Thursday, April 2, 2015

I’m A Writer (No, Really): The Problem with “Aspiring"

by Paul Krueger

One of the cool things about my adopted home of Los Angeles is that everyone here’s got a secret identity. That waitress over there? Right now, she’s waiting to hear from her agent about that Scorsese feature she got called back for. The guy on the other end of your tech support call? He’s been putting short films up on YouTube for years, and in a few months one of them is going to be absolutely everywhere. And me? I’m a writer.

I used to garnish that introduction with a, “No, really,” at parties, when the people I was talking to would barely stop themselves from rolling their eyes. Not that I can blame them; I’m sure by now they’ve met very few writers, but plenty of “writers.” It’s a frustration we all run into: we practice a craft, take it seriously, spend hours a day perfecting our technique, and some jackass with a copy of Word she hasn’t touched in years gets to saunter on up next to us and call us her peer if she feels like it...and there’s nothing we can do to contradict her.

But if you ask me, that’s kind of what’s great about writing.

Back when I first started publicly labeling myself a writer, I attached a label to that label: “aspiring.” It was how I hedged my bets: I could float the writer thing out there in the hope that people would take me seriously, then hide behind my semantics shield when they inevitably didn’t. But looking back on it, I think calling myself an “aspiring” writer was one of the first and most persistent mistakes I made when I was starting out. Fortunately, though, it was also one of the most easily corrected. And my solution is this: if you’re writing--really writing, not just talking about it--you’re not aspiring.

One of the turning points in my relationship with my work was during a phone conversation with my dad. I’d just moved to LA, and was spending my days digging for jobs and writing as fast as my fingers would let me. And that particular afternoon, a spate of fresh rejections had rolled in for the novel I’d been trotting around then. So by the time my dad got to me, I was in a fine, fine mood.

“What the hell has it all been for?” I said to him, except I totally didn’t say ‘hell.’ “All this work I’m doing...it’s not going anywhere. It doesn’t mean anything.”

My dad immediately said, “That’s not true.” When I reacted with characteristic incredulity, he continued: “All the writing you do is work, and you’re not going to get anywhere unless you do it. It matters. It means something.”

I stopped calling myself an aspiring writer after that phone call.

I’ve sat through plenty of charlatans prattling on about the Great American Novel percolating between their ears, if they could just find the time or the inspiration to write the thing. When I was younger, I resented them. They made me feel like I had to apologize for and explain away the thing I loved, and how dare they. Now, though, I’ve come to a new understanding. I write, and I know I write, and that’s enough. I don’t have to prove anything, and neither do you. Your words are all the proof you need. If you’ve got those to offer up, then congratulations. You’re a writer.

And of course, there are still plenty of things you can aspire to be: a professional. A bestseller.

Or perhaps loftiest of all: a good writer.

So what do you think, guys? Am I onto something? Am I full of it? Take to the comments section and vent your spleen!

Paul Krueger wrote the upcoming NA urban fantasy, The Devil's Water Dictionary (Quirk Books, 2016). His short fiction has appeared in the 2014 Sword & Laser Anthology, Noir Riot vol. 1, and in his copy of Microsoft Word. You're most likely to find him on Twitter, where he's probably putting off something important.

9 comments:

Debra McKellan said...

Definitely on to something! I just call myself a writer...but I definitely say aspiring AUTHOR. :)

Suzanne Payne said...

I'm a music teacher first because that's what pays the bills. I guess I want to be a professional writer one of these days. That's my aspiration. Great post. I'm going to stop saying I'm aspiring to write, because I have plenty of proof that I write..:) Thanks for showing a different perspective.

Carrie-Anne said...

I was baffled when I became aware of this term four years ago. There's nothing "aspiring" about one's writing if one is actively writing. "Aspiring writer" seems like an offensive, insulting, infantilizing term to me, like saying someone isn't a real, worthy writer until one has been traditionally published. It also implies one wants to write someday, but hasn't done it yet.

JeffO said...

I don't know if it's right or wrong to use or lose the "aspiring" tag. I write, but I'm not published. I write, but it's not my job or career. I do know, however, that your father was right on. It's work and all of it helps you get better.

Julie Kertesz said...

So true! One does not become a writer (or a comedian, a storyteller, a photographer) when one achieves public recognition. It is as we begin and persist in writing, taking photos, telling in public. As long as we do not only "aspire" to do it, but do it. Persist. Continue learning, and doing.

LD Masterson said...

I do that to myself. I used to add "unpublished" as the qualifier to avoid people asking me what I've written or where they could find it. Then I got a couple short stories published and I catch myself explaining I haven't published a book yet, as though that means I'm not really, really a writer. But today my hubby asked me to sign our completed tax forms so he could drop them in the mail. And next to my name, in the box marked occupation, he had written "writer". So who am I to argue?

Eve said...

I've never really looked at it that way. I think at this point I would use aspiring for myself because I have yet to finish anything I've started. I just put it aside for one reason or another and even though all the story is still in my head ready to come out I always find reasons to not finish it. Usually doubting if it would be good enough. That whole, if you don't finish it could be this amazing best seller but if you finish it and it goes no where and no one likes it then its real failure and I'm scared of that.

I loved the post. It gave me a lot to think about.

Nurieta said...

I was ashamed of admitting my weakness for writing for long years. One day I decided to be who I was and whenever I was inquired about my profession, I said that I was a writer regardless the fact I had not published a book by then. My new attitude gave me strength and self-confidence. So far, I have published two books in Spanish, my mother language, and in Spain, my mother country. Now I am trying to write a book in English. A crazy project, indeed. I am not even bilingual, but I do not care. Persistence is a magical thing that takes you everywhere and overcomes all kind of barriers. I would also like to move to L.A. It is just a dream, but I will get there somehow. It is just a matter of time. By the way, I live in Spain. Thank you for the encouragement. One of the best posts I have ever read.

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