View Full Version : To Published Writers: How has your formal education helped you?
June 5th, 2005, 03:24 PM
As far as I can see all of the published writers on this forum have at least a few years of university education. Some of you have even taught university. What I would like to ask: Do you feel it is necessary to achieve a university degree in order to be successful as a writer? In what ways has formal education influenced you as a person and changed your writing?
I probably can guess what the answers will be, but I'm asking anyway. Here's my situation: At age 18, back in the 90's, I finished the first year of a Psychology degree, at the end of which I was brilliant enough to get pregnant and drop out. :rolleyes: A couple years ago, I wanted to start up again, and this time take English, so I started taking correspondence from University of Waterloo (excellent school), working toward a B.A. in English Language and Literature. I've only taken 4 courses so far but loved all of them, and done very well. But the courses are very expensive, and I can't really afford them. Well, I can't afford them at all. I figure that probably if I want to really succeed, I should continue my education. But to do so, at least in the next several years, I will need to beg the money from my grandmother. Which I would rather not do.
So, I was just curious what everyone's thoughts are on this. Is formal education necessary?
June 5th, 2005, 03:57 PM
Ok, this is just my opinion.
First, university is a great experience, both in and out of the classroom. But it is a rather expensive one, and I think, ultimately, the best thing anyone can get out of it is a desire to learn and a confidence in their ability to learn.
If you have that, if you have a drive and curiosity and an understanding that you can teach yourself a skill or enrich your life by exploring new avenues of thought then you may not need university to open that horizon for you.
If you still want that degree, you might be better off exploring the courses you are interested in, or other, less expensive alternatives? and to flesh out some course requirments you can transfer credits form a less expensive program into your school (check with them first!). Also, be aware that there are advanced placement tests that let you skip basic course credits that you demonstrate a competence in (like basic english, math, etc.)... most colleges administer these to anyone that asks and if successful you get credit for a course: drawback is you still have to pay for the credits (i'm fairly sure). Also checkout financial aid programs. I don't know how these sorts of things might differ with a correspondance course.
But there are also programs, such as writers workshops, that are less expensive then simliar college courses (usually), that let you target the skills you want to increase.
My university education introduced me to a lot of things...and it did improve my skills as a writer; but I think a person with the drive and discipline to succeed as a writer would also be able to teach themselves many of the things I paid someone else to teach me. Ultimately college is just a structure, its a frame that helps you grow in a certain direction that you might not be able to see for yourself when you are young. If you can't afford it, or if you can only take a few classes, or if you can do it as a part-time student over a long period of time it shouldn't make a huge difference in your success as a writer (or person): because when it boils down to it its how much work you're willing to put into anything that will determine if you are a success.
And if you can't afford to get your degree don't ever feel like you lack something that other people have...many of the people in my graduating class lack the basic language skills to follow the post I've just written, and that piece of paper their parents bought for them isn't going to clue them in on the kinds of things I suspect you are already well aware of, like the beauty of language and the importance of literature and the hunger to learn over a lifetime. So, basically, its a person that makes a degree, not the other way around...and I suspect in nearly all cases that person will be just fine without the degree so long as they have the love of learning that university are supposed to instill, but often can't.
June 5th, 2005, 11:38 PM
I've got two degrees. AA in Electronics Engineering and a BA (working on MA) in Compter Science (yes, I'm a geek to the core).
I've learned more about writing by writing. I took all my classes in the class room and what I gained was perspective. You must be around people in order to write about people. It's just that simple. You cannot write in a vaccuum. Even over the net, you don't get the full experince you do when you interact with people.
This, of course, doesn't require school training. You can get the same thing at work, at the pub, playing pool, going to soccer (football) games, etc. etc. Get out and experience life. Get a degree to have a better life if money is what drives you. Many will tell you, you won't get rich off of writing. :)
June 6th, 2005, 04:47 AM
I think it helps but it isn't strictly necessary. Uni is a great life experience as is getting into the world of work... the more you do these things, the more you know and learn and I think that's more crucial to a writer.
