Aspiring

Maybe I’m just a grouch, but I’ve never been a fan of artists calling themselves “aspiring”. I know the word means you’re trying to be successful at something, and sure, we’re all trying that to one degree or other. But the usage of “aspiring” among writers and graphic artists tends to hint at a lack of self-confidence.

I suppose some part of that comes from exactly how it’s used: if we stuck to its exact definition, every artist and author is still aspiring, so long as they are always seeking to improve their work and aim at greater ambitions. At what point would you honestly stop and say, “Yes, I have achieved everything I wanted from this career.”? What defines success? How do we measure a person being a successful artist in any medium?

And here’s where it starts bothering me. “Aspiring” artists are always aspiring while they are undiscovered. At some point, a payment or contract is offered, and then they are just writers, or just painters, or just something else. They lose the “aspiring” prefix, to themselves and to others.

Being published is a huge step in any writing career, but it doesn’t imply success. Even significant monetary gain doesn’t automatically imply success. You can get a huge advance paid for your work, never earn out, and be unable to find another publisher to pick up your writing again. Or you can earn modestly through ongoing sales and royalties, but not see global recognition. Or so many other possible scenarios.

So why is a paid publication the main difference between being a writer, and being an aspiring writer? I don’t think we stop aiming higher and pushing towards goals after we’re published, therefore, we clearly continue to aspire.

It’s a part of my “job” to think too hard about words and their usage. If we continued to be classed as aspiring authors beyond the publishing contract, then I’d probably be fine with it. Since that’s an unlikely expression change, I’ll just go back to my usual response: if you’re writing, then you’re a writer. No prefix necessary. We’ll all secretly aspire for the rest of our lives, and that will be that.

~A

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10 thoughts on “Aspiring

  1. Every time I start to obsess over which word means what, I have to stop myself. Usually because there’s thousands of years of history preceding my interest that I could never fully be aware of.

    1. That’s a big problem with being too obsessive over definitions. Worse is how many times I’ve been told I’m using an archaic term – as if it stopped being a word and meaning something when it fell out of regular use. XD

      ~A

  2. Very glad you wrote this! I just recently rewrote my Twitter profile and considered (as many do) using the words “aspiring novelist”! Then I realized I didn’t like that. I have written four novels (not published yet, but still!). So I change it to read: “Novelist-in-Progress.” Which I feel this will always describe me as long as I’m writing novels! GREAT post!

  3. Haha… I’m an “aspiring librarian,” mostly because I’m still in grad school and looking for a library job. I think a lot of people use “aspiring” so that they don’t get quite as discouraged during the long wait for either publication, job offer, etc., not because they aren’t confident, but because they are.

    1. I don’t think we need outside verification of our actions to be able to be assertive with our choices. Being published, or getting a job, doesn’t mean we’ve “made it”, that’s just an important step. There’s always further to go, more goals to reach, but no one tends to use the word “aspiring” after they have their contract, when they really should. 🙂

      ~A

  4. This is so true. To me, “aspiring writer” sounds like someone who wants to write seriously but hasn’t tried yet. Once you try, you’re a writer. Another key distinction is between “writer” and “author,” which would center around publication/payment. If someone really does have such low self-esteem (and I do agree that that’s the root of it) that they need the quasi-disclaimer “aspiring” in their bio, I’d go for “aspiring author,” because it implies that they’re striving for publication. Someone who writes is a writer.

    1. Exactly. Though I’ve never made a distinction for myself about being a writer OR an author. By the time I thought about it too hard, I’d finished writing a novel, and that’s more than enough for me to feel like a real author. I don’t need to wait for another person/company/publishing house to validate my work as an author. I’m still aspiring, only because I’m always seeking improvement, as we all do! 😀

      ~A

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