Writer or author?

This morning I went out for breakfast with my best beloved, as is our habit. One of the lovely things about going out for a meal is that while you’re waiting for your food, you must talk to each other.

So today I asked David, “What’s the difference between a writer and an author?”

He mulled it over for a bit, and then said, “Well, an author, I suppose, writes books. ‘Writer’ includes authors – a writer is someone who writes.”
“So, an author has published a book, right?”
“Well, stories. Fiction.”
“So you wouldn’t say that someone who wrote a math text, say, was an author?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“What about my radio work? I mean, that was mostly non-fiction, but some of it was fiction. And it was stories.”
“Yes, but the real work was the voice work in the studio.”
‘Whoa!” I said, “Compared to the writing, the voice work was a piece of cake!”
“You’re thinking of ‘work’ differently. Yes, it was more effort to write, but the thing you were selling was the vocal piece on the air.”
“So that didn’t make me an author?”
“No, I don’t think so.”

Well, it’s all rather inconclusive, but the kind of discussion we like to have. And I still don’t really know what the difference is between a writer and an author, unless it’s publication-in-print-of-a-fiction-work. Or maybe just publication in print. But then what about e-books?

I sometimes wonder if “author” is more about – well, about prestige, rather than occupation. I call myself a writer, and I think I always will. Others call me an author on the strength, I suppose, of Erik the Viking Sheep, or maybe my published short fiction and poetry.

So here’s the question – are you an author, or are you a writer? Composers whom we regard today as great artists, Haydn and Brahms and the like, did not think of themselves in that way. They saw themselves as craftsmen who did a particular kind of work, often to order. I approve of this viewpoint, because it places more emphasis on the work than on the fame. But that’s just me.

I like plain language. I’ve been through my “fancy words” phase, and while I still sometimes use the fifty-cent or five-dollar word here and there, most of what I write is pretty simple. I guess that’s why I prefer “writer” to “author”. It’s about the work.

It’s all about the work.

This entry was posted in Doing the Work, Fumbling towards competence, Going on About Words and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Writer or author?

  1. Camlin says:

    I consider myself a writer. Writers are people who actually write, but there are authors listed on book covers who do not write the words that are credited to their names. They hire ghost writers to do the actual work of writing. And in my own funny way, I associate the word author with related words like authority or authorize. An author can do the work themselves, but they may authorize someone to carry it out on their behalf. All that being said,I think it’s a matter of what each person is comfortable with; I write. I am a writer.

  2. ecreith says:

    Not funny at all, Camlin – those words are indeed related.

  3. Writers write whether they are published or not. They write anything under the sun, from blogs, to reference manuals to poetry. “Published authors” rather conjures up media campaigns. – “Meet the author”. There are at least three “writers’ festivals” in Ottawa.
    Basically agree with Camlin.

  4. Three writers’ festivals in Ottawa? I’ll have to check these out! Thanks, Jennifer.

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