What recognized qualifications do I need to become a published writer?

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This is a long post aimed at all current writers and those waiting in the wings, so please bear with me.

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A couple of days ago while perusing the latest posts on Facebook, I came across one that my friend and fellow writer, Stuart Aken, had found on a question and answer site called Quora (Google it if you want to find it’s location). Along with a couple of others in the game, Stuart and I added our comments to a query put forth by someone, on the subject of which qualifications were needed to be able to become a writer and to break into the publishing world – Click here to read it.

Together with Stuart’s initial comment on Quora, the ones John Yeoman, Karen Wolfe Whitchurch and myself added on Facebook, hopefully helped to back up Stuart’s views, and to quash the ridiculous notion once and for all.

Yes, you can go to the expense time and trouble to gain as many literary qualifications as there are stars in the night sky. But no amount of academic study will somehow infer that you are a writer. All any formal course related to the English language will inevitably tend to do, is to kill off any talent you may have thought you had, rendering gaining any qualification so-called, counterproductive.

In other words, as a potential writer you are completely wasting your time chasing any form of formal qualification. In fact even considering gaining any on offer under the headings of English Literature, or Creative Writing is guaranteed to be a monumental waste of your time. Why? Because all participating in any course designed to gain these academic qualifications ever does, is to burn the personal views and opinions of your teachers and lecturers into your subconcious, which all published authors, myself included, would argue renders you incapable of original thought, the absolutely fundamental requirement for any writer!

The following statement is a lose amalgamation of what we all said in our different answers to the article on Facebook:

“The best way to break into publishing is NOT to have an MFA in creative writing. Still less, a PhD. Academic laureates have no correlation with publishing success. Still less has ‘good writing’. All any writing course will do for you is to impart your teacher’s views and way of writing on you. Be a reader first. Be an observer and an eavesdropper. Your voice will come.”

And yet so many newcomers to our calling still fervently persist in clinging to the absolute myth perpetrated by those within the industry, who quiet frankly should know better, such as literary agents, editors, publishers and professional reviewers, that you need to be formally qualified, hoping that by doing so the vast majority of newcomers will be disuaded from ever writing anything other than their own names, now and in the future.

Yes I’ll grant you there are two notable exceptions to the rule. The difference being that both of them were brilliant academics in their own right, long before beginning to write. I refer of course to two of my literary hero’s – J.R.R Tolkien and his friend and colleague C.S Lewis. But without a natural bent for storytelling, no one beyond the academic world would ever have read anything written by either of them, other than their academic papers.

Remember this – Storytellers aren’t manufactured, they’re born!!! So let’s hear no more nonsense about which recognised qualification you need! The only way to nurture your natural talent for storytelling, always providing you have one in the first place, is to first of all become widely read. In other words read anything and everything. Peferably books not tweets!

Secondly, don’t believe for one minute that you need the help of any form of so-called professional editing service. If you are any damned good, you don’t!

The other point to remember about employing any editor, is that unless you are extremely vigilant your work will become coloured or contaminated by them. In other words the story is no longer solely your own. Instead it ends up being co-written by both you and them – something to think about!

Some of the more unscrupulous among their number see absolutely nothing wrong in adding their names to your book as co-authors. I tell you this from bitter personal experience. It was done to me years ago with my very first published work, before I finally saw the light and rapidly left the murky world of traditional publishing to become an Indie.

All any of us really ever needs, apart from the courage of our convictions, is a team of reliable beta readers to take a look at our latest MS and tell us whether or not it works. How? By pointing out things that you have missed or perhaps glossed over, as well as the inevitable spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

I’ll spell it out for you one last time if it still hasn’t sunk in quite yet – you have to be born with a natural bent for storytelling to become a writer.

Turning your latest tale into a work worthy of publishing comes much, much later via nothing more or less than sheer bloody hardwork on your part in the form of endless re-writes – aka polishing. I suppose what I’m really saying here is that in the end, to be a successful published writer means quite literally that its all down to you and you alone. So in the meantime get busy reading every book you can lay your hands on, before you even begin to contemplate writing that future best seller. Why? Think back to when you were a child. Before you mastered walking, first you had to learn to crawl – right?

For what it’s worth, as a successful publisher writer, I’ll always tell you to go for it. Even though many online book sites like Amazon are currently choked with literally hundreds of thousands of badly written new titles by wannabes, making it practically impossible for anything we write to stand out from the crowd.

