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Writers and Authors

December 15, 2010

An interesting perspective on the difference between writers and authors today from Jason Sanford.  His view in a nutshell: an author is what happens when a writer engages with readers and grows from that experience.  The short-short version: writers write; authors are writers with readers.

I must admit, I’ve often used the two words interchangeably.  At the same time, however, I’ve also often treated the word “author” as though it is something higher and nobler than just a writer.  I’m a writer, and I’ve no qualms at calling myself such.  But I also classify myself as an aspiring author.  As if, somehow, I know that though I am a writer, I’m not yet an author.  I think, maybe Jason’s perspective has some merit.  At the very least, it seems to resonate with how I’ve used the words in the past.

At the same time, however… this perspective does not suggest that I’ve crossed the threshold between writer and author when I get published, and paid for my work.  Instead, it suggests I’ve crossed the threshold when I engage my writing with readers, when I experience feedback and react to feedback by learning and growing and improving my craft.  One can argue that this threshold could be crossed either before or after getting professionally published.

But by that perspective, am I then already an author, and not an aspiring author at all?

Words to think on, perhaps.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2010 1:22 pm

    My direct reply, on Jason Sanford’s site, I’ll quote here, as I ask what I think are some interesting questions in response to his post:

    An interesting perspective. There’s a certain appeal to this definition. By this, though, I could almost classify myself as an author (a categorization which, for whatever reason, I generally hold somewhat higher than writer) whereas I typically think of myself only as aspiring author.

    I wonder, does the number of readers a writer has figure into this definition? Is one or two consistent readers sufficient to qualify as an “author”? Dozens? Hundreds? Was Emily Dickenson an author before she was posthumously “discovered”? Or was she an author because of her correspondance with literary lumenaries?

    What about the quality of the reader? If my mom is the only reader of my work, am I an author? (FWIW, my mom does not typically read my work.) Or would a higher class of reader, such as might be defined, the bar that must be met to be considered an author?

    Just thoughts and questions to contribute to the discussion.

  2. December 15, 2010 1:56 pm

    You are the author of every paper you write at university. You are an author every time you click publish on a blog post. In any field than other than fiction, author = creator/owner of a piece of writing. You could say you are an author based on this blog alone.

    I think fiction writers put too much sanctity on the words ‘author’ and ‘writer’. I’ve read blogs arguing that calling yourself a writer or an author (when you are unpublished) is pompous – but what those folks really mean to distinguish is “published” vs. “not yet published”, and that is getting harder when you put “self-published” into the mix.

    So terminology wise, author vs. writer is simple. It also follows, that if author = owner, then if no one ever read your writing, then no one would ever need to know you wrote it. Therefore, authorship is only attributed when the work leaves the writer’s hands and enters the published sphere (even if it is just your mother) The quality of those readers wouldn’t matter.

    Did that make sense? LOL I think I needed to do some inductive reasoning there… gah it’s been a while since I’ve been in school.

    • December 15, 2010 1:57 pm

      Er I meant public sphere (not published sphere)

      • December 15, 2010 2:38 pm

        I read it as “public” and not published… until you pointed out that you miswrote it. ;)

    • December 15, 2010 2:38 pm

      It’s quibbling with semantics, and maybe it’s not imporant. In many ways, I think my hesitance at calling myself an “author” is that sense of presumption, and it relates pretty strongly to having never been published. In part, I think, that’s because it’s true that anybody can write, but pretty clearly not just anybody can make a living on their writing. In some ways, right now, I’m just anybody – and there’s nothing particularly special about writing a term paper or, for that matter, this blog. Anybody could do it, you know?

      I guess, in my mind, what sets an author apart is the quality of the work: it’s something that not just anybody can do, because it requires practice and dedication. And that, in some way, is what separates the published from the unpublished.

      And yet, there’s merit in being able to say that, regardless of whether you’ve ever been paid to write, yet you’ve engaged with the world and made some small impact thereon through the medium of your writing. It’s philosophical, perhaps.

      Author as owner of an intellectual property is an interesting perspective – and I guess that jives with a more utilitarian or legal framework, in the sense that a corporate entity, for instance, that contracts for a piece of work-for-hire writing is said to be the author of that writing. But I don’t think you mean it quite that way, so much as you mean that the author is the originator, creator, and perpetrator of something – and by extension the “owner” thereof. But in that sense… what, if anything, separates an author from a writer? Is writer a subset of author (writers are authors of written works?) or are authors a subset of writers (authors being writers of a specific kind of work, or of works in a specific framework, or somesuch other definition?)…? Does it matter? On the other hand, you seem to be suggesting a “tree falling in the woods” dichotomy, wherein we question whether a sound was made by the tree if nobody was there to hear the sound… i.e. that authorship exists as a public expression of writing, insofar as there is reference back to the author of a work by a person who is not the author of the work, or in other words that a person who is not the author recognizes the authorship of another individual.

      Ahhh, semantics… how do I wrestle with thee?

      • December 15, 2010 3:07 pm

        It’s what we do as writers! hehe.

        I think that authors are a subset of writers. Not everyone wants to share their writing with the world. I’ve met writers who don’t care a thing about publication. There are far more writers than there are authors.

        I don’t assign any hierarchy to the terms writer or author in my mind. Perhaps that’s because I am paid to write. They hired me as a writer, and as a writer, I am the author of a set of documents. It’s just part of the job description to me – even though this writing has nothing to do with fiction.

        Plus, putting your work out there, even if it is just letting your mother read it, is a big step, and shouldn’t be undervalued. Maybe it’s just a first step, if you’re aiming for traditional publication, but it’s still a step.

      • December 15, 2010 3:24 pm

        I think that clarifies what you were trying to say. For the record, though… I don’t actually count my mom as my “sole reader”. She may occassionally read some of what I write, but by and large I don’t actually send her most of what I write (aside from the fact that she has access to this blog, if she so chooses, it being public). I used that as a metaphor, really, or an example based on the presumed archetype of the writer who has no real readers, or whose writing is so bad only his/her mother could love it.

  3. December 15, 2010 6:18 pm

    Stephen: Many thanks for taking up this discussion. I responded to your comments on my blog.

    • December 15, 2010 9:31 pm

      Thanks for the response. I’ll be heading back to your site to check it out as soon as I’m able.

  4. December 16, 2010 11:15 pm

    I tend to ignore the distinction. I’d rather write (I’m in the half that wants to have my writing read). However, I think engaging with readers and growing from that experience is valuable regardless of what you call me ;)

    • December 17, 2010 9:45 am

      That’s very true that the feedback and engagement is valuable regardless of the terminology used. In fact, it can be clearly argued that what you call us is irrelevant, as long as we do what we do, and do it well…

  5. December 22, 2010 2:42 pm

    I call myself an author because I’m a writer-artist, so in comicbookdom authors are the ones who do everything (writing the story, drawing the story, inking the story, etc)! ;-) Also I think authors are the world creators and storytellers of genre stories… of course you must be a writer to do it, but author is… bigger, if you know what I mean! ;-)
    That’s my two cents…
    Author Barb

    • December 22, 2010 2:57 pm

      There are a lot of different ways to use the word author. I’d never heard that distinction in the comic industry… Thanks for sharing it.

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