Friday, March 11, 2005

What do you call an unpublished writer?

When you saw the title of this post, did you think I was setting up for some clever punchline? Yeah, all right, it's one of my favorite tricks. But today I'm not making a joke.

I was just reading a writer/editor's blog and stumbled across the term "would-be writers". And it bothered me.

Please. Unless we're refering to people who talk about writing but never actually begin a manuscript -- and this guy wasn't -- writers are simply individuals who write. Publication is not a magic wand that turns "would-be writers" into full-fledged writers. And I'm getting tired of hearing published writers (like this guy) imply that those who are not published can't possibly be real writers.

And shame on you unpublished types, too. You haven't just tolerated, you've participated in this devaluing of your talent and hard work. I can't tell you how many e-mails I get that begin, "I am a wannabe writer who has just finished her first manuscript." I usually reply something along the lines of, Sweetie, if you have created a story and wrestled with a manuscript, you're already a writer. Drop the "wannabe".

If the word "author" is generally understood to mean a writer who is published, doesn't it follow that a writer may be either published or unpublished? So please, let's not talk about "aspiring writers" when we mean "aspiring authors". And let's ban the cutesy names some writers are bandying about these days. "Prepublished writers" and "embryo authors" are the silliest. I realize some people think those are optimistic, empowering words, but in my mind they only encourage people to believe that published writers are more talented and hardworking and...well, darn it, more worthy than unpublished ones.

Publication doesn't mean you're a wildly talented writer; it simply means that some editor somewhere thinks people will buy what you've written. There are lots of good writers out there who are not published, and that's why I refuse to use publication as a yardstick for determining whether somebody is a "real" writer.

I just did a Technorati search for the term "aspiring author" and found it used on 197 blogs across the Web. Then I tried "aspiring writer" and pulled up a whopping 765 entries. Try it yourself, and then read some of the blogs, most of which appear to belong to unpublished writers. I'd like to grab a few of those people and shake some sense into them!

You will see me use the words "aspiring author" when I talk about the unpublished. But if I ever slip up and call one of you hardworking people an aspiring writer, please call me on it so I can beg your pardon and make the correction.


Brenda Coulter said...

Testing, testing?

Apparently, this "comments" feature has been down all day long. (Thanks a bunch, Blogger!) Someone has just e-mailed me privately -- thanks for going to that trouble, friend. I apologize to the rest of you who may have tried to post here. It's frustrating, but this thing usually works, so please try again sometime.

Heather Diane Tipton said...

Yes the comments were down all day! :( I'm sure I was going to say something brilliant earlier...

Tess said...

Brenda - I was SO happy to read this blog post of yours. The term aspiring writer is one of my big pet peeves (I blogged on this back in February). Wasn't certain, though, how published writers feel about the term. Nice to know it bothers pubs as much as it does some UNpubs.

Teresa (writer)

Brenda Coulter said...

When a published writer looks down her nose at an unpublished writer, she is despising her own past.

Thanks for commenting, Teresa.