I’m not an aspiring writer

Always been writing

I’ve yet to publish a novel or a collection of short stories. (Update: As of 2012 I self-published a sci-fi comedy & some short stories but I’m still working on the agent & trad deal!)  I’m not known in literary circles or seen in bookshops. I’ve been on the radio twice but you wouldn’t have known it was me, there was no hype, my name was called out at the end with all the other contributors.

But I’m not an aspiring writer. Although I’ve only just learned to call myself one, I’ve been a writer all my life. I wrote my first poem at eight. Something all children are asked to do in school but it sparked something in me, an intrinsic satisfaction in selecting the just right word and a self-propelled motivation to do that again and again.

When my second child was born I put my occupation on the birth cert as ‘Writer’. When my third child was born I reverted to ‘Housewife’. At that point with three children under four, writing was something I thought about a lot but didn’t often get around to. I suppose also, having left paid employment, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of calling myself a writer when not earning any money from it.

In the last couple of years I have had recognition from outside in the form of (some high profile) competition shortlists,  literary mag publication and reader feedback on blog posted stories. I’m immersed in the writing world online and in a real world writing group. When getting to know new people now there is only a moment’s hesitation in saying that I am a writer, I suppose I have something to show for it now, even if I haven’t had a book of my own published. But, hang on, I’ve always been writing. And not just putting words on the page with a pen, yes, I’ve been an avid diary and letter writer (oh, I bemoan the passing of the letter and still surprise people by sending them real world missives in between email exchanges) or on screen. I’ve always been putting words on the page WITH INTENT.

When I submit to a publisher it’s not the done thing to say I wrote my first poem at eight, I won a local newspaper sponsored trophy in the school short story competition at seventeen and read my story about small mindedness in a small town in public to the townsfolk of that small town. I should not say that as a teenager my family wondered why I spent my time writing instead of watching the television with them. (Although I did watch plenty TV and won 50 pounds in 1985 from an Irish TV show by sending in a poem about my favourite TV programmes.) I should not tell the publisher that the scrawled notes from my school friends in an autograph book filled in just before we left school suggested that one day I would be a famous author (still hoping!). I should not say that the year I did my final school exams I had to keep throwing a manuscript in progress further and further under the bed as it was distracting me from my studies.

So I’m not an aspiring writer. I am one. Are you? The question then is, are we any good, does anyone want to read us. I’ve had some official recognition as I’ve said and wonderful reader feedback on my flash fiction and short stories. In this changing publication world it seems that readers rule in particular in the case of e-book self-publishing, readers vote with their downloading finger and I’m hoping to test the water here shortly with an e-book of interlinked flash fiction. In the case of traditional publishing publishers make the call on quality, marketability, fit, trend and timing. If we pass these criteria we will one day call ourselves authors. But the title of ‘writer’ is not something that can be given to us, we have to see it in ourselves, nurture and believe in it, tell others and make them believe it too.

38 thoughts on “I’m not an aspiring writer

  1. You echo my opinion exactly Alison. In fact, on my own blog the header banner reads as follows:

    “I’m a writer: not an accomplished writer or a prolific writer; I’m not claiming to be a good writer, but I’m not an aspiring writer either. I do aspire to be published one day, but for now I write, so I’m a writer. The moment someone ‘becomes a writer’ isn’t when he’s published, or even when he completes his first book. A writer becomes certain he’s a writer when the uninspired expectation becomes unexpected inspiration. That’s when he knows what he’s going to do: what he must do: write.”

    I think describing ourselves as ‘aspiring writers’ makes writing sound like something that’s out of our reach. Clearly that isn’t the case. Writing isn’t something we just choose to do, it’s something that we need to do.

  2. emilycross

    I still refer to myself as an ‘aspiring writer’ but I think that’s purely down to my own confidence issues. Similar to yourself, I received some awards as a kid for poetry, but still feel a bit the fraud when I say ‘writer’ or ‘poet’. But I admire people who can own the label 🙂

    Hopefully some day I will too.

  3. I miss receiving letters but I still write and send them, especially to friends and family abroad, although of late I have not written as often. (NB2self- must improve!)

