I think at one point people thought that they had to have a creative writing degree or something related in order to be a good writer. Perhaps a lot of people still think this. The reality is that there's no reason that you have to get a degree to be a writer or to even be a successful one. While creative writing programs can be wonderful, they can also be terrible depending on what you write. Most of what you learn about writing comes not from taking a class, but from reading and doing. You can take every college course imaginable and there still will be no guarantee of you learning how to be a better writer, or that you will get published as a result.
This isn't to say that creative writing programs, or English programs, aren't beneficial. You certainly can and probably will learn things from a creative writing class and professors of creative writing can help you develop your craft based on their experiences--the hope is, of course, that these professors have a significant publishing career behind them to add credibility to their advice. But the brutal truth is that having a B.A. in creative writing means diddly squat to most editors, and having one doesn't automatically mean that you're better than all those also trying to get published who don't have such a degree. Creative writing programs tend to be a mixed bag. Some are fantastic, some not so much, but none of them can promise to churn out excellent writers--Iowa Writer's Workshop does have an excellent track record, though, and that might be worth acknowledging if you're interested in a degree.
And then there is the fact that quite a lot of writers who are successful have no degrees whatsoever. Some have degrees not even related to the writing field at all--look at all the scientists who become science fiction writers, etc. Ultimately, it really doesn't matter if you have a degree or not: you can be a writer either way. If you want a degree, however, get it because you want to have a career that isn't necessarily based on something so obviously without guarantee. Creative writing degrees are good, but I've always seen them as being largely pointless unless you pursue them at the M.A. or PhD. levels. A B.A. in creative writing is essentially even more useless than a B.A. in literature or English--and let's face it, a B.A. in almost anything is worth less than the cost of printing the certificate; this is the sad state of affairs in the education world. I'd recommend that those who want to eventually have writing careers should have a fallback plan. There is literally no guarantee that you will ever have a writing career, no matter how much work you put into it, no matter how you do it, whether it be traditionally publishing novels or short stories, or doing it on your own. Being conscious of that when pursuing advanced education will help you make an educated decision about your future. What are you willing to do for a career while you try to develop your fiction skills and get the publishing credits you need to reach that point where you can quit your day job?
Thinking about that can certainly help ground your career goals. But let's not leave it up to me. What do all my readers think about this? Leave a comment.
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