What is a writer?

Just this morning, a blogger friend asked an interesting question – are all bloggers writers just because they write [something]?

I side-stepped the heart of the question by talking about how my blogging had improved my writing generally, but I’m not really satisfied with that answer. It was a cop-out, so I thought I’d throw the question out to all the minions – what is a writer?

Clearly, a writer has to write, but does a writer have to publish? I’ve been writing fiction for almost thirteen years, but for eleven of those years I never let anyone see what I was writing, and I certainly didn’t publish anything. Was I a writer during that decade and a bit? I know I didn’t feel like a writer, and I didn’t call myself one either.

I didn’t dare call myself a writer until I’d finally published my first book, but what do we mean by publishing anyway?

Ten years ago, there was only one definition of the word ‘publish’ – you had to sign a contract with a publishing company, and have your writing appear as spots of ink on dead trees. These days, writers no longer need companies, or trees and ink for that matter. We can publish our work in a digital format, side-stepping tradition completely.

But you see, that is exactly why I’m confused – bloggers use the same digital medium to ‘publish’ their thoughts as we do. They may use different software, a different format, and a different platform, but in essence, every blog post put out into the public arena has been published.

So why should a blogger’s electronic thoughts be of less value than mine? Is it just because I’ve published a ‘book’?

As a blogger of almost two years, I have well over 300 posts to my credit. Add all those words up and they probably total more than the formal words written in my books.

“Ah, but I have spent years coming up with a story, and that’s the difference!”

The trouble with that neat distinction is that there are just as many writers who publish fact as there are writers who publish fiction. Thus a blogger ranting about his or her favourite topic is in fact communicating facts as they see them.

“But bloggers are just giving their opinion about those facts!”

True, and we’ve all learned to take blogging ‘facts’ with a grain of salt, but even in the most academic of books, there is an element of opinion, or at least, interpretation as well.

“Okay, well bloggers dash off posts without caring about style or grammar or even spelling!”

-laughs- That point doesn’t even need a rebuttal.

“Alright. How about this? A real writer tries to communicate something bigger, more universal than just one person’s opinion.”

Nope, sorry. A writer may aggregate the opinions of a whole lot of people, distilling them into some essence that is greater than its parts, but it is still opinion.

So is there any one trait or characteristic that distinguishes a writer from a ‘mere’ blogger?

If there is, I haven’t found it, and I’m starting to believe that anyone who uses words to communicate, about anything at all, is a writer. Some may be better at it than others, more successful, more popular, more prosperous, but I think we are all writers at heart.

What do you think? Am I being too egalitarian? Have I missed something, or is a writer simply someone who writes?

33 thoughts on “What is a writer?”

  1. Interesting question, AC. Are you talking about the profession or the act?
    When in doubt, I look it up 🙂

    From dictionary.com:

    a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.
    a clerk, scribe, or the like.
    a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.
    (in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.): The writer wishes to state….
    a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.

  2. A writer is someone who writes. I think the correct question is, what makes someone an author. (I don’t know the answer to that question, but I deny being either one.) 😀

  3. I’ve never wanted to be an “author”, Big Al. Authors *have written* something.

    Writers *are writing* new things. 😉

    It’s a subtle difference, perhaps, but large in my mind.

    As for the article, I’m going to agree completely. A writer is someone who writes. If you never publish that NaNoWriMo mess you wrote, you were still a writer while you were writing it. Of course, if that’s the only thing you wrote, you stop being a writer afterward – writers are people who write.

    If you write for a blog, or pen short stories to enter contests, or write copy for a school newspaper, or write blurbs for Penguin, or write flash fiction for IU contests, or write five novels a year, or write a page in your journal every night…

    …then you are a writer.

    And there’s no aspiring involved, either. Personal pet peeve. If you run, you are a runner. You don’t aspire to run. You do it, or you don’t. Same for writing – you are a writer if you write, and you are not a writer if you don’t. You might aspire to be a NYT bestseller, or aspire to earn a living as a writer, or whatever. But there is no aspiring to writer.

