Boy, Nike’s marketing team really hit something when they landed on this phrase, didn’t they? You can really apply the “just do it” slogan to many parts of life—and many do. And it works!
I’m going to do the same today because of something a student recently said to me.
We were talking about some opportunities that had arisen for the student and they said “as soon as I graduate, I’m going to submit my work.”
I was immediately taken aback and simply asked, “why wait?”
It was the student’s turn to be taken aback and I could see it on his face. After some discussion, I got the idea that he felt he had to wait until then.
But writing is not like that.
So before I go on, let me say that I’m a big believer in education. I grew up in Mississippi, traditionally near the bottom in education. It was something that bothered me in high school… and it was also beat into my head from my parents that I was going to college. I don’t think higher education is for everyone, but I do believe it should available to everyone—but that’s a different blog post.
Selling your work as a writer requires no degree at all. No magazine or agent/editor is going to require a degree before they publish you. When I was an editor I never-EVER- asked someone about a degree. Quite simply, it didn’t matter. If they could tell a story and had a command of the language, that was all that mattered. It remains so today.
Now, I think education is good for the writer. Today’s young writers are in particular need of it because they read so very little. Most writers I worked with professionally were well-read. They don’t all read the same thing, but they read—and that was what mattered. Many of my students today tell me “I don’t read,” to which I respond “be prepared to fail, then.” (Not my class so much as fail as a writer)
When I set out to do my thesis, my director told me to think about it as if participating in a conversation: I’m going to contribute to that conversation, thus I need to know what has been said. My thesis should add something new to the conversation, not retread old ground. Fiction writing SHOULD be the same; you’ve got to know what’s come before so that you can add something to it.
This is partly where the education comes in.
Education forces you (or should) to do those things that equip you to participate in the conversation of your chosen field. I mean, how can you expect to be a science-fiction writer if you haven’t read Dune, or if you aren’t at least familiar with Star Trek. You don’t have to be a fan of either, but you must know them and why they’re important to the conversation.
Traditional publishing was always a pretty good gatekeeper for those who could command the language and tell a story, education or not. Publishing is so easy today that a lot of crap is published.
Of course, we should aspire to be better.