The Difference Between a Writer and an Author
When I was a new writer, I went to a conference and attended a workshop. In it, the presenter said a writer was an unpublished novelist and, once that writer became published, s/he was no longer a writer. S/he was an author. I disagreed then and three decades later, I still disagree.
The validation by publication has nothing to do with a writer or author being a writer or an author. The things that differentiate the two come from within the individual holding the pen. Not from without or in a classification designated by someone else.
I’ve been in training as an author my entire life. I didn’t see it as such when it was happening, but going back to the age of three, I now see that training and preparation clearly. This, by the way, was long before I became a writer. And if you look back in your life, odds are high you’ll see the preparation and foundation being laid for what you do in your early days, too.
Webster defines a writer as “somebody who writes.” He defines an author as “a writer.” Writers and authors write. In the writing, they veer toward being objective or subjective.
Objective ones drift toward true crime—genres where they are distant from the work and relaying “just the facts.” Engaging, but they deliberately distance the human being in them from the work. Their opinions, their ideas, their perspectives are not revealed except through the choices they make of what to include and exclude. These objective writers are apart from the work, and that isn’t by mistake but by design.
Subjective ones drift toward genres in which they are up close and personal. They infuse the work with aspects of themselves–the human being inside them. Their opinions and ideas and perspectives are not only revealed but blatantly stated on the page. These traits of the writer are injected into the work and, if removed, that removal changes the story irrevocably. Subjective writers are at one with the work, and that isn’t by mistake but by design.
One writes from the mind. One writes from the heart.
Now, think about human beings. We’re physical, emotional and spiritual. It takes all three to understand the entire human being.
The objective writer writes from the physical aspect of his/her nature. The subjective writer writes with the physical and emotional aspects of the person holding the pen.
Both choose what goes in the story, how it’s handled and depicted, and both lead the reader to the place they want the reader to go. They provide proofs and challenges that lead to reader deduction they choose. They both just approach the tasks from different places and execute them from different places: head vs. heart.
If you look at writer vs author from that perspective, you clearly see the difference. One isn’t better, more gifted, or more talented than the other. They are different, doing what they do best for specific purpose in their respective best ways to do it. Both purposes warrant respect, both types of writing are equally difficult, and both appeal to different readers or to the same readers on different levels.
At some point in the writing career, which can be pre- or post-publication, the writer and author in a single human being merge. That’s true regardless of what type of writing the individual favors. Why is that?
Because as we grow and change and experience, we learn to best serve the story through all means available to us: physical, emotional, and spiritual. We learn methods, techniques and rationale. We gain more deliberative and deliberate control in our writing, and we adopt broader perimeters in defining what we need to best accomplish our story goals. But more than all of this, we grow more able, and more confident in our ability to execute our vision on the page, and we pull all tools out of the toolbox to do so.
We aren’t as fearful of revealing ourselves in our work. Others’ criticism no longer cuts us, as it did in the beginning. While valuable and respected, other people’s opinions are received by us as “they are what they are, and what they are is out of my control.” We have also learned and accepted through experience that every book is not for everybody. Regardless of what we write, there will be those who just don’t relate, don’t like what we write, and those who will reject it. This occurs regardless of what we write or how we write it. No writer will ever please every reader.
Early on, we aspire to please. Later on, we aspire to relate.
Early on, we seek to release our ideas and opinions and to tell the stories we deem important to tell.
Later on, we seek to share our truth. Not the truth, but our truth. The difference? Our truth is collective—ours and all we’ve embraced from others—it’s truth as we see it.
It is at that point writers and authors merge. And at that point, the writer who has been studious and dedicated also becomes more philosophical about the reception of what s/he writes. Acceptance and rejection are viewed differently.
Both the writer and author want a warm reception. The writer might be devastated short-term at not getting it and be depressed for days. The author might be irritated for fifteen minutes, though for most that’s pushing it. Post merge, the writer/author might or might not notice the work is being accepted or rejected by others, but if s/he does notice, odds are strong that his or her response will be along the lines of, “Eh, the work will find its audience.”
It isn’t arrogance that causes that response. It’s acceptance and faith that the story’s purpose will be realized. The merged writer/author has done his or her best to relate the truth as envisioned in the work. That, s/he can control. Then s/he releases it to do what it will, recognizing that some will “get” the purpose of the work and some won’t. That, s/he can’t control, and it’s okay. That’s where faith in the work comes in.
That faith comes from watching books find their place over and again—the writer/author’s own work and that of other writer/authors. It comes in recognizing that faith in readers is well-placed.
The writer/author writes his or her truth having faith that readers will recognize it. That those who are supposed to find the work and be touched by it and deem it relevant to them, will find and touch and deem the work relevant to them. If it’s meant to happen, it will happen. There’s a finality in that faith nothing interrupts. No doubt exists. It is fait accompli!
Early on, the penholder knows that readers must trust writers to take a chance reading a new writer. Later on, the penholder knows that while readers must trust writers to take a chance and read a new writer, readers must trust long-time writers, too—trust that writer will keep giving them what they expect, to warn them if a book is different.
What changes later is that the writer/author recognizes that s/he must also trust the reader. When s/he exhibits that trust, readers are aware of it. They sense it. Know it the way they know the sun will rise in the morning.
Typically, it takes a little longer for the penholder to also become aware of that two-way-street trust between him or her and the reader. Eventually, s/he does become aware, and that’s a liberating moment. The bond with the reader is recognized and its full potential is realized.
When the writer and author merge, the penholder writing from the head or heart—the physical and emotional—is also now writing from the soul. That’s the spiritual aspect of the human being manifesting in the work along with the physical and emotional. All three dimensions are active and that produces a rich, full-blown, full-throated work that completes the circuit: physical and emotional and spiritual goes out and physical and emotional and spiritual is received. Writer/Author and Reader communicate through the work at soul and subliminal levels. The bond of trust forged strengthens and remains intact.
I’ve known writers who never published, but were writer/authors writing from the soul from very early on. I’ve known authors who publish regularly but write analytically, some clinically, and never aspire to write otherwise. Publication didn’t define these writers as authors or authors as writers. Publication was used as a measuring stick by some for many diverse reasons. But it didn’t define the evolution of the individual penholder or pinpoint his or her path location on that penholder’s journey.
When you think about it, Webster was right—there really is no difference between being a writer and an author. Writers write. Authors write.
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