How To Become a Writer Without a Degree

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 15, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Writing is an ability that requires practice, but that practice can come in many forms. Some writers find career success with a degree while others use their writing experience and professional network to create a career path. If you're considering a writing career without a college degree, learning steps and tips toward accomplishing this goal can help you create a plan for your future.

In this article, we provide a job description and duties for a professional writer, describe the pros and cons of getting a writing degree, and list steps and tips for becoming a writer without a degree from a college or university.

Related: 15 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer

What is a writer?

A writer is a professional who communicates with an audience via written poetry, articles, web content, essays, books and more. A writer can be an employee at a company or work on a freelance basis. Writers typically use one of the following styles to communicate ideas:

  • Persuasive: The goal of a persuasive piece of writing is to convince someone to do something through the use of emotional or logical arguments. An example of persuasive writing is advertising copy.

  • Argumentative: Argumentative writing is similar to persuasive writing, but its purpose is to convince people by citing fact-based sources, like scientific studies.

  • Narrative: Narrative writing can be fiction or nonfiction writing that tells a story with characters and a setting, like a novel.

  • Analytical: An analytical piece of writing can dissect a subject by making a claim and citing sources to back the claim. A writer can compose a book review in an analytical style.

  • Expository: A writer can use an expository writing style when they're explaining processes or reasons for doing something. A textbook can serve as an example of expository writing.

Duties for a writer

Here are some of the common duties for a writer:

  • Create outlines for pieces of writing.

  • Meet with clients, editors and publishers to plan pieces of writing.

  • Create drafts of writing for approval of employers or clients.

  • Write pieces using the tone, style, length and other constraints set by clients or employers.

  • Conduct research to ensure writing is authentic.

  • Fact check writing for errors.

  • Self-edit writing for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and style before publishing or sending piece to a client.

  • Work with editors or clients to perfect writing before publishing.

Salary and job outlook

A writer's pay can depend on their field and job title. The average base salary for a writer is $26.43 per hour according to Indeed Salaries. Writing is a broad field, with pay sometimes varying widely between job titles and industries. Here are some other job titles and salaries for writers:

  • Author: An author can write fiction or nonfiction books for $18.25 per hour.

  • Content writer: Content writers can earn $17.55 per hour to write copy for websites.

  • Freelance writer: Freelance writers can be independent contractors who can write articles for various sources for $19.43 per hour.

  • Grant writer: A grant writer can create grant proposals for nonprofits and educational institutions. Their average base salary is $43,204 per year.

  • Technical writer: Technical writers work in a variety of fields to create technical documentation, including manuals and brochures. Their average base salary is $33.57 per hour.

  • Journalist: A journalist can write news reports for an average base salary of $39.09 per hour.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for writers will decrease by 2% from 2019 to 2029.

Related: How to Freelance Write: A Guide to Getting Started as a Freelance Writer

Pros and cons of getting a degree for writers

If you're weighing the costs and benefits of getting a degree to become a professional writer, the following pros and cons may help you decide on a career path:

Pros

Here are some pros to getting a degree for a professional writing career:

  • Formal training: If you want expertise that allows you to find paid opportunities to write about a specific subject, such as biology, a professional degree can give you the formal training you need for both writing and a technical subject.

  • Competitive advantage: A higher education can give you a competitive advantage against job candidates with no degree.

  • Networking opportunities: Attending a college or university can give you networking opportunities that you may not find otherwise.

  • Fallback option: Another advantage of getting a degree is that it can give you knowledge and skills you can use in another career in case you're unable to find writing jobs.

Cons

The following are potential drawbacks to obtaining a writing degree:

  • Cost: A professional degree can have a high financial cost that may be difficult to manage.

  • Time: Another cost to consider is time. A four-year degree, for example, can take time away from writing.

  • Emotional pressures: Some writing programs can be competitive, and while some writers thrive around competition, others write better without added stressors.

  • Learning styles: People who are more independent learners may find that their learning styles don't connect with the teaching styles at some universities.

Related: Should I Go to College? Reasons to Consider Both Options

How to become a writer without a degree

Here are some steps you can take to begin writing professionally without a degree:

1. Gain writing experience

The first step to becoming a professional writer is to gain experience writing in many styles and forms. If you're a student, you can use extracurricular activities like a school newspaper to gain writing experience. Otherwise, you can look for volunteer writing opportunities that can allow you to receive feedback on your writing abilities and improve your skills.

