Oh, those labels we love to dole out, both upon ourselves and to other people. And it’s not only in the publishing industry that we see this. It happens all around us. I started life as the “little brother” to two sisters. Well, guess what? I’m still the little brother when we get together, and I have grandchildren.
I started my professional career as a pharmacist: a graduate pharmacist first, then a registered one, and then a clinical one. Those labels defined not only who I was, but it described in a single word what I had achieved. After graduation, I had to endure grueling oral and written tests to become registered. Then came an advanced degree and more arduous tests so that further adjectives could be attached to my job description: words like, clinical, infusion, nutrition support, homecare. It was the right of passage into ever-smaller clubs of achievement.
When I chose to retire from pharmacy and decided that I was going to become a fiction writer, I thought I was done with labels. I looked forward to being “just a writer” and spending my days devoted to creating art with words. But reality crept in and the labels started to filter back.
“What type of writer are you?” I was asked. “A novelist”, I answered. That drew brief, knowing smiles since most knew I wasn’t yet published (Can we say “green”?!). Okay, so I wasn’t yet a novelist. I decided that I was simply an AUTHOR. After all, I had finished a manuscript that was considered good. But then I was told that I’m not an author until I’m published, that I’m only ASPIRING to be an author. Okay, that finally made sense since I had been to a number of writing seminars and conferences and was learning more about the publishing industry and where I might fit into it. That’s when I decided I’d have to be happy with just the “WRITER” label on my business card.
Then someone said I was only an ASPIRING writer because I hadn’t even published one word of fiction (professional, technical articles, yes; fiction, no). So, in a few short months of my initial interaction with other writers, agents and publishers, I had been knocked down from novelist and author to someone who just ASPIRED to be a writer. I was moving backwards fast! That was when I drew a line in the sand and said enough with the labels. I took a long, hard look at the footprint I was making in my writing career and asked myself some sobering questions.
What was I? Was I nothing more than an enthusiast, someone just fascinated with writing, little more than a spectator or a collector? I love model trains and used to collect them. Was I just a collector of stories in the same way, writing in my spare time and then locking them away in a drawer? That didn’t fit my ambition. Maybe for a brief period I labeled my writing as a “hobby”, but I was definitely moving past that and beginning to think of it as a potential business.
After all, I write almost every day and don’t feel complete unless I manage to string some words together every 24 hours. I’ve completed a manuscript that’s been professionally edited and which has been praised for both story content and writing skill. And I’m beginning to fill what I call the “novel pipeline”, a second novel almost complete and two more outlined.
I don’t see myself as an ASPIRING WRITER. I’m simply a WRITER, like so many others who work hard every day to improve their skills and who are searching for that publishing opportunity. I gave up the ASPIRING part a long time ago.
I was ASPIRING when I just thought I might be able to write as well as the authors of some novels I enjoyed reading. You could even say I was an ASPIRING writer during those first days of stringing words together on my computer. Those stories were awful and I rewrote as much as I wrote, but I had hopes and dreams of accomplishing more.
Back then I meandered through two “almost complete” novels before deciding that no one should ever read them. That’s when I began to take my new career seriously and invested in some writing courses. I knew I had to educate myself in the art and business of writing just like I did years ago in the pharmacy industry.
I’m still not published, but I’m an accomplished writer (There goes another label. It just slipped in!) I have a manuscript that I’m proud of and my second one is polishing up nicely. So, am I still an ASPIRING WRITER or have I progressed enough to simply say I’m a WRITER?
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!