    It has take taken me a huge amount of time to adjust to regard myself as a writer too (so I particularly like the slant you have put on this piece,) probably because I too have not received any payment to date. However, this may change if I keep working at this idea of being published.

    And yes I’ve been an aspiring author for even longer. Maybe I will get lucky here and realise this ambition soon, and for you: ‘I wish you all that you wish for yourself too.’

  4. Alison, it almost feels like being at an AA meeting: “Hello, my name’s Nettie and I’m a writer.” Something to feel almost ashamed about and certainly not a matter to be brought up in polite company.
    But, like you, I started to publicly call myself a writer several years ago when the itch just wouldn’t go away, no matter what unguents I applied: Computer Programmer, Quality Auditor, Systems Analyst, Mother… Yes, I was all these things. But underneath it all, your sister on paper, I am, and always was, a writer.

  5. You know, you might not believe this but I’ve been pondering this all week. I’m being followed by a load of people on Twitter who call themselves ‘Aspiring Writer’ or ‘Wannabe Writer’ and, to me at least, that sounds as if they’re not writing but would like to, one day. (I understand that what it probably means is that they would like it to be their sole day job and/or it means they’d like to be published.)

    I write something every day. It’s what I do. Therefore, I’m a writer. If any of it ever gets validated by being accepted for publication or not, it’s not going to change the fact that I’m a writer. I think that, until we own the title ourselves, no one else will and they will just consider that we’re toying with or playing at being writers.

    1. alisonwells

      Thank you Kath, Nettie, Dave, Kay and Emily for your replies. Yes. I can see why you would call yourself an ‘aspiring’ author I suppose if you are not in the bookshops yet, and if we don’t make a living from writing then we hesitate to tell the world at large that we are a writer. I guess the inevitable next question is ‘would I know your work’. And bless, there have been people who have searched for my work online and even in a bookshop! But if we get up in the morning wondering when we will get the time to write, if a newspaper article has us reaching for our pens/PCs in order to conjure up a new world around it. then we are writers. And Emily I hope you soon find the confidence to give yourself the title!

      A x

  6. Hello, my name’s Somerset Bob, and … yes, I’m a writer too, I guess. Except … I don’t write stuff all that often, even though I’d like to be at it all the time. I’m actually a voice-over artist by profession, and you’d think there’d be plenty of spare time in between ever-rarer voicing jobs to get down to it – but instead I seem to find every little thing a distraction, particularly Twittering and Facebooking. Oh, I have a few past “glories”: the half a dozen short stories I wrote during a burst of creativity when unemployed in the mid-70s (now at my web site in the Writing Archive); the climate change items I regularly blogged until a couple of years ago; but since getting an idea for The Novel, based on real events but rather inconveniently set in a time period I’ve never tackled before (the early 1600s), I’ve hit the fabled creative wall and allowed social networking to become my “reason” for not attempting to climb over it.

    But you know what? Just reading this item, and the replies to it so far, has given me food for thought. I know I’m making some pretty lame excuses, when all’s said and done. Just because I’m scared of a little hard creative work, that’s no reason not to keep trying. Writers need to write. Simple as that. Keep exercising the creative muscles, and they’ll become stronger. Limiting their workouts to 140 characters at a time is a good way to have them wither.

    Thanks for this inspiring article, Alison. The writer in me has sat up and taken notice!

    1. alisonwells

      Hello Somerset Bob!

      You’ve touched on something here that I was thinking about and didn’t mention. There were periods of my life where I didn’t write but I never stopped wanting to and as you’ve discovered there is little that stands between us and writing only the doing. Thi whole blog is about writing when you don’t have the time, and I’m terrible for distraction too. Sometimes a story takes me ages and ages to write and if I’d just set down and concentrated it might have been well finished, that’s why I need things like the yearly nanowrimo write 50,000 words in a month challenge or #fridayflash on twitter as deadlines. I just wouldn’t do it otherwise and now the nanowrimo challenge is over I find myself faffing around with the novel and not as you say putting in the hard creative work, sticking at the bits that don’t come naturally. But if we don’t try and do and improve we’ll still be writers inside and always berating ourselves for not doing it.

  7. Yes, yes, yes. That’s what I thought as I read this post!

    I firmly believe that one day your school friends will be proven correct and you will be a famous author.

