You Are Not An Aspiring Writer

At the Screenwriters' Festival 2007, here's how I introduced myself to people, when they asked what I did: "Well, I'm an aspiring writer with a background in journalism. I've had an optioned script and hope one day to make the transition to being a full-time writer, blah blah, quack, blah..." (admittedly, the "quack" may have thrown them).

At the Screenwriters' Festival 2008, here's how I introduced myself to people, when they asked what I did: "I'm a writer."

Much simpler. Much less painful. And I haven't made this switch because I think I've made some kind of grand transformational progress in the intervening 12 months (although it's been good, thanks for enquiring). I haven't reached some magical upper echelon where people are suddenly allowed to describe themselves as "a screenwriter". Here's the thing, which is only my opinion, of course: if we describe ourselves as aspiring screenwriters, or apprentice screenwriters, or unproduced screenwriters, or screenwriters who only get the chance to write between 9pm and 11pm when we're knackered, then (a) we sound like we're denigrating ourselves, making excuses; and (b) many of the people we're talking to will mentally file us away under "newbie" or, worse, "amateur".

Perception is vital. No matter what level we've reached, we're aspiring to the next. That's a given, and I don't believe we need to point it out any more.

If you write, you're a writer. End of story. No excuses, no pointless qualification of the facts. We're writers and we work incredibly hard, using our big old brains in so many different ways, for potentially little or no reward, soaking up different degrees of rejection like a sponge and moving onwards with an unstoppable shark-like grace. So many people are happy to diminish and downplay our power and achievements: let's not aid their cause with our opening sentences to a potentially career-changing new contact.

So next time someone asks what you do, utter your job title with confidence and a soupcon of pride.

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David Lemon said...

Well said Sir and congratulations on your book title award.
It's a very British and in some ways quite endearing thing to talk ourselves down, but it's something we writers all have to be wary of.
In Cannes a few years ago I soon realised that while it was interesting the whole thing is built for producers, financiers, sales agents and distributors. I found myself saying I was'just a writer' as if it was something I had to apologise for.

I'm not suggesting we go to the other extreme and introduce ourselves as 'Dreamweavers' a la Garth Marenghi, but we're important ,dammit. Without our headaches, re-writes and hand cramps there wouldn't be any 'product' for everyone else to make and sell.

Michelle Goode said...

I can totally see where you're coming from, but it's incredibly hard to claim you are a "writer", as opposed to an "aspiring writer" (which gives you leeway).

I suppose a lot of us are too shy to make such a statement because, in a conversation in which you make such a claim, the norm would be to expand on it with examples of your work... But if you haven't had any success whatsoever yet...

But, besides that, I do agree that we should all be a bit more bold and confident in making the statement. After all, it is extra optimism, and optimism and determination will always be a positive boost to our development!

Helen Smith said...

How will you describe yourself next year? From 'aspiring screenwriter' to 'screenwriter' to... what? Maybe 'scr' or 'ssss' or 's'?

You'll have to get your business cards reprinted. Terrible expense xx

John Soanes said...

Fair point - I seem to recall someone like Clive Barker saying that the distinction between a writer and an author was just that the latter got paid more (or at least more regularly).

Dave said...

Because all Davids share a hive-mind, I completely agree with David's comments at the top.

When I send out query letters I do state I'm an "aspiring writer", probably because I think they will take mercy upon me and will at least continue to read on to the next paragraph.

But you make an excellent case Jason, if you want producers to believe in you, you've got to believe in yourself first -- the "aspiring" title has to go.

Piers said...

If you write, you're a writer. Simple as.

You might be the best writer in the world, or someone who can't string two sentences together. And if it's the latter, then anyone hiring you has just made a terrible mistake.

But your skill level has nothing to do with your job title.

Writers write. The phrase works both ways.

Anonymous said...

I used to quite like "I'm a wannabe writer". It's like "aspiring" only a bit more self-deprecative.

