June 14, 2011

Writing tips #1: To be an Aspiring Writer.

I have run into a lot of people who, when asked about it, turn out to be self-proclaimed "aspiring writers". It is something that always prompts me to arch an eyebrow and utter an amused, “Oh?”. For me, this species is baffling in its existence, even though I understand where they might be coming from.

I'm not going to claim that I'm right in my own assumptions and then go on a rant about the aspirant defenders, as I think that is not constructive and is plain presumptuous, but I'm going to explain my views on this matter so that, perhaps, some of you who consider yourselves “aspiring writers” can get the aspiring part out of the title.

You'd be amazed at what can be accomplished when you stop thinking of yourself like a project of, and start believing you are the real thing.

The basis to this whole theory lies in a simple question:

What makes a writer?
I'm not asking whether a writer is made over time and practice or born with a special talent, I'm just asking about the defining factor that, ultimately, makes a writer be a writer.

Writers are creatures of words, but not every babbling fellow can be considered a writer.

Writers are also full of imagination, prone to wild ideas and they tend to see the creative potential on all the little things. However, not every guy who goes around building castles of sand up in the clouds can be considered a writer, no matter how fantastic he is making things up.

Writers can create characters and develop them to the point where they become almost as real as breathing, flesh-and-blood people both in the writer's own mind and in their reader's on. This doesn't mean that people claiming to have an imaginary friend can be considered writers.

The tricky part is.... Writers write.

Surprised? I was, when I had this little epiphany a few years ago, and I still am amazed by the number of people who seem to overlook such an elemental fact.

A writer is not supposed to sit down in the couch and bemoan the lack of a publisher (though, of course, they are allowed to have their writer rants – which is another topic altogether).

They are not supposed tell everyone who wants to listen, and even a few folks who don't, how they would definitely win this or that prize if only they bothered to participate... which they won't do because everyone knows the jury is partial.

Waiting for inspiration to hit the fan does not work, either - the only way to work through a writer's block is by writing, even if it is as painful a process as pulling out one's own teeth. Perhaps they'll only produce three lines in three hours, and they'll be so awful they'll have to delete them the next day and re-do everything.... But they'll produce, and eventually the three lines will be three paragraphs and then three pages and then they'll be back in shape.

Trust me on that previous point, if you won't share the rest of my views: I'm talking from experience when I say that sitting back and waiting will take you nowhere. Or actually, it will take you farther away from your writing so that it becomes increasingly more difficult to pick the metaphorical pen back up. But I digress:

What I am trying to say is that a person who affirms that they are an aspiring writer, but who doesn't write, is simply a person who might enjoy reading, might enjoy making up stories, might like the idea of being a writer... but who isn't.

So, now, be honest: Are you a writer?

You might be one, might even agree on the comments made above, and still present a very solid argument:

'I don't have a means to publish. But one day my books will make it to the libraries, and when my story finally reaches the people, I'll be a writer. That is why, right now, I'm an aspiring one.”

Solid argument, yes, but I'll say: No, you won't be. You are.

This is where we undertake the delicate task of making a distinction between writers and authors. Being a writer has absolutely nothing to do with being published. Having many readers, positive feedback, a bookshelf all for you in your local bookstore... it would be amazing, but it is not compulsory.

However, if that is your goal, you should consider moving on to the next step: becoming an author.

Where is the difference? A writer writes, as previously stated. An author plans, organizes, drafts, writes, proofreads, edits, proofreads again. An author crafts. It takes a lot of time, a lot of work, and I feel confident saying that a few ranting, crying, despairing sessions are peppered throughout the process.

My humble opinion? It is worth it.

But that pile of work might still be insufficient when it comes to finding an agent, a publishing house. It might not be nearly enough to send you into a world signing tour. Does that mean, then, that you are an aspiring author?

And why should you be? Nowadays, this digital era is giving us the best chances. There are a hundred possible ways for you to proceed: you could self-publish. You could find sites that caters to your genre and make your work available to the public – most such sites have a way to protect your contents even if you distribute them freely. Craft your stories, finish them, and listen to what people say: What did they like? Why? What part where you most comfortable writing and turned out best?

Perhaps you are not making money, but you are still an author. And by listening and incorporating the constructive criticism you will, hopefully, receive, you will learn to do better in your next work. This constructive criticism, be it in the form of comments or reviews, is priceless and you should be grateful for every bit, even if you don't like to be told that something doesn't work in your story.

Improve. You have the chance to do so.

If you do, perhaps a big publisher will want to sign you up. Or perhaps you will find that you have enough followers to make self-publishing a viable option. That is more editorial-geared and belongs to another post, though: the important thing here is...

By the end of every work, you'll have created something. Something that is yours. It is a full text, well cared for, well thought out, well crafted. And I'm sure that you'll have learnt a lot of things while you prepared it, even if in the end it was not a best-seller. The next project will be better, and now you have your very own finished work in your hands .

