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.