Labels: Writer vs Author
I hear a lot of people say they want to be a writer some day. I get emails about it from readers who tell me about their dreams of writing. Some day? Why not today? Here is what you have to do to be a writer: You sit down, and you write some words. Then you do it as frequently/consistently as possible in something that vaguely resembles some type of routine. If you write today, you are a writer for today. You have to re-earn the label each time. If you just take a day off here or there, you can probably keep the label. After all, lots of people are off two days a week and take 2 weeks of vacation a year and they can still legitimately lay claim to the title of whatever their profession is.
Some people who don’t write but who want to still say that’s what they do, like to use terms like writer and working writer as divisions to indicate whether or not one is active. But the term implies an activity one is engaged in on a somewhat regular basis. “Working writer” is redundant. If you’re a writer… you’re a working writer. By definition.
Then there are other people who tack the word “real” to the front of “writer” and come up with all these hoops you have to jump through to get into their club and be validated. (Most of the people who create these hoops aren’t writers to begin with. They are authors. But I will get to that in a minute. One can be both an author and a writer, or one can be just one of those things.)
In my opinion (and it’s only my opinion), calling oneself a writer is a label/title you earn only when you actually do it. If you go 8 months without writing, you aren’t a writer with “writer’s block”, you simply aren’t a writer during that time. Writers WRITE. They don’t just think about writing, plan to write, or talk about that book they wrote that one time seven years ago.
To be called a writer legitimately, you don’t have to be published or famous or a bestseller. You don’t have to have thousands of hardcore fans. All you have to do is write. And you don’t have to write a giant amount of words for hours at a time or brilliant words or the “right” words. You don’t have to “suffer” for your art or “bleed on the page” (that’s very unhygienic).
If you write only 250 words every single day, you have more claim to that label than a lot of people who day after day choose not to sit down and put down words, for whatever imaginary reason. You can always write SOMETHING. It might not be publishable. It might not be good. But you can write something. ANYTHING. If you write for 20 minutes a day, you’re a writer. If you go a year without doing it… you’re not a writer until you start writing again.
I might get hate mail… from people fuming that they are WRITERS goddammit… but if they are angry it’s probably because they haven’t actually written anything in a long time. Don’t get mad about it, just write some words. It’s also important to note that “writer” doesn’t mean “artist”. What one writes MAY be art or it may NOT be art, but that’s not for the creator of the work to determine. That’s for the audience to decide. How “good” or “talented” someone or their work is isn’t the issue on the table here. The issue is simply doing the work required to call oneself a “writer”.
Let me ask you this: If you almost never bowl or dance would you self-reference all the time as a bowler or dancer? You might say you bowl or dance sometimes or it’s something you enjoy on occasion, but you wouldn’t try to make it a part of your personal identity if you weren’t actually regularly engaged in the activity. Yet being a “writer” is a huge ego thing for a lot of people, yet they rarely actually do it. So it becomes awkward like a person who bowls three times a year calling themselves a “bowler” as if it’s an important part of their identity. Something you never do cannot be an important part of your identity. It may be who you want to be, but it’s who you are when it’s who you are. And it’s surprisingly easy to make it who you are.
If this post makes you defensive, sit down and take 15 minutes to write 250 words. It can be a flash fiction piece about a know-it-all paranormal romance author who gets hit by a bus. It’ll be cathartic, then you can say you’re a writer today. I can’t take that label from you. Only you can take that label from you by not writing. This post is meant to be inspirational to those who write me these letters about how much they love my books and they want to be a writer some day–not judgmental. It just is what it is. Write some words and pick up your daily writer badge. Then wear it with pride until tomorrow where you get to do it again. If that sounds like torture to you, maybe you don’t want to really be a writer. Maybe you just want to be an author.
Author is a whole other animal. A lot of people think the word “author” is more prestigious than “writer”, but it’s easier to be an author than it is to be a writer, especially in the age of self-publishing. All being an author means is… you’ve written (and it’s generally understood that you’ve also published) a piece of writing, like a book.
So you can write and publish one book your whole life and be able to legitimately call yourself an author until the end of time. You never have to open your laptop again, or sit down with a pen and paper, or however you do it. You never have to create more words. You did it that one time, so if you just want the street cred of calling yourself an author, write and self-publish one book and then get on with your life. At every party you ever attend you can now legitimately say: “Oh, I’m an author.” People will put a lot of stock in this. Some may be impressed or envious. You don’t have to do anything else ever again but smile and bask in your authorhood.
But if you want to be a writer, you have to actually write. Regularly. I’ve been an author since I published Kept, but I’m only a writer on the days I actually write.
My blog is subtitled: Zoe Winters, Paranormal Romance Author, because that’s a fact. It will never change. But I’m not always a writer. I try to be, and right now I’ve got a good streak going where I can legitimately call myself that, but if I fall off the wagon I lose the right to that label.
I’d rather be a writer than just an author. It’s the bigger challenge, even if the outside world puts more stock and awe in “author”.
I respect writers. I respect anybody who sits down and does the work. You never have to publish a single word. If you write every day, you’re just as much a writer as I am. You’re just as valid as I am. So if you want to write, what the hell is stopping you? It’s not exactly a high bar to be able to lay claim to this label, but it’s a bar surprisingly few reach with any level of consistency. And since it only takes a few minutes for you to pick your label back up, there’s no reason to be angry or defensive about it. Just do it. I think a tennis shoe company said that one time.