A Guide to Professional Aspiring Authors

I recently wrapped my winter show schedule (Arisia and Boskone), and while neither show was a big moneymaker, alas, I got to meet and chat with other writers, which is always fun.

It’s also a little frustrating at times, because so many aspiring authors fall under a category I’ve come to refer to as the Professional Aspiring Author. These are writers who say they have a solid idea for a novel, but haven’t finished it yet — and in many cases, haven’t even begun working on it yet, and they have a million reasons why this is.

These reasons often suck. They’re flat excuses not to do the hard work of writing their novel. Sometimes people are simply more in love with the idea of writing a novel than the actual writing, but sometimes it’s how their own fear of failure manifests. If they never release their creation into the world, they can always fantasize about what might have been rather than face the possible cold, reality of being rejected by readers.

Now, let me clarify that my sense of frustration isn’t selfish in nature. I don’t secretly roll my eyes at these people and bemoan my fate at getting cornered by another big-talking, big-planning wannabe; I’m saddened that there are so many people with a lot of enthusiasm and often great ideas, but somehow wind up so stuck in their own heads that it would be a miracle if they ever get a word down on paper.

Below are some of the most common Professional Aspiring Authors I encounter, and my purpose in identifying these types is not to mock or ridicule, but to give readers of this post who may themselves be Professional Aspiring Authors a kick in the pants, shake off their excuses for not doing the work, and finally strike that “Aspiring” label.

The Over-Planner

This is the author who excitedly tells me about their 30-page plot outline, now in its fifth draft, or how they’re busy creating their fantasy world’s monetary exchange system, or how they’ve worked up exhaustive backstories for every primary, secondary, and tertiary character in the cast.

Whenever I ask how much of the actual novel they’ve written, I usually get a moment of awkward silence followed by, “I’m almost ready to start writing, but first I have to finish [plotting, worldbuilding, writing character bios, etc.].”

These people will never actually write the story — and if they do, they run the risk of writing a stiff, lifeless story because they’re so married to all the plans they laid out (go read Why Your Fantasy Novel Sucks by Professor Awesome for a more detailed analysis of this problem).

Quick aside: I say as a Pantser — someone who does little to no pre-planning before writing — that this is not meant as a slam against Planners, that kind of writer who maps everything out before writing. Neither approach is “the right one” in an objective sense; Planners create great stuff because as a writer, that’s the approach that works best for them, but over-planning is an easy trap for amateur authors to fall into.

The Overworked and Over-committed

The number one excuse I hear among Professional Aspiring Authors is, “I don’t have time to write.”

Short answer: bullshit. Yes they do.

Longer answer: I’m going to bet that they do indeed have time to wrote, but they’re choosing to spend that time on other activities — watching TV, going to the gym, a weekly bowling league, some other creative hobby — and they’re unwilling to sacrifice any of those things to give themselves writing time.

In other words, what they’re really saying is, “I don’t have time to write and still do all the other fun stuff I like to do,” and that is more likely the truth of the matter.

But here’s another truth: that extra time won’t magically appear. You want to write a novel? You have to make time, and that might mean making sacrifices. And if you’re not willing to make those sacrifices, then maybe it’s time for another hard truth and admit that you don’t really want to write a novel, you just want to talk about it.

The Temporarily Inconvenienced Bestselling Author

This Professional Aspiring Author has a website and a regular blog, social media accounts everywhere, and is constantly posting articles on writing, reviews of other authors’ work, their own helpful writing tips, and occasionally mentions the novel they’re allegedly working on.

I’ll admit, this type I find particularly grating, because the TIBA often embodies the worst form of the old axiom, “those who can’t do, teach.” They’re quick to offer writing advice and tell others what they’re doing wrong, but have never actually written anything of their own — but oh, they’re working on it.

The Invisible Author

This is the Professional Aspiring Author I have the most sympathy for. They’ve finished a project, sometimes multiple projects, and they could release them at any time, but they can’t get over that massive final hurdle that is the fear of failure.

I get it. All authors get it. Mustering the courage to pull the trigger and release your work out into the world, which has no obligation to be kind in its opinions (indeed, too many people revel in the opportunity to be cruel to complete strangers) is a huge accomplishment. I’ve heard from many more experienced authors than me that simply bringing a novel to completion is a major achievement, perhaps the most important achievement in the process, but personally, I’d put releasing the novel as a close second.

If this is you, there’s nothing wrong with dipping your toe in the water; you don’t have to dive in head-first. Post stuff online. Try releasing a short story. If you haven’t shown your work to anyone, find people to test-read for you. There are ways to ease into it.

The One-Hit Wonder

I encountered a couple of these types at Arisia, people who have actually released a novel, but only the one…several years ago…and haven’t released anything since and have turned into one of the other aforementioned Professional Aspiring Authors, or some combination thereof.

For whatever reason, these individuals tend to be rather pompous and self-important, as if their single accomplishment grants them the right — nay the obligation to share their (often unsolicited) advice with everybody. I overheard one gent regaling my neighbors at Arisia at length about the craft of writing, and I Googled him to see if he actually knew what he was talking about. The dude had one self-published book — not terribly successful, judging by the scant Amazon reviews it had — from nearly ten years ago and hadn’t done anything since then, but he deemed himself fit to lecture a small group of more accomplished and prolific authors on how to write.

(FYI, he was a man and the people he was lecturing were all women, so of course he felt compelled to mansplain writing to them.)

Folks, if this is you: don’t be this person. You want to talk shop with a fellow author? Great, but ask first, just don’t start pontificating. Your listener might well be far more knowledgeable than you, and for writers, nothing is a greater turnoff than being told how to do your job.

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