So. When do you start calling yourself “a writer?”, as in, “I’m a writer, please go easy on me with the bad news.”
When you finish a novel?
When you spend a certain amount of time doing it?
When you decide it’s what you want to do?
When you have an agent?
Upon publication of your first novel?
And what about “author?”
Tim from France says
The verb “to author” means to accept responsibilty for the content of a published text.
To “write” is the act of putting words on paper.
There seems to be some quality distinction thing going on in the comments to define the two verbs which is nonsense.
For example, as fabulous as they are I don’t author my shopping lists but I do write them.
Wanda, I’ll return the compliment – I thought that your research on self-publishing was very on target.
And what about women, people of color, those of persecuted religions who could never even self-publish because of oppression.
And I don’t believe for a moment that bias isn’t still alive in the publishing industry.
Apropos of nothing I appear to be typing in a very tiny little box. It wasn’t there before? Is that because I already commented 3 times on this topic? Will the box keep getting smaller every time I comment? Does anyone else have a tiny box?
Tim from France says
I take it all back. You are truly an author when you are given a very small box to type into.
I feel very special.
Animal Lover Extroardinaire says
I agree with what other people have said. A writer is someone who writes–and frequently, not just a college student doing their essays–and an author is someone with reputable publishing. I wouldn’t call self-publishing reputable really, unless it was a success like Eragon.
Marilyn Peake says
Great discussion on this blog. Something happened with the comment box, though…It suddenly got very, very narrow…as in only 11 spaces/letters available for each line. Is this a test to see who’s really driven to write?? LOL.
If the news goes web-only and includes self-published news stories, as Michael Hirschorn’s article End Times suggests may happen, we’ll have to do a tremendous amount of analysis to figure out what constitutes real news.
I call myself a writer – because I write. I hope to add Author by end of year
Marilyn Peake says
Yes, I’m also getting a really, really tiny box…and only half a profile screen…and only part of the word verification. I have to scroll to the right just to see the word verification, then scroll back to the left to type it in…and I’m asked to do that twice. I think it’s a test. 🙂
Maybe this much discussion and pondering about what constitutes a “writer” and “author” has dumped us down the rabbit hole where things can get larger or smaller at whim.
I think the real question is when do I start calling myself a good writer. Anyone can write. But takes a lot of sweat and tears to write well.
Simon Haynes says
I usually describe myself as a computer programmer, although that doesn’t cover a tenth of what I do for a living. If pressed further I’ll sometimes mention I’m an author, but it depends who I’m talking to.
I’ve never described myself as a writer, because it’s just one of many things I get up to. It would be like saying I’m a driver, or a father, or a handyman.
Louise Kuskovski says
I agree that an author is someone who is published. For example, I am comfortable saying, “I am a published author.” However, I don’t consider myself a writer as it isn’t all consuming. As I see it, a writer is someone who carries that artist’s torch. For me, writing is a hobby, I’m an armchair writer. Or as I tell my husband–I’m a person who writes. Should I find myself with a few published books under my belt and move from tinkering with words to earning a living by my keyboard, then I may elevate my status to writer as well.
I became a writer when that was how I earned my living. Seven published books- I still don’t call myself an author, I doubt I ever will. I’m a writer, because a writer writes.
Now the better question is- How do you like having that as your answer to ‘so what do you do?’? Don’t you love those blank looks? Fun times.
David Quigg says
Man, I wish some of you purists had been there to back me up the other day when a simple difference of opinion over this same basic question turned my girlfriend into my ex-girlfriend.
We'd just heard Elizabeth Gilbert speak at TED. Amazing talk, by the way. Check it out here.
Anyway, my girlfriend and I hear Gilbert speak. We're buoyant. Gilbert had riffed on this idea of creation flowing from outside the artist and talked about those moments when a dancer seems to be glowing from inside, when you gawk at a performance and feel you're seeing God. Like I said, amazing.
So my girlfriend and I are walking afterwards, heading out for drinks, and we come across this crowd. They're blocking the sidewalk, ringed around this girl — maybe nineteen years old at the most. They're clapping. She's nodding and re-tuning a beleaguered guitar.
We step off the curb to go around. But then the girl starts up. Singing. A cappella at first. So pure. Just heavenly. Truly.
My girlfriend and I don't even exchange a glance. No words. We just turn, as one, toward the music. Walking away from this girl's voice is simply not an option.
Now, I'm lousy at describing music. So I'm not even going to try.
