Last night an editor on my Twitter feed put up the following status: “
#Writers –you’re either a writer, or you aren’t. ‘Aspiring’ doesn’t cut it; that word is a turnoff. #justwrite.”
That line struck an instant chord with me: What do I call myself? The names we give things are always important; and the names we give ourselves even more so. If this particular tweet to is to believed (and it should be, as it’s coming from an editor), then adopting the label aspiring writer actually hurts our professional image more than it helps.
So why do we do it? For a rather basic reason, actually. If you’re like me, the seemingly logical reasoning runs through our heads more or less along these lines:
There’s the inevitable question. How do I answer?
– Do I call myself an author?
Well, I’m not published yet.
– Do I call myself a hobbyist?
Don’t be silly. This is far more important than a mere hobby.
– Do I call myself a writer?
Isn’t that the same thing as an author? So – no, because I’m not published yet.
– Do I call myself an aspiring writer?
Yes – that must be it. A not-yet-published writer working to make it official.
“I’m an aspiring writer, working on…”
That is more or less my own thought process, at least. Tacking the word “aspiring” to the label somehow seems more humble and truthful, since calling yourself simply a writer inevitably stirs up the question: “Where can I find your book(s)? I’d like to check them out.”
So how do we correct whatever damage (albeit unintentional) we’ve done to our professional name? The steps are very simple, though sometimes they require a good deal of “un-learning” on our part.
Call yourself a writer. Period. Nothing else. Either you’re serious about attaining the Writer’s Life or not. If you are, then name yourself accordingly. You’re not a published author yet? Okay. You can live with that. It’s temporary, after all. Just don’t do yourself a disservice by calling yourself by a title that means, at an inferred, subliminal level: “fake writer”.
Call your work a manuscript, not a “story.” This is a serious pet peeve with me. I am constantly exhorting my students and fellow writers to call their work for what it is – a manuscript. Calling it “my story” or “my idea” or “my little project” does the same damage to people’s perception of your writing credibility as does mislabeling yourself entirely.
Make it habit, not hobby. With the mindset of calling yourself a Real Writer with a Real Manuscript, comes the Real Work. Don’t just dabble at your manuscript – work on it. Real Work. Every single day. This is such basic writing advice it almost seems a moot point; and yet it is the one thing of which we must be reminded over and over. Why? Because jealously guarding that writing time every day is HARD. But a die-hard habit is the only way to override this weakness.
Have a ready answer. So what do you say when someone asks to see your work? Especially when you’re not published? Direct them to your blog or website, for starters. Or have a ready writing sample available “upon request” – a short story, or a first chapter that you don’t mind handing off for curious eyes to peruse. If they’re serious about wanting to read your work – they’ll accept the offer. If they read your work and want to see more, they’ll tell you. Perhaps you’ll find a good Beta Reader along the way. You never know.
In short: Don’t minimize yourself or your dream. It’s your manuscript. Your habit. Your inner world. You are that world’s creator. Its author. You are the writer. No other name will do.