How important is a writing degree for a career in wordsmithing? Does a person need a college degree or even a graduate degree to succeed in journalism or the publishing world? And what’s the best major? Is it creative writing, English literature, journalism, or something else?
Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), the well-known American novelist and short story writer, who studied journalism at Iowa State University, offered this striking statement about writing education:
“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.”
Editors, English teachers, reviewers, and other literary sorts used to call such folks “hacks,” probably pointing to the way untrained writers presumably butchered the language and mutilated content.
For better or worse, published writers used to be something of an exclusive group, having won the favor of certain editors. Today’s open publishing world allows anyone with internet access to become a published writer or a self-titled journalist, usually without the safety net of editors and proofreaders. We have to wonder what O’Connor might have said about that.
Flannery O’Connor’s best known published works included A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Everything That Rises Must Converge, The Habit of Being, The Violent Bear It Away, and Wise Blood.
Here’s one more zinger quote from Flannery O’Connor:
“There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”
This statement begs a few questions.
- What makes a bestseller?
- What’s the difference between a good story and a well-written one?
- Why are poorly written books often ridiculously popular?
- Were those tuition dollars well spent?
OK, that last question was a little facetious, sort of like this third Flannery O’Connor quote:
“I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek, as my tongue if always in it.”
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