A couple of days ago, I was thinking about the phrase “aspiring writer” or “aspiring author.”
I want to say first that I don’t mean to call anyone out or be a downer. In fact, I hope this is a positive rant! I’ve just been noticing that a fair number of people on social media refer to themselves as an aspiring writer. They post pictures of their works-in-progress, they talk about story ideas they’re fleshing out, they talk with other writers, they even attend workshops and conferences.
And every single time, I wish I could tell them: You already are a writer!
I do understand why they use the word “aspiring.” It’s a way to signal to the world that you’re serious, that one day you’re going to be published, maybe even famous. You’re saying “one day I’ll be a professional writer.”
But here’s why it bugs me: Being published doesn’t make you a writer. Being well-known doesn’t make you a writer. If you’re developing your craft and doing the work, then you’re a writer. Whether you’ve been at it for two months or twenty years – if you are writing relatively regularly, have stories in mind, think and talk about writing, then you are a writer.
I know it seems like I’m nitpicking here, but I really believe that using the word “aspiring” rewires our thinking in ways we wouldn’t seek to do consciously. “Aspiring” puts the focus on getting paid or “arriving.” While getting paid is good (I’m a freelance and fiction writer – I love getting paid!), it removes the work as the main thing. If people believe they have to be at a certain nebulous level to be considered a writer, then they might never get started. For every published piece of writing, there are months and often years of unseen work behind it. Sleepless nights, revising, re-revising, rejections, self-doubt, the tyranny of the blank page. Not to mention all the work that the writer decided was best to just keep in a drawer. Anyone who pushes through all that for the sake of a story they want to share is a writer, whether or not what they produce is ever published. If you start out thinking you’re not a “real” writer yet, you’ll probably feel less ownership over the project you have in mind.
Maybe some people tag themselves as “aspiring” because they encounter others who don’t put the same value on writing as a craft, or believe that writers are only as big as JK Rowling or Stephen King. People who expect “writers” to be prolific or popular are short-sighted, and in the minority. Most people take me at face value when I tell them I’m a writer. They don’t ask me to prove it. So if they believe me, and if I’ve been writing poems and stories and novels and zines and blog posts for years, who says I’m not a writer? There’s no governing body. There’s no entrance exam. There’s just your brain, your story, and your writing implement of choice. That’s it.
In 2012, I attended a Paul Auster interview where he said, “It’s impossible to describe how much I dislike my own work.” It was so liberating to hear. A revelation. Paul Auster’s work has been published since the ’70s, but he still dislikes it at times. Being published means nothing. It is not a train station that you will arrive at and be crowned Finally A Writer. So why not just crown yourself Writer at the very beginning and give yourself an easier – and infinitely more fun – time of it?