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Are you a Writer or an Author?

I was thinking recently about what makes an author different from a writer. Typically I use the term author when describing someone who is published versus someone working to get there. I think though that there’s another distinct difference between authors and writers and it’s something every writer needs to develop if she truly wants to become an author.

It’s the requirement to write no matter what.

I often hear writers say (especially in pitch meetings) that they need to write, that it is the very essence of who they are and no matter what happens in their career, they need to sit and write. That’s great. It’s something you love to do and want to do, but what happens when it’s the last thing you want to do. When the sun is shining and the pool is calling or the kids are screaming and your calendar is so crowded there isn’t any white space left. What happens when you feel drained, zapped and like there’s nothing left for anyone else? Do you still write? Authors do.

Authors realize that writing is no longer just a desire. It’s a job and no matter how much you love your job there are days when you just don’t want to do it. When you look at your calendar and those six hours you have to sit in front of the computer seem like the worst six hours of your life. But Authors will still do it. They will sit down and write, even if it means writing drivel. Even if it means that every minute feels like torture. There are deadlines to hit and readers, editors and agents to satisfy. There’s an entire team at a publishing house that you need to please and readers who have expectations. Sound scary? It’s not. It’s your job. And Authors know that (okay they might be a little scared sometimes).

Making the transition from a writer to an author isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s like learning how to build multi-dimensional characters and sophisticated plots. It’s not something most do the first time around. If you really want this job though, you will make sure that you learn it, just like you’ve been learning the craft of writing.

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16 comments

  1. Haha perfect timing Jessica, I broke my glasses so I’m not supposed to be reading or writing.
    My husband keeps growling at me everytime I pick my phone or laptop up, I can only do 15-20 minuets before my eyes hurt to much to carry on, but it’s a paragraph or so. I’ve made notes when I can’t face looking at a back-lit screen.
    It’s probably all disjointed dribble, but I can’t just do nothing I start getting twitchy.

  2. I tend to call myself a writer because, though I am making myself write even when it’s the last thing I want to do, I’m not getting paid to do it. I am still doing it for the love of it, and to keep climbing the ladder toward representation and publication by a traditional publisher.

  3. There’s a problem, a big one, I think many of us hit. Its not just parking our fannies down and pushing on, even when there’s fun and games around the corner.

    Its convincing the family, that what we are doing, IS-WORKING!

    I was a stay-at-home mom when my children were small. All I ever heard, was “you don’t work?” When the kids became older, I returned to the work force and worked over 14 years as Admin. Things took a sour turn, and bless his heart, hubs gave me the thumbs up to follow my dream-writing.

    But guess what? All I hear again is, “Oh, you don’t work?”

    No, I fart stories, dream edit, spirograph covers and the fairies take care of the house and dinner.

    GRRR!!!!

    1. “Oh, you don’t work?”

      Yeah, I already got this from being an artist. Even when I was managing two galleries in addition to working on my own paintings, I “didn’t work.” Obviously I had all sorts of free time, right? I mean, I must have been sitting around eating bonbons and watching soap operas all day, so surely I had time for this volunteer project or that one.

      I feel for you, Bobbi, I really do.

      1. Its NUTS! And yes, bonbons and soaps! (are they on anymore?) Funny side note on soaps that sort of goes with writing.

        I was a Guiding Light fan back in my youthful days. (WAY back-LOL) What stopped me? A bad call from the writers. A character (Reva) was suddenly a Mennonite. Uh…wha? the (character was so far from) I was like, that’s it. I’m done.

        Was my generations Dallas. (Bobby and his nightmare)

        I aged myself, didn’t I?

  4. Excellent point! There is a huge difference between writing because you want to (and you want to get published) and writing because someone is paying you and you have a deadline.

  5. Mentally I think there will be a shift from ‘writer’ to ‘author’ once I get a publishing contract, but I already treat writing like a job. I have a business plan, set time to write every day no matter what and my family understand the only difference between now and then is ‘real’ deadlines and an income.

