I suppose this is something of a follow-up to last week’s writer’s block post, in that it’s another common issue I see in writers, particularly newer ones. Call this the January Writing Blues series, or whatever you fancy. The fact is, I have an issue with aspiring authors.
I know this seems to be at odds with my whole philosophy — technically, I myself was an aspiring author just a few short months ago. But actually, I wasn’t, because I never really called myself an aspiring author.
Instead, I called myself an author.
What’s the difference?
Well, psychologically, quite a lot actually. I spoke about writer’s block being an abstract concept designed in the deep recesses of our subconscious as a defence mechanism against productivity last week. The dreaded ‘aspiring author’ tag isn’t much different.
But really, what’s the big issue with aspiring authors?
I just think labelling yourself an aspiring author is akin to putting a cushion underneath yourself as you jump, almost expecting to fall down and hurt yourself. Think about it: an aspiring ANYTHING is somebody who wants to be something. And that’s perfectly healthy and natural in some instances. I’m an aspiring multimillionaire. I can’t just click my fingers and become a multimillionaire, so I have to make do with aspiring.
But writing is a whole different matter to becoming a multimillionaire (in the early days anyway 😉 ). Truth is, and grammar teachers and language purists won’t like me for saying this, but anybody can become an author.
Is this a bad thing? Surely if every man and his dog can publish, then it takes away the quality of true works of genius, undermining the prestige of the author status forever?
Well, I say shut up and learn to live with it. There will always be bad books. There will always be good books, too. The rise of the digital age and innovations like Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords just makes it easier to get our stories out there. Sure, somebody might write a less-than-stellar novel ridden with errors, but trust readers to be the judges of quality. They’ve done a pretty good job throughout history.
But anyway, back to the point. The aspiring author. ‘I’d love to be an author.’ I hear it all the time. ‘One day, I’m going to write a book.’
Then they lose the ability to write in an accident and never write that one book.
Harsh, I know, but we’re a species obsessed with fantasising so much that we perhaps don’t realise the magnificent tool set we have in front of us and within us. Instead of saying ‘one day’, why not say, ‘today’? Instead of aspiring to be an author, why not write those first 1,000 words and become an author?! Life’s too short to aspire!
Isn’t there a criteria that makes somebody an author, though?
Probably. Personally, I don’t give a shit about any criteria. I’m an author. I have been since I penned my first short story. Maybe to some people, you need a novel to be an author. Perhaps so, to tick the boxes anyway, but mentally, I became an author long before I published my debut novel, What We Saw.
The fact of the matter is this: you may have good intentions in calling yourself an aspiring author, but 90% of aspiring authors never finish a book. Instead, why not call yourself an author from the off, and start believing it? Tell people you’re an author. Sing from the rooftops about it. That way, if you do fail, then you’ll feel even more of an idiot for doing so.
And surely that’s a good enough incentive, right?
Get rid of the cushion and jump for the stars. Drop the aspiring author tag. It did me a world of good. It’ll do the same for you.
When did you stop calling yourself an aspiring author? Did it have an impact on you? In your opinion, what does it take to become an author?
Indies Forward Event – 31st January
I’m a big fan of Duolit’s website, as any regular reader of my blog will be aware. They’ve helped me learn all sorts of little tips about marketing and attitude along the way, and their freshness continues to inspire me.
I recently became aware of author Julie Forward DeMay through Duolit’s blog. Julie is an author that chose not to be an aspiring author, instead opting to embrace the moment to write and publish. Her first book, Cell War Notebooks, was released in 2011.
Unfortunately, the book was published two years after Julie passed away following a brave battle with cancer.
That’s why this whole aspiring author thing resonates so much. Life’s too short to dream about the things within our grasp, seriously. One day, everything can be absolutely fine, when the next… we just don’t know.
The ladies at Duolit are hosting an event on 31st January to commemorate Julie and to help bring authors together to promote her book. If you’re a book blogger and you fancy participating, check out this page. All it takes is a blog and a few tweets. I’ll be posting my own special blog on the day, and dropping the occasional tweet too. I hope you’ll join me and loads of others in this special event.
Image courtesy of churl via Flickr
Nice post. It’s something I had to get over myself. For some reason, a lot of writers don’t think they are “real authors” until they have the first published work – used to be traditional, maybe now self-pubbed. But you’re right. If you are writing and you have finished works, short or long, you’re an author. You’re aspiring to publication, maybe – but you’re an author.
I agree, Mary. The sooner authors start believing they are authors, the better. A good way round it before I published anything was by saying I’m a ‘working author’ and ‘have a novel coming out’. It just creates a professionalism both on the inside and the outside, which is important in any career.
I could not agree more! You are either writing or you are not. Aspiring means you desire it and plan on doing it but have not yet. An aspiring writer is someone stuck in that strange limbo world where they dream of getting published but never actually get there. You desire to write but don’t write. I was stuck there for a long time. It’s easy to get stuck like that. I have banned the aspiring writer term from my vocabulary. I recently stopped calling myself an aspiring author. Now, I like to call myself a forthcoming writer! 🙂
Rightly or wrongly, I considered myself to be merely a writer until I’d actually published my first novel. Only then could I comfortably call myself an author. The only time I ever called myself ‘aspiring’ was when I was approaching potential interviewees. I felt that it reflected intent (as you said above), but positive intent.
