Someone asked me recently what I believed to be the difference between an author and a writer, and which I considered myself. First of all, let me say that whether or not you are an author is not determined by whether or not you are published. It’s more subtle than that. On the Internet, it seems everyone believes a writer writes and an author creates ideas. That means an author is a writer, but a writer is not necessarily an author.
I have always loved to write. Even in elementary school, writing was my favorite subject. In middle school, after being assigned an essay on the Civil War, I asked the teacher if I could write it from the point of view of a slave. I had the soul of an author even then. Yes, it was a teacher’s assignment, but I made it my own.
Years later, when I taught sixth grade, I led my students through writing a novel for NaNoWriMo. Writing a novel is hard, I told them. Then I thought that if I asked them to write one, that I should write one too. I went back to a story I’d worked on, off and on, for almost five years. During that November, I finished it. All of my students finished, too, and were very proud of the longest story they’d ever written. We all celebrated being authors.
For me, a writer is a person who writes for someone else. Whether it’s an essay for school, a magazine article, or a blog post, a writer creates for the reader. This type of writing is necessary. I don’t mean to belittle this type of writing at all. Sometimes it’s what pays the bills while an author works on their next bestselling novel. It can be enjoyable, too. My blog, for example, feels like a conversation with my readers, a way of reaching out to them in a more casual way to share what’s on my mind.
I belong to an author marketing collective, Paper Lantern Writers, that publishes two blogs a week, on Tuesday and Friday. We have a monthly theme for Tuesday blogs, and I write one a month. Each Friday has a different topic, and I write a book review for the first Friday of each month. Some of the topics interest me and some don’t. As a writer, I fulfill my responsibility of writing that blog.
An author, on the other hand, writes for herself (or himself). There’s a book in the author’s head that is screaming to be released. In the first six months after I retired from teaching, I wrote a draft of a creative nonfiction piece about the changes in education over the twenty years I taught. I started before there were school shootings, before technology, before the sense of entitlement that affects today’s children. In the book, I trace how the change happened slowly, and I offer some recommendations. Then COVID 19 hit and the world changed. Everything in that book is obsolete. It will never be published, but it was cathartic to write. I will revise and rework it because it’s important to me, not because it will ever be published.
My historical novels are similar. I write about strong women in my family whose stories deserve to be told. I have a lot of these stories, told to me by my grandmother. I wrote Under the Almond Trees first, because the story of my suffragette grandmother’s grandmother had always been a story I wanted to tell. My next novel, The Aloha Spirit, was inspired by my husband’s grandmother, a woman I respected and admired very much. I have at least four more women whose stories I need to write, so I’ll be busy for some time.
Even for people who write, the distinction between writer and author is an academic one. It’s interesting to discuss, but not critical to self worth. To the reader, the difference between a writer and an author doesn’t matter at all. If the writing is done well, a reader can enjoy it no matter what the author’s purpose is.