ARE YOU A ‘WRITER’? OR AN ‘AUTHOR’?
OR IS IT REALLY JUST A QUESTION OF SEMANTICS?
(By Jill McDonald-Constable.)
When people ask what it is you ‘do’, how do you reply? Do you say ‘I’m a writer’, or do you tell them you are an author? And what’s the difference anyway? When do you become either?
We are all (well almost all) ‘writers’, from the day we first pick up a pencil and copy letters onto paper, so, aged about three maybe? In that case, we can honestly call ourselves ‘writers’, because that’s what we do, without consciously having to think about it.
But what is this strange beast called ‘author’? Is it a person who sits in an ivory tower, dictating frothy pink novels to a secretary, or is it someone who starves in a cold garret? The very word ‘Author’, seems to convey a certain feeling of authority, knowledge, maybe even (dare I say it) superiority. It has a serious sense of ‘real writing’, of the production of high literary works.
On the other hand, if you simply say you are a ‘writer’, does that mean you only (only!) write the sort of work which could be classed as similar to pulp fiction. As a mere ‘writer’, will people tend to take you a lot less seriously when you try to talk to them about your latest WIP? How often have you seen their eyes glaze over if you tried to discuss it?
Okay, I know these comments are simply wild generalizations, yet, think about it, before you began on your own writing path, what did you want to be? Writer, or author?
I wanted to be a vet., but I was always writing, scribbling away in many notebooks, writing poetry, stories, articles, etc. for years, without any real thought of taking it further than a box under the bed. In my very early teens, the Vietnam War was in the news all over the world, and it moved me to write a long poem. My parents suggested I send it to our local paper. The following week it was printed, alongside a double page spread about that war.
That was it! I had tasted the writing drug for the first time, and I loved it! Especially when, some weeks after the poem had been printed, a small parcel arrived for me, quite an event in itself! It was a tube, and rolled neatly inside was a sheet of parchment paper, on it was my poem, written in the most beautiful calligraphic handwriting. It had obviously taken a lot of time to complete. There was no letter or label with it, nothing to say who had done such a wonderful thing for a kid like me.
The newspaper tried to find out who had done it, with no luck. I put an open letter of thanks to that person in the paper. Still nothing. To this moment, I don’t know the identity of that person, but I do know that, on that day, looking at that beautiful paper with my words on it, I decided I wanted to be a ‘writer’. I still treasure that small piece of paper.
I began to write in earnest then, and to send my work to magazines, papers etc. Over the years I did have a fair bit of work published, mostly letters and poems, with one or two short articles in the mix for good measure. I worked at a variety of jobs to pay the bills, from shop work, to factory work, and window dresser to mink skinner! But still I wanted to be a real ‘writer’.
This is my favorite ‘writing author’.
My mother found him covered in dust at the back of a shelf in a junk shop.
Just a few weeks before Mum found this, my first book had been published! Spooky stuff eh?
In 2012, my first real hardback book was published by Robert Hale of London. I was ecstatic! I was a ‘real’ writer at last! My book was going to be on the shelves of the Libraries! And, as always happens in such cases, our local paper wanted to interview me. Their heading was ‘Local lady author writes the Wild West’. So at that moment, I became an ‘author,’ simply because someone else had said I was one! Confused was what I was actually!
Maybe, the way those two words are used, can tell us something about the person using them? Perhaps, those who say they are ‘writers’, are more introvert, not really happy about pushing themselves into the spotlight, they will do it, of course, but only because they have to, in order to sell their books.
Those who state they are ‘authors’, may be more extrovert, and enjoy talking about their work to anyone who will listen, and even to those who don’t really want to listen! I fall firmly between the two camps, my confidence comes and goes, depending on my situation at that moment, so maybe I should call myself a ‘writhor’ or perhaps an ‘aurter’! See, I’m still confused!
Regardless of what we call ourselves, why is it that writing is often seen by others as not being of any importance? Why do family and ‘friends’ think we can just put aside our writing whenever they want us to do something, or go somewhere with them? They expect us to drop everything when they phone, so they can tell us about themselves, and they never let us get a word in about our own work.
Recently, a friend phoned and asked if I was doing anything important, or did I want to go shopping. I was in the middle of editing my latest novel, and told her I needed to finish that. Her reply made me wonder if I still wanted her as a friend! “Yes, well, that’s not important is it, you can come shopping with me instead”! Murder was not actually committed that day, but boy, was it close!
I sometimes wonder about hiring an office somewhere and going to it during office hours, in order that people might realize I am actually ‘at work’, not just sitting around the house all day, doing nothing. Well okay, I am sitting around the house all day, sure, but even when not actually writing, I’m still working. You all know that thinking is a huge part of the writer/author’s work. Try telling that to non-writing folk! You’ve seen that 'look' they give us, right?
I hope this post doesn’t cause too many fights between those who call themselves ‘writers’ and those who say they are ‘authors’. After all, isn’t it all really the same thing in the end? We write words we hope people will want to read. We write, because we are totally hooked on stringing words together. We write, because we can’t help it, we’re all hooked on the written word, and we will keep on doing it until they nail the lid on our coffins. So there!
Okay, which are you? Writer, or Author? I’d love to hear your opinion.