    It took me a while to feel comfortable calling myself a ‘writer’ but now it rolls of my tongue. I guess it’s a title we have to get used to and see people accept as part of us, and then it becomes ‘normal’.

    Looking forward to the e-book very much indeed :o)

  8. Hi Alison,

    I felt very much like you did for quite some time. It wasn’t until I had a couple of short stories published in anthologies, that I waas able to say it without reservation. Looking back, however and I’d been told this by many supportive friends in the writing arena, that if you write, you are a writer. You become what you say you are, if you’re taking the steps in that direction. And you, certainly are doing so.

    I love letter writing, also. The touch is so much more personal and I love recieving letters. It makes the trip to the mailbox so much more interesting to think there may be a letter from a friend or family member mixed in there somewhere with all of the bills and junk mail. 🙂 Great post, Alison!

    Warm Wishes,

  9. You ARE a writer! Yes!

    I have only just started saying I am one. I could have claimed the title several years ago when I was paid for articles in magazines. The courage never came until recently. Now when people ask what do I do, I say “I am a writer”.

    Ebooks and self publishing are very much in the forefront just lately. ( I mentioned two successes on my blog today, funny enough).
    Good luck with your future project.

  10. No, I’m not comfortable calling myself writer. I’m OK in these writerly circles, but say in the hairdressers and she asks, ‘where d’you work then?’ I automatically reply, ‘dispensing technician’ instead of writer even though my dispensing technician job is only part-time and my writing (mostly unpaid) is a full-time job.

    Once I’m earning from it I think I will be able to call myself a writer outside these circles. But I’m not an aspiring (perspiring maybe!) writer, I *am* a writer!!

  11. Yes, exactly! I outed myself when I joined twitter and had to choose a handle. @ClaireKing was taken so I went for @ckingWriter and there I was, wondering if anyone really believed me.
    I still don’t say it when people ask me what I do because I don’t like the reply “Oh really, have you written anything I might have read?” But one day I will!
    By the way you’re not only a writer, Alison, but a very fine writer.

  12. Well said, Alison. I completely agree. It’s about the act of writing – not about money, publishers, or even readers – although all of these are nice rewards – but we’d do it anyway, therefore we’re writers.

  13. Very well put. I can add only two thoughts of my own …

    More years ago than I care to remember I participated in the self-actualization jazz known as EST. The only worthwhile thing I got out of it, besides realizing I should stop torturing my then-live-in-girlfriend by clinging to the fantasy that we might marry–she new before I did that we were doomed–was an exercise that lasted a full 8 or so hours of the two-day experience.

    The facilitator stared out into the audience and said, “Try to lift your arm.” No one “got it”. For hours this went on, including a parade of people down and front to be submitted to the command in front of all of us.

    The answer, of course, was that one does nothing in response, as there is doing or not doing, but trying is to not get it accomplished. (You know, “I tried, but I couldn’t get it done.”)

    My second thought in response to your piece is that some famous writer–who, I cannot remember–once said when he hears someone say “I wasn’t to write” he has a lot more confidence that the person actually will than when someone says, “I want to be a writer.”

    I apologize for being so windy, but the piece you wrote above drew this response out of me.

    You writers really know how to get a guy’s thoughts percolating first thing on a Sunday morning.

  14. Alison, I too gave up the qualifier “aspiring” many years ago. Not because there is anything inherently wrong with having aspirations, but because it always sounded like I wasn’t really serious. So one day it was simply, “I’m a writer.” When I published, it became, “I’m an author.” I still have aspirations, I just don’t make an issue of it, because chances are, whomever I am telling this doesn’t much care what my aspirations are.

  15. An aspiring writer would never get a word on the page. If you’re writing, you’re a writer.
    I believe this yet have a hard time saying “I’m a writer.” mostly because the reactions of others are “oh? Have you been published?” as if publication is the end all and be all of a writer’s existence. I say “I like to write.” or “I write things.” just can’t make the jump to saying “I’m a writer!”

  16. We think of writers as those folks who can actually make a living from their craft, so many of us hesitate to call ourselves “writer” though it is what we love and what we do and what we hope we’re good at. Like you, Alison, I’ve been in love with words a long, long time and have some published works to show for that, but mostly I just write daily because that’s what I am – a writer.