Instead, I'll just tell you how people are reacting, how I am reacting. I use my cell to call my own house. I hold my phone toward the girl. I'm trying to record this voice, this guitar on my voicemail. I'm living this moment and avidly alive in this moment and simultaneously clutching at the moment, knowing I won't soar like this again any time soon. My girlfriend elbows me. I assume she's embarrassed by my cell phone. But she's points all around us. Other people have their phones out, too. One guy is making a movie with a little point-and-shoot camera. We're all clutching at this moment.
This, I realize, is what Elizabeth Gilbert was talking about. This girl is glowing. Who knows why? Who knows how? She's glowing and we, in this moment, see God in her.
The song ends. We don't even clap. Not at first. It's just gibberish shrieks. The girl nods. Just nods.
A guy not even eight feet away from us half-shouts something about "never gonna get any more magical than this" and goes down on one knee in front of his girlfriend. She nods. Not like the guitar girl's nod. Violent nodding. Emphatic. Her back pulses with jubilant hyperventilation. The guy stands. They kiss. We all shriek again.
The girl is putting her guitar back in its case. To a person, we're not the least bit upset. We're too sated to be greedy. We know not to mess with this.
My girlfriend throws her arm around me.
"What a singer!" she says.
"Beg your pardon?"
"What a singer," she repeats.
"The girl. The singer."
"Well, I doubt she's a singer. She's out here playing on the street."
My girlfriend gets this weird look. I misread it badly and try to get more information.
"Hey," I call to the guitar girl. "Hey, great song. Are you on a label?"
"No," she says, dropping her guitar case and bounding toward me. "Are you an A&R guy? I wrote that song. I've got lots more."
"Me? No. No. Just curious."
She doesn't even say anything, just recedes back toward her guitar case.
"Good luck," I say. "Really great song. I hope they treat you well at your day job. You're something special. You work around here?"
She mumbles something about Starbucks.
My girlfriend is trying to get words out. They aren't coming. So I talk.
"Yeah, so anyway, you heard her, right? She's not signed. She's got a day job."
A vein I've never seen before is visible on my girlfriend's forehead.
"That. Girl. Is. A. Singer," she manages to spit. "And you're humiliating her."
"She's amazing. Obviously. But she's a barista. She's not a singer. Maybe she will be some day. Plenty of people are singers. Ashlee Simpson is a singer."
"Ashlee Simpson lip-syncs! You SAW her!" my girlfriend says, crying — literally crying — now and poking me in the chest. "We fucking saw her on SNL. She got caught lip-syncing and she walked offstage and blamed her band. She blamed the only real musicians on the stage that night. And SHE is more of a singer than this girl? This girl who WROTE that song? Are you out of your —
"I don't make the rules. Ashlee Simpson is on a label. A major label. She's a singer. This girl isn't. Case closed."
And that's how it ends. No slap across my face. No more scathing words. No more tears.
She just walks away. Never looks back. Never comes back. Never calls. Never returns calls.
I'd be wrecked — utterly shattered — but for two comforts that don't leave me, can't leave me: the certainty that I was correct and the last three minutes and twenty-seven seconds of that supernal song, immortal now on my voicemail, time-stamped just a few minutes before my girlfriend let her ignorance of the ways of the world come between us.
I had to get up the nerve to say “I’m a writer” so that people would go away and leave me alone during my writing time.
It was not easy to say it, especially here in Ireland where we are inclined to be bashful about these things. But the alternative was having my Aunt drop in from next door every five minutes for a cup of tea or a bit of help with the garden.
Then once I said it… well actually I said “I’m trying to write”… I was overtly committed. I believe that declaring my writing ambitions was the single most difficult and worthwhile step I took towards completing my novel.
Author? Maybe some day!
Two Flights Down says
I guess I go against the majority in that I do a lot of writing, but I don’t really call myself a “writer.” I’m really not sure why, though. When I told someone in college that I enjoy writing, she replied, “Oh, I’m a writer, too,” and I was shocked for a moment, because I had never consider myself a writer. I think, in my mind, I have to do it professionally…that is, make a living from it. I’m definitely not at that point. I want to note, however, that I’m not saying other people are wrong, I’m just saying what my mind associates with the word. I play piano and write songs, as well, but I don’t consider myself a musician or composer. Is this a bad analogy?
I can bake a cake… doesn’t make me a baker. I can slap together a table… doesn’t make me a carpenter. I can sketch out plans for my remodel… doesn’t make me an architect or an interior designer.
This makes sense to me. I’ve always connected the labels with money: A writer makes a living writing. An author has books that have sold.
