You’ve been writing for days, months, years, perhaps decades. You have a few pages or paragraphs under your belt. Or, perhaps, you have partially finished manuscripts collecting dust somewhere. But, you just can’t bring yourself to use the word writer. Are you still an aspiring writer?
If you answered yes, you’re not alone. You’re wrong. Misguided. Lacking a certain amount of self-confidence and a personal sense of authority and ownership. But, you’re not alone.
Let’s talk about a few of the things that might be holding you back from using the W-word.
Lack of Authority
There’s this thing about new writers. They’re very tentative and they’ve yet to embrace any sense of authority over their writing and choice of career or hobby.
You can tell by the way they interact with other writers, often being deferential in the extreme to those of us who have published something. They eat up advice from everywhere (they’re not necessarily able to decipher between good and bad advice, but that’s a subject for a different article). They’re typically quick to change their opinion about one element of the craft or another based on little more than a tweet from a published author.
You can also tell by the words they use in their prose. Their characters never do anything. They start to do a lot of things. They’re perpetually beginning to do other things. And, when they perceive something, they’re never sure whether or not the thing is actually what it appears. Sure seems to be, though. There is oh-so-much seeming in the words of a new writer.
Why is this? First, be certain that this is merely my opinion based on my personal experience of having been there and done that. But, I can tell you why that was the case for me.
I lacked a sense of personal authority in my writing. I literally felt as if stating something outright would come across as far too authoritative, for lack of better words. So, my character didn’t “step forward”. He “started to step forward.” The surface of the banister was never wet. It “seemed wet.”
To some extent, I was afraid of my own words. I was perpetually asking questions like, “is it okay for me to write this?”, and, “what is <so-and-so> going to think if they see this?” Or a more insidious question: “Am I doing this the right way?” I say insidious not because it’s a bad question to ask, but because it can be a paralyzing question. And the last thing you need as a new writer is paralysis.
When it comes to a sense of personal authority over your writing, please understand that it isn’t something that someone else is going to give you. You have to embrace it. And, the sooner you do so, the better and faster your writing will improve.
Lack of Skill
You’ve read a lot of books, and there’s one thing you’re absolutely certain about. Your skill level is nowhere near what these other writers are capable of. It’s certainly not as good as you’d like it to be! You have a lot to learn and a lot of words to write in order to improve.
What you may not see, however, is that this recognition of a need to improve, coupled with the passion to actually do so, is one of your most powerful assets. In fact, it’s one of the four common attributes of successful writers! It’s a recognition that we all have, from time to time. You see, there’s always a better writer out there.
Use this recognition to your benefit. Just don’t let it paralyze you. Don’t let the fact that there are better writers out there stop you from becoming the best writer you can be.
Lack of Status
You look around at the community of writers, see all that they’ve accomplished, and you think, “Who the hell am I to consider myself one of them?” You suddenly realize that your favorite authors are writers, so you quickly shrink from the title. “They’ll laugh me off social media if I claim to be a writer too! I’m not worthy of standing among them as a peer!”
But aspiring writer? Well, no one can take exception to that! It’s so…tentative. You’re not really making any claims of ability or experience. You’re not really saying anything definitive at all. All you’re doing is stating what you want to become, right? You’re not making any promises. You’re not even suggesting that you might become successful one day. Because, deep down you don’t believe you can be. Deep down. Deeeeeeeep. That nagging voice that keeps reminding you how shitty your writing is, what a lousy person you are, how much weight you need to lose, why you’ll never be as attractive as you want to be, why your career is shit, or why your own dog doesn’t even seem to like you.
What? You thought those were different voices?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Even writers with published works under their belts often feel unworthy of calling themselves writers from time to time. We certainly feel that way every time we read a one-star review and it suddenly outweighs all of the five-star reviews we’ve received. We go from riding the high of being a published author to feeling like a hack. We’re no different.
Lack of Credentials
You’re having a conversation with a friend, or engaging with someone on social media, and you just can’t bring yourself to use the W-word when people ask. Why? Because, you have some mistaken notion that you can’t call yourself a writer until someone else calls you a writer first. Preferably, someone with the mythical authority to do so.