  17. Sharon Wells

    Yes, the parallel are there with craft and art as well as we have often discussed. I think the thing with me is that it’s not only what we do but it is who we are. And we could not exist wholeheartedly as ourselves without using our chosen (chosen by us or predeterminedly chosen) form of medium to express ourselves.

    Watching TV!!! Bloomin cheek!

  18. Tracy Tidswell

    This is like a support group! It was only when I was writing my bio for Twitter that I even thought about putting that I was a ‘writer’ and then I chickened out and put ‘sort of’, but now I’ve read this the term ‘aspiring writer’ does seem a bit crazy, I write therefore I am a writer. Whether or not it’s providing me an income is irrelevant I suppose but then with me it’s a matter of confidence. I’ve always written but it’s always been something that I’ve kept to myself or at most described as a hobby, almost as if I’m making excuses for myself and anything I’ve had published I’ve had published under another name. But I am getting braver and recently submitted something under my actual name and I feel fine about it and I think that that’s mainly down to twitter and the people I’ve met on there.
    I am a writer. There, I’ve said it. Now do I get my badge?

  19. A really interesting post, and discussion, Alison. I try to avoid this conversation as much as possible…if you tell anyone you are a writer, you are met with that old chestnut “oh, have you a book published?” So if you’re me, and have to say “no” while thinking sad thoughts about the all of the attempts languishing in the loft which represent years of work, you might say ” oh, I’ve had a couple of short stories published” ( counting on one hand only!) To which one then has to answer the even worse question of “so how much did you get paid?” Er, nothing…. At which point the questioner assumes a ” what a muppet” expression, and you wish you’d pretended you had a passion for doing something else…

    1. alisonwells

      Thanks Laurster, Tracy, Sharon, Barb, Calla, Paul, Stephen, Anne and Claire for your comments. And Tracy yes, I do agree it’s like a support group. The remuneration aspect is a funny one because writing these days often receives very little remuneration, I’m thinking of what we were told about the good old days of short stories, particularly in America getting a good return. These days even if we are published in prestigious literary journals, it’s often just for the kudos or a copy of the journal. Thus writing seems to be more of a vocation these days, but without the patrons! I agree wholeheartedly and it’s probably the subject of another blogpost that online and real world writing communities can encourage you to identify yourself as a writer but it is still difficult until you can point to obvious successes. The main thing is that if we do, we are not aspiring, and if we do we then need to ask ourselves why. Is it enough to be read without decent remuneration when it’s so much part of our personalities, as Sharon pointed out so is her art. My guess is that we would all love to be paid enough only to do it but it’s the nature of artistic endeavours that we will strive anyway for the love of the form itself. My father in law only the other day, reminded me of the starving artist in a garret. Would we starve for our art? Perhaps not. But we are willing to forgo other pursuits and relaxation because we want to WRITE.

  20. Mari G

    A really great post, Alison and what an interesting debate it has sparked!
    I confess to feeling uncomfortable, at times, calling myself a writer, especially when there are so many, many other writers who have achieved so much more than me…but hey, I write and I love it and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
    Your post has really given me food for thought and considering the great stuff you post on your blog, there’s no doubt YOU are a writer and a damn good one!

  21. I yam what I yam.

    A writer.

    Wonderful post, Alison. I think it takes a great deal of courage to name yourself, no matter what it is you are naming. If you write, you are — a writer. If you mother, you are — a mother. If you work, you are — a worker. But do we equate mothering or working with the same standards of ‘success’ as writing when we name ourselves in these roles?

    I am a writer of poems, short stories, essays, and novels. These are things I created. No one and no thing can take these achievements away from me. Publication is not the barometer of being a writer — putting down the words is the true measure.

    An aspiring writer is one who aspires to write. If you write, you’ve passed that definition. Peace…

  22. Good for you. Aspiring writers want to write, real writers do write. I might not have had novels published but that doesn’t make me any less than a real writer. I refer to myself as a writer, a novelist, a poet (and an artist) because that is what I do. What we aspire to be is professional writers – people who earns a living from writing. I suppose I can now call myself a professional artist, an international one at that as sold abroad (sorry, I digress) but the principle is the same. Writers write, and know how hard and lonely and painful that can be at times. I might never make it into Waterstones or a top seller list but at least I have tried. So hold your head up, be proud and most of all – keep writing.
    And good luck.