But I do know a wondrous baker who chooses not to work in a bakery but simply bakes cakes for the people she loves (luckily, she’s very loving). So although people have argued with Anon, s/he’s actually made my personal definition broader than it used to be.
A few of my online writer friends and I had this exact same conversation a few weeks ago. Our conclusion? There are as many answers to this questions as there are people who write.
As quoted from a friend; “Hemingway was a writer. Joan Collins and Harold Robbins are authors.”
Then I suppose I am neither.
I am not a writer or an author. I am a storyteller with good grammar.
Tim from France says
Some of what I write is auful. Does that make me an author?
David Quigg, don’t take this the wrong way, but based on your story, and my not-so-humble opinion, you are a dufus. You don’t sacrifice a relationship over being right!! Are you nuts?
Besides the fact that you were dead wrong.
Nicely written story, by the way, even if you are a dufus.
I agree Mira. He had that warm fuzzy feeling going for me right up until the end, and then he became the villian. Really nice writing, even though I can’t say he is a writer.
Nicole Tibbs says
I believe you can call yourself a writer when you feel the call to write. It doesn’t take publication, though that is really nice and usually the desired goal. Anyone who writes is a writer, and the sooner a person can feel confident saying they are a writer, the sooner they will gain the confidence to move forward and write more. If you love to write and do so, then you are a writer.
You know you are a writer because:
– When you were little, you’d argue with your father by writing a response because that’s how you communicated best;
– When you were in seventh grade, you won an essay contest because your historical figure told readers what it was like to be hanged;
– You carried a small dictionary in your purse because you couldn’t stand not to know the meaning of a word;
– When your daughter had a stillborn baby the day after her 17th birthday, the only thing you could do when you got home from the hospital was to write a poem to say goodbye to him at the funeral;
– You’ve spent over ten years writing a novel, and even after 100 rejections, you keep pressing onward, sending more queries, because you know it’s a really good book, and you’re not going to give up;
– You vent your frustrations in a blog, and hope that what you write will help others as well;
– You keep writing because that’s what you do, and you’ve always known you were a writer.
You know you’re an author when you’ve finished your masterpiece, whether it’s published or not.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the point of David Quigg’s story was for us to realize that he, or his character, wasn’t right. Technically, yes, but not in the important ways. Well done, sir.
Also, some very touching stuff from KLRomo. As good an argument as I’ve heard yet, only, in the hustle and bustle of everyday conversation and all its attendant distractions, your definition is sadly lost.
Not sure anymore what the original question(s) were specifically pertaining to––whether Nathan meant “in your heart” or “when describing yourself to someone else in the heat of an exchange”––but it’s amazing how many ways such a weighty word can be altered and reduced to fit the circumstances.
And if you manage it well, maybe you’re a writer after all.
I bow down to you. Your writing is by far superior to mine. In several of my previous posts I tried to point out the absurdity of our differences in opinions on the subject. You sucked me right in, and made me feel like a dufus. I believe you may be a genius, that is if you really didn’t lose your girlfriend.
I’m sure this has been said before. Probably repeatedly.
But I’ll say it again anyway, just to get my two cents in.
If you write, you are a writer. If you get something–anything–published, you are an author.
Pretty simple, no?
Marilyn Peake says
Enjoyed your post. Reminds me of Paulo Coelho’s feelings about dance in The Witch of Portobello.
There is no way I’d feel comfortable calling myself a “writer” or an “author” unless paid to write. I get embarrassed for people who do. Seems narcissistic. Or wishful thinking. I enjoy singing but if I attempted to title myself a singer than I’d be laughed out of the shower.
The difference between singing in the shower, and writing for most people on this blog-they believe they have some talent or they wouldn’t be paying any attention to Nathan. Which IMO is a huge difference and not a accurate comparison.
As long as I’m writing I consider myself a writer. The only difference between me and a professional is I don’t get paid for it. Yet.
Ooh.. interesting one. I think you’re a writer if you write, a novelist if you’ve finished a novel (whether or not it got anywhere), and an author if you’ve been published.
However, as an unpublished writer myself, I would usually say “I write”, rather than “I’m a writer”. Hm.
When I was seven years old I wrote, illustrated and published my own book, “The Big Bear in the Tree on 29th Street.” It was a best seller in the neighborhood. Both kids and adults bought it and I made 23 bucks, not bad for 1955! I have been published now but that did not have the delicious self sufficient feeling of my first effort. At seven I was an author and I still am — an author who writes.
J. M. Strother says
I call myself a writer, though I don’t enter that in the little blue box at the bottom of my 1040. I think anyone who writes regularly is a writer. Once they become published (in long form) they are an author. If the book is a novel they are a novelist. If they make money at it, they can put the title down in the little blue box. Still working towards that.
