I didn’t formally train Zoe in any obedience class but she still got dressed up like a lion for an event because she’s good enough to be a registered therapy dog. Do I need to be formally trained in English or writing to be an effective writer?
Let me clarify that, by “formal,” I mean any kind of structured training in a class-like setting. The free, online course from Stanford I’m taking counts but a one-day workshop is a little fuzzier.
This has been a question among the Wandering Penguins and with other writers I have met both in person and online. I thought about posting something on this topic when someone on group board asked about not having the academic background to write a nonfiction book but wanting to do so anyway.
Now, you can become enough of an expert on a topic to write a book about it without a degree in that field, sure. But you should have some expertise before you think you’re good enough to teach others, right?
I wondered if there was a similar thing for writers. Why should an agent, editor, or publisher trust that I have any amount of expertise in writing YA, fantasy, or writing in general?
And then I remembered things like query letters and writing samples and all of that. But, with those gatekeepers, how many writers without any formal training make it through?
Another interesting dissertation topic, perhaps?
I started my college career getting a degree in Creative Writing but I started writing stories with a cohesive plot back in middle school. I would say I was as much a writer then as I am now (I probably wrote more frequently back then, because I turned much of it in for school assignments and didn’t have bills to pay or anything Adult like that).
As stated, I am taking a Stanford online course called Writing for the Sciences to improve my technical writing skills. The material for this course include avoiding passive voice, improving the clarity of writing, and exploring grammar—all skills I use in fiction writing and IRB protocols.
Finally, I am considering going back to school (not soon but in the next 10 years) for some kind of editing or English degree so that I can get work as a freelancer with better credentials than starting from scratch. In the course of achieving that degree or certification, however, I am sure the skills I learn will translate to my fiction writing as well as my freelance abilities.
What I’m saying is that I got started without more than your standard public school education but the more I learn (formally) about writing, the better I become. If I want to be the best writer I can be, then I need training—even if other writers don’t.
Stephanie Meyer had a Masters degree in English when she published Twilight. Danielle Steel majored in fashion design but started writing instead. Do you NEED formal, classroom-based writing education to be a published author? No. Does it help? Yes.