And I think context is all. With industry people, I think it's better to say "I'm a writer". With civilians you meet at parties, it's better to say "I'm an aspiring writer". Otherwise, until you've had something on at the local multiplex, you're labelled a wanker. And possibly rightly.


Glenn Upsall said...

Having recently been involved in the Screen Tests of my (first ever) Short Film, I soon realised I was introducing myself as 'just the writer.'


The people I was shaking hands with weren't introducing themselves as 'just the actor.'

We WRITE. That's what we do. And by writing, we ARE writers. YAY!!!

To me, describing youself as an 'aspiring writer' or 'wannabe writer' suggests you haven't even picked up a pen yet!!!

A writer doesn't have to be published or commissioned, they just need to have a PASSION for the written word. Obviously, if you wish to make a living out of this business, you need to understand the 'basics' - grammar, spelling, scentence construction, etc....(Unless you are a Celebrity!! Don't get me started!!!).

Once you have mastered the basics , and if you have a FRESH and ORIGINAL voice or idea, there's no reason why you can't hit the BIG TIME!! It's just a case of meeting the right person at the right time....

And another thing...

I believe the Writer must come across as 'professional.' They must be able to sell him/herself to any potential Producer/Publisher/Editor. Writing (particularly Screenwriting) can be a collaborative effort. The people with the blank cheques must have faith in the Writer. They must believe he/she can deliver the end product. They don't want to hear 'aspiring' or 'wannabe.'

Would you really let a 'wannabe surgeon' perform open heart surgery on you!!?? I think not!!!

A good way to boost your chances (and confidence) is the BUSINESS CARD. It's a great way to promote yourself and help the other person remember you. Besides, it certainly beats scribbling your number on a damp beer mat!!!

P.S. I apologise if there are any spelling or grammatical errors in the above comment, I'm 'just a wannabe writer'!!!!!!!

Oli said...


Anonymous said...

I know this thread's a bit old but I've just caught up with it to add:

while I agree with what Glen Upsall says, I've met too many jokers with 'Writer' on their business card who write very little, and haven't got anywhere. Surgeons have qualifications to pass and experience to acquire before they can call themselves a surgeon. Anyone can call themself a writer (and frequently do).

I had written two (unpublished) novels and a couple of screenplays before I would even admit to being a wannabe writer (before that I might have admitted to spending most of my time writing, but that's all). It wasn't until I had a TV credit that I actually used the phrase "I'm a writer". But it didn't stop me taking it seriously from page one of my first novel.

If someone claims to be a writer, I want to know what they've written. And if they haven't, then they're not.

Here endeth the rant.


Jon Peacey said...

I'm not an 'aspiring writer'.

I'm an 'aspiring success'.

I prove I'm a writer with every word put from pen to paper.

The quality is for others determine.

...and lack of credits doesn't alter this view of myself!

Danny Stack said...

Coming to this five years late, sorry. I agree with the sentiments, Jase, but disagree with it in practice. The killer question a new screenwriter will get is: 'so, what have you done that I've seen?' to which, a lot of the time, the answer is a sort of mumble about 'something in development, BBC writersroom said some nice things, I'm waiting to hear back on..'

I agree that 'aspiring screenwriter' is not an ideal phrase but it's all about context, I think. At a writer's festival, by all means say you're a writer. But down the pub, and you meet a stranger, 'I'm a screenwriter' will get you into conversational difficulty when you're actually still stacking shelves down the local Tesco.

When I was a complete newbie, I said: "I've just started a screenwriting career, so it's early days yet.' That way, people had the right context of what I was about or what I was saying without sounding like a delusional arse.

Jason Arnopp said...

I don't know, Lord Stack, why the likelihood of a difficult second question should change the way you answer the first question.

If people write, they're most definitely writers and should say so without initial qualification. And when that follow-up question hits them, they should answer truthfully - "No, nothing you'll have heard of yet, but I'm working on it". Nice and simple. No delusionary arsehood involved, in m'opinion. Just positivity without endless qualifications which would probably bore someone rigid anyway.

Stop talking to strangers down the pub! I did warn you about that. Tsk.