How Important is a Creative Writing Degree?

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Photo Credit: Write Writing

I also mean English degree because that seems to be a popular major for many writers, though I never truly considered it myself.

There are millions of writers around the world, right? Some can churn out great book after great book with their eyes closed. But some, like myself, struggle to finish a single manuscript. If I could make a list of all the writers out there based on talent, I’d put myself right in the middle in the group that is just barely able to write a full length novel. Because let’s face it, everyone most certainly does not have that one novel in them.

This is where that creative writing or English degree come in. One might assume that these writers have a leg up on those with no degree at all or those with a non-writing degree. You guys should know by now that my degree is in criminal justice. I’ve never taken any kind of creative writing class, though I did think of it during my last couple semesters. This means there are probably a million and one things that I have no knowledge of when it comes to writing. I mean, I read blog posts just about everyday about setting, character arcs, dialogue, plotting, description, and a hundred other things about writing a story that I can’t think of off the top of my head. I assume these things have been learned by all these writers along the way, but the thing is that I honestly don’t know anything about any of this stuff. While I’m writing I’m not thinking about any of these things. I just sit down and write and something gets put to paper.

I know that most other writers are not only better writers, but significantly more knowledgeable than I am. They also may not think of any of the things I mentioned above, but that’s because they already know what they’re doing with this whole writing thing. I’m still years and books and thousands upon thousands of words away from having the faintest idea.

Now my question to you, because what good would a post be without a definitive question? If you have a creative writing or English degree, how important do you think it is to your writing? If not, how did you come to learn all that you know about writing? I currently know nothing at all.

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109 thoughts on “How Important is a Creative Writing Degree?

  1. So, I have such a degree, which was really a fall back when I realized I was not Educator material (I have a hard time with mobs of illogical young ones). Does it help me? Not in the real world. I haven’t taken a single day job that actually cared that I had any kind of degree, nor do most of my co-workers even KNOW I have a degree in anything. The classes were fun, writing on a deadline, hearing people critiques and knowing that actually GOT ME. Does it make me a better writer than I already was? Only by virtue of experience with my classmates, which can be obtained by finding a writing group and not spending $30,000. Does it get my book sold? Doesn’t appear that way.

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  2. I think a creative writing/English degree would certainly be helpful – but that it’s not the golden ticket to a successful career that it’s perhaps thought as.
    I did a Journalism degree and although it didn’t help with but writing a novel, dialogue or character development and any of that handy stuff, I still feel it’s given me experience and knowledge that’s transferable to fiction-writing.
    I think it’s definitely not essential, but any studies or careers which focuses you to write every single day is going to be helpful. Even if like me, you have to write about boring financial services legislation instead of the fun stuff πŸ™‚

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  3. I obviously don’t have a Creative Writing or English degree. The little that I know about writing probably comes from the sheer volume of books that I read. English was also my favorite subject in high school, and I took one single creative writing class in college. But my professor specialized in non-fiction, so I’m not sure how much that helped.

    I also read books on writing. I probably have about 50 of them. Not that I’ve finished them all, but I take tidbits from each one that help to steer me in the right direction. And I follow blogs on writing. And I read Writer’s Digest religiously. Well, the website, anyways. Even though I don’t always follow their advice.

    So, there you have it. I don’t have any real formal training in writing, either. For all that I “know” about writing… well… I think I’m just really good at faking it. πŸ™‚

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  4. Hi, John!
    I’m currently a college junior going for my degree in Creative Writing, and as a serious writer myself, I can say that every single exposure to everything outside my genre only serves to strengthen my own skills. Nothing is without significance, as books are not the only things that sell with a Creative Writing degree.
    I’ve come to this understanding about my skill set that every single piece of writing we come across in the real world was written creatively: to keep interest, to make sense, to enlighten. I cannot undervalue my field–nor my anticipated degree in it–because whatever we enjoy came from the creative process, somehow.
    I’ve grown and extended my wings so very far just in one year of serious courses toward my degree. I wouldn’t want to do anything else, even if that means writing commercial jingles while my book is in the process. If creative writing fills someone with joy, then they should do it with all their heart. But if creative writing means dollar signs only, then by all means stay far away from it.
    C.M.

