Saturday, April 6, 2013

Aspiring?

A friend of mine has a wonderful habit of asking people if they are "aspiring authors", and encouraged me a long time ago to drop the "aspiring". An author's identity is often prescribed by how they identify themselves. To aspire is to dream, to reach out for something in the future, to yearn.

And you absolutely should. No doubt about it. You should definitely aspire, you should definitely have dreams and reach out for something in the future, and you should definitely apply such dreaming to your writing.

But, and this is the important part, you shouldn't let dreaming be the most significant thing you do as an author.

An author creates. An author writes stories and poems and songs and books and plays and films. An author makes people out of thin air, and plants them in a world of their own imagination. An author changes all the rules. An author inspires desire into their creations, dreams into their readers, and magic into the world.

But dreaming? Where does that come in?

One definition of an aspiring author is one who seeks publication through a traditional publisher. I can see a few things wrong with this, and one thing right, that the dream is specific. That was the easy part. But what about the things that are wrong with this definition?

  1. Not every author writes books. The term "author" is sometimes used to include anyone who creates anything. Within this problem, we must also accept that not all authors write books or other works that are suitable for publication.
  2. Not every author seeks publication through a traditional publisher, but many who don't consider themselves "aspiring authors". The problem? Suddenly they're not included in what has been a definition of "aspiring author" since I was a young boy. Other avenues didn't exist. Even the idea of publishing with a small publisher was alien, nevermind the concept of seeking publication through digital means.
  3. Not every author seeks publication. Period. An aspiring author might be one who wishes to write a book to share with family and friends alone. That might be their aspiration. The notion that all aspiring authors should aspire for the same thing presumes that everyone knows exactly what they want. Some seek publication for the money (and many of those assume the money will be enough to live on). Some seek publication for fame (and many of those don't realise that fame is neither easy to acquire or as amiable as it seems). Some seek publication for publication's sake.
This is the problem with definitions, and it certainly raises trouble when it comes to aspirations and dreams. But here's the thing: I am still an aspiring author, but it's not how I would label myself. I consider myself an author. My aspirations aren't a definition of me as an author, but they're still important. What makes them matter is their specificity.

In much the same way as a New Year's Resolution is doomed to failure if it's not specific enough for someone to measure and keep up with, a dream is unattainable unless it is specific enough for someone to follow. This is where the dreaming comes in.

Think about what you want to achieve. For me, it comes down to some specific things, listed below, though not in a specific order.

  1. A particular income level.
  2. Making a living from writing.
  3. Publishing my books.
  4. Writing for national magazines and/or newspapers.
While I won't get into how much I actually want to earn (some things need to be personal), I can discuss number 3 in more detail. Those three words aren't specific enough for how I want to achieve my dreams. In reality, my books are divided into two categories: those I want to publish myself, and those I want to have published by a traditional publisher. The distinction comes down to this:
  1. Novellas are typically too short for most publishers to consider. Those that do consider them don't publish the sort of stories I write at novella length.
  2. Novels cost too much to produce a physical copy of. This is especially true if you don't have the same to store a bulk order (with higher discounts). The other option is Print On Demand, which means that either the price is so low it's difficult to make money from the books or the price is so high that no one can buy the book. A middle ground is difficult, and the paperwork involved in getting a book supplied is a lot of effort. Plus, there are costs to printing that I can't see myself affording in the near future.
  3. There are certain stories I want in the hands of traditional publishers. Simple as that, really. I've written certain books that I want to see in a shop, published by a traditional publisher that I can trust with it, because that's how I've imagined those books since I finished writing them. Putting them online seems a strange idea for me with those particular books.
Specific dreams are easier to measure. I'm not suggesting you give up dreaming. What I am suggesting is that you figure out exactly what you mean when you call yourself an aspiring author, and then get rid of that title altogether. Your aspirations are yours, and yours alone. When you know what you want, and you're actually writing something, you can and should call yourself an author. Or capitalise it, call yourself an Author. How does it look? How does it sound? How does it feel?

It took me a long time to get to the point of not calling myself an aspiring author. When I set up my website, and the various social networking sites I set up to support it, I was still calling myself an aspiring author. That was less than two years ago. Last summer, I specified what I wanted in life. Yes, that has changed since then. My dreams have changed. That's okay. I'm still an author, I'm still writing, and I'm still aspiring. I'm not defined by what I want (or technically by what I do). Changing that doesn't change me, and it doesn't change the fact that I'm still doing something I love.

Is it scarier to think of myself as an author, instead of an aspiring author? It was. Definitely. Not anymore. I think I've gotten used to the idea. It's part of my identity, writing and actually making some money from it (much to my own surprise, I will admit). At the same time, though, it's liberating. I'm not bound to the same feeling of "If I do X can I still do Y", because I'm the one in control of what I want from my life. And here's the thing: if you want to be published by a traditional publisher, you can still publish your book yourself. The stigma around self-publishing stops applying if you can prove yourself.

There's a lot to being an author. There's a lot to defining yourself without the "aspiring" part. But it's a whole lot worse when someone else takes away the comfort of "aspiring". Make the choice yourself, get comfortable walking in those shoes, and when it comes to living up to your aspirations, you'll be more ready.

2 comments:

Fi Phillips said...

Great post.

I dropped the aspiring a long time ago because I'm earning money from my writing so I'm no longer 'aspiring' to do so.

Having said that, using the word 'aspiring' always made me feel a little nervous talking about my writing, like I shouldn't/wouldn't be taken seriously.

Thanks for sharing.

Paul Carroll said...

I meant to reply to this AGES ago. That's an interesting observation on what the word "aspiring" can do to someone. I know I didn't really identify as a writer myself until I took the plunge and made my website, because it was a matter of really putting my face out there.

Thanks for commenting! :)