If you have achieved this, congratulations! I genuinely believe you can scratch the “aspiring” part out of your title. You deserve it.


  1. Interesting thoughts. Aspiring means hope to or want to, which you already know the term fits with people lacking self discipline and drive to go from beginning to end on a piece.

    Sometimes it's better to walk away on work on other projects designed to help you develop self discipline rather than constantly disappointing yourself because you're so scattered brained you can't stay focused on one project long enough to complete it.

    Possibly it's just fear that keeps people aspiring, the closer you get to completing the less the words will come, the more horrible the work seems. If you finish you open yourself up to a lot more rejection than just staying in the hope to be category. It's safe there.

    Not all aspiring writers are people bragging about the awards they would win if they submitted their work. Some do have real talent for putting words together on a page, but it's a lot more than that that makes a writer, much of writing comes from self discipline and I happen to be in the large group of people sadly lacking in that department.

    That said I don't really consider myself a writer anymore because at some point you have to stop wanting to shoot yourself when you look at the amassing stack of unfinished drafts in which you know the entire story, were haunted by it but when you sit down and try to finish it the words won't come or something else distracts you.

    Right now I'm a blogger, a project which is geared toward developing the self discipline to get up each day and provide content for others to read. Also designed to help with organization and drive from acquiring a variety of content to review while keeping it within your budget, keeping up with review requests and reviews, networking (which I think is the hardest part) and scheduling author interviews and contests to draw in traffic. Each day that something posts on my blog is an accomplishment for me. If I can make a project like this work maybe I'll open one of the hundreds of drafts sitting on my hard drive and attempt to finish that.

    But some of those aspiring to write, want to write, for some mental reason or other just find that they can't no matter how many people encourage them or congratulate them for each writing related accomplishment they've made.

    I have a letter from the CEO of Lockheed Martin praising my uncommon writing ability which was written to one of my military superiors back when I was a Marine covering the story that introduced the KC-130 J Model to the world. No matter how many times I look at it doesn't make words appear on the page, it doesn't help me write the end. And it's almost worse that I have things like that than if I didn't because now after having received commendations like that if I produce something and put it out there to the world I feel like it HAS to be as good as that news story. Sometimes it's better to disappear from writing than to feel like your first completed fictional work needs to be something that's internationally published and garnering attention from all the right people. Because if it isn't that means you had more talent as a teenager than you do now as an adult with tons of life experience under your belt. I would love to complete something, to write again, that said do you know how awful it would feel to put something out there and have it end up being worse than the stuff you wrote before you were even 20?

    Sorry for the long comment, but I just feel this need to respond and when I started responding words just kept coming out. I just wanted you to understand the point of view of some of the people that stay in the aspiring category. Some of us have reasons, fears and personal failings that we just at this point in time can't get past. If you can't escape your own personal demons and they won't transfer to the page then nothing is going to make you get out of the aspiring category.

  2. First of all, I wanted to thank you for your long and thought out comment =) I think that by talking about our opinions and discussing things, we can grow inmensely!

    Now, about the post, I will admit that I agree with your very valid points.

    Fear does play a large role in keeping one's works always in progress. I won a writing prize when I was just a kid, got a short story published by 12 and then... Nothing.

    I spent the next ten years calling myself a writer, without putting a single word to paper. Yup- when I poke fun at something, it's because I'm poking fun at myself.

    I admire your dedication and resolution to write the blog. I used fanfiction to get over the discipline part - when I got comments from people who wanted to read the next chapter, I somehow got around to finishing it. It taught me so many things: to sit down and write, to plot, to keep my characters true... And it showed me that I could finish.

    That's why I'm writing the "tips" now: I want to share that, and to encourage people who want to write to try it out. Of course, I didn't intend to scold anyone for using the "aspiring" title! I just wanted to encourage people who is a bit afraid to take that one step forward, or who believe they'll have to wait for a bestseller to be an author.

    Meanwhile, let me say that I admire you for keeping up the blog. I started not that long ago, and am still a bit overwhelmed by it all - frequent updates? What do I talk about? What are blog hops? Being a blogger is almost more difficult than writing, I'm finding out with each passin day!

    I hope you'll be very succesful being a blogger for now! I know I do enjoy reading your posts.

    And I look forward to read you again soon! Either your comments here, or my comments on your place!


  3. I can actually answer some of your questions about blogging from my own stumbling through it. First use the schedule post button. Do you already know a lot of the writing tips you want to share? Do you have a specific day of the week you want to run them on? Prewrite your writing tips and schedule them to show up on the day you picked for running writing tips then you've got one guaranteed post showing up every week even if you don't have time to get to your own blog all that time. Most of my posts auto post at 1am on the date they're supposed to run. The only major exception to this is my random chatter posts which occur when I decide to randomly chatter. Some of the posts were written way in advance. IE I have a post scheduled for November 8th that I wrote last week. I don't have all the in between content done, but I know the book releases November 8th and I want my review to release when people can actually buy the book. Those future posts done may not help you today with the blog, but they add up and start to give you breathing room which is nice.

