. I don’t know what to do yet, so much pressure has been put on me. I want more than anything to just write. Write what I see, touch, smell – but my mum is nagging on at me saying that ‘Egotistic people like you need a job y’know!’ I’ve no idea what kind of job I’m looking for. Should I go to college and take a Journalism course? Go to University and get a degree in English so I can become a full-time journalist? My teacher gave me some local newspaper e-mails. ‘Send them some of your stuff Ash,’ she said, ‘Get yourself recognized. They will love it.’ I have my doubts, but do YOU think it’s a good idea?”

Yes, Ashleigh, I do think it’s a good idea to send your writing clips to you local newspaper. It’s a low-risk activity (that feels scary) – but it can reap big rewards! Or, maybe nothing will come of it at all. Either way, you win. If you sit on your writing, you gain nothing at all.

Do You Need a Writing Degree to Make Money as a Writer?

I don’t have writing degrees, though I’ve taken several literature and nonfiction writing courses. I think an education in something other than writing can be extremely valuable, depending on where you want your writing career to go.

1. Talk to successful writers who do not have writing degrees. I do not believe writers need creative writing degrees, journalism degrees, literary arts degrees, English degrees, or any type of degree at all, in fact. I’ve written for several national print magazines and many online e-zines and content sites, and have never once been asked what degrees I have. Of course, that’s me as a freelance magazine writer – it’s not me applying for a formal writing job on a newspaper, or for a job as a speechwriter or copywriter.

2. Figure out what kind of writing you want to do – and if education is required. There are so many different jobs for aspiring writers, and all have different writing requirements. For instance, you don’t need a writing degree to be a novelist or freelance magazine writer – you just need drive, perseverance, motivation, creativity, and self-discipline. But, you may need to a writing degree for other types of jobs. This is where books like 88 Money-Making Writing Jobs come in handy.

3. Try different types of writing jobs. I taught grade 8 Language Arts and high school Journalism. I didn’t really like teaching about writing – I’d rather be writing.

do writers need to go to school I worked as a freelance writer for a couple of years, and didn’t like pitching feature article ideas to editors. I currently write monthly health articles and various projects for BC Women’s Hospital, which I love doing. And I love, love, love writing for myself full-time – I created five Quips and Tips blogs, and have learned how to make money blogging. One of my best tips for aspiring writers is to jump in with both feet. Else, how will you know if you’ll even like writing as a career?

It might also help to know how much money writers can make! Read Freelance Writing Pay Rates – Newspaper and Magazine Articles.

4. Remember that you can always switch course. No matter how old you are – 16 or 66 – you don’t have to make a decision now that you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life. You can start getting a writing degree, and switch to a different type of degree if you choose. You can start a career as a freelance writer, and switch over into owning your own business or blogging or teaching surfing in Hawaii. Don’t pressure yourself to figure out your future right now…just take it one step at a time. The first step may be sending writing clips to your local newspaper, or applying to a journalism school or university, or working retail for a year while you write a book or decide what you really want to do with your life. Don’t get hung up on the details; just take it one tip at a time.

What do you think – do writers need writing degrees? Comments welcome below!

For more tips for aspiring writers, read 8 Things You Need to Know About Succeeding as a Freelancer.


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13 thoughts on “Do You Need a Writing Degree to Make Money as a Writer?”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I’m so glad to hear from you — thank you!

    And now that I’m an editor, I know for a FACT that writers don’t need degrees to get published. It’s all about their writing ability, style, and ideas.

  2. The tips in the above article are really encouraging.I had always been interested in writing but because of a full time job and other responsibilities could not pursue it. Now I am whole heartedly into it. Though I have other degrees but no degree in journalism. I think what is needed is perseverance ,self discipline and what this quip of Gail Sheehy sums up,”Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.” And this is what is the ‘achilles heel.’

  3. Laurie,

    Thank you so very much for this article! 🙂 I do not have a writing degree and at times I feel it to be a curse and other times I feel it’s truly a blessing.

    Last year I couldn’t find work and my debt was quickly mounting up, I felt like I had failed. I was endlessly surfing the net for jobs when I stumbled across this website that helped me get back on my feet again. No, I’m not retired and sipping a cold beverage in the tropics, but my bills are getting paid. The site has real writing jobs for: articles, stories, books, movie scripts, and blog posts. I actually signed up to be an affiliate because I truly believe that it helped me and I hope that maybe it can help others who are in the same situation I was in last year. Much success to all of you! 🙂

  4. 🙁 Wrote an essay for your readers, but it was purged when I forgot my name – probably a good thing. I figured I would come back and provide a few key points; in relation to what I have learned of the field.

