If you would’ve told me 10 years ago I’d be receiving letters from people who wanted to be writers, I would have laughed and asked you to refill my Ovaltine.
But the truth is, I receive messages about this very thing from aspiring writers all the time. Nearly without fail, most of them actually use the word “aspire” in their letters.
Here are some excerpts:
“I’m an aspiring writer, please help me figure out how to go about this.”
“I an aspiring author… I’m 18, I’d like to know what my next step should be.”
“I’m 71 years old, I aspire to be a writer, do you have any tips…?”
So I wanted to depart from my usual subject matter and take a moment to address these letters. Because I know from my own pitiful experience that there is nothing more frustrating than wanting to BE something but not knowing how.
Which leads to my first point. And this is the main thing I want to tell the good people who have contacted me: Quit calling yourself an “aspiring writer.” You are not an aspiring writer. You are a REAL WRITER.
Simply put, if you write, you’re already the real deal. I truly believe this.
After all, you don’t aspire to be alive, do you? Nobody living in New York aspires to be a New Yorker. Birches don’t aspire to be trees. Episcopalians don’t aspire to be Episcopalians; they simply open a Pabst Blue Ribbon and shout, “And also with YOU!” ‘Piskies are fun!
Skill has nothing to do with who you are. Who you are is who you are. And if you like writing stuff, you are a writer. Not an aspiring one. A true writer.
Now you say it.
See how easy that was? You’re legit now. Identity crisis solved. Now you can go on with your life.
I realize you probably think I’m being lighthearted here, but I’m sincere. And the reason I tell you all this is because sometimes what people are really aspiring for is fame.
Our culture emphasizes fame when it comes to making life goals, which can screw everything up. We Americans are told from birth that we’re supposed to want two things: (a) to be rich, and (b) to have LOTS of people like us.
Well, it’s bologna. Pure and simple. The truth is there is a huge difference between success and fame, and a lot of people confuse the two. So don’t make that mistake. Success is Mother Teresa. Fame is Kim Kardashian.
All right. That’s enough speech for one day. Let’s get into the bare bones of being a writer.
Step one. Get a typewriter.
Good. Now stare at it unmoving for 14 hours until you are filled with self loathing and insecurity because you CANNOT THINK OF A SINGLE FREAKING SENTENCE TO WRITE.
Perfect. Step two. Cry bitterly about your own un-productivity so that snot leaks onto your shirt.
Doing great. Step three. Find your nearest Episcopalian friend.
Congratulations. You’re a writer. Fun isn’t it? Pass the Kleenex.
But hey, don’t feel bad about having writer’s block. The act of writing ain’t easy. Just getting started is half the battle. Again, I realize this all sounds oversimplified, and there’s a very important reason for this: I am a hack writer. I freely admit it.
However, in my small career I have spoken at lots of schools. So many, in fact, that my soft-serve ice cream privileges have been revoked in 19 rural school districts. Whenever I enter a classroom, I always ask the following question beforehand:
“What is a writer’s primary job?”
You’d be surprised at the wild answers I get. Grade schoolers are incredibly introspective. They are also loud. The classroom usually erupts with kids raising hands and shouting answers like:
“A writer’s job is to make people think!”
“To sell books!”
“To change the world!”
“To make people like reading!”
“I have to pee!”
“I want a pickle!”
“Are you that guy from ‘The Hangover’ movie?”
Then, once everyone has petered out, a whiz-kid in the front row usually answers: “A writer’s primary objective is to provide commentary on global change with an authentic voice relevant unto the age in which they live.”
Whereupon all other students load their spit-ball air rifles and cover the aforementioned student in wads of chewed-up paper and saliva because, let it be stated here, all teacher’s pets bring this fate upon themselves.
This is the part of my presentation when I tell them, “Nope! You’re all wrong! A writer’s main job is to WRITE!”
At which point they all groan and point their spit-ball paraphernalia at me.
But I’m not kidding. Writers write. It really is that simple.
And that’s why I have written this to you. I dearly want you to know that you—yes you!—have all the tools you need. You lack nothing to get started.
I don’t care how under-experienced you think you are, I don’t care how insecure you feel. You are ready to take the greatest adventure of your lifetime. And you should. Right now. Go write.
Listen, I am a middle-aged putz who used to hang drywall for a living; I am a middle-school dropout who received his high-school equivalency education at age 25; I am the poster child for failure; but I am a writer.
And there is one thing I know about you. I know with all my heart that John, Trisha, Erin, Allan, Todd, Darius, Erica, Michelle, Elaine, Aerial, Joshua, Amelia, Sanford, Hank, Cheryl, Mark, Matthew, Aria, Larnell, Marie Ann, Jessica, Tamara, and all others who wrote to me are all real writers, too.
And these people deserve my heartfelt words. So here they are:
Your friend Sean is rooting for you.
An aspiring Episcopalian.