    Do you have upcoming releases of your books coming out? I saw that you're a writer from the blog here. Do your press release about the book now, have it auto post the day people can buy it. Do you have time on certain days of the week to read a few books and review them. Or do you have reviews you've written and posted elsewhere? Put them in on a day you have time, schedule them and give yourself some breathing room and less stress.

    Blog hops are scheduled dates where blogs link up to each other and direct traffic to connecting blogs. There are three main types. One and the biggest traffic one is the Giveaway hop. Everyone runs a contest on those dates and links up and promotes all those contests. The contests and your other contests get more entries. Everyone usually gains followers. Then there's a content type hop like In My Mailbox by the Story Siren which is really popular. Once a week the participants all do a post about what books they got this week and link up to each other. And the third type is the just because hop. Finding New Friends, one that I do is a massive link of blogs, random topics, where you just explore blogs on the list of interest. The main thing all the hops have in common is they occur on a specific date and including linking to other blogs participating. Participating in them usually helps to gain followers.

    I've really enjoyed reading what I have of your blog. Stopped by today to check out comments and loon for new posts. And you do have a point about aspiring writers even if I'm guilty of falling into the category. It's nice that you want to encourage others to pursue their dreams as you have.

  4. Thanks a lot for the post and the ideas! I'll start scheduling stuff. It means I'll have to start writing stuff in advance, but it'll probably pay off. It'll help to organize my life a bit more!

    The idea of hopping is very nice indeed. I'll wait so that I get some more content, and then perhaps hook up my press release for the novel with a giveaway or something.

    (Sighs) If only I had written more original stuff... I'd have more things to promote now (laughs)

    I'm always glad to see and read you around! I also stopped by your blog today to see what was new, so we're reading each other's mind!

    Well, not really. You had much more new content (laughs) But still. It's the thought that counts, no?

  5. I've seen blogs where they don't post more than once a month so I think you're doing great. Beyond being discipline my blog is also a reminder for me, I don't remember books for very long after reading them except in a vague sort of way. The details often fade away when faced with new books and everyday life so I review everything I read. I'm trying to go through my entire home library and get reviews and I have over 60 books I said I'd review which is why I stopped accepting new ones until October. So that's a lot of the reason I have so many posts.

    For the most part I try to have something everyday and the methods I've been using have been working for me.

    I'm hoping the current hop we're in will get me 15 more followers because I figure once I get to 250 I can safely post a 300 follower giveaway have it end around the end of September and actually reach 300 followers, though like last time I'm going to shoot for 400. At my 100 Follower Giveaway I hit 200 before its conclusion. So having a prize listed for it I double the goal works for me. Hopefully I'll be able to afford to make that one international.

    When I reach 500 I'm planning to email publishers informing them of my blogs existence in hopes of getting more print copies for review since all the ebooks are killing my ipod. I'm lucky to make it through one before the ipod dies and needs to be charged and most of what i have to review is in ebook format. Also I certainly wouldn't mind being one of those blogs chosen for a publisher sponsor contest or blog tours. I don't think anyone would. It's possible they'll just hit delete on my email and not care about yet another book blog in existence, but then again I'm hoping if they click through to my blog they'll like the detail of my reviews and it may be something of interest to them. Beyond that if I ever do get my act straight with writing it wouldn't hurt to have connections at publishers who already recognize my name. I don't think it will get me published, but knowing people anywhere can't hurt your chances right?

    I procrastinate and am disorganized just like you mentioned in your blog award post. But I do have a vague plan, I just take a round about way of getting there.

  6. Hello!

    I think now your comment about discipline is coming in a whole new light. This is difficult! (laughs) Thanks a lot for the support and ideas. The only thing I find I'm regretting is not waiting a little bit longer to have the blog "live", so that I had more breathing room. Ah, well.

    The idea of reviewing everything you read is good, actually. My home library is huge (reason I started to use e-books... but that only made it worse, because I read even more!) and while I'd like to have everything down I think it's too eclectic to fit in a single blog. Besides, I don't know if my old books are of interest to anyone! People could despair if I start popping up Dune or Illiad reviews... I'm still unsure about what to do. But I certainly want to review everything I read this year, and move on from there reviewing everthing else that comes up.

    Which worries me a little, because... Damn, I don't have time to read that much! How do you manage to have so many reviews? It takes me usually three daysor so to do away with a novel, more if it's particularly long. Any secret in that area? (laughs)

    The giveaway idea sounds great - and so does the plan of mailing the publishers. I figure it works more or less the same everywhere, and here in Spain most publishing houses do accept requests from bloggers who would be interested in receiving material. There are way more blogs in English, but then again, that means that getting considerable traffic is way more difficult.

    Good luck with the plan! I really need to get some semblance of one in order...