on writing

When Should You Stop Calling Yourself An Aspiring Writer?

Kurt VonnegutI met Kurt Vonnegut once. Don’t be too impressed with my brush with greatness: I paid a week’s wages for the privilege.

I was an undergraduate at the time, working hard in hopes of someday becoming a writer like the great man I’d idolized since I was 12 or so. The occasion was a lecture entitled “How to Get a Job Like Mine,” but I paid extra for the pre-lecture meet and greet with the real life Kilgore Trout. A chance to talk to Vonnegut was worth being late on the rent.

He entered the room old, crumpled, and hacking up his beloved Pall Malls and sat in a folding chair in the middle of our semicircle. My fellow ticket holders asked him social questions like, “How was your flight?” and “Is this your first trip to Sacramento?” I listened quietly until the inanity became too much, and then I blurted, “How will I know when I’ve stopped practicing being a writer and have become a writer?”

“Do you write?” he asked me.

“Yes, well, no. I mean, I’ve never sold anything,” I said.

“But do you write?” he asked again.


Vonnegut crossed his legs and waved his hand at me. “Then you’re a writer,” he said.

The whole exchange seemed very trite and dismissive. On one side was the towering man of letters and on the other was a college student subsisting on bean burritos. How could he expect me to take seriously his assertion that we were in the same fraternity?

That was many years ago. Since then I’ve fully embraced what I am. Also since then the internet has come along, and with it Twitter. Over and over I’m followed by earnest people who label themselves “aspiring writers,” and every time I read those words I hear Vonnegut’s voice and I see that nicotine stained hand waving my insecurities away.

Do you write? You’re a writer. Own it. Stop aspiring and start being.

cropped illustration Kieran Guckian /Flickr Creative Commons


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3 replies »

  1. Sometimes it takes those simple, “trite” words to make you realize that you are a writer. I was told that by a friend who had a couple published books. “Do you write? Then you’re a writer,” she said. She went further too, “Is your name attached to something you’ve written? Then you’re an author.” I accept that. I’m a writer. I’m an author. To be told that by Mr. Vonnegut is even more reinforcing.


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