How Important are Creative Writing Degrees for Freelance Writers?

This morning I received the following question from Susan Brewer:

"How important is it to have a bachelor's degree in Creative Writing in order to launch a writing job as a freelance writer? Or, I should say, "How helpful," is it?"

I told her the short answers are "not at all," and "it depends what you want to do with it." But let's dig a bit deeper.

Creative Writing Degrees are Unnecessary for Freelancers

You don't need a creative writing degree to become a successful freelance writer. You don't need any degree for that matter, though they can help. Creative writing degrees might be a good fit if your goal is to write novels, poetry, or even creative nonfiction. But in most freelance work, those degrees would be irrelevant.

You have to keep in mind that clients aren't paying top dollar because you can write. They pay top dollar when you:

  • Have topical expertise they don't have themselves;
  • Can tap into other expert sources they might not have access to;
  • Can use writing to convert readers into buyers, subscribers, or something else of value to that client.

Those are the areas I'd suggest focusing on -- the business interests of your potential clients. A creative writing degree might be nice. It might even give your writing a certain flair. But it won't help you reach the business goals of most clients, and certainly not on its own.

If you know you want to be a freelance writer, and you know you want to pursue a degree, I suggest narrowing down your specialty areas early on. Then, pursue a degree related to those areas of interest.

For example, if you know you want to be a business writer, study business administration. Want to be a direct response copywriter? Study marketing. Do you want to write about finance? Get your degree in that area. Want to be a journalist covering political issues? Study government or public policy, and consider minoring in journalism (or vice-versa if you're confident the degree in journalism will pay off).

Not only will you leave school with specialized knowledge that makes you more appealing to well-targeted clients, but you'll have a degree you can fall back on if you later decide freelancing isn't for you.

If you have an option to minor in creative writing, English, or anything else writing-related, go for it! But getting your degree in those areas is not necessary or even an "important" step toward launching a successful freelance writing business.

Can Creative Writing Degrees be Helpful?

All of that said, might a creative writing degree be helpful, even if not necessary? Of course it might be. But again, it depends what you want to do with it.

For example, if you want to focus your freelance career on ghostwriting books for others, a creative writing degree could give you an edge. The same might be true if your idea of an ideal freelance writing career is submitting short fiction to magazines or websites. A background in creative writing might also make your writing stand out among the competition in a stylistic sense. But it isn't a substitute for having the expertise or credentials your target clients need.

In other words, if it comes down to someone with a solid background in marketing and sales and someone with a creative writing degree, the former will probably be more appealing for a copywriting gig. Now, if you had a marketing degree (or related experience) and you also had a creative writing degree, that might be helpful in making you more competitive.

Most freelance clients aren't likely to care whether or not you have a creative writing degree. But if you have solid creative writing skills, you might have an easier time standing out. Other options would be going on writing retreats, joining writers' groups, or even taking a few courses in creative writing without pursuing a degree path. In the end, it comes down to what kind of freelance writing specialty you want to pursue and what those target clients are going to expect from you.

Do you have a creative writing degree? If so, what kind of role did it play in your freelance writing business? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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15 thoughts on “How Important are Creative Writing Degrees for Freelance Writers?”

  1. Hi Jenn,

    I completely agree with you. It all depends on what area of freelancing you want to get into. Like you said, if you want to write about rocket science, you’d probably go to school for engineering or something along those lines.

    I’m going to school for a degree in professional writing. However, I started freelancing when I was still in high school. I don’t think your degree matters much to clients. My degree matters to ME, though, so I think that’s something you have to consider. I think having a degree can definitely give you an edge in some cases, but I’ve never had anyone say that my major is what made me a better candidate.

    Reply
    • Absolutely. If having a writing-related degree is something you want to do for yourself, go for it! Just don’t expect clients to care much. Unless the degree really sets you apart from other writers they’re considering, they don’t care what degree you have or what you majored in. It’s more about whether or not you want to mention it in your own marketing materials. Clients care more about your portfolio and references.

      Reply
  2. I agree Jenn. It definitely helps to have a strong educational background in a field in which you want to specialize (especially in my niche), but a creative writing degree in general won’t help much.

    However, any English or writing degree will help improve basic writing skills and increase knowledge of proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

    Reply
    • Very true John. In many cases you’ll work with editors or clients care more about the subject matter expertise than grammar rules. So I’d just be careful about prioritizing an English degree over a specialty area degree. That said, an English degree might be a strong selling point for a non-native English speaker, alleviating some of the concerns clients in English-speaking countries might have.

      Reply
  3. Interesting points! I’m part-way through a literature degree with the Open University (I’m doing it just for me, rather than for any career aspirations) and I’m doing a creative writing module this year as part of the degree, purely to take a break from the heavy-going literature. None of my clients have ever mentioned or asked about any form of education or training . . . so I’m assuming that it’s a non-issue. I have to say that I’d never even thought about it in relation to my freelance writing career until now!

    Reply
    • If you’re pursuing it because it’s something you’re passionate about, that’s fantastic. The college / university experience offers a lot more than career opportunities, and I think we sometimes forget that. Like most things, it’s all what you make of it. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Spot on, Jenn. My business management degree has been far more helpful to me in my freelance career. I love the structure I received from my degree and 30+ years in corporate.

    And as PJ said, I have never been asked about my degree.

    Reply
    • What’s interesting is that the only time I can even think of this coming up is with clients who don’t understand the difference between working with freelancers and hiring employees. They’re the ones who demand traditional resumes as if they’re making a routine employee hire. But other than that, nope. It just doesn’t come up. I hadn’t really thought about it before now.

      Reply
  5. I don’t have any creative writing degrees; I’m an autodidact. That said, I’ve taken courses in marketing and PR, because they’re necessary for what I do.

    However, it would be lovely to take a creative writing degree — just for the sake of it. It couldn’t hurt. Of course, it wouldn’t help either. But it would be fun. 🙂

    Reply
  6. Ever heard about the Certification for Stupidity? NO?? Similarly, I never heard about degree and certification for creativity 🙂 Writing is the expression of soul, the language of heart and flow of thoughts. No amount of degree can captivate the length and breath of creative thinking and writing. May a similar degree is required for organizing your writing but inculcating the art of writing is a different concept.

    Reply

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