When Are You a Writer?

This morning I found myself thinking about titles in the book industry. When are you a writer? When are you an author? Are you a writer when you decide you are? Are you an author once you self-publish or once someone decides to publish your work for you?

I admit I have less trouble with the title of “writer.” If you write stuff down on paper with the intent to show other people, you’re a writer to me.

My trusty Canadian Oxford Dictionary (COD) tells me a writer is:

1. a person who writes or has written something. 2. a person who writes books; an author. 3. a person who writes screenplays.

Number one seems quite general: a person who has written something. In this day and age of email and social media, we’ve all written something, if you want to get technical about it.

Number two I can wrap my head around though: a person who writes books; an author.

Back to my dictionary, an author is:

1. a writer, esp. of books. 2. the originator of an event, a condition, etc.

So the dictionary says that if you write books, you’re an author. It doesn’t say you need to have a big publisher vet your book, it doesn’t say you need to sell 1 million copies to be qualified, it just says you need to write.

Yet, I’ve written two books (currently hiding out on my hard drive), and I wouldn’t call myself an author. For me, being an author is more than just writing a book: it’s writing a book and sharing it with the world.

I recently saw someone call themselves a novelist in a bio. That’s a more specific term and one that I could get used to. The COD says a novelist is, quite simply:

a writer of novels.

But does it matter if you publish them? Does it matter who publishes them? Do you get to add ‘novelist’ to your business card if no one has ever read your work? Or is it merely the doing, the act of writing that qualifies you as a novelist?

It seems some other professions are easier to define: you graduate from library school, get a job as a librarian, and you become a librarian; you go to school to learn how to be a mechanic, you get a job as a mechanic, you become a mechanic.

Perhaps I am over-complicating, but it seems that the rules for becoming a “writer” or an “author” or a “novelist” are gray.

My friend Bob has trouble identifying as a writer, and yet as of next week he will have published two books, the first two in a series of ten (!). He calls himself a “wroter.” He can’t wrap his head around being called a writer or an author; he says he’s merely writing down things that he has learned in the past, so he’s “wroting” — past tense.

I have another writing friend who just published a magical children’s book, but I don’t think he would ever in a million years identify himself as an author, or a writer, or a novelist, for that matter.

So what do you think? When are you a writer? When are you an author? Does it even matter? Should we all stop debating it and get back to, er, writing?

Author: Carrie Mumford

Carrie Mumford is a writer and content manager living in Calgary, Alberta. She write short stories and non-fiction articles, and blogs about technology, editing, writing and (of course) books.

  • I’ve been wondering this exact thing lately and feeling kind of “gray” about it. I’m a writer (finally embraced that one), and I publish articles and short stories on my blog and other websites. Am I considered an author? It’s interesting to note that WordPress and other sites call their blog writers “authors.” That ties in with your definition because bloggers are definitely sharing their words with the world. I do like your final question, though, and I think I’ll rest on it for now!

    • Agree! I think I’ve put it to rest for myself by writing about it. Let’s not worry about what we’re called and get back to writing :) Thanks for stopping by, Darla!

  • I, too, have trouble with the definitions. I think a writer is what I might call myself, whereas, an ‘author’ is what those who read my works might call me.

  • Yes, I call myself a writer (finally) but only in lower case and often with a note of apology that there isn’t more of my work out there for the public to read. The difference now, as opposed to a few years ago, is that I’m actually ‘working’ at becoming a better writer and getting published. That is what gives me the confidence to say “I’m a writer”.

    • I think you hit on something I was having trouble nailing down, Minkee: the difference between the dictionary definition of a “writer” and someone who is a writer. You’ve summed it up so well as someone who is trying to get better at the art of writing.

  • I detest labels. I find them limiting and, as the above article illustrates, inaccurate and confusing. Words mean different things to different people. I may write a book and be fortunate in it being published. However, I may choose not to write another book, or fail to get the next attempts published. Does that mean I’m no longer an author or writer or novelist? Attaching a label to my name, Feather Stone, Author, is ego driven. A clearer introduction would be, Feather Stone, a woman who wrote/authored The Guardian’s Wildchild, published by Omnific Publishing in 2011. That being said, my publisher attached the ‘author’ to her marketing propaganda programs. It’s part of the game. As a person who enjoys writing stories, I keep my feet planted on the ground. If others chose to call me an author or writer, that’s their business. Me, I’m just happy to explore the realms of unlimited possibilities and share that with the world.

    • That sounds great, Feather! I think this is the conclusion I wrote myself into: we should stop worrying about what we’re called and get back to writing. Thanks for your insightful comment :)

  • I am a writer when you tell me I am, the rest of the time I am a BoB sharing my thoughts, my books were already written, which means I wrote them before I published them, so, yes I am a wroter, and yes I had to turn off spell checker so that term would stay there. Thank you Carrie for your support, your patience and your wisdom. I will continue to share my thoughts and you can continue to call me whatever you like, in writing.

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  • I think we are all writers i our own ways just as long as you can express your feelings in any language not just on paper. writing is one of the worlds greatest asset if not the greatest…….

  • In my son’s eyes I became an author/writer the day that Lulu.com informed that I’d sold my first book. Personally I wasn’t happy with the term ‘author’ until I read the words ‘Paul Trevor Nolan author of Silent Apocalypse’ on Goodreads. So what I guess I’m saying is – you’re neither a writer or an author until someone tells you that you are.

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