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Lois, I think your point about learning how to think critically about literature is what ultimately shapes truly great writers. Scant few writers are born without the need for some refinement of their craft. Actually, I personally know of only one truly great writer who didn't finish college - Dave Eggers (A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius).

Cathy C. Hall

Hmmm...there are those (especially those in the arts) who are naturally gifted, and may be self-taught. There are wonderful street dancers, for example, or artists, and writers who succeed without years of formal education. But that success comes from developing their craft-and this rarely occurs in a vacuum. Reading (A LOT) helps, critique (formal and informal) helps, and perseverance is absolutely necessary. But a college degree? Not so much. It just happens that many writers who have that kind of stick-to-it-ness also stuck to college.

Emily Scheerer

Isn't that somewhat equivalent to what Professor Bhaer says to Jo March in Little Women? He tells her to write of what she knows. If I understand your point, you are saying that writers must be well educated in order to write because they have to be writing about what they actually know, about things they have studied.

Thanks for this post and your opinion - I am a college student who had a childhood dream of writing. I've since given it up as career goal, but do plan to continue to write on the side. I really enjoy when authors post tips about writing well on their blogs!


A hint of 'resentment' is palpable in the tone of the question.

To get a sense of what it takes to become a writer in the 21st. century, read the brilliant essay by David Foster Wallace: "Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young"
(I can't stop using the word brilliant when I mention his work) this will shed some light, if not blind you with its eloquence, about what it now takes to write relevant fiction.

alas, of course, 'genius' cannot be taught or learned. .... don't think.


Lois Lowry

Actually, there are a number of "truly great" writers who did not finish—or in some cases ever start—college, including William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, both of whom won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Erika Parker Price

This reminds me of a time when I was working in the corporate world and one of my employees told me that she wanted to finish her degree. She felt strongly that she would be unable to advance up the corporate ladder without the degree.

I surprised her by telling her that MY boss hadn't finished college either and had been very successful without a degree.

Just as is possible in writing, her education had come from a variety of different sources.

It's not the letters that matter, it's the knowledge that you gain along the way.


Lois, what a treat to discover your blog. My daughter introduced me to The Giver when she was in 8th grade, how I love the loose trilogy that this book is part of.

Great ideas shared in this post. I didn't know that my compatriot Jorge Luis Borges influenced the Giver.

With gratitude,

Holly Rabalais

A good education includes so much more than sitting in a classroom. My first five years of college fresh out of high school produced little education for me because I wasn't truly interested in learning. When I finally went back to college at 27 to finish my degree, I soaked up every moment and finally understood the value of those classes.

My favorite was my last English course in which the instructor posed the question: "What does it mean to be an American?" We explored works from a variety of time periods, genres, and subjects. From Kate Chopin's short stories to Jonathan Safran Foer's novel born out of 9/11 to Art Spiegelman's graphic novel based on his father's Holocaust experience, all of these works would not have been possible without the authors' educations on the subjects of their works. And while I absorbed much by reading their literature, I gained more knowledge because our instructor guided us to delve into and discuss the socioeconomic history of each story.

That said, life experience, travels, social interactions, and relationships are equally as educational, I think. You can read plenty of great literature and study history or sociology, but it's the point where what you've learned and an event in your own life intersect that creates a unique story...just waiting to be written!

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