Are you a writer or an author?

Since launching myself onto the turbulent waters of the book business, I have ‘met’ dozens of other new authors. Not new writers, as most of us have been writing since forever, but newly emerged as authors. It takes a certain amount of courage to ‘come out’ and admit to your secret vice. Not only admit to it, but show others, complete strangers, what you have been up to all these years.

I had years of creating babies before I turned seriously to creating something a little less stressful that wouldn’t object if I shoved it in a drawer and ignored it for a few weeks. Writing is one thing, attempting to get published is quite another. It’s at this point, I think, that a writer becomes an author. Even if you never snag an agent, or sign a publishing contract, if you want to be an author, you can self-publish. Any writer who wants to, can become an author.

What decided me was hearing that the husband of a colleague of my husband’s had published a best seller. This character already earns a huge whack with his own business, his wife earns a huge salary, and instead of two beautiful kids, they have two beautiful homes. It struck me as so totally unfair, that someone who ought to have been fulfilled with his fantastic lifestyle, should have broken into print. And how! It was the classic case of: it should have been me!

The sense of outrage that this businessman with more money than he could ever need was sitting there where I should be, right at the top of the best-seller list, galvanised me into action. I joined a writers’ group, got my mss sorted out and went about getting published in a businesslike manner.

Which, in a long-winded way, brings me to my point. Why do we do it? What is it that pushes some people to take the step from being a writer, a Sunday scribbler, to becoming an author? Why is the urge for recognition for having created something, often stronger than the urge to excel in a chosen profession? It seems to me that almost everyone feels the need to create something unique, whether it is literary, artistic or scientific, but most people never go beyond the creation. The sketches and photos stay in an album, the novel on the disc drive, the research passed onto somebody else.

For some people that isn’t enough. Some of us want, not so much fame, as recognition. I know that I get a tremendous thrill when someone whose opinion I respect tells me that they enjoyed what I wrote. Maybe it’s because it is mine entirely, fruit of a fevered imagination and weird dreams, but certainly all mine. It might not be the pyramids of Gizeh or even the Guggenheim Museum, but the writers who want to be authors also want to leave their little monuments. Small ambitions are easier to realise, and sometimes it’s better that way.

Van Eyck pained himself in the mirror, possibly in case Arnolfini forgot to mention him in the credits
Van Eyck painted himself in the mirror, possibly in case Arnolfini forgot to mention him in the credits

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Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

36 thoughts on “Are you a writer or an author?”

  1. Great post! I think we (authors) have all had that feeling when you meet someone who is successful in every area of life, and then they casually mention they decided to write a book that just happened to become a best-seller and now they don’t know what to do with all their extra money. Argh!

    I think your definition of ‘author’ is perfect. With the accessibility of self-publishing making is possible for anyone to publish, it’s that decision to take your writing seriously that propels you from ‘writer’ to ‘author.’

    In my opinion, your book is deserving of a best-seller list and I hope to see it there soon!

    1. Do I have your permission to copy that last bit and paper the living room with it? I won’t say what the money spinner was about, except that it’s a genre I despise. We maybe don’t have the private helicopter to get to the top, just climbing the ladder with the rest, but it’s being on the ladder that counts.

  2. So interesting Jane. I recall when I first came out of the closet and allowed someone to read my work, apart from my husband that is, I felt naked and stripped to the very core – my whole being exposed with nowhere to hide. I decided to have a page and a blog and then I had a decision to make; writer or author? I agonized and nearly didn’t set up a page. I felt a fraud and then one of the writing groups I belonged to put out and anthology, in hardback and with my stories. I had a great sense of accomplishment and I decided to set up the pages. What to call them? One of my life-long friends, a best selling, award winning author told me that I should call myself an author – she said that if you write you are an author. I still felt a fraud until the next time I published and I had a wobble about calling myself anything….another successful author, told me the same thing. In my heart it is what I am, what I have always been even when working in another creative industry where no-one ever asked a recording artist or a musician – are you a musician or do you just play? I write but I am an author…..success is not necessary. I write for me firstly and if someone is kind enough to read my work I am happy. The author I mentioned here first, has written 30 successful books to date and she is now co-writing with me. Whether I was an author or a writer never crossed her mind. She knew. Otherwise she would not be sitting now, trying to finish her parts of our book. Good luck Jane D. – author. Jane R, author.

    1. You’re right, I think. Success isn’t what matters, it’s recognition from people you admire. My husband has never read anything of mine and I’ve never asked him. It’s true he doesn’t read a lot of fiction and NEVER fantasy, but I still would never have shown him my writing. He is the one person I would hate not to impress. No matter who else tells me my stuff is good, no matter how many copies I (eventually) sell, I would be absolutely mortified if he didn’t like it.

      1. Jane my husband has worked with me in the music business for years, he is a musician too and we are both used to mentoring, persuading, encouraging and critiquing other people and their work – our job. We have to tell the truth and give constructive criticism and so have learned to give it out and accept it back. I know if he does not like something he will tell me – he does not want me to look an idiot or a fool and wants to see me give my best. I respect his opinion as did our artists. He may not be able to enjoy alI write as it may not be his favourite genre but he will always give it to me right between the eyes if he thinks I am falling short. It is all I ask. We have worked as a team for over 40 years and I know what he is going to pick up on anyway….sometimes I wait for him to say it. he never hurts my feelings, just tells me straight. I cannot stand being smoothed over…..if he doesn’t like it, then tough for me. I don’t live to please him all the time either….but I prefer it if I can.