2. Network

Networking is an important skill for writers without degrees. You can join professional writing organizations, attend seminars and use social networking to meet other writers. Building a professional network can help you learn about open positions and increase your likelihood of getting a writing job.

3. Take writing classes

Another step you can take toward a professional writing career is to take classes in specific areas of writing without earning a degree. Companies, colleges and seminars can allow you to develop and improve your writing skills without a degree. Here are some examples of writing classes that can help you grow your skills without a degree:

  • Technical writing course: You can take an online or in-person technical writing course at a community college or from a company to give you skills to work as a technical writer.

  • Creative writing course: A creative writing course can teach you skills you can use in a career as an author like plot development, literary devices and sentence structures.

  • Screenwriting course: Taking a course in screenwriting can help you develop a script or a screenplay.

Related: 35 Online Skill Courses To Enhance your Qualifications

4. Consider an apprenticeship

Another way you can get feedback on your writing that can help you improve is through an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship can allow you to learn hard and soft skills for a writing career from another professional writer. You can use online job boards and professional organizations to connect with professional writers who are taking apprentices.

5. Look for work

Once you gain experience, you can begin looking for writer jobs. Whether you want to become a freelance writer or work for a company, you can use your writing portfolio, professional connections and online job boards to find paid writing opportunities.

Tips for a professional writing career

If you're pursuing a professional writing career without a degree, here are some tips you can use to help you succeed:

Market yourself

Marketing is a powerful tool for writers across industries. Freelancers, especially, can market themselves to find work. Here are some ways you can market yourself as a writer:

  • Create a portfolio website. Making a website that showcases your past writing and allows potential clients and employers to contact you can help you demonstrate your writing abilities and get jobs.

  • Use social media to network. You can create social media pages and profiles to connect with other freelance writers and potential employers. This can help you market your skills and abilities to others and learn about job opportunities.

  • Learn about SEO. Gaining a basic understanding of search engine optimization can both allow you to increase your portfolio website's rank in search results and write web content for others that improves their SEO.

  • Use digital marketing tools. If you're an independent contractor or creating a small business for your writing services, you can use digital marketing tools like email and social media advertisements to help you market your abilities.

  • Develop a pitch. You can create a pitch for potential clients and employers that describes your qualifications, expertise and skills. A pitch can help you get writing jobs that align with your talents, interests and abilities.

Know your worth

Especially in the case of freelance writing, it's important to know what your writing talents and time are worth. This can allow you to develop negotiation skills and grow your writer salary. It can also help you sell your abilities to potential employers throughout your career. Knowing your worth is essential because it allows you to set competitive rates that are on the same level as your writing abilities and the standard rates for an industry.

Related: How To Choose Your Rate as a Freelance Copywriter

Start a blog

If you're struggling to find opportunities for writing experience, you can start your own blog (and host it on your portfolio website). Blogs can show potential employers and clients your writing style and capabilities.

Another option is to write guest blog posts for other websites. You can write a pitch to the website owner and include your rate to begin guest blogging.

Improve your skills

You can improve your writing skills without a degree by taking the initiative to develop your abilities on your own. Here are some skills of writers and ways you can improve them:

  • Self-discipline: Becoming a writer with or without a degree can require self-discipline to meet deadlines and improve your abilities. You can set goals and plans to meet them to improve your self-discipline skills.

  • Time management: Writers frequently have deadlines for completing their work, so time management skills can be an asset to writers. You can improve your time management skills by removing distractions while you write and creating a schedule with blocks of time for writing.

  • Curiosity: Writers who have a curiosity about how things work can perform better research and write about a variety of topics. You can increase your curiosity by exposing yourself to new ideas and topics.

  • Research: Research skills can help you ensure the facts in your writing are accurate. You can teach yourself to verify sources and interview experts to improve your research skills.

Read

One way to improve your writing skills is to read a variety of writing types and styles. The more you read, the more you can develop analysis and critical thinking skills, which can help you in any writing career. Reading can also help you analyze your own writing and find ways to improve it.

Attend events

Attending events can help you build your professional network and learn about job opportunities. You can attend professional events without a degree in writing that can allow you to make connections with other writers or potential employers or clients. You can also attend community events for writers, like readings, poetry slams and writing festivals to network with other writers.

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