There are no aspiring writers

Since I started offering help to people who want to write for a living, I’ve encountered people who describe themselves as aspiring writers. “I want to be a writer,” they’ll say. “Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?”

First, let’s take a step back. What do you mean by ‘aspiring’?

Aspiring means you want to write, right?

So why don’t you?

You don’t have to write something profound every day, or even every week. Just write.

Journalism as an industry is still full of gatekeepers. There’s a great deal of discrimination in the industry itself. Writing itself, though, is relatively accessible. Think about it.

Being a writer is different to being a surgeon or a plumber. While you need a particular education and license to practice surgery or plumbing, anybody is allowed to write. Most people write something nearly every day, whether it’s an email, a note, or a social media post. Everybody is allowed to write.

If everybody is allowed to write, why do people call themselves aspiring writers? If you do write, just call yourself a writer. If you want to write, you can. So do it.

When I tell writers this, they usually tell me that what they mean is they want to write professionally. If you’re a writer – even if it’s just in a journal or on a private blog or in Google Docs – you get to call yourself a writer. Whether you get money for it or not doesn’t determine whether you get to call yourself a writer. You just have to write.

Now, if you’re saying you’re an aspiring professional writer or an aspiring published writer, that’s a different story. It’s a little harder to be a professional writer or a published writer than to be a writer in general.

Many new writers and journalism students who read my work say that they want to be a writer like me. I often say, “You can become a good writer! You can create a successful writing career! If you’d like, I can coach you for free.” Few of them have taken me up on this offer, despite the fact that free writing coaching is damn hard to come across!

I do understand that many of us are busy, and many of us don’t have enough time to practice the skills we want to practice. But I also believe many people don’t want to put in hard work. And I have to ask myself, “If this person says they want to be a professional writer but they’re not taking me up on my offer of (free) coaching, do they really want to write?”

I find myself coming to the same conclusion: many people like the idea of identifying as a writer, but they don’t actually want to write. They want the label, but they’re not willing to take action.

I have a ‘growth mindset’ when it comes to skills like writing: I don’t believe you have an innate ability to write well; I believe hard work and practice is what makes someone good at writing.

I didn’t roll out of the uterus writing. I learnt to write. I’m good at writing for two reasons: I read a lot and I write a lot. That practice is essential for growing your skills and becoming a better writer. When I read back my old writing – whether it’s poetry I wrote in grade seven or articles I wrote a few years ago – I can see the weaknesses in the writing. I don’t feel ashamed of these mistakes; instead I feel excited because it shows growth. If I improved so much in my lifetime, imagine how much I’ll improve in future if I continue to practice?

I believe that, with a combination of hard work and passion, anybody can be an excellent writer.

If you are keen to learn about becoming a freelance nonfiction writer, keep your eye on this blog series. I will post a new article once a week. Each article will talk about something new writers need to learn, whether it’s the freelance writing process, pitching tips, helpful pointers for idea generation, or organizing your freelance writing business.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions for future blog posts!