Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Author vs Writer

What, pray tell, is the difference between an author and a writer? Is there a difference? Do you call yourself an author or a writer? Does it matter?

In musing about the difference between a writer and an author, I’ve thinking that a writer is one who does not create works of fiction, i.e., technical writers, journalists, etc. However, when I started seeking definitions for the two words, I found the line between the two is blurred.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a writer as “one that [sic] originates or creates” while its definition of an author is “one that [sic] writes.” Interestingly, according to Merriam the latter word predates the former by two centuries. Thus, according to this dictionary, the words can be seen as interchangeable.

Wanting something more definitive, I moved on to Wikipedia. Wiki says that a writer is “anyone who creates a written work, though the word usually designates those who write creatively or professionally.” Wiki helpfully points out that someone writing a laundry list “could technically be called a writer” but not an author even though it says the word writer is “almost” synonymous with author. It concludes that “skilled writers” can “use language to portray ideas and images, whether fiction or non-fiction.” It seems, then, that Wiki believes the terms to be interchangeable. But let’s see what it has to say about author.

When I moved on to author in Wikipedia, I found that an author is “the person who originates or gives existence to anything” and that authorship “determines responsibility for what is created.” In an effort to try to be more helpful, Wiki goes on to say that the author “is the originator of any written work.” The latter, of course, begs for a definition of what is “work." Can a laundry list be considered a “written work?” Since a laundry list, to use Wiki’s example, can be created by either a writer or an author, the terms remain interchangeable.

Still not satisfied, I went to Google Dictionary. Its definition of writer is a “person who writes book, stories, or articles as a job.” Interesting. So those people who aren’t earning a living from what they write can’t call themselves “writer.” Google defines author as the “person whose job is writing books.” Not much difference, if any, between the two. So Google, too, thinks the terms are interchangeable.

Are we going to have to create a word for those of us who write, either fiction or non-fiction, but who don’t make a living doing it? What could that word possibly be? Should we revert to some of the “old” words, like “wordsmith?” I, personally, love wordsmith, but have refrained from using it believing it would be pretentious. But Google may have justified our use of the term. We could take wordsmith and make it our own. We would know instantaneously that someone calling herself a wordsmith is a writer/author, but doesn’t make a living doing it.

Perhaps I’m the only one who wonders if there is a distinction between an author and a writer. I guess I really can’t call myself a wordsmith without sounding pretentious. So I must make a choice between author and writer. I think I will continue to call myself an author. How about you?


  1. I am a writer.

    Btw, do you write books or articles or poems?

  2. I'm a former technical writer turned fiction author.