How to Write Without a Degree

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The people who majored in ‘Creative Writing’ in college were the ones who everyone pegged to be journalists, newspaper editors, or novelists. But say you wanted to write and you didn’t get one of those degrees. All you know is that you love writing. Is it possible? Could you break into the writing industry without one of these prestigious certificates on your wall?

What’s so magical about writing is that all you need is practice. Of course, a class here and there teaching you about structure, introductions and SEO wouldn’t go astray. But… writing is an older practice. One that simply requires dedication and time. It isn’t like science or mathematics, where to be good at it — you may need help and instruction from those much better than you to learn about quadratics, calculus and probability.

You’ve heard it before… but writing demands your time.

When I’m sitting down to write an article or story, I know that the first time through certainly won’t be the final draft. That’s a pipe dream I left back in the early days of Nanowrimo. In other words, writing is a process. You write one draft, and then another, and another one after that. It will take time, effort and a dedication to crafting the perfect sentence no matter how long it takes. Nanowrimo is a contest where you aim to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. And trust me, that first draft will not be perfect. But you wrote it! And if you can write that, you can edit it and write it again until you’re satisfied.

If you want to become a writer, whether that means a Reuters journalist or the next JK Rowling, you don’t need a degree. It can’t hurt to have a degree, but you don’t need it. What you need is time and practice. Don’t always write for an audience. Set up a private blog and create realistic goals. Maybe you decide you’re going to write 500 words a day using a prompt or even start by journaling every morning. Whatever you decide, stick with it.

Even though it’s generally something you hear associated with fitness, the SMART goals are particularly useful for writers as well. What does that mean? It means setting Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound Goals. You don’t just become good at writing without practice — and by setting goals to keep yourself accountable, you will get better.

Read Books, Read Articles, Read whatever you can get your hands on.

Probably one of the things I continue to puzzle about as a writer is how to create that perfect voice. How do I sound like myself while cultivating a professional and casual tone? How do I relate with my audience? The first answer to that is editing. Don’t expect the first thing you write to be the way it will sound at the end and don’t get attached to that first draft. But beyond realizing that editing is in the future, I find the best way to improve is by reading.

Read what you love. Read what you want to sound like and read everything under the sun. By exposing yourself to different kinds of prose, you will inevitably increase your vocabulary and find yourself writing better structured and stronger sentences. How? It’s just like watching someone teach a yoga class. You become better by watching the teacher and listening to the way they instruct you. Writers instruct one another by writing. When you read, your brain is picking up different ways that words, sentences and paragraphs can be constructed. So, when you read — you’re really bettering your own writing skill in the process. And if you love reading, it’s a win-win.

Don’t get discouraged.

That’s easy enough to say… but it’s a different thing to experience. Can you keep writing after you receive 10 or 50 rejection letters? Can you continue writing when your hands hurt and your brain can’t seem to function? Yes. You can. There are moments of disappointment in every industry but rejection can sting that bit more in writing because that piece is essentially you on a page. But you can combat it! Instead of sulking, submit the piece elsewhere or write something new all together. Write a piece on rejection just for yourself. Do anything other than sulk.

Experiencing writers block? Go do something else for a bit. Some writers advise that you can’t write what you haven’t experienced. So if you’re running into problems, expose yourself to something completely new. Go running even if you hate it. Travel to someplace you’ve never been before or go on 30 dates in two weeks just to meet new people and hear about their lives. Being discouraged is just a state of mind — and it’s one you can beat by putting other experiences in its place.

And remember… writing just takes practice.

If you take anything away from this article, let it be this: writing just requires practice. It requires dedicating yourself to the art of the written word. It wants your energy, your patience, your emotions and most of all — you. Whenever you write something, you are expressing yourself in a beautiful wonderful way that no one else but you can. It may take practice, but eventually you will start to write things that you and others will enjoy. Ask for feedback, critique yourself and keep at it. Maybe you won’t become the next James Patterson, but you don’t have to be.

It’s tacky even to write this but good things take time. And a degree? It’s not worth it because you can get better at writing on your own. You just need a piece of paper, a computer or a pencil and dedication to the craft. Write your best story. Plan and structure the next great American novel. The only way you’ll get better at writing is by writing. So what are you waiting for?