Someone asked me the other day to describe the difference between an author and a writer. I tried giving a basic definition by saying most people are writers at some point in their lives—even if all they write is a grocery list—while authors focus on writing as a career. But this person didn't like that answer and persisted.
So here's my attempt at a deeper response: An author has readers. A writer doesn't.
I'm pretty sure I'm going to take some flack for this, but before hurling those flaming pens my way please hear me out.
Yes, anyone can be a writer, but in this context I'm not talking about writing a school paper or tweeting a few words about the double scoop of red pepper ice cream you ate before breakfast. Instead, I'm talking about creating something with words which didn't exist before. Using words to craft a story or poem or essay or book which has the potential to take on a life of its own. To me, such acts of literary creation are at the heart of what it means to be both a writer and an author.
So assuming an author and a writer are both aiming for the same thing—creations built around words—why did I bring readers into this equation?
Simple. In the act of literary creation, we all start out as writers. We write for ourselves. We write to create. We write to explore and play and experience and for a thousand other reasons. And at the end of that process we look around to see who wants to experience our creation.
Why do we do this? Why do most writers seek out readers?
Again, many reasons. Validation of what we're doing. The ego-driven need to show others what we've created. The belief that what we've created deserves to be shared. The urge to make money through publishing your writings. And, perhaps, an understanding that the best creations in our world result from the interactions of more than a single person. That literary creations can be improved by being shared with others. That feedback is a good thing. That readers—by the very act of reading a work—show a writer what resonates and works and what doesn't.
And it is this process of sharing your creations with the world which turns a writer into an author.
Anyone can be an writer. Simply write and create something new. But to truly grow as a writer—to become an author—you have to push your creations out into the world.
It's almost impossible to think of a successful author who didn't at least try to share their writings with the greater world. Emily Dickinson is a favorite example of an author who was unknown during her time and kept her writings mostly hidden, but even Dickinson sent her poetry to others seeking feedback. History presents few examples of successful authors who were totally inward looking and disregarded the need to seek readers for their works.
So to the person who asked me about the difference between writers and authors, all I can say is they are different terms for people who create literary works. But in my view, writers can only grow into authors by sharing their creations with the larger world.
Any thoughts from other people on this?