Thursday, March 17, 2016

Writers vs. Authors

It is an often asked question: 'What makes someone an author?'  Ask Pinterest and you'll be answered with snark, hilarity and references to how weird they are.  Ask Tumblr and you'll receive even more references to insanity with examples to prove it.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the two terms thusly:
Writer: a person who has written a particular text
Author: someone who writes books as profession

Years ago I found this quote: 'not everyone is a writer, but everyone can write.'  It has stayed with me for years because I strongly agree with it.  I  would go one step further to differentiate between those who 'can write' and who are thus writers, vs. those who 'are writers' AKA authors.

In talking with my soul sister Mirriam about this subject recently, we discovered that we had both been wanting to write blog posts about it.  We agreed to write our posts and then read each other's after they had been posted (as opposed to sending them to each other beforehand, as we've sometimes done).

Now, writing a post on writers vs. authors might sound ridiculously arrogant and pretentious from someone who has yet to be published herself.  What right do I have to 'judge' them?  Firstly, this is my personal opinion.  Secondly, as someone who has read a hugely varied range of books from the classics to modern teen and YA fiction and almost everything in-between; I'm evaluating from the perspective of a reader, not judging.  (My friend Kate said, "One does not have to be a French chef to tell the difference between a five-star restaurant and McDonalds.")  There are certain hallmarks of 'authordom' that are common to all good authors and more and more I'm seeing books self-published by people who frankly are not authors.  

Firstly, I think all authors have a burning passion for at least one thing in particular- whether it's to bring hope, change the way the world thinks, raise awareness of a particular issue or just to set someone's imagination on fire with fantasy or science fiction.  I would liken authors to a lit match.  As they look around for others to burn, they burn themselves.  'What you wish to light in others must first burn in you' is certainly true of them.

Secondly, they never consider a story as well-done.  There are always things they think could have been made better or changed.  But, they recognize that each story is a signpost along the journey and do not allow perfectionism to keep them from continuing to walk the author's path.

I think the single most defining thing that separates writers from authors is long-term vision.  Writers can write short scenes, long scenes, short stories, long stories... but authors have a vision for what they want the premise of the story to accomplish, and where they want the story to take them and to take readers.  It is the shaping of a fire that will burn others.  I don't think you have to be a 'big-picture' thinker to have long-term vision.  I know several people who aren't big-picture thinkers who have the 'writer's vision'.

Finally, the author has the perseverance to see that vision through.  This is often where the insanity enters.  Like writing best when you're studying for medical tests.  Or staying up until 3 a.m. with eyes almost feverishly burning as you race to write a scene because you were cleaning all day and had literally no time to sit down and write but the scene has to be set down because every nuance of it is fresh and alive and pulsing.

For the authors I know, writing a novel tends to be a very intuitive thing.  We might not spend hours answering character questionnaires because we just 'feel' the character.  Everything lives in such vivid detail in our imaginations that when we're asked how we write certain dynamics or styles or what are the mechanics of our character crafting process; we'll probably blink blankly at you for a moment and then try to figure out some way of explaining it in actual English instead of saying, "I just DO.  It just /comes/.  You mean it doesn't for you?"

Ultimately, determining whether you are an author or a writer comes back to one question: WHY do YOU write?

Anyone can write.  But not everyone burns with the white-hot passion of an author.  I am not pointing fingers at anyone.  I am not trying to discourage anyone from writing.  There is nothing wrong with being a writer and I'm most assuredly not saying that every writer needs to strive for authorship, nor that if anyone is not an author they should not be writing.  Never.  I encourage everyone to write.  Just, please don't publish until you are 1000%, without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt sure that you are an author or that you really have a story that needs readers to set on fire.  You'll save readers a lot of frustration.

And for those of you who are asking, no, I do not consider myself a good author.  Decent on occasion, yes.  But certainly not good.  Not yet.  But with hard work at learning /how/ to shape the fires properly, I hope to reach that goal.

Visit Mirriam's blog to read her post.


  1. We both managed to cover the same topic in completely different ways and I'm still wondering HOW. I love this. VERY well-said and I applaud whole-heartedly.

  2. Oh. And you aren't a good author.
    You're a /great/ one. *drops mic*

  3. Yes, it just "COMES" and I've never been able to explain it, or understand how others can talk about the "craft" and act like writing is a respectable profession like being a secretary. It's not. It's messy and we don't understand it and we have to write the stories that come to us because they will burn through brains and our fingers if we don't. It's not a choice, it's a compelling action. And it's not like I can just sit down and say "I'm going to be an author." There is no choice. I'm going to write stories forever and never stop, and I'll never be published, I know, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop. And these posts of y'all's are making me more convinced than ever that the world will never consider me an author but I never claimed to be; I just can't stop writing. And apparently all writers are different.
    Sorry for the rant, I don't know what I was trying to say, exactly; I have a headache and can't think clearly today.
    Thanks for the interesting posts.

  4. "Like writing best when studying for medical tests" = story of my life. lol! I read all both the posts, and thought they were very thought provoking. I don't write a lot right now because I'm really busy with grad school, but I can't wait until I have more time and can rediscover that fire!


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