‘Aspiring Writers’ Unite

‘Aspiring’ is a word defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary as ‘someone who is trying to become a successful actor, politician, writer, etc.’  It’s also a word that many, many writers use to describe themselves, both in online bios and in person. Everywhere you look you will see and hear ‘aspiring writer’, whether that person wants to be a screenwriter, author or other type of writer.

Last weekend I taught my course, Screenwriting Fundamentals at Ealing Studios for the guys at London Screenwriters Festival. Part of the course is a ‘logline lab’ where writers share their pitches. Sure enough, as I heard some writers limber up and practice delivering their ideas, I heard that word ‘aspiring’. More than once, too.

On the surface, using the term ‘aspiring writer’ probably seems perfectly reasonable to most people. From the dictionary definition, I’d venture the operative words are both ‘trying’ and ‘successful’.

So, if those particular writers had only just begun their journey, that is ‘trying’ right? And if ‘success = money’, then earning no money (so far) means they are not a ‘success’ yet … Right?

Whoa, Nelly

There’s a big problem with the term ‘aspiring writer’. For starters, ALL writers are ‘trying’. This never stops. There isn’t a special magical destination writers get to, where everything gets greenlit and there’s no rejection anymore.

Sure, you may become MORE LIKELY to get things produced or published, but this is because you have built your network of relationships and career … NOT because you are not ‘trying’. Writing is hard work. It will always be hard work. You will always have to try.

What’s more, equating success with money is a horrible measure. It doesn’t work for real life and it doesn’t work for writing. There are huge swathes of creatives we consider a ‘success’ who have NOT made lots of money.

Success = Money = NOPE

Only this week novelist Anna Burns thanked her food bank for feeding her while she wrote her Man Booker Prize-winning book, Milkman. She will now use the prize money to pay off the debts she incurred during that time.

In the course of writing my book Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays, I discovered that practically all of people I interviewed/spoke with for my case studies made virtually no money during the making of their films. In some cases, they made no money FROM the films. But those films still won their awards – such as BAFTAs and Oscars – and helped them become successful in their careers.

Then of course there is little ol’ me. I don’t make a lot of money and I am constantly in my overdraft. I am fine with this … Especially as I feel ‘rich’ in comparison to the days I had to struggle as a teen Mum. But then a top Hollywood screenwriter took the time to email me out of the blue and said, ‘Congratulations on all your success! I read your book, it’s awesome.’

I admit I WAS incredulous for a moment. The writer who emailed me is in constant demand and makes a lot of money, writing films I – and millions of others! – have watched. I work out of my kitchen, pounding out words for blogs and books in-between school drop-off and pick-up times.

We are not the same … Right??

Yup, We ARE All The Same

When that Hollywood screenwriter emailed me, I caught myself doing what nearly ALL writers do. I was measuring myself against those ‘higher up’ than myself. This is self-sabotage in action. When self belief is key in building a writing career, this is madness.

Think of it this way. If you grow something in your garden, you are a gardener. Sometimes those plants will flower, those veggies will grow. You may give the flowers too your mum or take the veggies to market. Other times they die off, get pecked by birds, or scoffed by slugs. It happens.

There are professional gardeners. There are gardeners with lots of experience, some with very little. Some gardeners have ‘green fingers’ and find it easy. Others find it very difficult. most gardeners are somewhere in the middle. But literally no one says they’re an ‘aspiring gardener’. If you garden, regardless of outcome, you are a gardener.

So, whether you are a new writer, or a professional writer, or someone in the middle, we are ALL writers. It really is that simple.

If you are writing … You are not ‘aspiring’. You are doing it. Own it. Good luck!

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2 Responses to Why You Should Stop Calling Yourself An ‘Aspiring Writer’

  1. Christina says:

    My definition of writing success is this: Receiving an awesome review of my script at coverage services or screenwriting competition who offers a coverage too. Recently I got one from BlueCat. It doesn’t matter much for me if I win this contest or not but the amazing review gave me motivation enough to keep on. And of course they did critize it as well with suggestions to improve what they call: What needs work. After all it’s roughly my 23. draft. Yes, writing is very hard work!

  2. Frankie says:

    That’s a really important advice and I see this all the time. Let’s extend: Most writers are introverts by nature, hiding light under a bushel, even with years of experience. Don’t do that. If you’re a writer (and not one who only thinks about writing) you need to be more confident. That helps to sell yourself and your work. And if you get an agent, always remember: You’re paying HIM, he’s working for YOU.

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