Some things really piss me off. High on the list of things that piss me off is being patronised. Like being told how to do my job or having people tell me I’m “still young”. I know my age. I know my job.
I also know what I mean when I say I’m an “aspiring writer”. I don’t mean that I want to write. I don’t mean that I want to sell millions of copies of a novel and become the next big thing in publishing. I DO mean that I enjoy writing stories and have a million and one ideas rattling around in my head like a barrel full of dried peas. I also mean that I feel like a complete novice and do not feel as though I have found my “voice”.
By the way, I hate that phrase. When you boil it down, it really doesn’t mean anything more than “writing style” so why not just say that rather than try to wankify it? “Craft” as well. Urgh. Just say “writing” and stop romanticising it. Unless you want to go the whole hog and refer to yourself as a “dream-weaver” and buy a giant, wide-brimmed hat, sou-wester, cane and a pipe.
Anyway, stop telling me to crap or get off the pot. “You can’t call yourself a writer unless you actually write something” is just about the most patronising thing you could possibly say to someone who wants to do just that. It’s also bollocks. Think about it: idf moving the nib of a pen against a piece of paper is all it takes, then anyone with a diary can call themselves a “writer”. We would all know different, though, wouldn’t we?
I know it’s supposed to be motivational, meant to drive you on to turn on the computer and get hammering away at the keys. I know that, in your head, you’re dishing out some much-needed tough love, the harsh words that we all need to hear so that we don’t keep wasting our lives in the ill-fated pursuit of a delusion. But it isn’t. It’s a self-aggrandising statement, designed to set you apart from all the “aspiring” writers out there.
We get it. You made it. You wrote a book that an agent and a publisher liked and now it’s on general sale and people not only like it, they tell you that they like it. You’ve made it. You are where I want to be. I don’t want to trudge through life without haveing made some contribution, however small, to the cultural landscape through which humans race. I want people to read my stories. I want people to like them and then tell me that they like them.
If they don’t, what’s the point? I already keep a diary of sorts, I don’t need a shelf full of other stuff that no one reads but me. I want to write stuff that people read and like. Just the same as you do. We already have Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan. I don’t need another vain prick telling me that the best thing for me is to get out of Dodge before I realise that I’ve wasted my life.
So maybe it is wrong to say that I’m an “aspiring writer”. Maybe, instead, I should say that I “aspire to be read and liked”. But then, that’s just really long-winded and you know what I mean anyway. I don’t aspire to write; I aspire to be a writer. There is a difference. I know it and you know it. To deny this is to embark on a semantic argument that distorts the desire of the person you are advising. It is not entirely fair to phrase your advice as “write or don’t write; be a writer or don’t be.” We already have Yoda. You’re the writer, the artist: come up with something original, something genuinely helpful. Dance, monkey! Dance! Seriously, if you want to help, offer up some time-management strategies or suggest a writing guide or university course that has helped you in the past. Suggest a writing exercise or two. Offer up some tools or techniques that help you organise your thoughts and your writing (such as Scrivener, for example).
Anyone who is half-serious about being a writer is already writing by the time they read your website, follow you on Twitter or stalk you on your daily run through the park. Anyone who isn’t serious will not be seeking advice. Just consider that before you tell me to write as though it’s a statement of cosmic profundity never before uttered. Because it isn’t.