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Saturday, May 10, 2014

(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.


  1. Jill, what a great post. I've experienced these very things you're talking about. In fact, when I teach writing classes, that's one of the exercises I have the students learn to do--walk up to one another and introduce themselves as a writer or author, whichever they're most comfortable with, and make conversation with someone else about what they're writing. You can't believe the blank stares, embarrassed laughter, and self-effacing comments that happen. As if they all feel they must apologize for being a writer/author! And this is with each other--what would they do in a situation with people from other walks of life, family, etc.

    Yes, I've experienced that scenario you described with your friend but with other family members! (MY HUSBAND!) Although he reads a lot (and I do mean a LOT) he gets a bit peeved when I can't just drop what I'm working on and go do whatever it is he's needing or wanting to do. I suspect this is more common amongst writers than anyone ever says, with the friends and family members who just don't "get it" and feel as if what we are doing is unimportant and can happen any old time.

    I do know a young writer whose husband DID actually rent her an office and she said it was the best thing he'd ever done for her. BUT, I can see where there would be pros and cons. I really enjoy working out of my house, and it might be kind of like a gym membership (seems like a good idea at the time, but then when it comes down to actually having to get dressed and go, there could be 1001 excuses why you should just stay home.)

    Wonderful post--I truly enjoyed it and certainly could relate to it 100%.


  2. I am a historian and by extension author, but I also write poetry and work at fiction, so I am a writer. Like you there is some confusion. To me I can't stop telling the stories of the amazing people who populated our world so many years ago, many of whom have been forgotten. I suppose if that fails, I'll tell their stories in fiction, at least then the story is there.

    I am fortunate that people know I don't answer the phone so I am not bothered much when working, unless they knock on the door. *Sigh*.

    Truly enjoyed the post, but now it is off to the library for more research, my lifeblood. Doris

  3. Thank you for your nice comments ladies. You're right about the 'office space' Cheryl, Seemed like a good idea at the time. Trouble is everyone knows I don't really go anywhere much so they all think I'm doing nothing much too! If you see what I mean! Doris, yes there is confusion isn't there! I like how you 'split' the two titles according to what it is you are writing, that's good. Thanks again.

  4. Jill, thanks for making me think today! When I took my first writing course at our community college, the teacher said 'if you put words on paper, you are a writer.' Since it took that and a whole lot more to get my first book published, I usually introduce myself as a published author. lol

  5. Hi Tracy thanks for joining me. So do you think then, that once you actually have a book published you are then an author? Until that moment you are a writer? I see that. I am still a little shy about calling myself a published author, despite being published 3 times! Guess I'm the introvert type today then?

  6. Jill, what a fantastic post. I think most authors/writers/poets/songwriters/screenwriters/journalists/whatever-the-heck-it-is-you're-doing-in-there-ruining-your-eyes folks can relate to your thought-provoking ... well, article/editorial/screed/news item/post/whatever-makes-the-most-sense-at-the-time. Those of us possessed by the pen live, breathe, eat, and sleep words, and still we can't figure out how to define ourselves to ourselves, much less to others. :-D

    I've always called myself a journalist, as opposed to a reporter. Say "reporter," and people automatically imagine Clark Kent: butting heads with public officials, investigating scams, popping up on crimes scenes, disasters, and movie sets... There's a whole long list of exciting things reporters do (or the general public thinks they do ;-) ). I've done my share of that stuff, but I've also written human-interest stories, business features, and editorials. Somehow, "journalist" seems more all-inclusive, at least to me.

    I think "writer" and "author" may be the same sort of thing. "Writer" seems broader to me. In my mind, "author," "reporter," "columnist," "poet," etc. seem like subsets of "writer." It's all more than a little arbitrary, I think. :-)

    In the final analysis, I'm not sure it matters what we call ourselves or what others call us. (That may be a thoroughly self-serving position, because I've been called a few things that would not look good on a resume. ;-) ) What matters is that we do what we love...even if that means biting a few well-meaning-but-irritating friends and relatives who don't understand. :-)

    1. Hi Kathleen! Thanks for the giggle on this cold very wet morning here in Lancashire. I just pictured you in a phone booth with your underpants over your jeans! Tee hee! And heck don't us 'scribblers' have a lot of names for ourselves? Cheers!

  7. Oh, I am SO calling myself a writhor. Love it!! No one will have any idea what I do now, LOL.

    1. Hi Kristy. I'd better copyright that title eh!

  8. I've bee a writer ever since I learned to write (before that the stories were in my head) and maybe I became an 'author' when my first book was published when I was in my 20s. Forty-odd years later, I still consider myself a writer, rather than an author, but first and foremost I think of myself as a storyteller who wants to tell the stories that develop in my mind as I write them.

    1. Hello Paula, nice to see you here! You know, I like that title, I think I might start using it. Mind you that has different meanings too, maybe people will think we tell stories out loud in schools to children? But then, isn't storytelling the main way that our histories have been handed down over the centuries? Yes, I like it.

  9. I've contemplated this topic many times, and I can't come to consensus with myself. lol So I bounce back and forth between calling myself a writer or an author. I like Kristy's "writhor" idea better than the one I came up with, which is "wrauthor". When I say it, I sound like Scooby Doo saying rhut-rho, so that doesn't work. 0_o

    Seriously, if I had to choose, I guess I consider myself a writer first and author second, because I've written many more stories than I've published, and I think of author and publication going hand-in-hand. I suppose, though, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other, as the saying goes. ;-)

    1. Hi Kaye! Thanks for coming. I know its hard to decide what to call yourself isn't it, as Kathleen said earlier, there are so many names for those of us who 'scribble'. I never feel completely happy saying 'author' but when I say writer, for some reason I almost seem to feel apologetic! That makes no sense. It ties in with what Cheryl said earlier about her students though eh? Thank you.