Writer vs Author – Part 2

Back in July, I wrote a post titled Writer vs Author. In that post, I considered the difference between a writer and an author, and questioned how it’s possible to move from one state (writer) to the other (author). If you don’t want to go back and read the original post, let me give you the cliff-notes: I had no idea. I was really just working through my thoughts in an effort to come to some kind of conclusion and hoping that someone would comment with the Real, True, and Undeniable Answer.

While I did get lots of comments, they didn’t necessarily help.

  • Emerald agreed with me when I said:  You’re an author when you feel like you’re an author, and not one moment before.
  • Leanne said: A writer is an author when other people voluntarily recognize him or her as such.
  • Merilee said: I qualified as an author when I got paid for my first story.
  • But Merilee also said: To maintain my author tag, I need to keep writing.
  • Jody said: I guess my honest opinion would be that you are an ‘author’ when other people consider you to be one.

The thing is… I agreed with everyone. The definition of an author was still out of reach. But making that distinction between writer and author was still important to me. And, judging by the number of people every week who find my blog with the search term “writer vs author”, it’s important to other people as well.

Fortunately for me, my time at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival has given me the answer. Fortunately for you, I’m prepared to share my epiphany.

In thinking back on the BWF, the one thing that stuck in my head was that every presenter referred to us, the hopeful writers-in-attendance, as Artists. Sometimes jokingly (I know you artist-types need plenty of coffee), sometimes seriously (As artists, it’s your job to connect with your readers) and sometimes something in between (Trust me, even though you’re artists, you’ll still need to understand something about business and contracts).

It didn’t really register at the time, but a few days later, it hit me.

An artist is “someone who creates art”. Literature is art. Fiction is art. Poetry is art. Even some non-fiction is art.

An author is not just a writer, an author is an artist.

With that in mind, the difference between Writer and Author just got easier to define.

Writer: 1. One who writes. 2. One whose occupation involves writing, such as a journalist or author.

Author: 1. The composer of a work of literature. 2. A writer who creates art in the form of poetry or prose. 3. The creator of word-based art.*

(You will note that although all authors are writers, not all writers are authors.)

So, how do you know if you’ve progressed from Writer to Author? Simple. Are you an Artist?

To make that question easier to answer, let’s look at a semi-official definition of an Artist in Australia.

 An Artist:

  1. Creates works of art, AND
  2. Thinks of him/herself as an artist and behaves accordingly (ie. in a professional manner), AND
  3. Is recognised as an artist by his/her peers and/or the general public.

So, an Author:

  1. Creates finished written works. (Length is irrelevant — novels and haiku both count – but the keyword is finished. If you’ve got 37 different first paragraphs, you haven’t got a “work of art”. You’ve just got a lot of ideas and not a lot of stick-to-it-iveness), AND
  2. Thinks of him/herself as a professional writer and acts accordingly, AND
  3. Is recognised as an author by other professional writers, authors, and/or industry specialists. This recognition can come in many ways, including (but not limited to) having your work published (trad pub, magazine,  etc), good sales of self-published work, reviews on websites, short-listed in competitions, positive feedback from industry insiders, etc.

* Note 1: This definition of an author is from my head, and probably shouldn’t be quoted anywhere else.
** Note 2: Apparently the word ‘author’ is simply a term used in copyright law to refer to the creator of the work. This definition is way less mystical and romantic than my definition, so I vote we completely disregard it.

What do you think of this definition? Do you agree? Disagree? Does this change your mind/reaffirm your own thoughts?

17 Comments

Filed under Writing

17 responses to “Writer vs Author – Part 2

  1. Oh, good. The word “author” has always made me uncomfortable, and this definition doesn’t include me, so I can be comfortable as a “writer,” which is where I wanted to end up. :-)

    I like your epiphany.

  2. Funny, I’ve always thought of it as reversed– an author is someone defined by the act of being published, a writer as one who makes art. Interesting post!

    • That came up a little in the discussion of my original post. I’d love to hear your thoughts expounded upon. For example, how do you define “being published”? Is there any external recognition needed (in terms of publishing industry OR sales volume/reviews), or is vanity publishing through lulu.com enough to qualify? And do you see any kind of status difference between an author and a writer?

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      • Also, does “being published” require paper, or is e-book enough these days? (Just to throw one more wrench into the works.)