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    • Well then. And what if you go through the program and realize you still have no idea what it takes to write a book? Having a piece of paper and actually doing it are completely different.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Of course the two are completely different. What I’m saying is that someone shouldn’t go into a creative writing degree program if all they expect is a way to make mondo bucks. Usually any writer who’s got the writing bug–no matter what degree field they ever choose to go into–will write no matter what. I wasn’t even a creative writing major when I first got on campus and I changed my entire program sophomore year.
        Doing the actual act of writing is what helps us realize what to do and not do. No book can help us get a grip on our own individual style until we’ve actually sat down and begun to write. I speak from absolute experience–a bad ego trip for a few years, several completely terrible manuscripts, a dry spell of several heartbreaking months, and finally a come-down to the real world of blood-sweat-and-tears writing.
        The degree doesn’t make the writer. Heart, spirit, and determination through all deterrents are what make a writer. Those discouraged by their degree “not coming to anything” don’t have those traits, but it’s obvious that you have the writing bug. Keep writing!!! I have faith that you’ll pull through and get this thing finished. Every first draft makes me want to quit, but every second draft reminds me why I don’t.
        You can do it!!!

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      • I didn’t say anything about money. But okay.

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  5. I don’t have a degree… Nor have I taken any sort of writing class since high school. Everything I know (which isn’t a lot) I’ve gathered from books. I’ve spent countless hours thumbing through dozens of writing books. And believe it or not, I’ve actually used Pinterest as another great source for writing help. It has led me to some great writing blogs and articles online.
    And take notes while reading “on writing” books. Write interesting tips and facts down. Underline (if it’s your own book…libraries don’t like that stuff) πŸ˜‰
    I don’t believe you need a degree to be a good writer. I know plenty of people–some even younger than I am, who are great writers.

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    • I suppose. But it’s not like bestseller lists are full of high school or college kids’ books. You may not need a degree to be a great writer, but there aren’t thousands upon thousands of authors who are traditionally published with no degree.

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  6. I’ve just finished studying print journalism for two years and I can say it helped me a lot, probably not at all when it comes to selling my books and getting an agent but it made my writing 100x better.

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  7. I have a journalism degree with an English minor. While the degree likely helped me get my foot in the door when it came to full-time work at a newspaper, I can’t really say for sure that was the deciding factor as I had a couple of years of freelance experience by that point.
    When it comes to writing novels and the like, though, the courses leading up to a degree might sharpen your skills. Also, a degree looks good on paper, but as to whether or not it’s worth the money in the long run is up to how the individual used the knowledge they gained in earning it.

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  8. I have an MFA in Creative Writing and I think it has helped my writing a little. I only say a little because I learned to write screenplay,s games, animation, and how to write for TV. I learned all of this in film school. Prior to school, I wrote 8 novels without the degree. I guess creative writing just shows you different forms of writing, but it also makes you think differently. I now use detailed outlines and do tons of research before I start writing anything. I didn’t do that prior to film school. I’ve only had the degree for over a year and I still can’t find a job in the field. So, it’s safe to say it has it’s advantages and disadvantages.

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  9. My minor is English, and I just finished my Creative Writing class this spring. It was amazing to see how much my writing evolved from the first pieces, to my final portfolio. No offense to my instructor, he was great, but the best aspect was the peer/reader feedback. The setting was conducive to growth because each reader responded with what worked, and what did not work in my particular writing. I grew from that a lot. I reccomend some sort of writing group/circle, but a degree is certainly not mandatory, nor even necessarily much more helpful, in my opinion that is.

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    • WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!? I don’t think I’ve seen any new posts and definitely nothing over here anytime recently.

      Sorry I’m kinda ignoring your comment. I read it. I always hated giving feedback to other students when I was in school. Cause I knew I was the best writer in every class. And some writing was just horrendous to read. Haha.

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  10. In my opinion, an English degree is shit unless you want to work in a field directly related to it, like education or publishing. You should not get an English degree to write a book. Everything they will teach you will be available on Google or with $5 books on Amazon, but you can only get so many jobs with an English degree. You can’t assume that your degree will result in a your book being published. If you’re going to go to college, get a degree in what you want a job in, and push aside all thoughts of writing when you do that. Unless your parents are paying for your schooling 100% and you have no concerns about practicality, you can’t just get an English degree so that you know how to write. You should already know how to write, the degree would just clarify some of the details already available on the internet.
    Besides, English is a shitty degree if you want to write. Honestly, criminal justice is much better. You can learn to write on your own, but now you know how to write an accurate crime novel. Major in psychology and you can add a whole new depth to your characters. Major in business and you’ll know how to make your character a high profile business man (while also probably landing some insane six figure job in the end). You know that saying “Don’t quit your day job?” That is what is happening here. Plus, almost all majors have plenty of room for minors or electives for creative writing, but most people I’ve talked to say that creative writing classes they took crushed their soul.

