The Aspiring Writer

This is a response to Melissa’s post about the case of the “aspiring” writer and the interesting discussion that ensued. Let me know what you think of it.

First off, I do agree with the point made that it devalues the authority of the writer. Especially today, when writers seem to get as little credit as possible (with books being pushed aside by movies, TV, internet, etc.), I really don’t think this is a time for modesty.

I can understand the desire to set goals and establish some parameters for the future. Calling yourself “aspiring” means you have something to work towards—it’s a word that gives young people hope. But how do you gauge these things to begin with? Until your name is in print? Until you make it a profession? Until you get a Pulitzer? How do you measure this out and why would you want to? Does it end up being as productive as you originally thought it would?

Other types of artists don’t seem to have this problem nearly as much. They draw, sculpt, photograph, perform and it doesn’t change anything. Others may see something in them that they don’t at an early age, maybe not. But they are driven to create for themselves, sometimes inexplicably. And they continue to do so.

Maybe this is a huge issue for certain people because it’s personal. Some people are afraid because they’re insecure, they’re not good enough. Some people think it’s too pretentious (“I’m a poet! And you are?!”), or it’s simply too overwhelming without that one certain adjective before it. They can’t handle the authority that I think is so, so absolutely necessary in the year 2011.

I do think, however, that there is a difference between a writer and someone who simply writes. When it comes down to it, it’s all about storytelling. There’s a difference between someone who writes to tell a story (and works at it, for years and years, whether published or just in private) and someone who is merely able to form complete sentences and place them after one another. One is an identity that you define yourself through and the other isn’t.

You don’t have to be published, have a book deal, or make money for it. And you certainly don’t even have to share the words you’ve put down. Was Emily Dickinson a writer only after she died?

I don’t call myself aspiring. I used to, because I once thought it was helpful, but now I don’t.

Setting little goals for yourself is good, but don’t sell yourself short with an adjective. Don’t ironically undermine your own plans with a romanticized, dreamy-eyed promise. You’re a writer if you need to tell a story and you’re always working at it. External validation is nice every once in a while, but you’re a writer (and not “aspiring”) once you’ve realized that it’s not your primary source of motivation. It’s not where you begin. You need it because you need it.


  1. I've actually heard a lot of other artists call themselves aspiring. An aspiring photographer, and aspiring painter, etc. While I agree with what you've said, I think it is a curse for all the branches of the art world. I think it is because there is a controversy between how an artist feels and how the world around them sees it. If you are not a writer, or a painter, you do not understand the NEED to do it. You see it as a either a worker who is creating something entertaining or pretty for a consumer, or you see it as someone who has a hobby and needs to get a real job. So if you are not at the point where you are creating work and making a living off of it, you are forced to call yourself "aspiring" so that people realize that you are not just doing it for a hobby, you're serious, but acknowledging that it is not your full time job.

    It just comes from the pressures that society puts on people to keep up appearances.

    1. It's unfortunate. No doubt it is a curse for all kinds of artists (you hardly hear the word "aspiring" in any other context, I think), but it seems to me that writers are especially forced to legitimize what they do because the publishing world is more directly related to business and business-minded perspectives. People tend to ask me, more than any other question: Are you published yet? And published writers are forced to think about things like their demographic, for example, to sometimes undergo revisions for what is appropriate and what will cater best to whatever audience, and to spend more time doing things other than writing.

  2. I have an article in a magazine I must pass by you when I see you again (soon). It totally backs us up ;D

    1. Sounds good! Is it in Poets&Writers? Because I'm actually sitting down now to read through the newest issue.

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