Freelance writers often ask, “Should I get a writing degree?”
The answer is different for everyone. I hold a master’s degree in professional writing, but plenty of highly successful freelance writers don’t have a degree.
If you’ve got the time and money, there can be a lot of benefits to getting a writing degree â€” but you can also get some of them through experience.
My degree didnâ€™t guarantee that I would have my pick of high-paying clients or even that my pitches would get accepted. But it did help me become a better writer.
The good news? You can get these benefits without a degree. Here are five benefits I got from my degree that you can get for free:
Learn to write regularly â€” even if you don’t feel like it
Perhaps the greatest benefit I received from my program was that I was forced to write regularly for three years.
Even when I was tired from working a full-time job, assignments were due and professors were waiting. The consistent writing kept me focused, gave me practice, and led to some nice portfolio pieces.
Get it for free: If you need that extra push to write regularly, find an accountability buddy. Freelance Writerâ€™s Den members can find buddies in the forums.
Learn to take and give constructive criticism
My classes often included group critiques.
At first, I cringed as I listened to my classmates seemingly pick apart my writing, but I came to see that they offered helpful advice and new points of view. I also developed a thicker skin by learning to take criticism. Believe me, this helps a lot when working with clients and editors.
Critiquing the writing of others was also a fun and educational exercise that made me think critically about writing.
Get it for free: Join a local writerâ€™s group to get feedback on your work and advise others.
Try different types of writing
In my program, I took courses in web writing, grant writing, creative non-fiction, copywriting, and more.
Most courses involved a combination of reading books about a type of writing, reading published examples, and writing and critiquing. In the process, I learned enough to understand what each type of writing entails, from translating research findings in science writing to accessing grant funding resources.
I was also able to figure out what types of writing I did and did not like. For example, I was surprised to learn that I did not enjoy grant writing but I love at copywriting.
Get it for free: You can find books about specific types of writing at your local library. And even a simple web search with terms such as â€œcopywriting 101â€ or â€œprinciples of technical writingâ€ yields good resources.
Also spend some time reading published works in your chosen genre, and try writing in it. Even if you donâ€™t intend to publish, you will practice that type of writing and find out if itâ€™s a good fit for you.
Sharpen your design knowledge and skills
Through courses on document and web design, I learned about fundamental design tools and techniques, including Photoshop and basic HTML programming.
This knowledge often comes in handy for freelance gigs, as clients love to hear that I am familiar with design concepts and can handle tasks like resizing images and using HTML tags.
Get it for free: Youâ€™ll find a lot of articles online on design advice for writers. Also check out Canva, an online design tool that offers free, self-paced design lessons and can help you earn more as a writer.
Realize that a degree does not guarantee confidence
For a long time I struggled with my confidence as a writer, and I figured that getting a degree would fix this. It didnâ€™t.
I do feel somewhat more confident, but I still frequently worry that Iâ€™m not good enough â€” I donâ€™t have the right clips, Iâ€™m not qualified to write about a topic, I donâ€™t deserve better rates, and so on.
So how exactly did my degree help me here? It taught me a hard lesson: no credential or amount of knowledge will solve low self confidence. Iâ€™m actively working to raise my confidence, but I realize there is no quick fix.
Get it for free: There are a lot of helpful articles online exploring confidence and fear â€” and moving past the impostor syndrome that hits so many of us.
What are the most important writing lessons you’ve learned? Tell us in the comments below.
Jennifer Wyglinski is a freelance writer with a background in non-profit communications. She specializes in marketing, education, and green lifestyle topics.