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    • Ooooh. Strong feelings here. I have to ask what you’re studying now. Or what your degree is in. AND I just thought of like 10-15 major authors with English degrees. Guess they just liked reading and analyzing old works.

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      • It doesn’t matter how many authors have an English degree, it matters how many authors don’t have an English degree or those who have English degrees and still such at writing. Stephanie Myers had a degree in English, but she still wrote complete shit. You’re either a good writer or you’re not, an English degree will not change that.
        And the strong feelings are from entitled idiots using their parents’ money for useless degrees then complaining that they can’t get a job in their field then get one with their parent’s connections. But that’s off topic. I’m a double major in Psychology and Criminal Justice. Getting a job is more important than writing, because I can’t write if I’m living under a bridge somewhere.

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      • Well then. I hate people misspelling author names everyone knows.

        Stephenie Meyer*

        And no one else is cussing on here. You can tone that down or not comment at all. Doesn’t really matter to me.

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      • That is the most petty reply I have ever seen.

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  11. I am sure a Creative Writing degree would be helpful to have. It sure won’t hurt you. However, I don’t think it’s necessary. I know a lot of people who are wonderful writers without taking a single creative writing class. I think writing is practice, the more you do it, the more you learn. I am in the same boat as you. I am not an educated or prepared writer in a sense someone who is an English or Creative Writing major would be. The most important aspect in writing in my opinion is passion and willingness to explore it further.

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  12. I have a degree in Architecture, so no real English/Creative Writing help there! I learned (and am still learning) by writing, letting beta readers critique my work (and actually listen to their advice!), interact with other authors online, read countless articles and blog posts on writing until the subject finally sinks in, and read, read, read! It’s cumulative. Only after it’s been pounded into me and I see multiple examples does it really “click “. But there’s a downside. Now that I’m learning the “correct” ways to write, I get frustrated when I read published books and I find things that could be improved.

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    • Beta readers are great, but I’m not going to assume that everything they say is right.

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      • Of course not, but to discard them because they don’t “get” you is asking for trouble. Especially if more than one is saying the same thing. I have had many readers and I sit on their comments for awhile to make sure my ego isn’t getting in the way of their helpful criticism. Then I can go forward, using the comments that will improve my writing and ignoring that which doesn’t work for me. I have yet to read a beta’s critique and use nothing of their comments. Even when I have read a critique and immediately decided this person is an idiot and just has no idea what they are talking about, I sit on it. When I come back later with a cooler head and unloaded my offense at them not thinking I’m amazing, I find that there is always a lot of helpful advice. To effectively use betas, you must become very humble.

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      • I don’t even know what you mean about beta readers who don’t “get” me. I’m going to use bloggers this time around and I’ve never met any of them. So they obviously don’t know me on any kind of personal level. Even the ones I talk to everyday. That would have nothing to do with what I think of their critiques. I don’t know why it would.

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      • It’s a common excuse writers say to themselves to justify not agreeing with a beta comment. It’s the same as saying the beta is an idiot. I ‘m just saying it’s important to lose your ego, really listen and think about the critique, let it sit so you aren’t feeling offended, and understand that betas are truly trying to help. It has nothing to do with if the beta knows you. You almost have to become disconnected from your work feeling personal and look at it objectively through their eyes in order to get the full benefit.

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  13. I have two history degrees and I use them in my day job. Overall, they haven’t really helped me with the creative writing aspect, but I don’t think you can really learn to be creative anyway, you either have the idea or you don’t. They have helped my writing in general even though they’ve focused on analytical writing, I think if you have a solid foundation it’s pretty easy to shift your writing it in different directions.

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    • I don’t know that I agree with you. If it were easy to shwitch from one type ofceriting to another, then all journalists and nonfiction writers would be writing books too. Many do, but most don’t.

