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 — but you can also get some of them through experience.
My degree didn’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 — 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 Writer’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 writer’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 “copywriting 101” or “principles of technical writing” yields good resources.
Also spend some time reading published works in your chosen genre, and try writing in it. Even if you don’t intend to publish, you will practice that type of writing and find out if it’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: You’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 didn’t.
I do feel somewhat more confident, but I still frequently worry that I’m not good enough — I don’t have the right clips, I’m not qualified to write about a topic, I don’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. I’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 — 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.