    Do or do not. There is no aspire. 😉

  4. We spend so much of our lives putting labels on people attempting to qualify and quantify their existence. When you hear the word “hack” an image comes to your mind. For many people it is an image they would rather not associate with anything worthwhile.

    In a few kitchens I have worked in, putting out great food, the kind of stuff that makes foodies wet themselves, most of the cooks referred to themselves as hacks. Here is the thing, a writer just like a cook is someone who shows up to work everyday and gets the job done. A cook cooks, a writer writes. There is nothing else to define what it is they do.

    There are people out there who want to look down their noses at the undesirables, the unwashed masses. These are the same people who take on fancy titles to make themselves sound more important.

    The medium you work in means absolutely nothing. Whether I am flipping a burger on the grill or standing at a saute station making filet au poive, it is still cooking.

    I actually pulled out cooking referrences, go figure.

    1. “I havepublished, therefore I am”… now /that/ deserves to go on a t-shirt. 😀 Thanks for posting that link Kat. I hadn’t read our EM’s manifesto before – it’s brilliant. 🙂

  5. I agree with DV. When in doubt, look it up.

    There are subtle differences in “writer” versus “author”.


    1. a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.
    2. the literary production or productions of a writer: to find a passage in an author.
    3. the maker of anything; creator; originator: the author of a new tax plan.
    4. computers. the writer of a software program, especially a hypertext or multimedia application.

    I have personally written many things in the past thirty years, but never published any of it – as it was only a hobby. However, in my line of work, I have authored numerous software programs, technical documents, and manuals. Which, according to the above definition, labels me an author.

    I frequently use both terms to describe what I do in my day job and use the label of writer strictly for those items that are not related to paid work.

    In a nutshell – writers write and authors author. 🙂

  6. I was and still am a technical writer. I’m an occasional blogger, simply another form of writer. I’m not yet a published fiction writer/author. So yeah I’m a writer and sometimes I get paid at those times I’m a professional writer. Technically I’m a published author as a story of mine is in a published anthology with proceeds going to charity but that story was released before its time so I’ve not claimed it on Amazon or anywhere else.

    We have a number of categories of writer:
    1. Writer: one who writes
    2. Professional writer: one who gets paid for writing
    3. Published writer: one whose work has been published for sale

  7. I’ve said it before, it’s been said above by some very succinctly and by others not so much: ‘writers write.’ A writer can be an author but not necessarily; an author is definitely a writer but not necessarily a good one. Writers express themselves with the written word; I believe that being a writer is inherent and, once you recognise that, there is no going back.

    Way to stir things up, AC! Excellent article.

  8. I lurked, and liked all that has been said about the act of writing. I noticed though that something is missing.

    As for AC, I wrote since I’ve been able to hold a pencil (as a toddler I wasn’t allowed to use a pen). My dad and older brother had subscriptions to sci-fi magazines. I wasn’t allowed to touch them, but I liked the covers, and those covers made me think of the possible story behind…

    The story simmered and then detailed images and people, monsters, aliens in spacesuits, starships, populated the story, and those characters talked to each other. I needed to write them down. To make the story alive I needed to ‘see’ it out of me.

    As for AC, those stories were for me, only. I was afraid to let others read them; they were part of me, and I would have felt naked if I showed them.

    Was I a writer then? I don’t know, but I needed to let those stories out.

    I published now, as Indie, and the stories are read by others. I still feel naked, and though 90% of readers like what they see, the remaining 10% sometimes is able to put the majority in the shadow, for a brief moment.

    Stories don’t come now from cover pages, but from everything and anything. They still simmer, they are longer, and they still push—at one time—to get out.

    Writing is an urge, it itches, it’s a wound that doesn’t heal, and a story oozes out of it.

  9. Someone used cooking as an example. We all cook, for most of us out of a mere necessity. Does that make everyone a cook?

    For a cook, cooking is like seduction. Pasta is hard and resistant until it melts by the heat of passion. A cook loves the act of stirring, and the way we “cook” for necessity, uncaring, strikes him as a moral error, like a mortal sin.

