Few things aggravate me more than the phrase, “aspiring writer.” I don’t like it when someone else refers to a writer in that way, but I get really riled up when a writer refers to herself that way. To me it’s pretty simple: Are you writing on a regular basis? Then you’re a writer.
But a lot of people don’t see it that way. They get writing confused with publishing and making money, and the two are not the same.
If you write, whether it’s for fun or pay, you’re a writer. An “aspiring writer” is someone who’s never put one word on the page but thinks, “Hey, I’ll get around to trying that one day.” It’s like me calling myself an aspiring knitter. I’ve never done it, but I’d like to. But once I’ve created that first awful scarf, I can call myself a knitter. Am I a pro? Of course not. But neither am I aspiring to do the task. I’ve done it. I’m doing it. And I can get better.
If you put words on the page, you’re no longer aspiring, you’re writing.
Now, if you aren’t being paid for your work, you could say, “I aspire to make money from my writing.” Or if publication is a desire, “I aspire to be traditionally published.” You can “aspire to make writing your full time job,” as well. But once you start writing, you don’t get to call yourself an aspiring writer.
Certainly, you can aspire to be better at certain aspects of your work. And you should because that is the path to improvement. But you have to identify what it is that you aspire to do better. You’re already doing the writing thing, so what’s the next thing you need to master to move your career forward?
You can aspire to be a better editor, make more money, or find a larger publisher. You can aspire to be a better marketer of your work, or improve in a genre or form you aren’t good at. Aspire to create stronger characters, tighter plots, or better dialogue. Become a freelancer who makes enough to support herself. There are plenty of writing-related goals to which you can aspire, but once you’re putting words on a page, being a writer isn’t one of them.
Calling yourself an “aspiring writer” lumps you in with those who don’t put in the work. You don’t want to be mistaken for one of those people who walks around talking about how you’re going to write someday, or how you have all these ideas but never get them on paper. Do you? I don’t think so. You want to be a writer, so be one. Take ownership of the title. You don’t have to put it on business cards or shout it from your rooftop, but get used to thinking of yourself as a writer. Period.
Here’s the thing: If you get caught up in the whole “aspiring” thing, it can make you feel “less than.” “Oh, I’m only aspiring,” sounds far less successful and positive than, “I’m a writer.” Say the two phrases to yourself. Which one makes you feel more powerful and like you can achieve your goals? Which one makes you want to put your butt in your chair this afternoon and write 1,000 words?
It’s funny how the arts bring out the whole “aspiring” thing. You hear it in theater with “aspiring actors,” and in art with, “aspiring (or starving) artists.” Dancers and other performers do it, as well. Everyone in the arts is aspiring, at least until they become a household name or reach some nebulous degree of success.
Yet people in other professions don’t “aspire.” They do. Doctors aren’t aspiring doctors, even when they’re in school. They’re residents or med students, learning skills and practicing to make themselves better. Scientists don’t sit in the lab calling themselves aspiring scientists. No, they get in there, mix their chemicals or work on their theories and get on with the work. They may aspire to discover the origin of the universe, but they aren’t aspiring to be a scientist. Computer coders don’t aspire to code, they sit down with their Red Bull and code something. They may aspire to make a million dollars from their awesome app, but they don’t refer to themselves as aspiring while they tinker. They just do.
It’s only in the arts that we get this twisted idea that you can’t be “doing” the thing until someone else has acknowledged your right to do the thing. A dancer can’t be a dancer until the primo dance company puts her on the payroll. A painter can’t be a painter until he has a gallery show. An actor can’t be an actor until he’s on Broadway or in a feature film. A writer can’t be a writer until she has a book traditionally published. Until the qualification for “success” is met, you are only allowed to aspire to the thing.
That’s just nuts.
If you do the thing, you’re doing the thing. Aspiring is for those who are not doing the thing, but would like to. Someday. It’s the difference between doing and have done. There are millions of people out there who have never written a word beyond what they were forced to do in school. Yet they say they want to write. Those are the aspiring writers. They are aspiring to do the thing that you are already doing. To call yourself aspiring is regressive. You’re going back and putting yourself in with those people.
Don’t do that. Write, and call yourself a writer. Absolutely aspire to improve your skills or your paycheck, but don’t aspire to be a writer. That door closed when you started writing. Just do the thing and get on with it. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to be a writer. You already are. Now you’re just aspiring to improve.
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