When I first started writing professionally in 2005, I didn’t know how to handle the fact that I don’t have an English degree. I was on my way to getting one but I dropped out of college due to a domestic violence situation.
There are some gigs where the editor, client, or publisher refuses to budge and insists on those qualifications and there’s not much you can do in that situation. But this is a rare instance so don’t rule out opportunities that indicate a preference for applicants with a degree or superior qualification. So, how do you build a writing career without an English degree? Here’s what I do, and you can too!
- Study. You don’t have to go to college to study. Sure, you’re at somewhat of a disadvantage since you don’t have an English professor with a red pen but if you’re dedicated to improving your grammar and English skills, studying can make all the difference. (You might even find someone who is willing to mentor you and share their wisdom.)
- Make an excellent first impression. You have one chance to knock the socks off the person reading your e-mail. Make it count. Double-check your spelling, let it sit overnight and proofread it again before hitting send. Be creative, enthusiastic, and put a fresh spin on everything you write that only you can bring.
- Build a Web presence. This can make a difference, too. If a potential client or editor clicks a link to your website and/or blog and they find something well-written with a fresh voice, it can motivate them to give you an opportunity to prove yourself with them. Include contact details on your site such as your email address so prospective clients and publishers can reach you. You can use WordPress or Blogger for a free platform to begin with. You can also register a domain name for a great price. I’ve noticed a huge increase in responses and opportunities since I polished my online presence with my website: micheletune.com.
- Be flexible. Learn to go with the flow. If you wanted to write a 2,000-word feature for the publication but the editor asks you to write a 200-word filler instead, just do it. You can’t always start out at the top. Most writers don’t. I’ve accepted that. And, I have found being flexible is something the people I work with love about me. They’ve said I’m creative, enthusiastic, and responsive to edits. And they know I can work with 200 words, 2,000 words, 20,000 words, or 200,000. I aim to please the person or company I’m writing for. It works for me. It will work for you, too.
- Follow-up. Not every writer does this and it’s crucial. Just because you didn’t receive a response doesn’t mean they didn’t like your work. In fact, they may have loved your work and had the best of intentions to get back to you. But life is busy and there are only so many hours in the day. They could have forgotten. It’s always worth it to follow-up. It can also let them know you’re serious about the opportunity.
- Sell Yourself. I know it’s hard (for some of us), but you really need to dig deep and find the courage to sell yourself. No, you might not have a big, fancy degree but nobody can be you. Make your writing services sound irresistible. The applicants with degrees might not have the personality and passion you have. A college degree can’t buy writing talent – or a personality. Remember the saying: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it?” Exactly!
- Market. Have you read that it’s not always the best writers who get the most work? That they are getting the work because they market themselves better than the more qualified – or talented – writer? I believe it’s true. Marketing myself used to be my weakest area, but I took the advice of seasoned writers and probloggers. I started marketing myself like crazy, telling everyone everywhere I go that I’m a freelance writer and blogger. I also hit the social media world by storm and have blazed a trail, showing friends and followers what my passions are and that I’m a real person. Marketing and networking is key and the secret is to: “Just be yourself!”
Some resources I have found useful:
- Grammar Girl Podcast (I also have her book: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.) Mignon Fogarty really breaks the English language down so you can understand it.
- The Associated Press Stylebook
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- The Elements of Style: The Original Edition by William Strunk
- This very blog, The Craft of Writing Fiction, has been a huge inspiration and source of professional writing wisdom.
It really helps to read. Envelop yourself with well-written books, blog posts, magazine articles. The more you read and the more you study and write, the better your work will be.
So, did I forget anything? Do you have an English degree? Do you think they are absolutely necessary for a writer to succeed? Do you have any resources to share that I left out? Have you tried to hide the fact that you don’t have a degree? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
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