Just over a month ago, a fellow writer tweeted a question. “Writers: Do you have a degree in writing? Does it help?”
My first smart aleck thought was, “I don’t know. Is there a hole in your wall that you need to cover?” Sorry. It’s an old family joke that gets trotted out whenever someone is showing off a diploma of some kind. “You could cover a fair-sized hole in the wall with that!”
Back to the original tweet. I’ve never really felt the need to go for an MFA but there was a group of people who told her that a writing degree was essential. These people, not surprisingly, generally had MFAs. They tweeted about how their degrees taught them about structure. They learned to be disciplined writers. They learned to do research. They emerged as part of a community.
As I read through the responses, I wondered where were the people without writing degrees? I know we’re out there because I’m one of them. I’m not a unicorn for goodness sake.
So I posted: “My BS in anthropology taught me to listen. My MA in history taught me to research. I learned to write by reading and writing. Volunteering at conferences drew me into a global community of writers, editors and agents.”
Admittedly, I do know numerous writers with MFAs. But I write for young readers, and in that community other degrees are much more common. Many of my peers are former teachers and librarians. I didn’t take that path either perhaps because I didn’t consider being a writer until after I graduated.
Then I spotted a post by Indiana Lee on diyMFA. Lee wrote about "Five Degrees to Consider in Pursuit of a Freelance Career." What would she recommend in addition to writing? I expected to see education and library sciences so her list surprised me. Writing was #3. Before that were Finance (#1) and Web Development (#2). Following were International Relations (#4) and Graphic Design (#5). Lee’s emphasis wasn’t on degrees that you could combine with a writing degree as much as jobs you could do while also freelancing.
And that’s the reality for many writers. They do other jobs while also writing. Many need to do that to pay their bills. Others truly enjoy the other work that they do. This work often helps fuel their writing.
I hope that you are getting the point that there are many different paths to the writing life. Some of us know as children that we want to write. These people may or may not study writing in college.
Interviewing WOW contest winners, I have interviewed students and teachers, doctors and athletes. Each of them has traveled a different path to publication.
This isn’t to say that you don’t need an MFA. Maybe you do. Only you can decide which path you need to take to learn what you need to achieve your writing dreams.
Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers. To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.
The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on February 6, 2022). Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.
Sue is also the instructor for Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins February 6, 2022).