Perhaps the definiton of ‘author’ and ‘writer’ is not well known amongst our fellow scribes.
au·thor /ˈôTHər/; A writer of a book, article, or report.
Which, to me, says that a writer and an author are synonymous.
Dictionary.com says; a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work,
OK, so fair enough. If you write a book, an article, a poem, etc you then qualify as an author.
But what neither of these definitions clarifies is this; When does a book qualify as a book? Or a poem a poem? When it’s outlined? First drafted? Proof read? Professionally edited? This throws the timeframe of when one becomes an author into doubt once again, so I will probably continue to stick with my own loose definition, which is that a writer remains a writer until their work has been published.
For the time being, at least.
Andrew — cheers for the comment. Interesting thoughts on what makes an author/writer. You’re right: it’s a definition that is certainly hard to pin down.
However, I feel accepting one’s self as an author/writer is one of the most important psychological stages. Perhaps by dictionary definition, one is not an ‘author/writer’ until they have something published. But psychologically? I feel that ridding one’s self of the ‘aspiring’ tag is a crucial stage in the movement from the realms of hobby-writing to professional writing.
There’s my five cents, on top of the fifty cents above. 😉
Great post Ryan…definitely has me thinking of how to refer to myself moving forward. I quite like the term ‘working author’.
Andrew…Out of curiosity, I too looked up the definition of author on Dictionary.com. I am partial to your ‘loose definition’ that a writer remains a writer until their work has been published.
Thanks for making me stop and evaluate this!!
Karen — thanks for dropping by. The term ‘working author’ is one that worked for me, so I hope you have success with it!
I’m so pleased you evaluated the issue too. I find the change in mentality from ‘aspiring’ to ‘author’ absolutely seismic in its impact on confidence, mentality, and actual writing ability. Again, I hope you find the experience as profound as I did!
This is the reason I started calling myself an author. I realized when I said, oh yeah I just published my novel or oh yeah I’m an author, people took me more seriously than if I’d said I’m an aspiring author or that I self-published. It’s interesting how what we call ourselves can influence others like that.
I agree, Elisa. Saying you’ve got something out there makes a much bigger impression on not only others, but yourself. The sooner we can say those words, the sooner we can start believing them!
I meant aspiring author*
I do in fact call myself an author. 😛
But yeah, it definitely makes a better and longer lasting impression. Unrelated sidenote: that sounded like an ad or something. Buy an author! It’s better and longer lasting.
I’ve found this to be very true for me. When people ask me what I do for a living I say I’m an author. When I talk about my book being published, I simply say “My publication date is (for instance) August 23rd.” I don’t feel it is necessary to qualify the statement by adding “self-published.” Perhaps you’ve done a blog on that or may in the future, but adding the “self-published” tag to your qualification as an author invites stereotyping by the masses.
When I told my extended family I was writing a book they were excited for me. They didn’t ask “are you self-publishing,” they asked what the book was about. Questions about how I was doing it came later, but mostly because they didn’t know much about the publishing process or how a book came to market. So in every conversation I have or description of myself I don’t describe myself as aspiring or self-published – I’m an author, the same as any person publishing through a traditionally publisher. On top of that, I’ve registered for a business number (called an EIN in the states) under the name of a publisher (Dark Star Publishing, in this case) that technically means not only am I an author but I’m the proprietor of a publishing company. I feel that creating a publishing company adds additional credibility.
So you’re absolutely right, when we as authors shed the adjectives that hold us back and make us feel like we are inferior to traditionally published authors we will feel more confident than ever before while also gaining greater respect from the public. A book should be judged on its content, not who published it.
This is two years old or more, but I felt I had to comment. I completely agree, adding the word aspiring to most things in the literary world screams “Newbie” and some people I think feel they’re gaming the system or skipping some set of steps if they call themselves an author without having a published novel. Which is nice, in theory. However, it’s not really conducive, at least in my mind to being an author.
Another part of this is also stop thinking to yourself that you’re an aspiring something. This was what has gotten in the way for me. I could go an tell people I was a writer, and I knew I was, but I always feared someone would ask “what have published” and since I hadn’t published anything at the time, I wasn’t quite sure how I would be able to respond. The funny thing is, no one asked me that question when I told them I was a writer. I had a few “what do you write/write about” questions, which I could easily answer.
I’ll set an example so others that may stumble across this see it maybe from a different perspective. I’ve been writing screenplays, (yep those things that tell the actors of movies what to say) for over 15 years. I’ve written short film scripts, and feature length. In that span I’ve had two short film scripts used in some capacity; one for a writing class in a college and another one produced by college students. One of my feature lengths got considerable buzz from some indie producers, but none of my feature lengths have be produced…yet. Still, I consider myself a screenwriter. Why?
A few reasons, one of which being is that I’ve been writing screenplays for a long time. I’ve studied the formatting, I keep up with the changes. I know what I’m doing with screenplays, if I can’t call myself a screenwriter because I haven’t had something produced is like saying that someone who has had 15 years experience playing baseball in the minors, isn’t a professional baseball player until he gets called up the Majors. Regardless of where he resides in the baseball development section, he’s still a baseball player. Yes, this analogy assumes the player is good enough to be in the minor leagues, but that’s not the point – it’s the community.
In my opinion, if an author, especially a published author tells another author/writer that since they don’t have a published book they can’t call themselves an author, it’s the published author’s problem not anyone else’s.