Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

When someone asks you what you do, what do you say? Writer? Author? Artist? Do you mutter a general job description and immediately follow it up with … but, ya know, I’m just doing this for now!?

There’s always a little bit of a debate in the yet-to-be-published community on whether they are “writers” or “authors.” I know industry people who think they are one in the same, that the words are interchangeable. I am not one of these people. To me, a writer is a person who is serious about his or her craft and has the drive, knowledge, and skill to someday get published. An author is someone who has been published.

Now, there was some news this week about a certain Jersey Shore cast member and her work of fiction that looks astonishingly like her real life. Folks, I hate to say this, but Snooki is an author. I know. I’ll give you a minute.

OK, now that we’ve calmed down, a slight digression: When I was little, I wore Barbie lip gloss and ate Flinstones vitamins. The packagers stuck a familiar face on an otherwise commonplace product so that they could better compete within specific markets. Enter Snooki’s novel.

In the same way that Hanna-Barbera Productions did not manufacture pharmaceuticals in between creating beloved cartoon characters, Snooki having a book with her name on the cover does not make her a writer. (This is also in part because her book was, presumably, largely ghostwritten.) That’s not to say other celebrities who have written books aren’t writers. It’s just that Snooki and her ilk (be it Kardashian or Hilton) are the brand of celebrities that are, well, brands. The line is a fine one, but it’s there. President Obama, for example, is a writer. For one, he actually penned his words. And two, he was not a celebrity or even a politician of much note when his memoir was published. And in the manner of being fair and balanced, I’ll admit that Bill O’Reilly is also a writer. I repeat, it’s a fine line, but if you look closely enough, the differences between real writers and “people who have book deals” are clear.

So, back to you.

If not all writers are authors and not all authors are writers, where does that leave you? I bring this question up because I think it’s something fun to think about. There is no right answer. It’s only slightly bothersome to me when a writer queries me claiming to be a “published author” when they mean “I know how  to click a button that will bind my manuscript for me,” which is why I make my own distinctions between writers and authors. But writers who are serious about what they do deserve more than just being called “people who write,” so they have every right to claim that label proudly for themselves. But you tell me – what do you call yourselves? Or do you just say “I’m awesome” and leave it at that?

Finally, as you ponder what to call yourselves this weekend, I leave you with this week’s Winner of  the Internet, James Van Der Beek and his Vandermemes. Personally, I’d like to thank Mr. Van Der Beek for finally justifying my preference of Dawson over Pacey. It  took over a decade, and I was getting tired of defending my choices (you’d be surprised how often it would come up over the years), but I feel that my love of the Van Der Beek and my indifference to Joshua Jackson has been vindicated. Well done, sir.

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26 thoughts on “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

  1. As an aspiring novelist, I daydream on a more-or-less constant basis–sometimes about whatever I'm working on, and sometimes about my “impending success” as a wildly popular novelist. Even in those daydreams, I don't consider myself a “writer.”

    To me, a writer is someone who wears tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, smokes tobacco from a pipe, has various opinions about wine and opera and fine dining and I just…don't. That's just not me.

    I consider myself a writer in the same way that a drunk in a bar who doodles on a cocktail napkin considers himself to be an artist.

    I would only ever want to be someone who “writes stories.” Author? Don't make me laugh.

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  2. I noticed a lot of you stay away from certain labels for fear of sounding “pretentious.” People, you're writers! You're already at least semi-pretentious. It's in our blood. There's nothing wrong with it 🙂

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  3. I can see why it is necessary for agents and other publishing professionals to make the distinction between published and unpublished writers by using 'author' for published writers. I go back and forth on this because, well, whether I am published or not, I wrote a novel, and I am the author of it, so therefore I am an author. Then again, I sometimes worry, since 'author' has the connotation of 'published,' whether I would be leading someone astray by calling myself an author?

    Either way, out loud I would only refer to myself as a writer (even if I were published) because 'author' sounds a little pretentious in my mind.

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  4. After years of doing other things and being afraid to call myself a writer – afraid that someone would stand up in the back of the room and yell “Ha HA' very loudly – I decided to finally call myself a 'writer' just at the same time that I started writing my blog on writing. (http://magpiewrites.blogspot.com/)

    I sent an email to everyone I knew letting them know that I was now a writer and asking them to pray for me, or at least send baked goods. I was kinda freaked out when many of them wrote back asking when my book was coming out in print!

    In my mind the difference between writer and author are very clear. You continue to be a writer when (if) you become an author, but you are not an author until you are published.

    Right now, I'm happy to be writing every day – that seems like a miracle. if 'author' comes my way too, it's chocolate chip cookies for everyone.

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