Do You Aspire to Write?

Let me state upfront how I feel about the term “aspiring writer”: I like it not.

In other professions, it makes sense to refer to someone new to the field as “aspiring.” When you’re in med school, you’re aspiring to a career in the healthcare industry. When you’re studying for your bar exam, you’re an aspiring lawyer. When you’ve landed your first gig on a TV show, you’re no longer an aspiring actor. You’ve become a full-fledged actor.

Can the same be said of a writer?

There are several terms to delineate newer writers from those who have been around: novice vs. experienced, published vs. unpublished, etc. These are obviously important distinctions to make when determining the stage of a writer’s career. The term aspiring writer is often meant to provide a similar distinction, but from what exactly are we distinguishing it?

The examples I gave above (aspiring doctor, aspiring lawyer) refer to someone who is on the path to their chosen career, but are not there yet. The aspiring doctor is not yet practicing medicine. The aspiring lawyer is not yet lawyering.

But almost all aspiring writers do write.

Before, it might have made sense to say that an aspiring writer was one who has never been professionally published. Such a distinction these days is murky at best. For where do we draw the line? Would we say that bestseller John Locke is “aspiring” to be a real writer simply because he’s never been traditionally published (distribution deals aside)?

More fundamentally, to say that a person is aspiring to be a writer is to imply that they are not really a writer. Someone who has written a dozen books is a writer, even if he’s a lousy one and none of those books was fit to print. Say what you will of the quality of his writing, but he has written; do not take that away from him by saying he is aspiring to be, and thus is not truly, a writer.

You might argue that it’s just a word, and that it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. But the Declaration of Independence, too, is just words, but it is a collection of words that has shaped the course of history. As writers, we well know the power of words, as well we know that the wrong word can ruin the meaning of what we’re trying to say.

I think the term “aspiring writer” really only should be applied to the people who want to write a story someday, but have not yet managed to sit in front of a blank white screen, pummel their keyboards, and give shape to the story in their minds.

I have not yet published a book. I have not yet made a dime writing. I have not yet been showered with awards or praise or royalties. These are things I do aspire to.

But I am a writer, dammit, and I bet you are one, too.

8 responses on “Do You Aspire to Write?

  1. Colette

    Fabulous, Brandon!! I will no longer refer to myself as an aspiring writer. I’ve never liked the term either, but I know professional writers get very bent out of place to have novices like myself sharing their title. Perhaps I’m an amateur writer, having only published one piece of short fiction so far, but your’e right; I am a writer. Thanks for the reminder and the ego boost.

  2. Evan Braun

    Brandon, this is quite inspiring. Now that I think back on it, I must have always intuitively agreed with this whole thing, because I don’t think I’ve ever referred to myself as an “aspiring writer.” At least, not that I’m conscious of. A wonderful post.

  3. John Wiswell

    It’s fairly easy to draw the line between “aspiring” and “professional” writers based on who can make a living at it. We may not admire their work, but you have accomplished your aspirations of a career once you have it. Same goes for your doctor and lawyer analogies.

    When we pull apart the meaning of “aspiration” as you do, someone can fulfill aspirations other than to have a sustainable career. You can aspire just to write, and it can be even noble. I encourage all my friends to explore it. But I don’t think that’s what any “aspiring writers” I know intend by the phrase.

    As we’re pulling apart language, though, I’d point out that being an “aspiring writer” is a writer. “Aspiring” is a verb in front of the noun.

  4. Frank Morin

    Brandon, I like this a lot. I appreciate your take on it. For those of us still feeling our way toward a publishing deal it can be hard to define what exactly we are. I consider myself a writer even though I have not yet published one of my novels. To others I often say I am a writer, although I’ll clarify that I’m not yet published.

    Keep writing! Aspire to greatness.

  5. leigh

    Hee, hee. My fellow writers playing words. Love it!

    Yes, we who actually right are not “aspiring writers.” Those people who claim to have a story to tell but never actually write it are.

    The best way I’ve heard it delineated is that an “aspiring writer” is a writer who is still learning, an amateur (meaning they don’t get paid to write). A professional writer is an “author.” So, really, the moniker “aspiring writer” to fit with your example of the “aspiring doctor/lawyer” scenario, Brandon, is actually an “aspiring author.”

  6. Ann

    I also hate the term – it has a wanna-be, hanger-on, infatuated groupie feel to it. We write because we want to, because we need to, not because we’re star struck author groupies. I don’t go to workshops and conferences just so I can hang around big name authors aspiring to be like them, hoping that their gold dust rubs off on me! I am a writer – good, bad, indifferent, published or unpublished – those adjectives may qualify my status as a writer, but they certainly don’t define me!

    Thanks for giving voice to this peeve!

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