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Identity vs. Career: The “Writer or Author” Debate Simplified

25 Feb

As you may have noticed from my previous posts, I opt to use the word Writer as opposed to the word Author. Why make the distinction? What is the difference between the two?

Many people would seem to be under the impression that being an Author is better than or preferable to being a Writer. Why is this? Maybe because it sounds more prestigious? Maybe because, as Jo Eberhardt puts it in her blog,

Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that anyone can claim to be a writer, but an author has super-powers, writes at lightning speed, kills bad plot bunnies with nothing but a red pen, and rescues kittens before breakfast.

This is true, in a sense. Not the super-powers part – the part about anyone being able to claim to be a Writer. That is what makes being a Writer so wonderful. Anyone can do it. It comes with no prerequisites, no contracts . . . not even skill or talent is necessary for one to be a Writer. You’ve simply got to enjoy what you do.

Another part of this definition is simply technicalities. One needs to publish something in order to be considered an Author. Dean Wesley Smith sums it up like this:

— A Writer is a person who writes.

— An Author is a person who has written.

Chances are this guy isn’t an Author just yet – but he is a Writer.

In other words, being an Author is largely dependent upon others, about how well you are liked or appreciated – it is a state of interdependence between many different subsets: you, your agent, your editor, your publisher, your audience, etc. You don’t need anyone else to be a Writer. You write, and that is that.

Of course, Writers can become Authors, but be warned – if you start identifying yourself as an Author and leave the title of Writer behind you, chances are you are focusing more on the finished product and your own image than the art of actually putting words onto paper. This is bad. Every Author must first and foremost be a Writer, simply because the word Author puts the emphasis on the person, whereas the word Writer puts emphasis on the craft, where it should be.

Finally, interchangeability between these two words has nothing to do with level of skill or talent. There are talented Authors and there are Writers who are just as talented. In fact, I would go so far as to say that often Writers are more talented than Authors (see my previous post “How To Read Books Without Going Crazy” .) So regardless of how you choose to identify yourself, know that it has no bearing on how good you are at the craft.

The author of the blog Chronicles of Harriet sums up the difference the most eloquently:

Being a writer is an identity; being an author is a career.

That is why I choose to identify myself – and to address the readers of my blog – as Writers rather than Authors. It is who we are, regardless of what else we decide to do with our lives. We could be students, lawyers, plumbers, doctors, maintenance workers, or circus performers, but we are always Writers.

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1 Comment

Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Writing

 

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One response to “Identity vs. Career: The “Writer or Author” Debate Simplified

  1. ab4

    March 2, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you for this! It was excellent and clarified some ideas and questions I’d had bouncing around in my head for awhile. 🙂 However, I was thinking about a very similar idea the other day and based on my conclusions then, I think I would even take this a step further: rather than calling myself a writer, I would say “I write”. That puts the focus not on me, but where it should be- on the great art we practice. It helps keep you on your toes about the active-ness of an artist’s (artist is the one word I’ll keep in noun form because it doesn’t have a neat, compact verb version) vocation and life. In addition, it protects you against people who jealously guard terms like “writer” as some sort of title to be earned. If I said I was a singer, people would probably think I was a pretentious twit. But if I say I sing, they say “oh, that’s cool.” And I can say “I do some acting” but not “I’m an actor”, “I do photography” but not “I’m a photographer” and so forth. To my ears, “Well, I write, and I sing, and I draw, and I do photography” etc sounds a lot more… well, appropriate, for lack of a better word, than “I’m a writer and a singer and a photographer blah blah blah”. (I suppose there’s some element here of whether you’re on the path to becoming a professional, but that is perhaps another debate).

     

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