  3. I’ve known ever since I was little that I wanted to be published. There was always something thrilling to me about others reading my work all professionally bound and approved. Now I’m on the cusp of having my first book come out by AEC Stellar, and while it will be both digital and POD, the dream is still just as thrilling. I’m marketing the crap out of myself right now.

    1. There’s nothing like working for something you really want, is there? Good luck with your launch. I’ll be following your blog to find out how it goes.

      Edited to say I can’t find your blog! Keep in touch anyway.

  4. What a wonderful post, Jane. I remember after writing one of my novels, the thought of making it public scared me so much that I put it in a drawer and didn’t look at it for a year. It was happily published a couple of years later, and the ebook is going on Amazon this month. Full circle. You capture beautifully the emotion of connecting with a reader, which I think is what ultimately drives us all.


    1. So glad it struck a chord, Carole. People often ask me if I’m going to make money when my book is published, meaning MONEY. It’s an aspect I hadn’t really thought about. The answer is almost certainly, no, but that isn’t the point. It’s just knowing that the book(s) will be there for people to read and enjoy if they want to. As you say, it’s the idea that you have touched a reader that’s important.

  5. Obsession can be a magnificent thing.
    The obsession to publish is the most magnificent of all.

  6. Ditto re Tricia’s re-blog. I write because I can’t not. It’s like a bad crack habit, take away my authorhol and I’m in serious doo-doo. I loved your comment about making babies, I’m trying to bring up my boy and write at the same time. Consequentially, there are glaciers progressing faster then my books… but I’ve brought out two and the third one is… well… nearly there.



    1. It’s all part of the creative urge. At least with books you get to have the final word; with children you get what you’re given and have to put up with it. Congratulations on getting two books out and a third in the making. It’s difficult to be more than just ‘mother’ when your children are small, but as soon as they can look after themselves, it’s time for mother to start being something else too.

      1. Thanks.

        You know, I read somewhere that it is very important to hang onto something that is not being a Mum so that as the little one gets older I will not be left totally bereft. Writing fits the bill very well although it does get frustrating if I get too knackered to write. I used to paint but that’s a very similar form of creativity to being a Mum and I find it really hard to do now. But writing is a different bit of my brain and so it’s my thing that I do for me that doesn’t impact on my being a Mum too much even if being a Mum does impact on my being a writer – phnark! McMini’s nearly 5 now, though, so I get to write during school days. I think I am a very much better Mum at other times because of it. 😉



      2. When you’re a Mum you have to have something else or you get consumed by your progeny. At least when they’re small they have proper bedtimes and mealtimes, and when you take them to school they stay put. When they get older they demand all of your time because when they’re not pestering you for something you wonder what they’re up to. Keep writing, it’s great therapy.

  7. For me writing has been about those things mentioned, but, likely, most of all, it’s been about ‘musing and fusing’, finding pieces of me on and between the lines, and about honesty and purgation…

    1. We write about what we believe in, whether it comes out in a character, something someone says, or the world we create. It’s a cathartic experience, because even though it isn’t a public statement, we are expressing something about ourselves that we are not afraid to stand by.

  8. Great post Jane, and very well received. You are definitely an author.
    I have felt the same as you (naked) about “coming out” as a writer. Even though I have a blog and some of you have found it, I have still not admitted to my family or even my Facebook friends my little addiction because I fear their non-acceptance. I have submitted and had rejected a novel to several publishers. While that stings it doesn’t hurt the way rejection from people I know and respect would. Yet still I write, hoping one day to get that acceptance and recognition.

    1. It took quite a bit of courage on my part to ask my teenage children to read my book, to see what they thought of it. I have never shown any of my stuff to my husband because he is the one person I couldn’t bear not to impress. And he doesn’t ever read fantasy. I never told my family that I scribbled, never told them I was submitting a book to publishers, never mentioned it at all until a publisher accepted it. You are exactly right, that the approval of people you don’t care about at a personal level doesn’t mean much, but getting the approval of the ones closest to you is what it’s all about.

    2. Being naked can be fun! But I agree it is so hard to make that first move and show your work to someone. In the early days I was writing whilst staying with friends. My friend (from school days) wanted to know what I was doing and I showed her, reluctantly, and she read it for a while and then said that my writing didn’t sound like me! She knew me as someone to mess about and laugh with and discuss heavy political issues and here I was writing crime! It put me off for years and I never showed anyone 9except my husband) what I’d written until two years ago. I think I now know what she meant about not sounding like me, but now I think I do. Go for it Steve. Jane R.

      1. I had a similar sort of reaction from my mother when I showed her my first efforts. I can hear you cringe. Of course, nobody in their right mind shows their mother what they’ve been writing. She didn’t coment, just smiled and said: ‘Why don’t you write about…’ I never showed her anything else.

      2. I am sure they have no idea of the impact that little smile has or the subtle change of topic. It is huge! You have to wonder how many writers, artists and musicians have fallen by the way-side due to that smile or polite lack of interest. We will never know and they’ll never know if they could have been…….whatever.

  9. I am just at the beginning of my journey from writer to author. This really helped me put it in perspective. My dream is less best seller and more cult following of people that love my work.

    1. The important part is the dream. Once you have set your target, getting there will be that much easier. I think it’s very important to listen to what readers tell you. We aren’t usually in a position to decide what works, we’re too close to it. Part of the battle is learning to listen, nest part is acting upon it. Glad you got something out of the post.

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