It seems as though nearly every day I meet a new aspiring author. So, naturally, it seems as though nearly every day I cringe at how someone has decided to describe his or her profession. Aspiring Authors — these are two words that I wish had never been used together. So, I am here to tell you now, stop it. Stop aspiring to be an author. It doesn’t work like that.
This post is written, in part, as my entry into the #AtoZChallenge for April 2017.
Writing is a whole different type of career.
Choosing to write as your career isn’t the same as choosing another career. You don’t go to school for four to eight years and emerge a writer the way you would emerge from law school a lawyer. There is no standard set of rules that apply to everyone the way doctors have standards of practice.
The moment you decide “I want to be a writer” and zip out your first story, you’re an author. The first time you decide to build a blog and publish your own thoughts and content (rather than aggregate the thoughts of others) you become a blogger. The second you apply rhythms to your writing, or set them up to rhyme, you become a poet.
Choosing a career in writing is as simple as sitting down at your keyboard and choosing to try to get paid for your ability to string words together into cohesive, entertaining, or even educational sentences. The process of going from writing for free to writing for a paycheck might be different depending on the type of writer you want to be, whether or not you need to submit to agents or find affiliate programs to partner up with. But nevertheless, you’re a writer. The aspiring bit stops when you start your first project and decide to try to get paid for it.
Yes, there are schools and courses available to help make you a successful writer, or to keep up with trends in an ever-evolving language. But there is no “Harvard school for Authors.” There is no gate beyond that which you open yourself.
How can you aspire to what you already are?
To aspire to something is to go after a goal of accomplishing that something. A person can aspire to be a doctor. But the moment that person graduates medical school with the initials MD following his or her name, that person is a doctor.
To aspire to be an author means to dream of becoming an author. But the same principle applies to authors as it would to doctors: the moment you create a written work, you are an author. Whether you are the author of a blog, a book, a screenplay, or a poem — you are an author.
So why do people say they are aspiring?
People seem to have a specific idea as to what an author is, and that idea doesn’t match up with what it means to be an author. So they feel uncomfortable adopting the title before they have truly earned it. Well, that’s understandable. We’re taught to earn our titles. Police officers earn that title through police academies and training; nurses earn their titles through school. Every profession, it seems, has gatekeepers established to dispense titles with those who qualify to join.
But being a writer is a different kind of gate. It’s not a title with only a few chosen gatekeepers. It doesn’t require a separate school, although there are schooling programs available. You started your training to be a writer the first time your parents sat you down to learn the letter A — the first time you tried to trace the word Apple. And training goes on for decades. It never ends — there is no graduation point.
There are levels to writing, not hierarchies.
Publishing companies have authors divided up into two basic groups: published and not published. One group is not above the other in terms of learning, ability, or talent. They are separated only by the distinction of whether or not their work has been released for public view.
Authors should learn to make the same distinction. You are not an aspiring author of some written story seeking publication. You are an author seeking publication. And once your work is published — whether it be self-published or traditionally published — you become a published author.
And yet, everytime you utter the notion that you are an aspiring author, you place yourself below other authors within a hierarchy. A hierarchy that didn’t exist until you said that phrase. You are not lower in rank from James Patterson, or E.A. Copen, or Leandra Medine. You are just paid less. Or you have fewer books published, or fewer sponsors. In the world of writing, you reach different levels of fame, notoriety, or tax brackets.
So, stop it.
There are plenty of things to aspire to. Aspire to be a published author. Aspire to be a better person. Aspire to be a mentor. But if you have already authored a literary work — even if you have not published it yet — then please, stop aspiring to be an author. Because you’re already there.