Friday, February 6, 2015

Do Writers Need Formal Training?

Photo Credit: Vancouver Film School on Flickr
I've had many people ask me whether they should major in creative writing or not. As someone who graduated from college with a BS in English, concentrated in creative writing, this topic is one near and dear to my heart. Many people think that, in order to be a writer, you need some kind of formal training. Whether you major in writing or take a class or course on the subject, the idea is that you're more qualified to write after receiving some instruction.

If you want to major in creative writing, go ahead. It doesn't matter as much as you might think. If you want to be a writer, read a lot and write a lot. That's all you need to do.

I'm not saying writing classes don't help--my workshops in college helped me produce regularly, learn to take criticism, and so much more--but they're not essential. You can get on well as a writer without them. If you're reading and writing every day, you're going to improve and grow as a writer. That's all there is to it.

There are so many writers out there without formal training: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Grisham, Harper Lee, Michael Crichton, and J.K. Rowling, to name a few. Clearly, you don't need an English major or creative writing classes to succeed as a writer. All you need is creativity, dedication, and daily reading and writing. The rest is just background noise.

The best advice I can give you? Put your butt in the chair and keep in there. Get words down every day. It doesn't matter how many as long as you keep moving forward. You don't need training to be a writer. You need courage, imagination, self-discipline, and luck.

How do you feel about formal training for writers? What do you think it takes to be a writer?

Tweet tweet:
"You don't need training to be a writer," says blogger @brianawrites. What do you think? (Click to tweet)
Is a formal education essential to writers? @brianawrites doesn't think so. (Click to tweet)

6 comments:

  1. While I agree with the benefits of an English degree for writers, I think there's a heck of a lot of value in studying another subject that can later apply to your writing. I majored in Biology and while I don't use it as a scientist, I feel like I can write about the topic with some authority. I have an "in" into that mindset and can apply it to a range of descriptions and characters.

    The most important thing (in my opinion) is for writers to expand their knowledge base far and wide so that their creativity is stretched and exposed to all types of stories!

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  2. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English and Psychology, and if anything, I recommend people DON'T study writing formally. The creative writing class I took was stifling, and killed my creativity for a number of years because the only way to 'write well' accordingly to the lecturer was to do it the way he wanted - genre, style, etc. And it was not a style I enjoyed. I literally had to write stories the way I knew he would want them in order to pass, because anything else would have got me a fail. I know that there is great potential for these classes to go well, but I also think there is great potential for those classes to put writers into boxes that will not be helpful in the long term, and in fact might slow them down in finding their own voice - which is so important. A much better tactic is to write lots, to read lots, and find a group of writers who will give you honest, insightful critique into your writing, like you said :-)

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  3. Benjamin Franklin dropped out of school at age 10. Mark Twain didn't go to high school or university. Charles Dickens attended school only from ages 12 to 15.

    The list could go on.

    What makes a writer good, as Briana points out, is reading the upstanding works preceding you and lots, LOTS, of practice.

    Nothing else. No amount of education can make up for a lack of guts or practice.

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  4. I didn't know about Benjamin Franklin! Thanks for sharing. :)

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  5. So glad you agree! I majored in English in school and wasn't too happy that we could only write literary fiction. Any kind of genre writing was strongly discouraged, which I feel stifled some creativity.

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  6. Most definitely. :) I recommend writers give serious thought to not majoring in English. Take the time to make up your mind without going in automatically.

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