It’s the impostor syndrome.
Let me offer you some gentle advice from a place of age and experience. This never goes away. Why? Because as long as you remain a human being, there will always be a little (or ginormous) negative voice in your head that serves as a foil to everything you want to achieve in life. It’s the culmination of all the verbal (and other) abuse you’ve been through, all of the horrible family-of-origin drama you had to deal with, all of the failures, and all of the negative messages you somehow managed to assimilate into your being throughout the years.[Update 2020: I’ve learned some things since I wrote this, and I’m now convinced you can shake off that impostor syndrome. It requires a concerted effort on your part to know yourself. Reflect. Shake off the “dross” of your past and emerge as a new person, having separated, refined, and mastered all of the constituent elements that make you you. Alchemists call this process “V.I.T.R.I.O.L.”. That’s a Latin acronym for “Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem”. In English, “Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying (purifying) you will find the hidden stone.” The “interior of the earth” in this equation is you. The “hidden stone” is self-mastery. Do some research on spiritual alchemy. It may start you down a path you didn’t even know you needed to walk.]
Ignore the voice. I know it’s easier said than done. It also happens to be the only effective way to deal with impostor syndrome. Look, if you can’t deal with the negative voice in your head, how the hell do you expect to deal with an intelligently written one-star review that absolutely shreds something you hold dear…something you’ve potentially spent years of your life creating?
** If you genuinely cannot ignore the voice, please know there are people who can help you to do so by dealing with all of the negative things you’ve experienced in life in a meaningful way. I spent years in therapy to deal with family-of-origin issues. Eventually, the weight lifted off my shoulders and I could see myself (and those I used to embrace as authority figures) in a different light from a place of wisdom. So, please, don’t ignore the potential need for therapy to make it through some of these things. Had I ignored it, I may not be a published author today. **
You need to realize as soon as possible that there is no magical date on the calendar on which a member of royalty is going to step forward and knight you with the Scribe’s Short-sword of Scriveners.
You are a writer. Do you know how I know this? I know it because you’re putting words on paper. You’re writing. Don’t be ashamed to tell people what you’re doing. What you are.
You are a writer. You may not be a published author yet…but you’ll never become a published author if you don’t write something.
Writers write things.
You are a writer.
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About Nat Russo
Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.
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Can’t call myself ‘aspiring’ anymore but I know many that still do as they hope and wish and get better. Have always liked whoever it was that said, If you’re writing you are a writer. So, this is a great post that should encourage and educate all those ‘wanna bes.’ Hope they all get in a chair and spread ink over paper (or screen).
Nice to see you posting again. Coming from one who shares your work ethic and is far behind on his blog site.
Get that picture up. As one who has too few hairs to let them go, I’m most interested in seeing it.
Continued luck and success,
I keep telling myself one of these days I’ll get some professional head shots made! 😀
Dear Nat – I’ve read many posts from you here that helped me to improve as a writer. The magic system and all the world building, the character design ones. And I follow you on twitter. (Under another name) because whenever I doubt myself as a writer, I draw inspiration and confidence from your tips.
I haven’t read your books yet, but it’s on my to-do list – finally finished LotR some time ago, so there’s room now.
Thanks to you I call myself a writer. I still doubt here and there, but that will always be a problem.
Thanks, Nat. You’re boss.
Thank you so much for those kind words, Jan! Best of luck in your writing!
I know I’m a writer because people keep asking me “when is your book coming out”? 😉
Haha! So true.
Net, nice article for the sharing are you still an aspiring write
I started calling myself a writer a couple of years ago. Once I did, I also started taking myself, and my craft, seriously. Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster of improvement and stress because, well, now I can’t call myself anything other than a writer. And that’s not an easy career path to follow, but it’s the only one there is.
Loved reading your article. Completely related to it, and I’d like to add: don’t just ignore the voice. Befriend the voice. If it makes you feel shitty? Well, use the feeling to write about characters who feel shitty. If you feel angry, or scared, or happy, or whatever… Those voices are fuel for writing.
The magic that happens, both personally as well as creatively, once you embrace your craft, is indescribable!
Excellent reply post. Agreed about the fuel. All our collective paths are hauntingly similar.