No matter how successful we are in other areas of life, “aspiring” writers seem to be afflicted by a chronic lack of self-esteem when it comes to our wordsmithing abilities.
A big hunk of the problem comes from the label itself — “aspiring writer.” For my money, the only aspiring writer is one who has never written anything beyond an email or a check but has the desire to do so.
That would seem to be a pretty rare creature, seeing as how essays and journaling are required parts of the primary and secondary school curriculum in most places throughout the world. By the time they’ve graduated from high school, students have written something which takes them out of the strictly “aspiring” category.
Of course, the connotation of the aspiring writer is a scribe who is indeed writing on a regular basis but can’t seem to make the kind of progress he wants. Partial novels lay in shambles on his hard drive or in his mind, rejection letters fill his mailbox, and sometimes, the words just don’t come at all.
It’s depressing, and dropping yourself into the “aspiring writer” pigeonhole enables you to bemoan your status and can eventually lead you to believe that you’re not good enough to write.
Maybe you’re just not cut out to be an author.
For the most part, and in most cases, that’s hogwash. Writing is a craft that can be honed with hard work and practice. You may never be a best-selling superstar, but you can get better — certainly good enough to drop the self-limiting “aspiring” label.
In fact, you’re probably already much more worthy of the title “author” than you think. Here are six reasons why that’s true.
Your Story Is Unique
You’ve heard it so many times throughout your life that it’s usually trite and unimpactful to say again: there’s nobody in the world just like you.
Yet, it’s true and always has been.
And when it comes to writing a story, novel, or blog post, your unique combination of DNA, experiences, beliefs, and mood make all the difference in setting your work apart from the millions of other words published every day.
Ideas are a dime a dozen and (maybe) every story has already been told, over and over and over. Despite this, we keep cranking out more books and essays at an ever-increasing rate.
Doesn’t that mean we’re just retelling the same stuff again and again? Sure it does, but there are still great new books and movies and other works of art that inspire us and land on lists of favorites every year.
How is that possible, if it’s all been done before?
Well, it’s really only the bones of the stories that are the same. Humans are awesome at nuance, and it’s the meat we bring to our tales — setting, characters, word choice, specific plot points — that make or break our version.
And those details will be different for each author, influenced heavily by his own life experiences and world views.
Who are you to say that your vantage point won’t resonate with readers? You’ve lived a life full of school and work and family and hobbies and hardships that all swirl together to form a literary color the world has never seen before.
That’s art, and it’s yours.
Why not let it shine?
Perfection Doesn’t Exist
Pick up almost any book and read it closely enough, and you’ll find some mistakes.
Robinson Crusoe shoved supplies into his pockets … when he was naked.
In Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein introduced readers to a character named Agnes. Or Alice. Depends on which page you’re on, and it flips back and forth.
And these are just a couple of examples among dozens or hundreds of famous novels with errors that you’d think would have been caught by somebody before that last person finally clicked the “Publish” button.
The thing is, humans mess up, and we do it all the time. It doesn’t matter how many times we pour over the same words trying to make them perfect, we just seem to be hardwired to overlook problems at a certain level.
Maybe our gaffe sensors just get overloaded and overworked by all the incorrectness trying to make it past them, but we miss stuff. Even the best of us miss stuff all the time.
Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to write the cleanest, most polished and logically consistent prose that you can, because you absolutely should. If you turn out sloppy sludge all the time, no one is going to want to read your work.
A healthy fear of releasing a novel with glaring errors is natural, and it can be good for your final product if you don’t let it consume you.
Be wary of mistakes. Do your best to correct them. Get others to look at your work before you release it.
But don’t let your fear of messing up stop you from publishing or, for Heaven’s sake, from writing.
Everyone makes mistakes, and so will you. No on-page error, though, is as grievous as never putting pen to paper in the first place.
You Can Change Anything, Anytime
In fact, making a mistake now is less costly than at any other time in history.
In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a digital age that has dramatically changed the way we write (and do almost everything else).
You can sit down in your living room anytime you want, open up your laptop, and crank out a few hundred words. You can publish those words to a blog or through an e-book and get them in front of thousands of people instantaneously.
You can share your thoughts and moods with family, friends, and strangers 24 hours a day through social media.
And then … you can go back and change almost any of it.
Probably the first widespread manifestation of the benefits of electronic documents was the use of word processors to create resumes. Suddenly, we had the ability to tailor our job applications for specific companies and positions with just a few keystrokes. We no longer had to retype the whole shebang to make a tiny change, and generic, stock resumes quickly faded into the dustbin.
Today, only the lamest of applicants send out the exact same resume with every application.
And if you find a mistake? Just open up the document, correct the error, and save it again. You can’t erase the memory of folks who have already seen your gaffe, but it’s easy-peasy to eradicate it for future resume writers.
Isn’t that great?
And what’s even better for us as authors is that the same principles apply to our works of fiction or blog posts. Nothing is forever, even after it’s been published.
Maybe you’ve slaved away on your novel for a year, spent another six months on editing and revisions, and hovered over the “Publish” button for so long your mouse hand cramped up. You finally got up the nerve to send your baby out into the world and, a week later, you notice something.
While reading through your published book for the tenth time, you spot it: you used “your” where you should have used “you’re.”
Oh, the humiliation. The horror. The career-ending ridicule.
Just open up Scrivener, make the change, recompile, and upload your new version to Amazon (for example). Even if you move really slowly, that’s probably less than 15 minutes of work to correct a mistake that would have haunted you for an eternity in the monolithic print-only world.
