“You must be willing to learn.”
She’s not talking about learning how to write. She’s talking about learning about life, about the world. Or what I call the spiritual side of writing. Writing is a growing experience. If you want your writing experience to fulfill, you must be willing to expand your horizons through it. Regardless of which horizons you expand or which passions you pursue, writing fulfills because it allows you to express yourself in the world around you.
“Why do you write?” Classic question. That’s the reason, the last clause in the paragraph above. “Because it allows you to express yourself in the world around you.” This is what writers mean, I think, when they say “I write because I have to,” or “I write because I have a story to tell.” As reasons to write, these are cop-outs.
You “have to”: That begs the question. Like saying “I eat because I’m hungry,” it doesn’t really tell me why you feel the need to eat. The real reason you eat is because you need nourishment to survive, or because you find comfort in food, or because it calms your upset stomach.
You “have a story to tell”: This one is just as tautological. Of course you have a story to tell. Everyone has a story to tell. But some of us tell our stories, and others don’t. Why have you decided to tell your story?
I believe that most writers write in order to find spiritual fulfillment, to reflect part of themselves in concrete form in the world around them, to make a difference in the world.
But that implies spiritual growth, always discovering new truths about the world inside you that you can put into words. And that requires learning.
The old adage goes, “If you want to be a writer, then do three things: write, write, and write.” But I disagree. My three steps to being a writer are to (1) read, (2) watch TV, and finally (3) write.
I don’t just read novels in my favorite genre or in the genre in which I write. As a musician, when I was first learning to play, I would listen to my favorite musical genre. You start by listening to other musicians who are playing music similar to what you want to play. But once you’ve learned your own genre, you start listening to other genres. If you’re a rock guitarist, you listen to a lot of jazz and blues. If you play the blues, you listen to pop and classical. Or whatever. And the same thing applies with writing. I enjoy stories from hard SF to fantasy romance to mystery to suspense. I hope you never hear me dissing a story just because it has time travel in it, or just because it has a happily-ever-after ending, or just because the characters were all female, or just because it was written in first-person.
I also read lots of non-fiction, and much of that online. Yes, browsing the web is a fine way to expand your horizons. And not everything on Facebook is a waste of time. (Some of my most informative and intellectually stimulating leads come through Facebook and other bloggers.)
As for TV (and film), I have my favorite movies and TV shows (though none of them is currently on the air), which I dissect, analyze to death, always seeking to understand why they work on me the way they do. Lately, I’ve also been watching a lot of documentaries, both mainstream and indie, through NetFlix. Frankly, NetFlix is a godsend for my writing career (and a business deduction, too), because it provides a constant stream of intellectual stimulation. The only thing I have to watch out for with TV is that it distracts and overstimulates. Watching too much TV can wear you out emotionally, leaving you unable to write. So, everything in moderation.
To bring this post back to its title, we usually use the term “aspiring author” to refer to someone who has not been published, a writer who has not arrived as an author. But I’d like to overload it with another meaning. The unpublished writer is always seeking to find himself in his craft. And that’s an aspiration we should never lose, no matter how far we come. If you’re smart, whether you write for business or for pleasure, you’ll always be an “aspiring author,” always digging deeper into who you are, discovering yourself, and reflecting that in the words around you.