No, Successful Writers Do Not Need Journalism Degrees

A degree in journalism, creative writing, literature or even online content creation does not guarantee a successful writing career. In fact, a writing-related degree can be a hindrance for writers who want to make money. It’s better to have a well-rounded education and broad platform. My degrees are in Psychology, Education and Social Work, but I didn’t need a university or college education to be a successful writer.

It’s easier than you think to make money writing! But that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, or that becoming a writer without a degree is a smooth road.

Here’s the best way to think about it: you are starting a small business as an entrepreneur. You are embarking on a new career – and your first step is learning how to become a writer without a degree. That’s your job. I succeeded as a freelance writer, full-time blogger and published author because I taught myself how to become a writer. I don’t have a writing degree from a college (though I do have undergraduate degrees in psychology and education from the University of Alberta, and a Master of Social Work from the University of British Columbia). Education definitely helps, but writers don’t need degrees to succeed).

What do you need to do your job? You don’t need an education to write well, sell your articles, or succeed as a magazine journalist (yes, even in today’s online market) or even a book author. I’ll share three easy steps to becoming a writer without a degree. But just because the steps are easy doesn’t mean the road is smooth! It just means you don’t need a lot of book learning.

Ironically, I’m a huge fan of “book learning” at school – I even taught high school journalism and grade 8 Language Arts for three years! That’s how I know you don’t need a degree to become a writer. If you feel compelled to go to college or university, read How to Decide if You Should Go to School to Become a Writer….but don’t go to journalism school or writing college because you think you should or need to. You don’t need a writing degree to be a writer.

But you do need to make a plan, commit to it, and refuse to allow setbacks, failures and rejections to hold you back.

How to Become a Writer Without a Degree

“Making your mark on the world is hard,” says Barack Obama. “If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. it’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.”

1. Figure out what you don’t know

Here’s a mind-bending idea: you don’t know what you don’t know. You may think you know enough to start learning how to become a writer without a degree, but the truth is that you’ll never know how little you know. So don’t worry about what you don’t know. Ignore the anxious questions that nobody can answer (“How much money will I make as a writer?” “What if I fail?” “Am I good enough to actually make money writing?”)

Instead, focus on learning what successful journalists, authors, and freelance writers know. What kind of writer do you want to be, and how do other writers in that industry succeed? Have they written books about their experience, or even blogged? But don’t rely on the internet alone for information; blog posts and online writing websites are helpful, but distracting. The internet is a massive distraction that will stop you from achieving your goals! It’s also the source of lots of good, helpful and amazing things – but it is a tool that can help you succeed as as writer. Don’t let it consume you.

Read online articles such as 3 Writing Tips From Diana Gabaldon – How to Be a Writer…but study books like You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction — from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between by Lee Gutkind. He is the author and editor of more than 30 books and founder and editor of “Creative Nonfiction,” the first and largest literary magazine to publish narrative nonfiction exclusively.

2. Seek yourself the training and education you need to become a writer

“My will shall shape the future,” says consultant and coach Elaine Maxwell. “Whether I fail or succeed shall be no man’s doing but my own. I am the force; I can clear any obstacle before me or I can be lost in the maze. My choice; my responsibility; win or lose, only I hold the key to my destiny.”

I don’t agree. You can will and wish and hope and dream all you want, but you are not the force. You are vulnerable; unpredictable social forces, culture, politics and economics affect your level of success. Personal health issues, unhealthy or stupid choices, family problems, and unpredictable accidents can – and often do – change the course of your life. No matter how much you want to become a writer without a degree, you can’t succeed without actually doing the work it takes to learn. You have to learn what you don’t know about writing for a living – and that takes a lifetime. But if you love to write, you’ll love the rest of your life.

Instead of trying to will the career you think you want, align with God’s will for your life. There’s a Higher Power or divine energy at work – a Master Designer of the Universe – and that is who you want to connect with. Who did God create you to be? If He created you to become a writer without a degree, partner with Him and you will blossom. This doesn’t mean it’ll be an easy road or that you won’t have to work! But you will find yourself eager to do the work you love because He designed you to do it.

Are you leaning towards getting a writing degree so you feel qualified to become a writer? If so, here’s a List of Journalism Colleges and Universities on Wikipedia. Sometimes we need formal credentials – and a degree on the wall – to give us the confidence we need.

3. Choose to renew and rebuild your confidence every day

Of the thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of comments I’ve received on my She Blossoms blogs over ten years, only a handful were critical or mean-spirited. And yet, those criticisms sting. Getting rejected hurts, too – such as when readers unsubscribe from my Echoes of Joy newsletter or don’t buy my books. I’ve had to learn how to renew my confidence every day. We are in a battle – and it’s not just about writing, my friend. It’s spiritual and emotional.

How to Become a Writer Without a Degree
How to Become a Writer Without a Degree

When you feel like you’re failing in your goal to become a writer – and you think you can’t write without a degree – know that you are still moving forward. You have to fail in order to learn. You have to receive rejections from editors and silence from publishers; that’s how you will succeed as a journalist or freelance writer. You’re probably failing a lot less than you think. Plus, your failures are proof you’re working towards your dreams and trying things that hurt.

In How to Fail and Bounce Back as a Writer I shared bestselling author and poet Patrick Lane’s advice about moving forward and not looking back. In his book There Is a Season he describes his journey through addiction and recovery. He said thinking about terrible things in the past is like a dog returning to his own vomit (which is a Proverb in the Bible, by the way). I love this analogy, and remember it when I get discouraged or disheartened about criticism, failure and rejection. Instead of beating myself up, I tell myself that I’m not a dog and I refuse to go back to my own vomit…and I then think “Eeewwww…” and I move on! This is a practical, effective way to stop feeling like a writing failure.

If you’re aligned with God – or however you think of this Higher Power or divine source of all inspiration and love – and if you spend time with Him every morning, you will be renewed. Your energy will flag and you will get discouraged, but He will buoy you up. God gave you this gift, this desire to become a writer without a degree, and He will fulfill His promise in you. And you get to partner with Him! How awesome is that?!

Do you already know you’re going to college or university but don’t know if you should major in literature or writing, social sciences or humanities, drama or history? Read How to Decide if You Should Major in Journalism. (My vote is no. Writers need life experience more than technological or textbook knowledge. What’s your vote?)


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