Just remember this – unless you possess a God given natural talent for storytelling, writing ain’t easy by any stretch of the imagination!

Instead it involves a hell of a lot of hard work often for very little gain, except for the personal satisfaction of having written an absolute belter of a yarn. As sure as eggs is eggs, while we all slowly gain a reputation for storytelling with each title we put out, the newcomer won’t gain one first time out!

So for now just take my advice – keep your head down and write, write, write and write some more. Oh, one other thing for those among you who think that writing will ensure overnight fame and riches, bear in mind that 99.999% of all writer’s annual earnings from royalties fall well below the poverty line.

Lastly, the world is full of wannabes who think that by rubbing shoulders with those of us who actually are successful, that they will somehow become writers themselves by osmosis. Just take note of the number of unpublished wannabies who currently inhabit the various social media sites, labouring under the misconception that by adding the word ‘Author’ to their name, it will somehow elevate them within the literary world, without partaking in all of the hard work being a writer entails. It won’t! Like everything else we do, it takes a lot of dedication and self-sacrifice on our part to gain a worthwhile reputation. Insisting on adding the word ‘Author’ to your name impresses no one. If anything it has the opposite effect! Think about it for a moment, it wasn’t the brightest move you ever made was it. Genuine published writers don’t do it. Neither should you.

None of us are in it for the money. Only the absolute joy of sharing our tales with the world through our writing…

πŸ˜‰

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33 thoughts on “What recognized qualifications do I need to become a published writer?

  1. Great post, Jack. I’d add a personal note to all wannabees: BEFORE you start to write, buy, borrow, beg or steal a copy of Dorothea Brande’s excellent book, ‘Becoming a Writer’. Read it. Do the exercises. If, at the end of this, you have been unable to follow her advice, please don’t waste your time with writing; you’ll never do it. Try some other outlet for your creative urges and save the reading public from what will inevitably be poor work. If, on the other hand, you get through it and succeed in all she advises, go for it, but only if you actually know how to tell a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with part of this post and disagree with another part … Yes, writers MUST read widely and constantly to learn the craft of writing and how to tell a story; then they must write, and write a lot, with no dreams of becoming a famous, published author. Just write and experiment and find your voice and practice telling stories. The part I disagree with is about editing. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, Jack, but not all editors are unscrupulous, and every writer should seek out an editor who they can work with. A professionally trained editor never makes changes to an author’s work, but they do know how to see where a manuscript may not work and will offer suggestions as to how that work can be better written. Making the writing the best it can be is what editing is all about, after all. It’s then up to the author to decide whether they choose to implement those suggestions. A professional editor is also a professional reader who can offer a writer so much more than any beta readers can ever do, including copy editing and proofreading. Yes, there are unscrupulous editors out there, but it’s important to note that no writer should ever consider a manuscript to be finished and ready for publication unless at least one professional editor has had a read through it. As I’ve said before, every writer needs an editor – and even editors need editors! It’s worth while then to search for an editor who has the author’s best interests at heart, and not their own bank account. (Ask other authors for referrals. I’m more than happy to share the services of my excellent editor with other writers.)

    Otherwise, Read, read, read and write, write, write! That is the very best way to qualify yourself as a writer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “A professionally trained editor never makes changes to an author’s work, but they do know how to see where a manuscript may not work and will offer suggestions as to how that work can be better written.” With the greatest respect to you as and editor susan, so can top of the line beta readers. With one exception, each and every one of mine are published authors. πŸ™‚

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      • You’re fortunate, Jack, but not every beginning writer has the contacts we both have nor the experience of working with beta readers who may not always offer the best advice. I still say it’s best to find a professional you can work with who shares your vision and enthusiasm for what you’ve written. You can also use beta readers after the fact to gather opinions and fine-tune the manuscript. But I really believe that no author should solely depend upon the advice of unpaid beta readers.

