“If I could write the beauty of your eyes” —William Shakespeare

A few days ago, I launched my Writer Page on Facebook.

Novel note card, April 2011

Over the last six weeks or so, I have gone places I’ve never gone before—on the Internet, that is. No, I have not been visiting naughty websites. I’ve been doing something the publishing industry calls “Building a Platform.” Note the caps, a signifier of importance. It seems a platform is important for writers. Even those of us without a published book are encouraged to go ahead and start putting ourselves “out there.” So that’s what I’ve been doing under the fabulous leadership of one Not-Bob, or Robert Lee Brewer, who led the My Name Is Not Bob April Platform Challenge.

April, you say? Yes, the challenge ended when April did, but the momentum continues.

I was already a Facebook person, and I “did” LinkedIn. I had signed up for Twitter, added Google+ and Red Room, and I’ve been visiting my fellow platformers’ blogs like crazy, with great admiration for their ability to write posts (daily, some of them; wow), juggle jobs and kids and lives and still write their novels or poetry or memoirs or whatever is dearest to their hearts.

My final goal was to create the Facebook Writer Page. Did I dare call myself a writer and make it a public declaration? When I finally held my nose and dived in, it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was fun, and many friends and fellow writers dropped by quickly and “liked” the page, so it’s gotten off to a good start.

Something interesting surfaced in the midst of all that. When I started to create the page, I had to choose a category from among businesses, organizations, nonprofits, brands, and such. I considered all the options and decided on Artist, Band, or Public Figure. I’m not an Artist (well, that one’s close; I like to think I am, with words); I’m not a Band; and I’m certainly not a Public Figure. (Notice those caps again.) The ah-ha moment came when I held my breath and clicked on Artist and saw I had choices there, too.

What kind of person am I? What’s my identity?

Two of the options were “author” and “writer.” Hmmm. Author sounds a little stilted, I thought, so instinctively, I went with writer. After all, that’s what I call myself these days.

It started me thinking. I’m a former English teacher. I should know the distinction between those two words. Writer is more generic? An author is someone . . . more established? I finally gave in and looked them up. Here’s some of what I found.

(If you hate it when people quote the dictionary, you should maybe stop here.)

According to Merriam Webster: an author is “one that originates or creates; the writer of a literary work (as a book). Author originates from the Middle English auctour, from Anglo-French auctor, autor, from Latin auctor promoter, originator, author, from augēre to increase.” The word dates from the 14th century.

A writer is “one that writes [refers to the definition of write] as a: author [one and the same? Really?] and b: one who writes stock options.”  The word traces to the 12th century.

So the word writer pre-dates author, but it doesn’t have the fancy pedigree.

My Dashboard dictionary on the Mac defines author as “someone who writes books as a profession” and writer as “a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation.”

Are we splitting hairs here?

Let’s look at the word write. Merriam Webster begins with the simplest definition—to “form characters or symbols on a surface with an instrument (as a pen)”—and progresses  to “to set down in writing; to be the author of; to express in literary form.” Ah, getting closer. The example that follows is a line from Shakespeare: “if I could write the beauty of your eyes . . .”

So which am I? I think I’ll stick with writer.

A writer puts marks on a page, yes. She makes words, yes, and symbols, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. Stories, memoirs, novels, poetry. She records the world as she sees it. She creates people and places and worlds that didn’t exist before.

A writer makes her mark on the world. That’s what I’d like to do. So call me writer, please. That’s the word for me.

Here’s a question for you: how do you see yourself? Do you call yourself a writer or an author? Is there a distinction in your mind? I expect there’ll be different opinions. I’d love to hear yours.

14 thoughts on ““If I could write the beauty of your eyes” —William Shakespeare

  1. Well, the next time I’m editing, I’ll change to writer. I chose author because I’ve had some things published, but you know, I think writer fits me better, too. Great post and comments!

    1. I think it’s fine to do whatever fits and feels best, Sabra. Once I publish a book (notice I say “once,” not “if”), I may feel differently. There seems to be that subtle distinction, but “writer” suits me just fine. Thanks for stopping by . . .

  2. I’m glad you put “building a platform” in quotes. While I maintain it is very important for a writer–I teach a class on helping writers learn to blog, after all–It is a silly phrase, and an unfortunate fact of modern life.

    From a pure “platform” standpoint, there’s a sense out there that you call yourself an author when you’ve had a book published by a press. But we can all call ourselves whatever we want. But “author” is limiting, whereas “writer” is not. So why not choose the non-limiting one?

    1. Patrick,
      I love “we can all call ourselves whatever we want.” Yes, we can!

      For a long time, I resisted the concept of platform. I’ve come around to it, but I have to decide what (and how much) works for me. Your blog class sounds interesting! I’m actually enjoying writing for this blog (something I was resisting a month ago) and following others.

      I like your take on the more limited definition of “author”; I personally like calling myself “writer.” I’ll take it any day. It feels good.

  3. I call myself a writer and suspect I always will. I picture an author as someone who speaks eloquently and with perfect vowels and whose words sing from the page. I’m a toiler, a genre writer, and happy to be one.

  4. Some folks use the term, Author/Writer, once they get a book published. I agree with Dana re writer = seeker. A seeker of the truth be it in a book, short story, article. That rings true to me.

  5. Interesting post, I never gave it much thought. I guess I always assumed that an author had a published book and a writer did not. An author only writes books that are published. And a writer writes everything. And I have no idea where I came up with that distinction.

  6. Gerry, I think “writer” feels more along the lines of “seeker”, so that appeals to me. “Author” sounds to me more like one who has arrived already. If I had a published book, “author” would seem appropriate I suppose.

    1. Dana, I’ve published some, but no book–yet! I like “writer.” It feels comfortable to me. I don’t think it matters. I got interested in the semantics here, all the shades of meaning. Thanks for the comment!

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