The Difference Between a Writer and an Author (Which One Are You?)
It took me years to own my identity as a writer. Years, and a lot of therapy. Kidding! (Sort of.) Lately though I’ve been thinking about yet another distinction: Writers versus authors. On the surface it seems obvious: a writer is someone who writes but who hasn’t necessarily been published. An author is someone who has been published.
But there’s more to it than that. I’m starting to believe that the differences between writers and authors start long before publication.
1. Authors treat writing like a career, not a hobby.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with writing being an enjoyable hobby. I think it’s one of the best there is. But there is a distinct mindset shift that happens when a writer becomes determined to pursue publication in earnest. They start building their platform. They start writing regularly. They start seeking feedback, taking classes, reading books on their craft. They set goals and deadlines for themselves.
This distinction is important because the truth is that the difference between a published author and an unpublished author isn’t talent, it’s persistence and commitment. When a writer commits to pursuing publication, they stop hoping that someone will find their blog and offer them a book deal and start actively pursuing it themselves.
2. Authors hone their craft.
Writers love to write and love to share their writing, but authors get very serious about improving their skills. They take courses, read books, get feedback and then intentionally seek to learn from that feedback and improve. They might not love criticism, but they know they need it. They know that they can’t sit in a vacuum and do great work so they put themselves out there on a regular basis.
Writers tend to curl in on themselves if anyone offers constructive feedback. Their brain often starts to argue that it’s art and no one should be able to critique art--because it’s art! There is nothing wrong with this perspective and I think writers have every right to feel this way. I’d never critique a scarf someone knitted or point out the flaws in a wobbly homemade coffee mug.
But if an author took this perspective, they’d struggle greatly to find an agent or publisher who wanted to work with them. Authors instinctively know that their work isn’t perfect and they work hard to come to terms with that and to accept and learn from feedback.
3. Authors invest in their writing.
Writers don’t see their writing as a career, so the idea of spending more than a few dollars on it here and there is pointless. They might buy pens and a fancy notebook or maybe some fun software, but beyond that they don’t see the point. Writing is a really affordable hobby. No one would expect someone who knits for fun to spend tons of money on it. Just enough for the materials and maybe a few patterns and the rest they can get for free on the internet!
But authors see their writing as their bread and butter. They want to get published and make money off their art (Yep, I said it. It’s true! We don’t have to pretend that we are all in it for the sake of creativity alone! We’d love to get paid to write stories. Hello!? Who wouldn't?!)
Because of this, authors are willing and even excited to purchase books, courses, hire editors and book coaches, visit writing conferences, and take classes. It makes logical sense to them because they are investing in a career. No one would think that someone with dreams of being a graphic designer should try to learn how to be a graphic designer by practicing a lot. No way! They’d say “Well, if you really want to do this, you should go back to school and take classes.”
Authors feel the same way. Whether they go back to college or take courses here and there, or even just get all the books and make a study of it, they are committed to learning their craft and growing their skill set.
4. Authors don’t treat their writing dreams like dreams, they treat them as goals.
I have a dream that I will win the lottery. But I never buy any tickets because I know the odds are definitely NOT in my favor. For years I treated my writing the same way. I dreamed of being published but never actually did anything that would enable me to be published someday (like sharing my writing with any other living breathing human, finishing any drafts, or even so much as telling people that I’d like to be published). Yeah—this is exactly the wrong way to go about getting published. You can’t hide under a rock with your manuscript and hope someone will find you. It won’t happen.
Authors know this. They actively pursue publication by completing drafts, creating an online presence, attending conferences, getting to know the ins and outs of the publishing world, and sending their work in to magazines, blogs, agents, and publishers.
Hear my heart, friend. If you are a writer--someone who just loves words and wants to tell stories for fun and maybe read them to your family and see their eyes light up--please embrace that. You don’t have to chase publication to be a writer. Enjoy it, savor it, have fun with it and go easy on yourself.
But if you harbor a secret (or not-so-secret) dream of being published, it’s time to start acting like an author. A book deal isn’t going to blow up to your feet or land magically in your inbox. You have to go all in. You have to start believing it can happen and then take the steps to make it happen.
I’m over here rooting for you. I know you can do this. And I’d love to help if you need it.