  6. Does anyone else see a problem with being the writer who has to be forced to write? What kind of “quality” will forcing yourself to write when you don’t want to? Even Jessica mentioned the potential of “drivel” work product…is that how I want to represent myself? Especially if I am a newbie with a publishing contract that is so new the fuzz hasn’t worn off yet?
    Nope, I agree with AJ Blythe above…I am a writer, whether I do it voluntarily or according to a self-employment schedule…that is, until I get my big break…and somebody else pays for that 1st copy to be published besides me!
    PS…for the record, I’m one of those lucky writers…head full of stories, and so far infinite eagerness to sit and type…my only problem is not a lack of writing desire, but a sense of futility…as in, why write if no one is ever going to read my words?

    1. Not speaking for Jessica, as I don’t know her (as in never met) I think what she meant, was that when writing for ourselves and no other, if we want to call it quits for a week and go on vacation, we can. No harm no foul. But, if we’re with a publisher whose given us a deadline (and many things factor in to this, such as promotions, cover art, etc) we MUST be able to park our heinies in the writing chair and “get er done,” even if the pool and sunshine are calling our name.

      If the story isn’t singing at that moment, use the time to promote yourself/book. (maybe after a quick dip)

      🙂

    2. Having a publisher isn’t all what it’s cut out to be. The publisher I that published my first book didn’t quite follow the contract. And because of that he has lost my next book. I must be misunderstanding you guys. I am a writer and if I can, I write until my eyes give out. And then the next time I come to write, I delete those long days of writing and with fresh eyes come to see that it wasn’t all that horrible. Author or writer! Hmmmmm

  7. As an author, painter, and musician (Yes, I’m a triple threat) I say AMEN! People ask me about waiting for the muse to move me – and reality is one can’t wait. You just gotta do it – because you gotta do it. Does a CPA wait for his math muse to show up before he crunches tax numbers on April 14?! Silly! Of course not. I LOVE working with creative deadlines. Means NO EXCUSES!

  8. Here’s the way I define the difference. I’m a writer, a scribe, a reporter in a much higher degree than I am an author.

    An author would be someone that is creatively imagining content for publication, but as creative as my descriptions of reality are, I’m really only reporting reality.

    In other words, I ould not consider myself any more an author than I would call a newspaper reporter an author. We can hope that a journalist isn’t creating stories from his imagination, simply recording real events.

    I record real events, even though they are supernatural.
    The creator of the events is the Author, I’m simply His scribe.
    . For examples take a look here: tinyurl.com/speedsmustang

    There have been a few exceptions however. One example is here: http://tinyurl.com/OrdOfBckt (At least I think I get some author’s credit.)

  9. I am reminded of the following closing lines of one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s _Pat Hobby Stories_ (the exact story title escapes me at the moment, and I can’t find my copy):

    “ ‘Authors get a tough break out here,’ Pat said sympathetically. ‘They never ought to come.’
    ‘Who’d make up the stories — these feebs?’
    ‘Well, anyhow, not authors,’ said Pat. ‘They don’t want authors. They want writers — like me.’ ”

    The ‘out here’ is Hollywood, and the ‘they’ that Pat Hobby is referring to are the Hollywood producers of the 1930s, and I take his definitions of the two words in question to mean something like this: ‘author’ = a serious creator of serious works of fiction (and perhaps non-fiction); ‘writer’ = someone who knows how to make a buck by writing stuff that people would buy.

    Of course, the character of Pat Hobby is something of a hack writer and not a very deep thinker – a mild kind of hustler at worst, and a semi-successful contributing script writer at best – but a wonderful character to put into a humorous story.

    Thanks for bringing up this delightful memory.

  10. I don’t think there is ever a time I don’t want to write, BUT, I admit I do not always sit at the computer everyday. However, I find that even when I am not physically performing the act of putting words on the screen, I am constantly thinking about my stories, and writing or editing scenes in my head so when I do have the opportunity to sit at the computer, I am not producing drivel… at least in my opinion :-). As for writer or Author, I call myself a writer because I am not yet published… Guess I believe Jessica’s former definition is best.

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