You May Be An Author But You Certainly Aren’t A Writer

“You may be an author, but you certainly aren’t a writer.” Harlan Ellison

Ever since I learned how to read and write I knew that an author and a writer are basically the same person. Thinking that I was missing something I checked my Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary:
An author is the original writer of a book, essay, article, or the like; one who practices writing as a profession.
A writer is one who writes, especially for a living; one who composes literary work.

That verified my knowledge. I had heard Arthur Hailey talk about ‘talking writers’ and ‘writing writers’. And I knew about the ‘formula’ writers from my writing instructor. Those writers who know exactly what the public’s reading interest is and hence formulate the plot, the characters, and the background accordingly and write a book that becomes a bestseller.

A publisher once asked Richard Joseph to interview a number of bestselling authors for a book. He then presented Richard with a draft copy of the jacket blurb around which the book was going to be created. The jacket copy began:

“For every author who makes a million, there’s a million authors who make very little; for a million authors who make very little, there’s another million who never get published. So just what is that intangible quality that bestows fame and fortune upon the select few?”

In the words of Harlan Ellison:

“Some guys write because they have found a relaxing, nonstrenuous way to beat the hard work system. But they aren’t writers by my definition. They are wonderfully competent authors who can write in any style you designate, at any length you set, for any market and whatever viewpoint you require. They’d go broke in a week if they tried to be writers. They’re authors. They are men with talent who write commercially and turn out fiction who doesn’t really live within them.”

And those who write for a living never really know what the ‘mystical, magical formula’ is.

“They are the poor, damned souls who must write, who haven’t any more choice in the matter than whether or not they breathe. They write anything and everything, because it’s all pouring out of them. So they write and they write. Because all they are, all I am, is what I write. Because, you see, I am nothing. I am nothing at all without writing. Without truth, my truth, the only truth I know. If when I write a story, I’m able to capture one small thing about the human condition and lay it on you in a way to make you say, “Wow, I never noticed that before.”
That’s the heart and head of the writer, to set it all down.

We aren’t authors, we’re writers.”


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8 Responses to You May Be An Author But You Certainly Aren’t A Writer

  1. (Sigh) I can’t tell if I’ve been uplifted or flipped upside down. I love writers.

  2. RLB Hartmann says:

    I always called myself a writer, though it seemed that when writers were published, they turned into authors. Always felt that “author” was a somewhat pretentious word. NOW I can feel comfortable going back to my favorite term: WRITER. At least in my own estimation, and according to the reviews I’ve been receiving. Thanks for this post.

  3. marisaporter says:

    I decided awhile ago: I may never be an author, but I will always be a writer. And that brings me peace. Thanks for sharing this great essay!

  4. thinspaces says:

    Love this post. I have been afraid to call myself a writer and thus afraid to write because I don’t know that I will ever be published, or be an “author”. But writing is what holds my soul – I journal and write letters and read, read, read. I go for walks and write stories that never see paper. I believe words are much like mathematics, in that the inherent basis of the Universe is mixed up in them somehow. Small wonder that even biblical James admonishes us to watch what we say – that there is the power of life and death in our words. ANYWAY (sorry for the blathering), thank you for my second ‘Ah ha” moment of the day.

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