  23. Pingback: “I’m a writer…I don’t have the time to write…” « Claire Hennessy

  24. This is a fantastic post, Alison. I couldn’t bring myself to consider the label ‘writer’ until I wrote the final sentence of my novel. I certainly identify with being a writer more than being a ‘marketing specialist’, which is what it says on my business cards.

    People ask what I write and where they can buy it… it feels a bit embarrassing to say that it hasn’t actually been published yet. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t put in the hours and discipline and get the words out, and that is why I feel ok claiming the title.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  25. One time to know that it’s real
    One time to know how it feels
    That’s all
    One call – your voice on the phone
    One place – a moment alone
    That’s all
    What do you see?
    What do you know?
    What are the signs?
    What do I do?
    Just follow your lifelines through
    What do you hate?
    What do I do?
    What do you say?
    Don’t throw your lifelines away
    Don’t throw your lifelines away
    One time – just once in my life
    One time- to know it can happen twice
    One shot of a clear blue sky
    One look – I see no reasons why you can’t
    One chance to be back
    To the point where everything starts
    Once chance to keep it together
    Things fall apart
    Once I make us believe it’s true
    What do we see?
    Where do we go?
    What are the signs?
    How do we grow?
    By letting your lifelines show
    What if we do? What up to now?
    What do you say?
    How do I know?
    Don’t let your lifeline go
    Don’t let your lifeline go
    Don’t let your lifeline go

  26. Thats interesting, Alison, like yourself my minor literary successes make me feel more like a writer. But I have always been a writer, like yourself, even as a child I always had little notebooks and pencils to jot things down.
    In the modern world, success is equated with renumeration so this would transfer to writing as well.
    It’s probably because being a writer is perceived as aspirational that we have difficulty saying ‘I am a writer’.
    Society doesn’t appear to have problems labelling people a ‘housewife’ or ‘carer’ even though they are also positions that are unpaid.
    I have every confidence that you will publish a book some day , I for one look forward to reading it.

  27. Thank you for this lovely post. It felt like you were writing about me! I too wrote my first poem as a child, won a local competition as a teenager, and love writing letters to people.

    When I reached adulthood, I developed a shyness around my writing. I thought that people would think I was silly, would judge me, would hate my work etc. Recently, I attended a fascinating art therapy workshop. The facilitator talked about closet-creatives and the value of putting yourself ‘out there’, and so I started my blog. It’s only up a few days and already I was thinking of taking it down, but after reading your post, I will persevere.

    Thank you for reminding me that I am not an aspiring writer, I am a writer.

    1. alisonwells

      Thanks to all the latest people to make these kind and interesting comments. And I’m delighted ‘hairyprincess’ that you are deciding to keep up your blog. I remember when I first started my blog I didn’t quite know what I wanted to say and who I was saying it to but it’s been a wonderful place for interacting with other writers, getting feedback and hearing other’s viewpoints and stories. And Brigid, thanks for your confidence in me! It is funny that we can’t call ourselves writers but we can call ourselves housewives, I know which one I’m better at! Thanks for the song, Sharon, I think I know who it is….! Janalynne I was really taken by your comment that you have ‘marketing specialist’ on your card but see yourself as a writer, it just shows where your real love lies. Kit, your comments make great sense, we may aspire to be professional writer but I like the titles you claim for yourself. And Linda thanks for your reminders that we are what we do, especially if we do it primarily for ourselves.

      It’s been a great privilege to hear from others in their endeavours. Thanks so much.

  28. What a lot of this makes sense. I have only recently made a conscious decision to call myself a writer: led to it by a bloody-minded sense in the end that if I didn’t, why should I expect anyone else to believe it? Part-projection, part-intent, part-fact.

    1. alisonwells

      Hi Isabel. I do like your point that no-one else will believe unless you say it yourself. I realise now how far I’ve come when the kids come home from school having told their teacher that their mum is a writer. Yes part intent but in the intent you are becoming and realising what you’ve started out on the path of.

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