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      • I had a typo!
        Anyway, I tried to say that. Personally speaking I know it’s not easy! It’s been really hard for me to try and break into the creative writing niche. Though I think any writing heavy degree helps you learn the basics, you can’t guarantee they will help in the creative department. I think it’s really a personal thing though, if you have an idea you have to get onto paper I think you can learn to adapt your style of writing. Even if you don’t become published or anything I think it’s still something thats doable.

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  14. I don’t have a Creative writing or English degree though I do have a B.A. I suppose they can help but at the end of the day, talent will shine through, whether you’ve been to university or not. I do think that being part of a creative writing community helps, and doing any short creative writing courses helps too. At the moment I’m taking part in the on-line Futurelearn course. Before I forget, reading really helps too. Lots and lots of reading! All sorts of genres.

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    • I have to repeat what I said to another commenter. There’s a reason high school and college kids aren’t releasing books left and right with traditional publishers. And I’d also like to know how many authors are out there who make a living from their books with no degree at all. Can’t be very many.

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  15. I have a certificate in creative writing. I don’t use it in my work, since I work for starbucks.

    But, I think the time spent was well worth it. I met other writers, and learned a lot of things that help my writing. But, in school it’s all about literary fiction, and mostly short stories.

    When I told my department chair that I wanted to write Sci Fi/Fantasy, he groaned. He thought it would be a waste of talent. Why wrote that stuff, when I could write poetic, and symbolic fiction?

    Because poetic and symbolic fiction is boring. At least to me.

    So, I keep in touch with my writer friends and I use the tools I was given in school to write the stories I want to read.

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  16. I know absolutely nothing about writing. Everything I’ve done has been by trial and error and reading, reading, reading, then trying desperately to sound like I can write something. I’d love to take some classes on creative writing. I will say though, that my friend was an English major and she said one of the downfalls of having that partial degree is the fact that you dissect books forevermore. You can never enjoy a book, you just pick it apart. So I wonder if it’s helpful or not. Most famous writers did not have a degree and so is it necessary?

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    • Most famous writers did not have a degree? You must not be talking about now. Cause that’s just not true. And to test my theory I just Googled random authors on my bookshelf and not a single one doesn’t have a degree. English. Mechanical engineering. Journalism. Law. All those in two seconds of searching.

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      • Older authors. You know, before 1920…. the books you won’t read. And I meant English degree.

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      • I think just about every published writer now has some degree. When I see that a writer I like has a BA in English, I worry that I’ll never be able to be published because I do not have any degree behind me. You at least can write crime novels and whatnot. You have that criminal science? degree. I’m blanking on what I just read. All I have for experience is the books I read. It is disheartening sometimes. I worry. A lot.

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      • Like I said, I can’t imagine any successful authors today not having a degree. And having a degree in criminal justice doesn’t enable me to write.

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      • Lol, no, but at least it gives you an idea how the system works in the sense of crime.

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      • Then we’re talking about every degree.

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      • Well, wouldn’t you think that would be a reasonable thing? You have a degree in say justice, you can write about the law. You have one in mechanics, well you can write about being a mechanic or whatever. Botanist = A plant murder mystery. It makes sense. They say, write what you know. Maybe taking English just gives you an edge.

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      • We’re talking fiction here. No. I don’t know what it’s like being a homicide detective. Or a regular patrolman. Or the victim of a crime. Or much about any law. That’s what research is for. Has nothing to do with my degree.

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      • Okay, no, you wouldn’t. So tell me, what does your degree entail? Don’t get me started on research. I swear, no one does their research anymore.

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      • I have a solid knowledge of the criminal justice system. As a whole. I can talk to you about crime stats and prisons and discrepancies and some very basic law enforcement principles and Supreme Court cases involving criminal justice. And a whole lot more that most people would know little to nothing about. Nothing to to with writing. Easy example. Did you know that until 2005 it was still legal to execute someone for a crime committed before the age of 18? That’s no longer the case.

        If no one does their research, then you’re talking about stories that are written and published with false information. Not true from traditional publishers.

