In the last month, we here at The Plotless have made our way to a number of bookish events—book launch parties, indie publishing conferences, teen book festivals, you name it. (One of the perks of living in Utah is that the writing and reading communities here are absolutely thriving which means we have lots of excuses to hang out at fun events.) Over the course of these events, though, I kept hearing this phrase tossed around that made me grit my teeth and want to claw at the drywall. It’d come in the form of a question during an author’s Q&A with her readers or in an introduction when we were meeting new people.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. There is literally nothing wrong or offensive or even odd about that phrase. Plenty of people identify as aspiring writers. Plenty of people say that phrase with hope in their eyes as they gaze longingly at published authors and dream of what they can become. As far as phrases go, aspiring writer is pretty innocuous.
But I hate it. I hate it so much.
I used to call myself an aspiring writer. I used to introduce myself to people at book events that way (or I would have if I could have gotten over my crippling social anxiety that kept me from talking to strangers), but it’s not a phrase that fits me anymore.
To me, the word aspiring indicates that you’re not actually writing. You’re not actually doing any of the work that gets you from daydreaming hobbyist to published author. Aspiring indicates hopes and dreams—and those are all good things—but aspiring doesn’t indicate work. It doesn’t mean the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a book. It doesn’t mean that you’ve spent the hours practicing and honing your craft, learning to write, learning to plot, learning to revise, and learning to start all over again.
And those are things that I’ve been doing for the last few years. In the last year alone, I’ve written at least 250,000 words of fiction—and with NaNoWriMo in full swing, I plan to write at least 80,000 more by the end of the month. (I know the goal is 50K, but I’m a bit of an overachiever.) I have labored over characters and stories and words. I’ve re-written and revised until I thought my eyes would fall out and my fingers would bleed. I’ve poured parts of myself into stories that I’m proud of.
But I can guarantee to you that none of the words I’ve written in the last year will ever find their way to an editor’s desk. You won’t find those words between the covers of a book in a few years. They won’t ever be published in the traditional sense of the word.
I’m okay with all of that—it’s been a very deliberate choice on my part to flex my creative muscles knowing that the work I’ve done in the last year will never make me money—but what I’m not okay with is the idea that because those words haven’t been pruned by an editor or won’t find their way to a shelf on a bookstore that I am somehow not a writer.
Because a writer is someone who writes. That’s literally the definition of the word. Writer: one who writes. And I write. I write a lot. Now I haven’t been published. I haven’t made a single penny off the words I’ve strung together. That is something I aspire to do one day. But I don’t aspire to write. That’s something I already do. I have shared my words with complete strangers. I’ve opened up a bit of myself to them and these strangers open themselves back up to me and the exchanges I’ve had with my readers and the friendships I’ve made because of that are absolutely invaluable to me. I do not regret the year I’ve spent crafting these stories, even though most people think I’m “not a real writer” because I don’t make money off of my words.
At the end of the day, though, I don’t care what they think. It’s none of my business what they think. An aspiring writer aspires and a writer writes.
And by that definition, I am a writer and that’s all that matters to me.