Do all writers need formal education to be ‘good’?

Posted: February 8, 2013 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

The other day I read an enlightening blog by Matthew Wright, blogger, historian, and writer extraordinaire. I always look forward to his posts because they’re the perfect blend of cut-and-dry information and actual, honest-to-goodness, excellent advice.

The post in question was titled, “Write it now, part 3: passion and learning – the writer’s toolbox.” I highly recommend popping over there and giving it a read. Amazing stuff.

The general idea behind the post was that you need to be passionate about your writing in order to become successful. Of course, this applies to just about everything you do in life. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The other half was to learn your craft in any way you can. The passion that you have for writing will motivate you to educate yourself.

This is about the time I started sweating bullets.

I have a four year degree. In art history. I’ll never knock my professors, my program, or my school. I don’t regret getting my degree in art history because it’s something I’m passionate about, and something that I feel is a unique skill to have.


I’ve decided to become a writer. Not just in my spare time. Not just one book. Not just as a hobby. I really want to be a professional writer who makes her living off of the words she writes.

So does this mean I need to go back to school?

I asked Matthew that exact question and he had an excellent answer for me. It’s in the comments section on that post I linked to above – check it out. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Basically, his answer was – it doesn’t hurt. However, he said, practicing and writing and honing your skills by doing what is going to make a good writer a great writer.


I loved school, but now that I’m out of it, I don’t want to go back. I have too much freedom, and I love it. Plus, I’m probably going to be paying off tuition bills until I’m 80. I really don’t want to add any more to that.

I’d really like to hear your opinion on the matter, though. How many of you have formal training – maybe not a master’s degree, but even a Bachelor’s degree in English? Do you feel like that education helped you to become a better writer, or do you think you learned more on your own by reading craft books, novels, and picking up free and excellent advice on other people’s blogs (like I do 😉 )?

  1. I’m constantly learning through action, critique, reading and conversation. I find these things, along with workshops, to be another avenue for learning.

  2. lly1205 says:

    I believe that writing comes from reading 🙂 My first year philosophy prof said that to improve our skills (particularly vocabulary and tone) we should “go read some 18th, 19th century literature”


    • Karen Rought says:

      I see a gigantic difference between me and my friends that don’t read. I have a more varied vocabulary, I’m able to figure out what words mean all on my own, and my comprehension of anything, not just fiction, is markedly higher. Reading definitely makes a difference. Thanks for stopping by, Lily!

  3. ddog13 says:

    If you can read, you can write. I noticed that as I read more and more, my writing style is influenced by what I read. For example, I read a lot of Robert Jordan, and his Wheel of Time series is full of POV changes from character to character. I find that I often find myself doing the same thing, bouncing around settings and characters. Also, writing can be influenced by your life and movies as well. So your life experience is a factor in your range and ability in writing. Education, while it may help with grammatical and technical aspects of it, is unrelated to writing ability. Don’t stress. Just keep writing and keep reading

    • Karen Rought says:

      Good point! An education may help with the technicalities, but just living life will make your stories richer and more believable.

      And my writing is definitely influenced by what I’m reading too. It can be a problem if my original style and the new style are completely different haha.

  4. Jae says:

    I personally think another degree would be a waste of money and time. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to what Ray Bradbury said: “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

    Some authors I’ve met lament that they don’t teach you how to really write in college. One author I spoke to at a conference says he went to film school and studied screenwriting and said he learned more about crafting story there than in any of his writing classes.

    You should go with your gut, but I agree with Mr. Bradbury. Read, read, read, and read some more. It’s like on-the-job writer training.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Wow, that’s a fantastic quote. Thank you for sharing it. Unfortunately, school rarely teaches us what we really need to know. I went to a liberal arts university, which meant I had to take classes that had nothing to do with my major. I learned a lot in some, but others felt like such a waste of time. I agree with you that reading (blogging, practicing, etc.) is like on the job training. It doesn’t get much better than that.

  5. S. J. Maylee says:

    When I was in college, getting my business degree, I had no idea I’d one day want to write. My brother got a degree in English, he always knew, lucky him, I guess. Sure it would have been nice to figure my path out sooner, but now that my passion is lit I’m soaking up as much as I can. I’m a much better student now than I ever was in school, lol.

  6. I hope I don’t appear too self-serving by clicking the ‘like’ button 🙂 – thank you for the HUGE shout-out and vote of confidence!

    My personal experience at universities – and since, with the academic history crowd here in New Zealand (who are viciously territorial) – is that after a certain point they veer off into a little world of their own where the priorities are driven not by anything useful in the real world but by the parameters of their own sub-culture and environment.There was the ‘fire poker’ debate at Cambridge where Karl Popper was confronted by Ludwig Wittgenstein, brandishing ironmongery by way of underscoring the superiority of his own abstracted piece of philosophy, as opposed to Popper’s. My own teacher, Peter Munz, was a student of Popper and watched it unfold in person. Unbelievable!

    Everything is grist to the mill for writers, of course.

  7. Julie Glover says:

    I have a history degree, which involved a lot of writing, and I got a master’s degree in counseling (yes, writing there too). In addition, I worked as a legal assistant for a few years and did a lot of co-writing with attorneys.

    All that said, I have learned far more about writing from reading craft books and taking classes and workshops than I did at college. I don’t want to discount those who taught me well, but it was a small portion of the total degree. Now I can just focus on the writing itself and use my time more productively.

  8. I failed my English GCSE first time around and have since written on quite a few websites haha so you know 😀

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