Thursday, December 15, 2011

Names We Give Ourselves

Last night an editor on my Twitter feed put up the following status: " --you're either a writer, or you aren't. 'Aspiring' doesn't cut it; that word is a turnoff. ."

That line struck an instant chord with me: What do I call myself? The names we give things are always important; and the names we give ourselves even more so. If this particular tweet to is to believed (and it should be, as it's coming from an editor), then adopting the label aspiring writer actually hurts our professional image more than it helps.

So why do we do it? For a rather basic reason, actually. If you're like me, the seemingly logical reasoning  runs through our heads more or less along these lines:

There's the inevitable question. How do I answer?
- Do I call myself an author? 
Well, I'm not published yet. 
- Do I call myself a hobbyist? 
Don't be silly. This is far more important than a mere hobby. 
- Do I call myself a writer? 
Isn't that the same thing as an author? So - no, because I'm not published yet. 
- Do I call myself an aspiring writer? 
Yes - that must be it. A not-yet-published writer working to make it official.
"I'm an aspiring writer, working on..."

That is more or less my own thought process, at least. Tacking the word "aspiring" to the label somehow seems more humble and truthful, since calling yourself simply a writer inevitably stirs up the question: "Where can I find your book(s)? I'd like to check them out." 

So how do we correct whatever damage (albeit unintentional) we've done to our professional name? The steps are very simple, though sometimes they require a good deal of "un-learning" on our part.

Call yourself a writer. Period. Nothing else. Either you're serious about attaining the Writer's Life or not. If you are, then name yourself accordingly. You're not a published author yet? Okay. You can live with that. It's temporary, after all. Just don't do yourself a disservice by calling yourself by a title that means, at an inferred, subliminal level: "fake writer".

Call your work a manuscript, not a "story." This is a serious pet peeve with me. I am constantly exhorting my students and fellow writers to call their work for what it is - a manuscript. Calling it "my story" or "my idea" or "my little project" does the same damage to people's perception of your writing credibility as does mislabeling yourself entirely. 

Make it habit, not hobby. With the mindset of calling yourself a Real Writer with a Real Manuscript, comes the Real Work. Don't just dabble at your manuscript - work on it. Real Work. Every single day. This is such basic writing advice it almost seems a moot point; and yet it is the one thing of which we must be reminded over and over. Why? Because jealously guarding that writing time every day is HARD. But a die-hard habit is the only way to override this weakness.

Have a ready answer. So what do you say when someone asks to see your work? Especially when you're not published? Direct them to your blog or website, for starters. Or have a ready writing sample available "upon request" - a short story, or a first chapter that you don't mind handing off for curious eyes to peruse. If they're serious about wanting to read your work - they'll accept the offer. If they read your work and want to see more, they'll tell you. Perhaps you'll find a good Beta Reader along the way. You never know.

In short: Don't minimize yourself or your dream. It's your manuscript. Your habit. Your inner world. You are that world's creator. Its author. You are the writer. No other name will do.

What do you think? Are you faced with a similar "naming problem" as regards your work?
How do you handle those labels and expectations?


  1. I started off calling myself aspiring out of fear. But one day someone made the same comment, if you write you are a writer, so I dropped it. I still struggle with how to answer the

    "Oh so where can I get your book?" or "So when are you getting published?"

    I even struggle with "what's your story about?"

    But I am so glad I read this post and I promise that I will go forth more confident in the future!

    Write Me Happy

  2. I agree; if you write, you're a writer. It doesn't matter if you're writing blog posts or novels. :-)

    However (matter of personal taste....) I don't think I'd really start calling myself an "author" until I had something in print.

  3. Great post. It took me several years to be able to comfortably call myself a writer rather than an aspiring writer. I am a writer. That's it. I write - therefore I am. Great tips, too. I never thought of directing people to my blog or website or FB page. #headdesk

  4. I've finally gotten to the point where I can say "I'm a writer" in public and not turn bright red or run and hide or say, "I mean, I WANT to be a writer."

    People are generally cool about it, even when they learn that I'm still working on my MS. I do get a variety of reactions when they learn that I write YA, though, or fantasy. My future mother in law has decided that YA = kids books = I should write a book about my cat. Sigh.

  5. I love this advice! People are so afraid of seeming pretentious, but the truth is you teach people how to treat you. Once I began to call myself a writer, people started taking me seriously. I got my first paid writing work soon after. Saying "I'm a writer" is not about showing off, it's about showing your level of commitment to your craft, you know?

  6. Agreed. I've stopped aspiring since I began to write. I am a writer. And an editor and translator...well, you know. I digress. But the word "author will be reserved until I am published. Not by me but by someone else. Then I'll call myself an author.

  7. Thanks everyone for the wonderful feedback! It's such a comfort to know I'm not alone in these things. You are all such a fabulous part of my writing community!

  8. I'm going to be honest. Just because you write, it doesn't make you a writer. Or to quote Fight Club, "Sticking feathers up your ass does not make you a chicken!" Here's why, at least my opinion and I'm not the be all end all, obviously, but... A writer might write comic books or screenplays and documentaries, do work with television, do slam poetry. You know, a writer. What we're talking about is authoring novels. For this to be your title you have to do what Dasia said: Have the mind frame, the habits and the scars to show it and yes you should be able to describe your process. That's what I think. If you don't have these things, by all means, you're aspiring whether you like it or not.

  9. I've always struggled with the 'job title'...writer/author etc. I write as much as I can, but have never felt able to call myself a real writer. I need to kick myself and stop playing at being a writer, and allow myself to take myself seriously!

  10. Wow! That was a kick in the pants! I struggle with this, big time! I think it boils down to me not having enough confidence in my work. I'm beginning to understand though, that writing is a form of art and not everyone will like my art. So, I am a writer, because I write. You may not like what I write, but it doesn't diminish what I am. WOOT! I love a good kick in the pants! Thanks!