    He shivers when he tries new ingredients combination, tastes and flavours marriages decided by the inspiration of a moment, and when he tastes the result, either a tear of delight lingers in his eyes, or he throws everything in the garbage, with disgust drawn in his face.

    He throws things our buds would marvel with pleasure if we tasted them, but he doesn’t allow us. And he peeks into the hall, to study patrons body language, a painful scrutiny of their faces when they taste his creation. And he trembles at each moment.

    Each evening he needs to get out of the kitchen and ask his guests the same questions, over and over again. “How was it? Did you like it?” He’s a cook.

    Others merely cook.

  10. As I was breaking ground in the self-publishing arena, I mulled over this question as well. For me, the difference came down to whether I was an “author” or a “writer.” Based on the dictionary definitions, I decided that anyone could write, but an author developed essential skills in order to make it a profession. In fact, I blogged about it! lol
    If you are interested, you may view the blog here:

  11. I’m late, I’m late… and you all started without me! Apologies, just finished dinner and checked my notifications. From the passion of your comments, it’s obvious this is a question we’ve all gnawed at in the past.

    I have no answers, even to satisfy myself, but I do like Kevin’s idea that being a writer is tied up with the act of writing. I also love Massimo’s description of the chef as someone who always strives for perfection.

    When I throw a dinner party I know I’m being a ‘chef’. However on weekdays when I just need to get everyone fed, I’m a cook. 🙂 Maybe when I come close to achieving the thing I see in my head I become a writer. The rest of the time I’m happy to just be a story teller. -shrug-

  12. A very interesting question, to be sure. A lot can be said for both sides as quantified so far…but for me, personally, a true writer…be it blogger or novelist, short story writer or article writer….is one that is never satisfied with their last piece and is ALWAYS trying to improve their CRAFT. Maybe that’s an oversimplification…but it’s how I see the writing world.

    I’ve written articles, scientific papers and presentations, a couple of blog pieces and novels…..but I didn’t really consider myself a writer until I sat down one day and asked myself … how can I get better at this? … and I thin that’s what defines a true writer … In my humble opinion.

  13. There is no difference between a writer and a blogger. A blogger is a writer who writes his/her essays or stories digitally. Like e-books. Like e-journalism. Like a million new things, options, and opportunities. To say that a blogger is different from a writer is a desperate attempt to cling to the past.

    And if I may predict the future (who is going to stop me???) I say that soon the distinction between e-books and blogs is going to disappear completely. And if you don’t believe me, please start reading my current book, a very serious biography of Hillel the Elder, which I decided to write online, in the form of a, well, (coughing modestly) a BLOG. You will find it on http://ililarbel.weebly.com/the-golden-rule-the-life-of-hillel-the-elder.html and I’ll greatly appreciate your comments, even if you hate everything I say… 🙂 you, ladies and gentemen who blog, are the cutting edge, the future of the industry.

    1. I’m not game enough to write a book online Ilil, but I can see how the lines are blurring, even in my own work. Sometimes my blog feels like a part-time TV station. I broadcast a whole range of programs, from serious to simply entertaining, but I put the same care and effort into each post as I do into my ‘writing’.

  14. Labels… so difficult to apply to oneself. If someone said “oh EllaDee, the writer/blogger” I might give it credence, but calling it myself, nup. Social blogger, barely. Aspiring writer, not even. A. C. Flory, Writer? Yes.
    Meeks, Blogger? Yes. The difference? Capitals, and application, focus, intent.
    Great post 🙂 The comments as well.

    1. Thanks for popping in Ella. I can’t argue with you re aspiration and intent, but let me flip the question around a little. Would a reader see much difference between us? To /them/ we’re both just communicating something in words.

      lol – just had a thought. Maybe the only difference is that I’ve become confident enough to believe [rightly or wrongly] that I deserve to be ‘paid’ for some of what I write. 😀

  15. Writer writes, whether they’re paid for it or its just their musings. Every writer I know dreams to be on the Best Seller’s list – only a few makes it. I think what matters the most is that you stand for who you think you are. If you claim to be a writer – then write. End of story.

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