The scenario above is a very simple example, of course, but you can apply it to almost any situation where you need to change some aspect of your work. In our digital age, nothing is permanent, including your mistakes.
You can move toward your writing goals with confidence because, when you mess up, there will always be time to recover.
You’re Better Than You Used to Be
Unless you’ve been an accomplished author in the distant past and taken a long break for some reason — injury, career, child-rearing — it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re a better writer now than you were in days gone by.
Raymond Chandler (among others) allegedly said that aspiring authors need to sling through a million words of crap before they can produce anything really worthwhile. While that advice can be extremely limiting if you view it as strictly prescriptive, there is a truth lodged in the hyperbole that will serve you well if you heed it.
In particular, the more you write, the more natural it feels and the better your prose will become, generally speaking. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important to write every day, no matter what.
While that has been standard writing advice for as long as I can remember, there has been some fairly heavy backlash against forcing yourself to sit down and clack away each and every day. I’ll allow that there may be a day here or there when you really don’t have time to write or when other things are more important, but those occasions should be rare.
Someone in your family dies.
Someone in your family is born.
Your job demands that you dump a massive hunk of your soul into whatever project is currently burning a hole in someone’s craw.
Those are decent reasons to skip writing, most of the time. But they don’t happen all that often, do they? The first two certainly don’t, and if the last one does, you might need to consider what your job is doing to you.
Most other reasons for skipping your daily dose of prose production are really just excuses. That’s not touchy-feely and won’t win me many points on the sympathy scale, but it’s the truth.
But by forcing yourself to write, you’re really forcing yourself to practice your craft.
You’re chipping away at your pile of crap writing so you can one day reveal the golden nuggets that lie beneath.
That’s why you’re a better writer today than you were yesterday and last week — because you’ve put in the time and worked diligently to get better.
And that’s why you’ll keep getting better and better.
You Can’t Not Write
Maybe you’ve never felt good enough to publish your work, and maybe you still don’t, despite my protestations here.
If that’s true, then why do you keep trying? Why do you sit down to write every day or, failing that, why do you think about writing and becoming an author all the time?
It sure would be a lot easier to just hang up the quill forever and resign yourself to a life of reading, with any writing you do relegated to work emails and inane Facebook posts. Right?
The reason you keep going is simple: you cannot NOT write.
Not only that, but you care about writing, and about your writing. Deep down, you see yourself as an author, whether you’re ready to say those words out loud or even admit it to yourself or not.
And how do I know that?
Because you’re here, and you’re still reading. And because I’m you, in a lot of ways.
We go to work and take out the garbage and volunteer in the community and raise our children, but we always come back to the keyboard. There are always stories fighting with each other to break free from the bounds of our brains, and we must free them.
And, when we’re telling our stories, we have to do it just so, so that anyone who might read them, someday, will experience at least a smidgen of the sweet, sickening, frightening scent they spray through the crevices of our storytellers’ souls.
Yes, we care about the tales we tell because they’re part of us.
You care about the stories you tell as much as you do your next meal.
You treasure the opportunity to write and relish the chance to make an impact on someone’s life — no matter how small — with your words.
And by the very act of being so invested in your craft, you guarantee that you’re worthy of the task. Your passion and dedication will make a difference for your readers if you’ll only give them the chance.
There’s Nothing to Lose
If none of my ramblings so far have convinced you that you’re good enough to be an author, let’s assume that you’re right.
Maybe you’re really not cut out to be a published author of any sort, at least not yet.
Now, what would be the worst thing that could possibly happen if you ignored that “fact” and just started writing anyway?
And, if you found a way to publish that work despite the fact that you’re not ready, what bad things could happen then?
Off the top of my head, I can think of a few less than wonderful outcomes, including:
- You might get some negative feedback on your book or blog posts.
- You might get rejected if you submit your work for print publication of some sort.
- Your friends and family might read your work, and they might not like it.
- You might “waste” your time on an endeavor you won’t ultimately pursue.
How bad are these, really, though?
Does it matter what a bunch of strangers think of your work? Ultimately it does, of course, if you’re hoping to sell books or find a gig as a writer. But right now, when you’re still testing the waters? Nope, they’re just strangers.
Does it matter if you get rejected? It’s going to hurt, but you’ve faced rejection before in various walks of life and survived just fine. And keep in mind that just about every successful author has been rejected a lot over the course of their careers.
How about bad reviews from family and friends? I won’t lie — that one stings. But it’s not catastrophic, either. Those around you love you for who you are, and if they don’t like your writing, well, that’s their opinion. Art is subjective, and you won’t please everyone all the time, even your mother. Bombing with your family is painful, but it can help you develop thick skin, too.
And I wouldn’t worry too much about wasting your time writing, either. I mean, how many hours each week do you spend watching television, horsing around on social media, or clicking through random writing websites? Any and all of those will be more of a throwaway than the time you spend writing a novel that doesn’t make the cut.
So, there is come ugliness waiting for you, without a doubt, but is it really all that bad?
When you consider that the alternative is a future full of regret, wondering if you could have written a novel if you’d just put in the time, these seem like milquetoast threats at worst.
As the old saying goes, you’ll never know if you can succeed in any endeavor unless you give it a go.
So are you worthy of calling yourself an author? Maybe you should try it out to find out.
You’ve really got nothing to lose.
Also published on Medium.