Why you shouldn’t mock aspiring writers

Renaissance painting of a scribe writing on parchment in a writer's workshop, surrounded by scrolls and books.


In Biblical times a country town was lucky to have a single literate member. In the middle ages only the aristocracy, clergy, and merchant class could read or write. At every stage in history, the few people who could read and write controlled where history would go next and what ideas every educated school child would be raised on afterward. It’s no exaggeration to say writers are as valuable as doctors to any society.

They always have been and always will be, but individual writers today aren’t as valuable as they used to be since they’re not as rare. The supply outweighs the demand. Nobody is going to bow down to you or even pat you on the back for being able to read and write. You’re expected to know how to do that. That’s the bare minimum. That’s 15 pieces of flair. And the bar is set even higher than that. Ask any high school English teacher to show you the standards children are tested to. They’re very articulate. Ask any high school English teacher what they think the standards should be, and you’ll get a broader impression of where the bar sits today.

So while you won’t get a pat on the back for being able to form coherent sentences anymore, you will get a pat on the back for being able to form coherent essays. You’ll get a standing ovation if you can write a great book. You’ll change the course of history if you can write the most profound thing anyone has ever written. In all walks of life, the better you communicate ideas, whether on paper or in speech, you’re a greater and greater asset to yourself and to society and by rights should be regarded as such. There are writers and speakers alive today who are already legends, but for every sung hero there are countless unsung heroes… especially in the digital age. There was a time in history when finishing a book at all practically made you a publishable author. Now, authors are practically expected to give their first ten books away for free just to prove their worth.

Even in real life, if someone at a party tells you they’re an aspiring author, your first reaction will likely be to mock them for being an unemployed bum who’s too nancy and irresponsible to get a real job. If you meet an aspiring blogger at a party they’ll probably introduce themselves as an “author…” not a “blogger.” Even if they’re personally proud of what they do, they know they’ll get mocked for it and quizzed about why they don’t do something better with their lives.

When authors are a dime a dozen we lose sight of how difficult and vital good writing is. The call to action there is to give aspiring writers the credit they’re due… if not with your pocketbook, then at least with your heart. I’m not trying to guilt trip you. I’m trying to help you understand that writers are important, and if you understand why they are then you’d already be patting aspiring authors (and even bloggers) on the back at parties and buying them shots. If you think writers are lazy then you must not understand how much effort and skill goes into writing even a semi-decent book or blog.

The only way to get good at anything is to do it all the time. You can’t learn to snowboard well enough to bomb a mountain by going up on the slopes two or three times a year. You can’t learn to hit a home run consistently by playing backyard baseball in the summer. The same is true for writing. So say what you will about the quality of books and blogs written by noob writers, but give them a pat on the back for soldiering on. And acknowledge another thing right before you give them another pat on the back. Sports are as brutal on the body as writing is on the mind. It hurts, but it’s a good hurt. It’s not for everybody, and that’s fine. But for those few who are so into snowboarding, baseball, writing, dance, yoga, music, martial arts or building little miniature ships and putting them in big glass bottles that they stick with it when they could be doing anything else with their lives, then why not be happy for them? They found something productive they were so passionate about that they did it long enough to get even half decent at. There’s nothing laughable about that. And at least in the case of writers, they were so passionate about following their dream that they stuck with it after the honeymoon phase ended without being driven or inspired by the people around them. In fact, they’ve likely been soldiering on despite the fact that they’ve been getting booed and dismissed since day one. So if nothing else, give them credit for having the fortitude to put in the man-hours in private and take a beating in public.

If you’re still not impressed, then you’re still not seeing the whole picture. The piece of the puzzle you might be missing is how much concentration and technical skill are required to write well enough to finish a book or maintain a blog at all. How much concentration does it take to write well? Consider how much concentration reading a book takes. It absorbs your whole reality. Everything else in your mind fades away and you’re no longer a stressed out suburbanite worrying about bills and how much work you have to do. Reading transports you to an alternate reality, and as fun as that is, you’ll have to put the book down or step away from the internet eventually because the effort will exhaust you. If it’s exhausting to slide down that rainbow road, imagine how absorbing and exhausting it must be to lay the bricks. It’s beyond words. But you know that. If you’re not an aspiring writer, you’ve got your reasons, and one of them is probably because the idea of spending your evenings and weekends grading English papers makes you want to choke yourself on used toilet paper. But grading grammar is what writers do. The difference is that writers have to write the papers they grade first. Then they have to know how to grade them, and they can’t settle for a B.

I’m not saying you need to kiss your barista’s ring each time you order a latte. It’s not that what they’re doing is so much more difficult and specialized than whatever you do for a living is, but think about this.  You (or half the people you know) probably sit in chairs all day and stare at computers and solve complicated problems and devise articulate, useful answers, which you effectively communicate to other people. All day at work everyone’s brains are crunching more numbers than their computer, and everyone deserves a round of applause for that… even authors… even though they don’t sit in an office; they sit in their mom’s basement.

Just because authors wear the same clothes you wear when you’re being lazy doesn’t mean they’re being lazy. They’re working just as hard as school teachers, secretaries and anyone who writes performance reviews for a living. You wouldn’t walk up to a first, third or fifth-grade teacher and tell them they suck and should quit just because they’re not Jamie Escalante. You wouldn’t be condescending to someone at a party who told you they wrote memos and performance reviews for a living. You might not necessarily look up to them either, but life isn’t a dick-waving competition. So next time you run into an aspiring author at a party, pour them a drink and raise to toast to working hard, following your dreams and never giving up.


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