Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Who's a writer?

What is a writer? What makes one a writer? Is a writer just anyone who writes, or does the title require some minimum degree of recognition, or at least of publication?

I've heard people who have never been published describe themselves as writers. On the other hand, I've encountered famous science fiction writers who seemed uncomfortable when they weren't treated as ordinary folks. On the third hand, I've run into new writers with one or two published short stories under their belts who acted very lordly and superior. How much of their attitude ends up being self-fulfilling, leading to career success, and how much is just grating? I have no idea.

Don't look to me for wisdom. I'm just a minor pro!

Obviously, this is my own insecurity and impostor syndrome talking. What if all those novels of mine that I think are so bloody brilliant are actually bloody awful? Why don't I have a Wikipedia article, like all those contemporary writers I've never heard of? When I go to a convention and say hello to people I haven't seen in ages, are they as happy to see me as I am to see them, or are they thinking, "Oh, God, it's that guy who whines endlessly about the state of his writing career."? And is that punctuation correct? And why don't I know if it's correct, if I'm a real writer?

On the bright side, I don't think about this stuff when I'm writing. Then I'm a writer.


Chris said...

I wrestle with the whole am-I-a-writer thing all the time. I keep thinking the next rung of the ladder will do it. Finish a novel. Publish a short. Get an agent. And now, of course, land a book deal. Lucky for me, it's all rainbows and puppie dogs in the publishing industry these days, so I suspect I'll have me a contract within the week.

But as you said, when I'm writing, and things are going well, all of that melts away.

David said...

I did feel like a writer and a pretty important guy when I sold my first novel, but then the feeling faded when immense literary fame and fortune didn't follow immediately. Nice words from my peers just didn't do it.

No doubt for some of us, those self-doubts never go away.

TGirsch said...

It seems pretty simple to me. If you use writing as your primary means of making a living, you're "a writer," whether you do it successfully or not. If you're not doing it for money, or not trying to do it for money, then you're not a writer.

I take assloads of photos, using relatively expensive equipment, but that doesn't make me a photographer. (Now, you could fairly say that I'm an amateur photographer, but that's another matter.)

TGirsch said...

Side note: I have been published (exclusively non-fiction), even for pay on a couple of occasions, but I have never considered myself "a writer."

David said...

That harks back to the earlier discussion here about the use of the word "professional". Most people in the writing biz would call me a writer because I've had books published by major houses, even though it's far from my primary means of making a living. For that matter, the number of writers who make their primary living from it is a small minority, so that definition would exclude a lot of the people whose books are on the stands at the local supermarket.

Agents usually refer to the people who query them as writers, even if those people haven't been published at all. Seriousness of purpose and evidence of ability seem to be the criteria in that case.

TGirsch said...

I guess that means the term "writer," like so many others in the English language (and any language) is context-sensitive.

Lahdeedah said...

Okay, here's my take.

You write, ergo, you are a writer. I write, I am a writer.
(I'm sure I used ergo wrong)

You have published books or short stories, ergo, you are an author.
I am a writer, but not an author.

I made my living for many years writing articles for the military. That was classified under communication. But not writing. So I am not a professional writer.

A professional writer writes stuff that are not books or short stories.

I wrote fantasy quests for Dark Ages of Camelot. Ergo, I am a professional writer.

Then again, at the end of the day....

I'll never be Ray Bradbury, or J.K. Rowling, or any other number of successful authors, but dammit, I'll be a writer!

David said...

That sort of reminds me of the distinction some people make between "doctor" and "physician". The first is anyone who has an M.D., while the second is an M.D. who is in a practice.

My license plate reads AWTHAH.

Jenn Jilks said...

I saw your comment on Travis' blog! You are right about them. I have hesitated to add ads, but wanted to try it. Have you read the blog about 13 reasons my Facebook account was terminated?
BTW I think I am a writer, even though I co-published! I have to convince the 650 in my town to buy my book! It has been a fun journey.

David said...

Hi, Jenn.

Wow, that Facebook stuff really is absurd. I'm glad I don't use it that much or depend on it for anything. Blogger seems very laissez faire, which is fine by me.

I'd consider you a writer. You already have a bigger fan base than a lot of people who swagger around at science fiction conventions! (Not me. I don't swagger. I sort of creep.) (But not in a creepy way.) (I hope.)