      • To my way of thinking about it, an e-book is just a new format. In the realm of reading, it’s like the difference between a hardcover and a paperback. But with self-publishing e-books so easy, it certainly does make it harder to say that “being published” is necessarily a mark of quality. That’s why I think that recognition from peers and market is so important.

        But Exploding Mary may completely disagree.

      • I think “being published” requires the participation of at least one other person. :-)

        It can be a publisher, it can be a group of friends who form a publishing collective, but I would never say, “I’m a published writer” when I did it all by myself.

        And I think paper is still more “published” than electronic, but that may be a generational thing. After all, I write on paper, too, so obviously I have an old-fashioned preference for paper.

      • I know what you mean re: paper being more published. I hate reading things electronically, and tend to print everything out before I read it. But I’m also very aware that there “youngsters today” don’t think that way.

  3. MerylF

    I agree with this definition. I write all day, but it’s not work I would consider as being part of my “author” tag, because it’s just reports.
    However, this definition does preclude writers of non-fiction books from being authors…

    • Not necessarily. It just precludes writers of non-art from being authors. The question “What is art?” is about as subjective and controversial as you can get. I doubt that many people would consider reports are being particularly arty. However, in much the same way that a photo can be just as artistic as a surrealist or impressionist painting, a well-crafted biography or travel memoir can be just as artistic as a novel.

      Choosing which non-fiction authors to regard as artists/authors probably follows the same guidelines. Do they consider themselves an author? Do their peers consider them an author? Tim Flannery? I’d say yes. The guy who writes the dictionary? Not so much.

      (Feel free to disagree, of course.)

  4. This is a pretty good definition/metric for “author”, I’ll say. It hits all the highlights: self-identification, peer or market recognition, and even art.

    I will say that I consider writers to be artists, though. I suppose it’s possible to have a writer who is committing non-artistic written works (for example, generating the written-matter of a 10-K report or annual shareholder report). But positions like that are technical and industry-specific. I have no problem with the word “writer” doing double-duty with a general definition – the one in which a writer is an artist of the written medium – as well as industry- and trade-specific definitions that have nothing to do with the general meaning. English is like that: words do double-duty all the time, and context is important.

    So… yeah… a writer is an artist who produces art in a written, literary medium. An author is a writer who has completed works, self-identifies as an author, and has gained peer and/or market-recognition. The last one is the most difficult to pin down: what constitutes peer and/or market recognition? I could write a whole blog post about that subject…

    • The great thing about the English language is the scope for personal interpretation of meanings.

      The question “what is art?” is highly controversial amongst all types of artists, and the answer seems to vary from person to person. There are whole essays written on the subject. So my simplistic designation of writers as non-artists was always going to be a bit iffy. But it does depend on where you draw the line.

      If we cross over into the visual arts world for a moment, consider this conversation:
      “What do you do for a living?”
      “I’m a painter.”
      “Oh, what style? Realism? Surrealism?”
      “No… I paint houses.”

      Is painting houses an artistic pursuit? Probably not. Unless you do it artistically…

      Likewise, while someone who writes the minutes for the local flower arranging club is definitely a writer, does that qualify as art? Is journalism art? (If you’re anything like me, the answer will be “sometimes”.)

      All in all, I went for a simplistic designation in order to not go insane! But I’m glad you like the overall definition of an author.

  5. It is funny but as a scientist I find the word ‘artist’ makes me more uncomfortable than either writer or author. Perhaps because I can’t even draw a stick figure to save my life…

    • Haha. You’re not alone there! My 4-year-old draws better than I do. :) I’m fortunate because my sister is both a visual artist herself, and works in an Art Gallery dealing with a huge range of visual arts and artists. She’s exposed me to the fact that the word “artist” can mean so many things, as long as it’s about creating something for the purpose of entertainment, beauty, or to make people think/feel something. Musicians are artists. Actors are artists. (Think Shakespeare performances more than Home and Away…) And, as it turns out, writers are artists.

      But if the word makes you uncomfortable, then don’t be an artist. Be an author. A rose by any other name and all that. :)

  6. My first ever blog entry was called Writer or Author?

    In that post I wrote:

    To me a writer is someone who puts in words the ideas that come to them. These words may never be read by another human but they are out there in the world and are alive in their own right. To me an author is someone who writes not just for their own enjoyment but for others enjoyment as well. To me an author has an audience.

    I suppose after blogging for awhile now and sharing more and more of my short stories with the world, I am feeling more like an author but I still don’t feel like I have earned the title yet. Perhaps when the novel goes public I will feel more like an author and less like a writer.

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