Hello and happy Wednesday!
Today, I’d like to ask you a question.
The other week, someone in my writing community started a discussion asking about favorite writers and authors. I like discussing my favorite books, movies, and writers – but I was surprised at his emphasis on distinguishing between writers and authors.
I – and many other people – tend to use the terms interchangeably. And while there are many articles explaining the technical differences between both terms (though there is some dispute as to exacts), to me, it comes down to this:
A writer is simply someone who writes. Books, short stories, poems, essays, articles, or anything else that requires using written words to communicate. Fiction or non-fiction, short or long, story or critique, published or unpublished. If you write, you’re a writer, and the focus can often be on the specific words and sentences used.
To me, however, an author is a continuation of a writer. When I hear the word ‘author’, my mindset shifts from someone who writes anything, including non-fiction and analytic things, to writing stories, mostly fiction. Instead of focusing on the words themselves, authors view the overall story as even more important than word choice.
You can’t be an author without being a writer, but you can be a writer and not be an author.
I’ve done enough research to know that’s probably not the definition most people go by. Some people say you’re a writer until you’re published, and then you’re an author. Others continue and say that even if you’re published, you’re not an author unless you’re pursuing writing as a career. And others look to what’s written as far as ideas and themes, saying that writers tell other’s stories and author’s tell theirs.
No matter what definition you personally agree with, I think what mostly changes is the focus. When I was asked about my favorite writers and my favorite authors, I was being asked to distinguish between people who write prose I really admire, and people who write stories I really admire.
That can absolutely be the same person. But sometimes, you may read a book containing a story you’re not too fond of, but you enjoy their prose (their writing style; whether short and simple, poetic and flowery, or anything in between).
Other times, you might not care for their writing style, but their story sucks you in. The characters, plot, worlds, and/or themes draw you in and provide an enjoyable read you remember for a long time.
Whether something is considered good is subjective to each reader. But assuming the work in question doesn’t match both positive criteria (prose and story), the first example would be what you’d consider a good writer, and the second would be considered a good author.
Between those examples, I would rather be a good author than a good writer.
Of course, ideally, I want to be both. I want people to enjoy both my writing style and my stories, and I’m working hard to improve in both areas. But if I had to choose just one, I’d choose to be a better author.
My reasoning is that beautiful prose doesn’t have the power to change anyone’s life. What that prose communicates however – the stories, the themes, and the lessons – can. The grammar of a sentence probably won’t mend or tug at readers’ hearts. But the emotion of it may.
All the perfect prose in the world won’t save a terrible story.
And that’s why I prefer to focus on the story, or the author side of things. Before I worry about sentence structure, wording choice, or page layout, I try to nail down my plot and what I want the story to do for my readers. In each scene, do I want them to laugh? To cry? To contemplate?
I want everyone who reads my novels to put them down again changed. To have gone through a journey with my characters and learned valuable lessons with them. To view the world, their lives, and their purpose differently. There are countless stories that have done this for me, and I want to recreate that for others.
More than the logic and analytics of writing, I try to focus on the emotions and the truth I can communicate.
Now, I’m definitely aware that the two are like sides of a coin. Both bring their own advantages to a story. For an ideal story, both should be fine-tuned and well-done. Getting the pure writing side of it correct really is very important.
If your amazing story is buried beneath grammatical errors, inaccurate word choices, and faulty sentence structure, who’s going to use the effort to dig that story out?
But what if your story is mostly clean grammatically? What if it just has a few odd mistakes, or isn’t quite right on usage of more particular writing elements, like traditional wording and structure rules? Will that still keep people from enjoying the story?
It’s hard to say. Everyone’s tolerance levels are different. A grammatical error may be a deal-breaker for one person but go unnoticed or just not bother others. In the same way, a shallow side character may really bug one reader, but be brushed off or even enjoyed by another.
In general, I’ve just found that glaring plot holes, one-dimensional characters, and cringe-y dialogue tend to annoy most people much more than funky sentence structures and grammar that isn’t quite right (granted, typos are quite possibly in another category all to themselves). And if the story is only going to annoy the reader, then what is the point in telling it?
That’s why, if I had to choose just one, I’d rather be a better author than a writer.
And while I continue to focus on making my stories the very best they can be, and reaching reader’s hearts through them, I’m also going to work hard at improving my prose, and understanding of grammatical rules.
One day, I hope to be considered good at both.
So, what do YOU think? Would you rather be a better writer or a better author? Do you have favorites authors and/or writers?
I’d love to hear from you! Chat with me in the comments, and let me know what you’re focusing most on right now. Do you have any thoughts to share?