For the record, I can’t stand this new commenting style. I much preferred being able to see pics and follow their threads.
Nathan Bransford says
I am a writer. I knew this when I was in grade school. (But what do you really know when you get good marks for creative writing, but you are only ten years old?)
My first novel could have been a one time accomplishment. I thought more about it after I made it through two editings.
And then came my second novel. More evidence about my being a writer.
PS This new commenting system takes one to seven times to “take.” YUCK!
I started saying I was a writer, after I completed my third novel.
I still don’t think I’m an author until someone publishes it.
That will take more courage on my part.
Wow, that comment took more than five times to “take.”
Really liked the old system better.
Sigh. Hope others will reconsider and vote for old style someday.
But I still really appreciate your blog.
(guessing this comment will take four tries to upload)
Nathan Bransford says
If people continue to experience problems I’ll contemplate a change, but for now I’m satisfied with how it’s going.
I started calling myself a writer, naively, when I was about 10! And then I learned that I had to “earn” that moniker. So I thought when I was an undergraduate and received an Academy of American Poets Award, I was safe. Nope. I was “just” a poet. Then I started publishing a fair amount of fiction and some essays and lately some journalism (some 30 years after the AAPA!!), became a member of the Author’s Guild, got nominated for a couple of Pushcart Prizes, and decided I could safely call myself a writer. I NEVER call myself author–that seems like something that someone else calls you, as in “author of.” I recently joined Red Room and discovered that I’m really just a “Member” (how weird is that): I can’t be an Author unless I’ve published a book. And writer isn’t an option on the web site. Getting the writING done is more important than what you call yourself or what anyone else calls you.
My wife began calling me a writer after I sold my first short story. That was last summer and I’m still not totally comfortable with the title. It seems like a writer should be making a living at it, or at least providing a substantial portion of his/her income from writing. A mechanic gets paid to fix cars, a driver gets paid to drive. If you do those things for pleasure or necessity, you don’t necessarily call yourself by the title. Right?
The word “author” implies, in my mind at least, a novel. A published novel. Once I hit that plateau, my wife will probably start calling me an author and I will be just a little be proud and a little bit uncomfortable, just like with “writer.”
I feel like I should be established before I take the title. A few more sales and I think I’ll really consider myself a writer. A couple books on the shelves and I’ll be comfortable calling myself an author. Until then, I’m aspiring.
I think I have to ring in and agree with Kate:
I seem to recall a movie scene at some point that went something along the lines of “If you wake up every morning, and the first thing you want to do is write, then you’re a writer!”
Writing is a verb, so anyone that actively writes is a writer. One doesn’t become an author, until they have a book published. A journalist should actually be working for some form of news/periodical. But anyone can write, and anyone can call themselves a writer. The same way anyone can call themselves a golfer, or a dancer, or a poker player. Being a good writer, or a successful writer – those are claims that need a bit more backing.
I call myself a writer. I have for a while.
I guess it had to be when I got really serious about writing, began to understand it, and began displaying all the weird behaviors, and of course, spilling coffee.
Then again, I’ve been “writerly” practically since I was born.
When I wrote my first complete novel, I think I became an author. And someday, I hope I’ll be a published author.
But that’s just my opinion.
Rahul Abhimanyu Sirsikar says
Everybody is a Writer, but a Person becomes a Succesful Author when he doesnot have to mail agents..instead agents mail to represent him.
“Does self-publishing make one an author?”
No. Not in the sense the term is generally known. Read a few of them and you’ll know why. I suspect you may have.
I have written 3 (non published) novels, and have given this question some thought. My definition of a ‘writer’ is anyone who puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and gives a sincere effort to create something worth publishing.
The key here is sincere effort, and only the writer knows for sure!
You are an author when people you don’t know buy books published under your own name (or pen name). Whether you are published or self published is moot once strangers will buy your output.
Anyone who writes is by definition a writer. In the same way anyone who goes to the toilet is a *******.
To describe yourself as a writer, one ought to write as a primary activity. I personally avoid the issue by answering the question ‘what do you do?’ by saying that ‘I write’.
When you commit yourself to the words.
Writer at any point, I suppose; author when published; artist when your work isn’t just an exercise in your mother tongue.
I have been a writer all along but never knew it. I always wrote fiction, poetry and opinions though I never pursued it seriously. Now after working in fields that I do not enjoy and the positive feedback received from others, it is now time for me to become a writer full-time.
Novel on the way!!!