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  17. I’m just about finished an English BA, and though I haven’t had the opportunity to see how it plays out in some sort of career or job yet, I am finding it to be quite valuable. I love seeing how different stories are put together and how we find meaning in the works that we read. I tend to use that knowledge when thinking about the way I word things and how this might be taken by others- it’s not so much a matter of learning to write, but of understanding how people read and how that will affect my writing. Also, I have personally found that the practice writing essays has helped me immensely with my ability to plan and pace my writing properly. That being said, just because I’ve gotten all this from an English degree doesn’t mean that anyone else will – I honestly think it depends on the person and they way in which they approach writing, the way in which their mind works and where they’re natural strengths and weaknesses are. And though I almost have a degree in English literature, I would never take a degree in creative writing, because despite how much we might disagree with it, school is competitive, it creates (usually unspoken) hierarchies through grading and marks, ect, all of which are dependent on the professor’s perception of your work. This might work when learning to clearly outline arguments, but when it comes to creativity? I think it gives too much power to a few people over our understanding of our work and creativity- how can something be graded and compared to others when it is something which will be as varied and strange as human experience, and how can any group of people claim the ability to grade that human experience? Granted, there are people who will disagree with me, and it might be right for them. I just know that a creative writing degree is not right for me, and I’m sure that it won’t be for others as well. I honestly believe it depends on the person.

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  18. I’m currently studying a Masters in Creative Writing and while I absolutely don’t think having that kind of qualification is essential to becoming a good writer, I have personally found it invaluable. I can say with 100% certainty that my writing has improved since I’ve been doing the course and this is most probably because it has forced me to write more.

    Before the course I didn’t have that much discipline with my writing and I guess I didn’t take it that seriously. But surrounding myself, one night a week, with like-minded people has not only opened my eyes to a whole range of authors, genres, techniques and writing approaches that I never would have known about otherwise, it has also given me so much focus and inspiration to really apply myself.

    And yeah, the workshopping can be a bit hit and miss but being forced to read your writing out to a class and then sit there and take all the feedback, be it good and bad, has thickened my skin and given me a lot more confidence.

    We also have published authors come in at least once a semester for a Q&A session and being able to ask them about anything and everything writing related is so helpful, not to mention just really interesting.

    And one last thing (sorry, this is quite a rant on my behalf) I have the Stephen King book that was mentioned on another reply. It’s really good, I’d highly recommend.

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  19. I don’t have a creative writing degree, however in college I took a few creative writing courses and taken classes independently at literary centers. I wonder if having a degree matters much to be a successful writer. I really think that the natural interest and desire to tell a story can yield amazing works. That is not to say that a writing degree should not be pursued–it can connect you to a writing community where you can learn from other writers who may have found success.

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    • I don’t think so. I mean, a degree, yes, but not necessarily a writing one. I looked up a few authors from my bookshelf earlier (don’t know if you read any previous comments) and they all had degrees. Law. Engineering. English. There were a bunch.

      The writing community can be a bit harsh sometimes, but if conducive to growth, then yes.

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      • I see what you are saying. To be honest, at this point in time, I would not pursue a writing degree in hopes of being a writer, it would be better to connect with writers online or in one’s physical environment to obtain knowledge, inspiration, advice, and encouragement. But I know some may feel they need to pursue a degree to find success.

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      • Agree completely. I actually don’t think I’ve ever heard of any author I’ve read with a creative writing degree. Hm. Interesting thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m a big believer that raw ability and passion will always trump pieces of paper as long as you are willing to work twice as hard to reach your goal. I never actually went to university. I had serious doubts whether i was good enough while i was writing each book. No matter how strong my beliefs were there was always that self doubt in the back of my head that i was wasting my time, that i was never going to be as good as Joe Bloggs with an English literature or a creative writing degree

    Point being i think having a creative writing degree helps, it definitely gets your foot in the door quicker, but ultimately as long as you are good enough (and have the determination) you’ll succeed

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    • I disagree. For reasons I’ve already stated in previous comments.

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      • A bit harsh and dismissive if i’m honest. You can’t teach creativity. I’m an English teacher in Asia. Trust me i know…. Are you actually saying to me that you would automatically assume someone is a good writer just because they have a degree? because that’s just ridiculous. Sure, it gives them priceless knowledge and advice but what good is that if you don’t have the natural talent to start with?

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      • Name a successful author, traditionally published, with no degree. I’m talking today’s writers. Not 100 years ago.