I agree, though that writing is what makes you a better writer. You bring your life experience into your writing of course but making sense of it in the written word is what takes the practice.
Personally, I'd say that my years in advertising and marketing were more important to me than my formal education. They taught me the importance of every word, the need for discipline in every working environment and what it takes to succeed and be respected and recognised.
Of course, if I hadn't been to Uni, I probably wouldn't have got the marketing jobs... everything is relative.
June 6th, 2005, 06:12 AM
My what? Oh yeah... I did first year Uni in Japanese... but that's only because it was a correspondence class and I didn't have to quit it when I left high school to start work. For some of us University just wasn't even an option.
Actually, I prefer short specific relevant courses. So much so, I got a certificate to teach other adults the same types of courses. Most people only learn stuff that is relevant to their needs, especially once they start working.
I know people with masters in sf and phd in crime fiction subjects but I dont think it's necessary. Ever read "Dare to be a Great Writer" by Leonard Bishop? If you're from the wrong side of the tracks and want motivation, read it.
June 6th, 2005, 07:11 AM
I have no formal qualifications in English as a language or in the study of literature. I don't think the qualifications I have acheived have helped my writing, though they have certainly helped my life. Without them I wouldn't be in the possition where I can work when I want and write when I want. If you want to study then do it, if you are only doing it for the sake of writing you might be better off doing a specialist writing course.
June 6th, 2005, 08:55 AM
I have a BA in History and am currently studying for an MA in the same subject. I don't think you need to have a good formal education to be successful at writing. Then again, if you look at the majority of published fantasy authors, most of them have a university education - Tolkien was a professor at Oxford.
Personally I feel that a university education doesn't necessarily help you be a good writer. However, university does make you a well-rounded person and gives you a lot of new experiences that you will remember for the rest of your life. These help with the creative side of writing. For example many of the historical periods I studied during my degree opened my eyes to a wealth of background material for possible stories.
In short; no a university education is not necessary to get published, but yes - it certainly does help in a variety of ways.
June 6th, 2005, 09:11 AM
well im off to uni in september, to study music so i dont really see how music will help my writing,but i suppose meeting new people will help with descriptions of people etc.Im actually scared whitless.
I've never studied english apart from my GCSE's but i suppose doing english degree, espesh, literature would help immensely, sadly i chose music ... so my writing skills prob wont improve.
June 6th, 2005, 10:15 AM
The published writers I've worked with have ranged from a guy with an 8th grade education to college professors. What higher education seems to give some writers are more opportunities to write, experiment, and learn about different writers and techniques, should they chose to study such things, which can obviously be helpful. But a lot of fiction writers with university degrees then went on to do something else and only eventually turned to fiction writing further down the line.
The common joke about M.F.A. degrees -- master degrees in fiction writing -- is that you get them to be able to teach writing, rather than actually make a living as a fiction writer, because many folk with M.F.A. degrees don't go on to be novelists. But, it is also true that some M.F.A. programs give promising writers some direct access to publishers to get their work read, at least in the U.S. This is less common in the sf/f field, but there are some specialty writing workshops, like Clarion, that may provide the same sort of access.
For sf, you're more likely to run into authors who have science degrees than in English literature. In fantasy, authors with degrees in history or religion are not uncommon. But there's a healthy percentage that have had no university education or no full degrees.
A high proportion of fiction writers come from journalism, advertising and the theater world. It may be that the value of a university education for a writer is less about the education part and more that it and these careers involve a lot of writing experience that is helpful to fiction writing. But there are other aspects to a university degree that are also valuable -- job opportunities that can support you as you write, as has been mentioned, networking opportunities, a chance to assess your own needs and wants, and the simple pursuit of knowledge. Universities are places of tremendous resources, many of them largely untapped, but it probably does help, especially if you're returning, to have specific goals for what you want out of the experience.
June 6th, 2005, 10:17 AM
You still have to write essays, lots of them... and you have to take english classes (I think two of them).
Some of my most brilliant moments have been on in-class essays, I am in the process of trying to get one back still.
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