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      • An interesting trend among some of your fellow editors is beginning to make it presence felt as each of them wake in their respective countries and read the post Susan. In essence, most agree with me. πŸ˜‰

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  3. I am glad I found your post through blogosphere’s interlacing web. I agree wholeheartedly! I did not graduate in Creative Writing or English Literature. Instead, I traveled, read, and wrote… and wrote some more. At times feelings of inadequacy surface because, unlike many of my peers, I don’t have the shiny degree or academic qualifications for writing.
    What I have done is become a conference junkie and a how-to book connoisseur. I feel that I have gained much more from a wide array of people. I take what I like and omit what I don’t.
    I do, however, disagree with your stance on an editor. I think that an editor, who gently nudges and guides, (but does not take over) is priceless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all, wellcome to the fold Tara. As a writer, never feel inadequate. Our profession is one that thrives on the very fact that no academically accepted qualifications are required, only that we have that natural talent for storytelling. As for your comment about editors, excellent Beta readers do exactly the same thing. πŸ˜‰

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  4. Regarding the academic background, a writer who aspires to “literary” fiction (or poetry) is advised to get the degree, not so much for what they may learn in the process, but in order to make connections with writers who already have a reputation as literary authors. That is, you have to become a protege and serve as an apprentice to some eminent Author if you want to succeed.
    As to editing, I believe all writers must be able to edit their own work to some extent. Beta readers are helpful if they read thoughtfully and express their suggestions firmly but sympathetically. I do have doubts about the frequently seen advice to “get a professional editor.” Anyone can call themselves a professional editor (there are no external accrediting bodies, as far as I know). A writer has to be careful and lucky to find a paid editor who is competent and honest. Good ones, with a track record of success, do not come cheap. Furthermore, writer and editor must be compatible if the relationship is to be productive. Thus time, effort and money must be contributed by the writer to the process of finding the right editor, which is why many don’t do it. And why self-editing is a valuable skill.

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    • You say, “you have to become a protege and serve as an apprentice to some eminent Author if you want to succeed.” A quaint but seriously outmoded way of doing things Audrey. While it might have been the case during the nineteenth century through to the mid nineteen-fifties, particularly here in the UK, happily those days and attitudes have been consigned to the annals of literary history. Sorry to break it to you. πŸ˜‰

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      • Actually, this is still happening here in Canada. Most of our “star” authors are of the literary type and we have many small publishers that get cultural grants from our government to publish literary fiction and poetry. Writers of popular fiction tend to get published elsewhere. Many of our eminent authors teach at universities, attracting students who are eager to serve those (perhaps metaphorical) apprenticeships. Truth!

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      • How absolutely Dickensian can you get? To insist that a new writer enters into what to all intent and purpose is an indenturement. I presume you are talking about your mainstream publishing houses. I cannot imagine for one minute that any Canadian small press would have the cheek to insist on it. Then publishers wonder why so many writers become Indies… πŸ˜‰

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      • Well, come on, Jack — it’s not a formal system, but a young writer trying to get published can always use an endorsement from an established writer from whom they took a course or two, or who supervised their thesis. And yes, that’s exactly why writers choose to publish themselves. But getting noticed without some kind of endorsement is even harder for those who write literary fiction. Winning an award really helps, but an indie writer isn’t going to be nominated for the Giller or the Booker, which is why those folks *need* to be trad published.

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      • It’s not that difficult Audrey. All any fiction writer like myself has to do is come up with the right story for whichever genre they specialise in. If I can do it, why can’t the vast majority of new comers. I’ll tell you why. Like me, you have to be born with the natural gift for storytelling. No amount of teaching can ever compensate for what is after all a god given talent. πŸ˜‰

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  5. When expanding my book, “Dalliance; A Collection of Poetry and Prose” I paid an editor to proof read prior to publishing. I am pleased with the work undertaken by the proof reader and would recommend their services. I did, however make it clear to the gentleman who proof read “Dalliance” that my requirements only encompassed proof reading (not editing). My degree is in history and politics. I don’t feel that a qualification in creative writing or similar is necessary to become a good writer, however it works for some out there so it is, I guess a case of “horses for courses”. Kevin

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  6. Pingback: Friday Finds: Week 32 | Avid Reader

  7. I read this with great interest. I agree. Reading, writing dedication and enthusiasm is needed in abundance. Also life experience, observational skills and a tendency to be curious helps! It is such hard work and not for the faint-hearted. The reward is the joy of knowing we have created and that is worth more than the meagre royalties!

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  8. Reblogged this on M J Mallon YA/Paranormal Author and commented:
    I read this post from Jack Eason with great interest. I agree. Reading, writing dedication and enthusiasm is needed in abundance. Also life experience, observational skills and a tendency to be curious helps! It is such hard work and not for the faint-hearted. The reward is the joy of knowing we have created and that is worth more than the meagre royalties!

    Liked by 1 person

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