Monday, May 21, 2012

The 'Aspiring' Writer Syndrome / The Crazies

Good morning everyone.

I'm assuming I'm the only one of us who woke up this morning from a horrendous nightmare where I had to exorcise Satan out of Jerry Springer? Yeah, that'll teach me to eat an eighth of a chicken breast at 11:30 at night.

Today, continuing the new blog policy of speaking honestly with you, I want to take a look at one of the big sentences that I hear a lot of writers say, and then we'll look at something that happened over the weekend. (though not to me, my weekend was pretty awesome, I washed dishes by hand, fought with an air conditioner (it won), and ultimately stressed myself out over something incredibly stupid that I misheard.)

First up, let's look at this sentence. Now while I can't possibly know how YOU say it, I'm going to go with the version I hear a lot.


"Aspiring" Syndrome
"I'm an aspiring writer."

Now I hear / read this in the comments of blogs (usually of other writers) or hear it at workshops, I immediately follow it up with "How's the writing coming?" because what they really mean is this:

"I'm not published yet."

Sometimes I point this out and whoever I'm talking to makes a face at me, this sort of "why are you talking about X, when I'm talking about Y" face. But, to avoid that face, I usually nod and the conversation moves along.

There are two problems with this train of thought.

i. That getting published is proof that you're a writer.
ii. That "aspiring" means something that it doesn't actually mean.

Saying that getting published is the proof you require to be a writer is like saying that you're only a gardener when you're chopping homegrown tomatoes for the salad. What about the time you spent in the dirt, the times you watered the plants and did whatever you had to so as to prevent deer and fungus from taking over? That stuff doesn't count?

Coming back to the writing, are you saying that the act of writing doesn't make you a writer? The hours spent hitting keys or scribbling in notebooks doesn't count? Getting up an hour earlier than everyone else was what, a waste of time?

Here's what makes you a writer - putting your ass in a chair and putting your brain and fingers to work in telling a story.

Publishing doesn't make you a writer. It makes you published. You were a writer before you got published, and you'll be a writer after you get published (assuming you write more). It's not the peak of a mountain, leading to some downward return to the flat land of boring hobbies; it's the start of a journey across many peaks and valleys. (Insert other statement about journeys not destinations here).

Likewise, "aspiring" means "desiring or striving for recognition or advancement". Desiring and striving are not really very active. Desiring is a mental process (right now I'm desiring it not be raining, and yet the water still falls from the sky) and striving is a vague word that sort of implies something's going on, and it's trying to succeed, but without a clearer verb, I have no idea what is actually happening.

Calling yourself an aspiring writer is basically telling me "One day I'm going to write something, in the future, not now, not in the relative present, but you know later, like when it's not so scary and/or when I'm not feeling overwhelmed by my own doubts, insecurities and expectations that it has to be perfect or else people will drive me from my home via fire and sharp sticks."

You know what I am? I'm an aspiring husband. I want one day in the future to be married. I'm not married now, but it's something I want to be later.

I'm also an aspiring hug recipient. I've not yet been hugged today, but I'd like to be in the near future.

Don't aspire. Go be it. Write, and be a writer....I was going to say "Go crazy", but that leads me to the next part of today's post....

Don't Be A Crazy
So over the weekend, this happened. Here's the short version:

1. A guy went on a message board angry that his posts on said message board kept getting moved from one place to another.
2. The guy pointed out that his books (the subject of his posts) are published by himself, but he is in no way a self-publisher.
3. He points out that he's got 92k Twitter followers.
4. He draws the connection that self-publishing equals "small", and that's a bad thing.

Of course many people got involved here, with the usual finger-pointing, laughing and jeering at "that guy". They talked about his arrogance, they talked about his books being poorly written (I have no idea if they are or not, I've never heard of him, never read his stuff or even knew what he wrote until I read that article) and they also brought along the Perennial Internet Argument.

The PIA (if you don't know) is this: "That guy's a dick, I'm way better/cooler/smarter/more attractive because of A B C D reasons."

There is a huge problem with the PIA. It makes whatever situation where it's invoked about YOU, not the 'other guy'. Is the above mentioned guy putting out a really clear example of what-not-to-do? Absolutely. Is that a sign that you need to justify what you're doing? Nope.

The problem with crazies (and crazy knows no race, gender, preference or field...crazy don't discriminate) is that they're loud. And while on the internet it may seem like a brief blip on the radar, that same internet is housing that outburst for however-long-data-is-stored, so it can be brought right back up for later -- like a hairball or those photos of you from the summer you thought it would be awesome to have a mullet.

Loud crazies get heard. And sometimes other people's volume can throw doubts into your head. Somebody starts screaming that Company X is bad, and you start to wonder if it's worth your time to deal with Company X. Someone tells you that a popular video game experiences occasional server issues in its first week out, you may decide to never buy anything from that game company again.

To combat this, I first hand you one of these because it's dangerous to go alone. Then I will direct you to a mirror and tell you that you're YOU. Not me, not that other guy. Not that lady on Facebook. Not even the same YOU you were last year when you thought it would be a great idea to drink vinegar twice a day.

All you can do is be the best you possible. You make the best art possible.You do everything you can to be a better writerThen you work even harder. And then you find a good community of people that will support you and encourage you and help you.

Don't let the crazies speak for everyone, especially not yourself. Don't let the crazies cause you any doubt about what you want to do.

Unless of course, you're the crazy in this instance, at which point I'll state this. And this. And lastly this.

Happy writing.