    1. Write for yourself, and not others or to make money.

    2. Don’t focus on the degree unless you feel underdeveloped as a person – College can “direct” many people, but as they say, it is not for everyone. I have only a year of community college experience to be working with here, but I would bet my life that I could win a challenge of voice and influence to many of these people with “professional writing” degrees, or at least that I could hold my own. It’s great to do research, as I’m sure anyone serious about this has done, on those who have held the passion prior to your taking the torch, but it can be done on your own if need be, and if the passion is strong enough. College aided me with finding free thought and a more proper way of scrutinizing my reality, but I soon found myself seeing the conceptual stops looking familiar. One day the train stopped and I got out to see that I was running myself in circles for no reason. If you know your grammar backward and forwards, have a decent vocabulary, and a dream/calling to boot, you shouldn’t really need me telling you that you can be a writer. So go chase your dream. After all, we writers need all the company we can get lol.

    3. Experience life, practice your writing, and read a great deal. (it may help to read in the area you find most intersting, for inspiration).

    4. People will say that you should write for others. This is true, but there are many audiences out there. Don’t dumb yourself down to get attention.

    5. Finally, as if it needs to be said; if you are considering plaigarism then this field is not for you. A great deal of respect goes into the art of writing, and when you take the words off an author’s page, you are taking his or her voice. It will get personal lol.

  5. I have a BA in Professional Writing, and it hasn’t directly helped me find a job. However, I don’t regret the experience because it certainly broadened my horizons. I don’t think I would have the same goals had it not been for my college coursework, even if I’m not using exactly what I was taught.

    I also plan to attend grad school, but not for a writing-centric degree. That degree also will probably not be used directly in a job hunt and I may never have a career typical of the field the degree is in, but I love the subject and I think the investment is worthwhile.

  6. I’ll add an “amen” but from a slightly different perspective. I happen to have a journalism degree, but I know that a) only about 50% of new hires in a newsroom have a journalism degree. The other 50% come from every imaginable major. They want you to have something to write about, not just know how to write. b) Similarly the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that between 50 and 60% of college graduates are working in a different field than their major five years after graduation. This is supported by c) a study done first in 1989 and replicated a couple of times since that shows that specific degree held is only number 10 on a list of 17 factors involved in the decision to hire someone. Unless you’re in medicine or engineering, employers care that you have a degree because it shows you have developed discipline, the ability to delay gratification, the ability to plan long term and carry it out, etc.–but they mostly don’t care what the degree is in. This holds doubly true for writing professions.

  7. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Gisela ~ I’m glad this article was uplifting and inspiring! That’s my goal 🙂 And yes — if you want to write, you will write…writing degree or no writing degree…

  8. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments!

    Senay ~ it sounds like you’ve had a long, interesting writing career, even without a writing degree. Good on ya.

    George ~ I think it depends on where you want to teach creative writing. I don’t have an MFA, and I taught creative writing! Many successful published authors don’t have writing degrees, and teach writing courses. I think it depends on your experience more than your education. But I agree, “it depends” seems to be the most reasonable answer!

  9. Laurie,

    A sane answer to a very reasonable question.

    A good, solid “it depends” is most appropriate here.

    I think it’s most important for folks to realize that if they plan on teaching creative writing then an MFA is probably a necessity. If they are planning on just making a living as a writer, then maybe a writing degree is not a must-have.

    Of course, nothing says that a person could not audit a few courses at their local university if they want.


  10. I always wanted to be a lawyer, so in college I declared Philosophy as my major only to change my mind when I was pretty much almost finished w/the degree. Thanks a bunch for the article, it’s uplifting and encouraging it helps me believse that wrong degree or no degree, if I really want to write, I’ll figure out a way to do it. Thanks again!

  11. Thanks for this post. I totally agree with you. I have been writing for 12 years now, and I don’t have a writing degree. I have started writing columns, then articles, and ended up publishing my own magazine, in print and later online. I even taught at the School for Journalism on Online Publishing. Now I am writing op-eds, speeches and working on my second novel. I was insecure when I started writing in 1999 but look what I am doing now. I pay my bills with writing and lecturing, which is for me the best part: mentoring aspiring writers. I always tell them that there are more roads that lead to Rome.
    Senay (Amsterdam)