Apparently that term — aspiring writer — is derogatory to some.
People who write are writers, they say. Whether or not they are payed or published. Thus, calling someone an “aspiring writer” is the equivalent of calling them a wannabe… even if they haven’t published anything. Of course, if this is true, it shrinks the “perceived” chasm between lots of professions and professionals. Then…
- Anyone who plays a guitar is a musician.
- Anyone who paints is an artist.
- Anyone who acts is an actor.
- Anyone who golfs is a golfer.
- Anyone who writes is a writer.
Thus, a craftsperson never “arrives,” “graduates,” or “breaks out.” They’re just more of what they already were.
Perhaps it’s an exercise in semantics, but I’ve always considered the term “aspiring writer” to be rather helpful, descriptive, and not in the least derogatory. Just Google the phrase “aspiring writer” and you’ll find Articles for Aspiring Writers, Links for Aspiring Writers, Scholarships for Aspiring Writers, and Tips for Aspiring Writers. If the term is that degrading, you sure can’t tell by its mainstream usage. Most folks understand what is meant by the term “aspiring writer.”
It’s those who ARE “aspiring” who often take umbrage.
Recently, fellow WordServe client Jody Hedlund offered Encouragement for Aspiring Writers. So by using that phrase, was Jody being condescending to some writers? On the contrary, Jody was being encouraging (which she always is). Nevertheless she, like me (and most everyone else), recognizes a distinction between someone who is striving for professional publication and someone who has been contracted, professionally published, and/or is paid to write.
And maybe that’s the sticking point. In today’s publishing world, anyone can publish a book. So does this mean they are no longer “aspiring”?
I spoke to a man at my first book signing who, rather ashamedly, admitted that he’d published a book. Why was he ashamed? He’d self-published a devotional book for teens but rushed into the project. It was poorly edited and he’d developed no outlets for selling the book. Thus, boxes of his “published” book sat dusty in his office. Not only had he lost money on the venture, he had little plan to ever recoup that investment. Now he writes casually, hopes to finish a novel, and seek more mainstream publication.
Question: Is he still “aspiring”?
Which is to say, I’m beginning to think the term is relative. Note: That wasn’t always so. Most people used to understand what was meant by “aspiring musician,” “aspiring bodybuilder,” “aspiring journalist,” “aspiring chef,” “aspiring ANYTHING.” It USED to mean someone was aspiring toward some sort of accomplished professional status. But, apparently, that’s changed.
So maybe it comes down to WHAT we’re aspiring towards. You know, if you’re aspiring just to write, then once you start writing, you’re no longer “aspiring.” If you’re aspiring to simply publish a book anyhow, anywhere, any way, then once you do that, you’re no longer “aspiring.” But if you’re like most writers, you are aspiring towards mainstream traditional publication, or some professional equivalent. You are foregoing self-publishing or, at least, seeking a larger market than your circle of family and friends. One that, also, pays.
After six or seven years at this writing gig — which includes blogging, becoming agented, having pieces published in various print and digital outlets, signing a two-book contract, blah, blah, blah, I’ve FINALLY mustered the courage to call myself a professional writer in public circles. (Does anyone else have such reluctance?) Those conversations usually look like this:
“So what kind of work do you do?”
MIKE: “I have two jobs. I’m a construction worker and a novelist.”
I would not have said that two years ago. Yes, I was writing back then. Yes, I was agented back then. Yes, I had completed a full-length novel back then. But I had not been contracted, so I was still “aspiring.” It was a simple admission of a.) Where I was at, and b.) Where I wanted to be.
In fact, in many ways, I still consider myself to be “aspiring.”
All that to say, the term “aspiring writer” has NOTHING to do with one’s skill level, determination, or commitment to the craft. It has simply to do with one’s published or non-published status. At least, that’s how I see it.
So what do you think: When is someone no longer an “aspiring writer”?