I savor the comments readers leave on this blog. But often they are apologetic in tone, along the lines of “I’m not really a writer,” or “I aspire to be a writer.” In the technical sense of the word “writer,” at least as I see it, these statements are a lie. They “wrote” a comment, forming words into grammatically correct sentences. But in a broader sense they have fallen into a linguistic trap, one of mistaken self-identity.
If you want to be a writer, declare yourself a writer. If you want to be a painter, or a musician, or a dancer, declare yourself as such. Then go about acquiring the tools you need to become a great writer or painter or musician or dancer.
Part of the problem, I fear, is the English language. We only have one verb “to be.” We don’t differentiate between our current state and who we truly are. But take Spanish, which has two. There is estar, which addresses a temporary state, and ser, which is used for your permanent identity. So if I say Yo estoy confudido, I state that I am currently confused. Should I choose to utter Yo soy confudido, I am defining myself as a confused person. I am often confused, but I would not like to own that as part of my identity.
So someone who is aspiring to create lasting value in an artistic endeavor should consider these two different verbs. Take ownership of the craft as a part of you in the spirit of ser, but be honest about your current state as a writer with estar.
I believe when people say they aspire to be a writer, they actually have a specific target in mind. It could be publication. It could be recognition by others. It could be reaching that level where they feel they are peers with the writers they most admire. But if they are already thinking of these concrete goals, they are already a writer.
For me, my aspiration as a writer is simple. I aspire to be the best writer I can be. As such, I don’t have to worry what happens when I achieve my goal, because it is in many respects unachievable. I may at some point think I’ve reached that point, but we always have the capability of growing. It would seem an unachievable goal is a poor motivating tool, but I learned from my interview with author Michael Swanwick to set my goals high. That way, when I fail, I still have produced something spectacular.
Do you find you limit yourself with labeling? Perhaps you own being an artist, but modify it with negative adjectives such as “poor” or “struggling”? I’d love to hear your experience with creative pursuits and self-labeling.