WRITERS’ ROOM 101: Your Writing Career – Stop Aspiring

Eric Haywood has spent over a decade writing for network and premium cable television series including ABC’s Private Practice, Showtime’s Soul Food, NBC’s Hawaii, and the Fox drama Empire. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricHaywood.

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Since this is my first blog post of 2015, it’s the perfect time to talk about New Year’s resolutions. But rather than just ramble on about the topic and explain how it pertains to your writing goals, I’m actually going to assign you a resolution. That’s right: today you’re getting some homework. You’re going to make a very specific New Year’s resolution by the time you finish reading this post, and you’re going to do your level best to keep it throughout the year or until it becomes second-nature, whichever comes first. Ready? Okay. Here we go.

Even if you’re not the type of person who believes in making resolutions, this one will help you. I promise. Just keep in mind that the original purpose of this blog was to share practical, actionable information with those of you seeking to get (or keep) jobs as television writers. So I’ve made an effort to shy away from simplistic, cheesy fluff pieces filled with things like “Follow your dreams!” and “Do what you love, and the money will follow!” You can get motivational pep talks anywhere.

Instead, if you haven’t landed their first paid writing job yet, I’m going to tell you one small thing you can do that I believe will help you take concrete steps toward achieving that goal. So although January will be almost half over by the time these words hit the internet, there’s still time for you to take a moment and make the following New Year’s resolution.

Stop aspiring.

I mean it. If you’ve developed the habit of referring to yourself as an “aspiring writer,” cut it out. Do yourself a huge favor and take the word “aspiring” out of your vocabulary. It’s not helping you. In fact, it might even be hurting you.

Why? Because you’re not an aspiring writer. You’re a writer, period. Full stop. End of sentence.

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t sold a script or been staffed yet. To the contrary, that’s the very reason why you shouldn’t call yourself “aspiring.” Just as you wouldn’t welcome an “aspiring plumber” into your home to tear up your pipes, or trust an “aspiring doctor” to operate on you, why would anyone want to hire an “aspiring” writer? And the simple answer is, they don’t. People just hire writers. Start branding yourself as simply a writer, and it’ll have a direct impact on how you’re perceived by the people you meet.

And while we’re at it, as part of this resolution, you’re going to eliminate every variation of “aspiring” that comes to mind. The goal here is to get you to stop saying things like:

“I’m trying to be a writer.”

“I’m working as a writer’s assistant right now, but I want to be a writer.”

“I’m hoping to sign with an agent or manager because I’d really like to be a writer someday.”

Whenever people start a conversation this way – and I hear it a fairly often – I have to admit that a little piece of my brain shuts down. I don’t mean to, it’s just become a sort of involuntary response. Because when writers describe themselves like this, it tells me that they haven’t yet developed confidence in their abilities. And if they haven’t, why would I be inclined to read their work or give them any kind of advice or referral? Why should anyone?

However good your intentions might be, “I’m aspiring” usually sounds like some kind of half-hearted apology or, even worse, an admission of guilt. It has nothing to do with whether you’ve been paid to write or not. What the listener hears is you saying, “I’m not a very good writer yet and I’m okay with admitting that.” And you just made the already-difficult process of getting your career off the ground a little bit harder.

Calling yourself “aspiring” might seem like the more humble and honorable road to take if you haven’t yet staffed or otherwise drawn a paycheck for your writing. And humility certainly has its place. But carrying yourself with an air of confident professionalism even before you land that first paying job might actually help you get that job. “Aspiring” works against all of that.

Okay. So how does this work in practice? What’ll you say now that you can no longer say the dreaded A-word?

Obviously, you’re going to run into people from time to time who’ll ask what you do, and you need to have a fully-formed answer on the tip of your tongue. So when someone asks, “So, what do you do?” the answer is very simple: “I’m a writer” or “I write.” That’s it. That’s all. And yes, this is very often followed up by the other person asking something like, “What have you worked on?” or “Have you written anything I might’ve seen?” or something like that. And this is where the unproduced writer often feels their self-confidence crumble, so they offer one of the above-mentioned versions of “Well, I’m trying to blah blah blah…” as a way of explaining why they can’t currently be found on IMDb.

But I’m telling you, that’s the wrong way to go. Don’t be embarrassed by a lack of credits, or the fact that you actually got hired to write something once but the project fell apart and therefore, at least on paper, you’re still considered an amateur. Everybody has to start somewhere.

In such a situation, you definitely don’t want to lie or exaggerate your experience. DO NOT DO THIS, even if you’re convinced you can get away with it. Instead, there’s a very easy response: “I haven’t been staffed yet, but I just finished a new pilot/feature/novel that I’m really excited about.” Or, even better: “I just applied to the Disney (or Fox, or Warner Bros. or whatever else) Writing Program, and I’m working on a new spec while I’m waiting to find out if I’m a semifinalist.”

Yes, those are much wordier answers than “I’m aspiring,” but here’s the difference: with the longer answers, a) you’ve actually engaged the person in conversation, which is always a good thing, and b) you’ve communicated that you’re actively doing something to move your career forward. Like it or not, “I’m an aspiring writer” gives the impression that you spend your time just staring up at the sky, dreaming about the day when your big break comes along.

I’m assuming it goes without saying that you should already have some excellent writing samples up your sleeve to back up all this talk. I discussed that at length in my previous post. And if you do, guess what? You’re a writer. You’re not aspiring. You’re already taking steps to launch (or, in some cases, re-launch) your career, and that can mean the difference between someone taking an interest in you as a writer and them slinking away to freshen up their drink.

So if you haven’t already, now’s the time to go ahead and make that resolution. Resolve to stop aspiring. Take that dirty word out of your everyday conversation once and for all, and by all means, please take it out of your Twitter bio – yes, YOU. You know who you are.

It’s a new year. Make a new start.

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One thought on “WRITERS’ ROOM 101: Your Writing Career – Stop Aspiring

  1. essayfilms

    Great advice, Eric. The main difficulty, however, is getting my spouse to accept that I am a writer. She still can’t accept the fact that writing is my ‘work’ and that I ‘earn an income’ from relief (read substitute) teaching. At least I know who/what I am. I would be interested to hear of others in a similar position.

    Jeff McMahon
    Adelaide
    Australia

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