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Identity: Author vs. Writer

This is a question which has probably plagued the minds of anyone who does any sort of writing with any amount of seriousness, especially those of us who have written books in the past. Do I call myself a writer, or an author?

I’ve always favored the descriptor “writer” when referring to myself, though to my understanding this is oft regarded as the less formal, more hobbyist title, “I like to write things” vs. “I write books for a living” (I always interpreted the word Author to be a capital A profession). So given this, I wasn’t sure why I like the term ‘writer’ better. I certainly take my writing seriously, and while I have not made a career out of my writing, I do have published books (self-published, but published all the same) under my belt. For me, while it may never shape into a career, it’s my sole passion and I’ve certainly never used the word “writer” to diminish my status.

I think it’s the fact that Writer just looks better on paper, gets straight to the point, says out loud, in your face: I WRITE THE THINGS. And there’s a certain amount of satisfaction I get out of that. Just last year I made a Facebook page for myself and after waffling only a fraction of a second, chose the ‘writer’ description over ‘author’. There’s also the fact that I write poetry in addition to novels. I’ve always thought of the word “author” as strictly limited to novel-writing, and if novels are my passion, poetry is my soul, and I couldn’t just leave it out in the cold like that. “Writer” also seems to suggest someone who is constantly writing, consumed in the act of it, whereas “Author” seems more concentrated on “having written”, having credits to one’s name. I’m technically both, but I feel much more connected to the act of writing itself, producing new stuff, than I do to my past work.

So, great! Why are you telling me about this? It’s just that now I’m thinking about it critically, I’ve begun to wonder if I made the right choice for myself.

Before sitting down to write this, I went and did a simple google search for the difference between the two terms, which turned up a lot of interesting but varying and ultimately inconclusive takes on the matter. Here are some of the common ideas:

  • Author: someone who has published works to their name. Also, one who is the originator of their own ideas and plot. Treats their craft like a career, but also spends perhaps equal time promoting past work to what they do writing new material.
  • Writer: someone who writes anything, either as a hobby or for money. However, when paid, someone described as a writer is often doing work that more commissioned in nature- think Freelance Writer, Technical Writer or Ghostwriter, anything with an expected outcome they do not dictate themselves.

At the end of this research, I had to conclude that “Writer” is simply a much broader category that refers to a much broader range of people, which is what attracted me to it in the first place- it gave me more perceived ‘freedom’. I write. Therefore I am a writer. But I am also an author, and a poet- these are more specific types of writer, and I’m beginning to think of them as less confining than helpful, defining. I am an author, I am a poet. These are my areas. I’m willing to bet there are tons of people who are really extremely multi-faceted, for whom the phrase, ‘writer’, no qualifiers attached, is more helpful than harmful- but for me, I’m starting to find it’s a bit misleading.

Is this vague way I categorize myself the reason people sometimes come to me with a ‘great project’ in mind that I could take? In my head in these instances, I’m thinking, ‘by god, of course I will not write your novel for you, I only write my own. I will not write that article about something I am not equipped to write about, in fact, I will not volunteer to write anything I’m not absolutely passionate about- in other words (I’m fucking terrible, but) anything that was not my idea in the first place is pretty much out of the picture, I suppose unless I’m pitched something I really REALLY like (I’m starting to feel like this post could be called ‘why I’m shit at making any profit from writing’, but maybe we’ll save that for another day). But when I’m a self-described writer, how are they to know? How are those who don’t me as well to know what type of writing I do, or take on- if I’m an author, a freelancer, a journalist, a poet…? I’m unintentionally muddying the waters by leaving things false possibilities wide open. I guess, to be completely honest, I’ve thought of ‘author’ as a snottier term, but even so, I must admit I’m pretty fucking snotty about what I will and will not write, so perhaps even in that light it fits xD.

At the end of the day, neither term is really ‘better’ than the other in truth, it all depends on what is most helpful/useful to the person defining themselves. I’ll probably keep ‘writer’ up as my Facebook descriptor, seeing as you can’t make yourself both an author and a poet to my knowledge, and I honestly still prefer the term, the look of it on the page, but now I feel like I have a better grasp on the terminology. I’ll always be a writer, or, one who writes. It’s just time to get a little more specific when the situation calls for it.

Has anyone else had this dilemma before? I know there are other people who write novels who tend refer to themselves as simply writers (like I’ve been doing until recently), and I know there are even some who feel they’d like to identify as an ‘author’ but aren’t published, or don’t feel they have enough merit to their name to qualify. It’s an interesting topic for something you’d think would be so simple. Where do you fall in the spectrum/what is your own understanding of the difference between what it means to be a writer versus an author?

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