Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Writer vs. Author

Just another author
Of all the myriad things writers obsess about, it's the point at which they transition (transcend?) from writer to author that sticks in their minds more often than not. Especially writers just starting out, stars in their eyes, eagerly awaiting the day they get "the call" and all of their problems go away.

Being an Author carries with it some sense of wonder and authority. As in, "Wow, someone liked your writing so much they published it." In reality, it's really more like, "Wow, someone thought your writing was good enough to sell and turn a decent profit." Semantics? Perhaps.

But what's the difference between a writer and an author? Don't they both do essentially the same thing? Is it a matter of one being more eccentric, more indy, less novice-like, more talented, confident, actually published, or is it merely a declaration of purpose that separates the Authors from the just-Writers?

Nonsense.

Authors write. It's what they do. They don't "auth," after all, or "author" their novels, except in strange social circles where people use incredibly proper grammar and annoy the hell out of anyone nearby. At its heart, this is -- quite literally -- a matter of semantics.

To me, being an author is more about attitude than it is about writing. It is how you see and present yourself. "I'm a writer," could mean just about anything. What do you write? Articles, sports columns, blog posts, journal entries, PHP code? Anyone can write, but it requires a little something more to call yourself an author.

That "something more" isn't a published book, however -- it is an attitude. Much like a baptism, or a marriage ceremony, you're not physically changed afterward, but you have made a declaration that you are now different. You have devoted yourself to something and want everyone to know it. You want to be viewed differently.

It's decided in that moment where, when someone asks what you do for a living or notices that there is such a thing as a book with your name on it, you must own up to the fact that you write books. "I write books," you say. An author says it with confidence, proud of his work and excited to share it with others. A writer may appear bashful, ashamed, or awkward. They have no idea what to do when someone is interested. We all have these moments.

Becoming an author is not every writer's goal (dream?). It is not an evolutionary advance, and it has nothing to do with how many people recognize your name (or book title). An author is not simply a person who has written an entire book. Neither does the completion of said book mean that every sentence their fingers produce from then on is worth its weight in gold.

Just another author
To me, at least, being an author means you don't stop with one book. Or ten books. Or a hundred books. You write until you can't write anymore. Until they put the final nail in the coffin, writing is on your mind. Whether that writing is fiction or not, flash- or novel-length, that writing is what you feel your purpose is on this planet. You would write even without a laptop, typewriter, or pen. You would scrawl on cave (or prison?) walls, if you had to.

Being a writer is something you could take or leave. It's not that being an author requires commitment on your behalf so much as it demands submission to your creative impulses. It's a compulsion.

There are things you cannot do and be an author at the same time, though these things are different for each person. Much like being a professional musician, being an author requires sacrifice to that art -- whereas being a writer just requires finding the time.

There's no need to decide right now. If, however, you plan to pursue writing, you need to ask yourself whether you want to truly become an author. How much are you willing to give up to achieve that dream? Is it worth it to you?



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12 comments:

  1. Hmmm, you touch on an issue I'll probably have to deal with at some point, but right now, this is so far removed from where I currently am, I think I'll just crawl under my rock and continue writing with my finger and blood.

    More importantly though, do you think you're not an author? Or are you struggling with that attitude? Dude, if you are, please stand back and take a look. You are an author! And a very good one. And, you're a good writer, too. I don't think the terms are naturally exclusive. You can be both, and embody both labels with pride.

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  2. Nila, no I'm not having a crisis of confidence over here, but I see a lot of people who do. It's just one of those dead horses that writers obsess about, you know? When can we call ourselves authors?? ARGH. It's ridiculous and fraught with peril, since it's completely up to the person themselves to represent their own role.

    We should be both, and we should embody both with pride.

    And you're an author, too. You just won't admit to it ;)

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  3. As someone who falls under the 'wouldn't probably consider themselves an author' umbrella, I find this insightful and humorous.

    Why humorous?

    I'd never even considered calling myself an author, I don't think.

    Odd, maybe... but I still consider writing a hobby and not a real goal to accomplish 'X'. Whether that be finish a novel, self-publish a novel, or make the New York Times Best Seller list... I think having a particular goal to accomplish something is where I would internally draw that line.

    I'm not there, though I consider it at times. :)

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  4. Erik, I believe you'll get there at some point. Though I know you're passionate about what you're working on now, I think eventually you'll find something that just knocks your head clear around and makes you say "I MUST WRITE THIS" and that will be your aha moment. Yes, I just said aha moment. Boom.

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  5. I know what you mean, Todd. For me, I've always considered myself an aspiring author. I guess that's ridiculous, since I've already "authored" two books. They just haven't been published yet.

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  6. Giles, you were an author even before you ordered your business cards.

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  7. Lol. Based on your sound arguments in this post, I pretty much have no choice but to agree. I've never been as confident as I am today, and while that confidence may come crashing down at some point in the future, it will not change my view of who and what I am. :)

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  8. I have never, not once, "obsessed about the point at which I will transition from writer to author." Is that a real thing? Do people really do that? For me, "author" carries no more cache than "writer." If anything, "author" sounds kind of old and stodgy.

    I've always considered myself a writer and have no desire to call myself an author. I mean, I suppose there might be a few situations where "author" might sound more natural. Like, if someone were to pick up my book and say, "Who wrote this?" For some reason, "I'm the writer of that book" sounds odd, so I would likely say, "I'm the author of that book." But how often is THAT situation going to play out? LOL Other than that, if anyone asks me what I do, I always respond, "I'm a writer," because that's what I am and I love it and I'm proud of it.

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  9. Either or word seems interchangable to me. Though the term author seems loaded with a sense of ownership. Author of what? There's a burden of proof attached.

    Oh I intend to keep writing until my eyes and fingers fail me, and I can't physically keep doing it anymore, no matter if I've been published (in any sense) or not.

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  10. Like sonje, I prefer writer to author. Maybe it's because my writing isn't exclusive to novel-writing. Or maybe it's because I don't attach any more status to one over the other. I've never really thought about it before. Thought-provoking post! I'm a new follower.

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