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      • I’m not talking about any degree, i’m talking about a creative writing degree. To be honest i’m new on this scene….. very new, so i know VERY little about authors, their work, etc… So if you are challenging me to call you out then you are putting me in a very uncomfortable position. All i’m saying is i’m used to people telling me i’m going to fail; i’m not good enough because i don’t have this or that and it only drove me on to succeed. I don’t understand how someone could so closed minded in an example such as creativity, unless you are referring to ultra famous authors with some sort of degree under their belt?

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      • I’m referring to successful authors who write for a living. I don’t really care what you call me.

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      • i’m shocked with your attitude to be honest. You could have easily ignored my comment altogether but you went straight for the jugular. I could understand if i had said something negative towards you or your work, but your blunt and in my opinion disrespectful replies were upsetting and unnecessary. I could feel the aggression through the words as i was reading them. Almost as if you felt you were above replying to someone like me.

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      • Oh great. Just unfollow my blog if you follow, or don’t comment. Sheesh.

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      • wow……. not even an attempt to resolve the issue. I hope you don’t talk to everyone like this, you’re not going to get far in life with that attitude….

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      • Alrighty.

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  21. I don’t think you need a degree at all, but that isn’t to say you should be inexperienced. Yes, you have to start somewhere, but I think if you are going to actively pursue publishing and don’t have any education, you should have at least a couple years of experience. That’s my opinion. Because most people have a natural talent, but it takes time and learning through trial and error to hone that talent into a skill. As I’ve said, I’ve been writing my whole life, and I’m still learning. And I think that if I had tried to publish when I first started considering it a couple of years ago, I would be embarrassed by what I put out there. I also think it’s important to develop your voice, which can take years. A lot of people can string pretty words together, but it takes time and practice to become a storyteller and an artist πŸ™‚

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  22. I know a journalism degree has done about as much as tomato sauce does for tomato πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I have only a high school diploma and a few math courses in college. English just happens to be my forte. I would have liked to pursue creative writing, but my life circumstances did not allow for time off, not even time for writing for many years. My opinion is this: If English is a problem, employ an editor. Problem solved. Smile. Blessings to you, John…

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  24. I have an English degree in which I concentrated on Professional Writing (though if the university had had an option for Creative Writing, I would have taken that instead) and I can say that it has, in my opinion, helped my writing. As you know from reading my blog posts (as I’ve seen you “like” many of them, haha) I often mention that I’ve heard of this method from class or that method from class. It’s actually very useful to know what you’re writing about, when you’re writing about it, and more. It’s not only good for just writing, either, but also developing skills such as critical thinking and analysis, looking at the job markets and what writing can pay, how to build platforms online, etc. Though that may sound more business oriented than writing based, I promise you, it’s not. Each of the aforementioned skills I learned were from English classes at my university.
    Yes, having an English degree can help in your writing because you understand many dynamics that you may not have before, but that doesn’t mean it’s the be all, end all of writing. Many, many people who are world famous authors don’t have writing or English degrees, so it doesn’t really matter. If you have a good story in your head that you’re able to get on paper or screen, then what’s holding you back?
    P.S. It does also force you to go back and proof your work as well as learn how to spell correctly and learn better grammar and all that, considering the amount of papers we English majors have had to write.

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  26. “I know that most other writers are not only better writers, but significantly more knowledgeable than I am.” — This is not true. Take a look at the majority of self-published fiction sometime. You can string a sentence together that is coherent, properly punctuated, AND has something to say. This would automatically place you in the top third.
    My own university degree in in art education, of all things. My twin’s degrees are in geology and anthropology. Neither of us has ever felt any need for a degree in Creative Writing. In fact, when I took an advanced-level course on fiction writing simply to fulfill a requirement, I was shocked at how little my classmates tended to know about writing. Back when I was at university, people would often ask me why I wasn’t getting a degree in English, since they knew I intended to be a novelist no matter what else I did with my life. My reply was that learning how to analyze Hemingway doesn’t even teach you how to imitate Hemingway — it certainly doesn’t teach you how to write your own stories. (In my own observation, the people who get degrees in creative writing tend to… overanalyze things, and attempt to write Great Literature with Important Themes, rather than striving to write interesting stories about people who go places and do things and experience emotions. ‘Sides, I’m a sci-fi writer, and no university’s creative writing program would have accepted me — I’m one of those icky ‘genre writer’ people. *grin*)

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