Ramblings Of a Steampunk Writer

A blog about writing... occasionally mine. But, mostly just writing.

Becoming a Writer: Is a College Degree Worth It?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

source: sxc.hu
When I entered college for the first time I was twenty-one years old. I had expectations, ideas, and preconceived notions. Mostly, I had no idea I wanted to be a writer for a living. At the time, I was more interested in Zoology with a focus on Herpetology (the study of reptiles, ect). I wanted a doctorate, and I knew it was going to take me some ten years or more. That reason mostly had to do with my less-than-amazing math skills. They weren't great then, but they're better now.

The initial problem I faced after realizing I could be a writer, wanted to be one, and was willing to bleed and starve for my dream, wasn't that shouldn't I finish my AA; my real problem was should I seek further education? My father always placed importance on the 'back-up plan'. He said it was important for everyone to follow their dreams to the fullest, but to have something to fall back on, or that fell in line with what you loved so--at the very least--you could put food on the table in the meantime. I tend to agree with this ideology.

I considered my conundrum. My husband makes enough to support us (to a degree). It helps that my mother-in-law brings some funds to the table, as well as my other two roommates (and good friends). And while all three of them might not be around forever or living with us, Gary has a decent plan in place for us to be financially stable even if I'm not bringing in a great amount. Still, I would like to help. And there's a distinct possibility, a question, that every writer has to face: 

"Will I make enough money with writing alone?"

source: sxc.hu
For many writers, those who are not in my position, this is a big question. A lot of us have other jobs that have nothing to do with our chosen--beloved, though underpaid (for the most part)--career path. This is because many of us can't afford to survive and just write. Not all of us are so lucky, anyway; though, sometimes there are just many other variables involved that keep us from going as far as others might (to reach this potential).

But, this doesn't mean we have to flip burgers for a living either, or do something we don't enjoy. For some of us it's a matter of two careers. What I mean by that is, some of us who write are so lucky as to be good at both writing and say... being a career soldier. In the end, you're writing may be about what you do--in part--for a primary living. That's great, right? But, it's still not all of us. And if the writers I've interacted with are to be believed, many of us just want to write, read, and chill out in front of our computer typing away (mostly just talking to ourselves) in our pjs.

That'd be me, just so you know.

"Are there other options? Is the college option for writing worth it?"

source: sxc.hu
That really depends on you. But, before I elaborate on you too much, let me elaborate on my answer to the question and why it works for me.

Yes. For me, getting my Masters in Creative Writing Fiction is worth it. Overlooking the problem of being a starving artist here's why:

  • College writing, lit, and comp classes make you a better writer.
I look at some of the things I've written prior to these classes and I cringe. The expectations, suggestions, and critiques set out by my professor (who has a doctorate in poetry) and my peers greatly improved my skill level. I've never really been prouder of myself.

And it's not just your grammar base or vocabulary that you find has increased or improved. You find yourself becoming a more rounded writer when you read, analyze, write about, and examine older works from other writers.

  • It opens you up to new genres or things you might not have ever read before.
Were it not for my dear Dr. Byrd I would have never formed my love-hate relationship with Hemingway  I'm a fiction reader; a modern fiction reader--as in, sometime around the last ten to twenty years or so (with the exception of Bradbury). It's not that I hate old books; I just have a hard time jump-starting myself into reading them without some kind of incentive. (I still haven't finished The Three Musketeers.)

For me, that incentive was talking with other people about what we got from the piece we read; digging deep and talking about it. Then, hearing how on or off the mark we may or may not have been from our professor.

  • You make connections and network.
I can't tell you how many people I've met through school, people who aren't even in my career path, that offer me a fountain of information or sources for my writing. You need a website guy? While it's not a guarantee, you might find yourself a decently priced undergrad who needs a little income or a-way-get-their-name-out-there who's willing to do your site for little to no cost. Need an artist? College artists love to draw; they also need funds for their work like the rest of us. And in many cases, that photographer is just as good, if not better, than a 'professional'.

Even if you can't offer money as service for their work, you can always do an exchange of work by writing for them or their sites, ect.

Ultimately, going to college is my best option not just because of the above reasons, but for the same reason my dad mentioned: the back up plan. With a masters degree I can teach as professor; as a high school, middle school, or elementary school teacher; I can offer tutoring; and I can work as an editor. I could even be a freelance editor. And guess what? I'm still basically doing what I love while I write my novels.

"So, do I really need a college degree to write?"

The simple answer is: no, but it helps.

The more complex answer is: it really depends on your situation. College costs a lot; quite a bit more than it should, in this humble author's opinion. Students are incurring major loan debt in the country. Not all of us are sure how or if we can pay it back. Really, we need a solid solution that works. But, this has many people wondering if it's worth it at all. Why put yourself in debt when you're essentially gambling on making enough in your field? And that's what it boils down to: is it worth it for you.
source: sxc.hu

My suggestion would be to look at where you are in life, consider sources (online and off) on how much what you want to do pays out annually, and then make the best choice you can.

You don't need a degree to write; hopefully we never will. But, I firmly believe that if you can afford to do it, if you can take the risk, it makes you a much better writer.


Anonymous said...

If you're in a couple that has a stable financial base, and your partner isn't going to resent you living your dream of being a writer, go for it! As for college, any education experience is worth having. You can't be a writer if you don't know anything, and I think you're right that there are a certain amount of basic tools you need to master just to be able to string an interesting sentence together. Good luck with it!!

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