At which point do I become a writer, an artist, or just myself?

Generic man struggling to put pen to paper – loser… put some personality into it man.

On a warm summers eve, I sat and I pondered. Up in the inter world were blogs of all types, subjects, kinds, looks and descriptions. Some short and sweet, some overwrought like that previous sentence. Some telling truths, some stealing, like the previous sentence, and some just outright lies. I am one of those bloggers. Myself I fancied the truths, at least that is what I tell myself.  If I could find the point where myself ended and the blog began then it would be true. It is a shifting boundary, but that blog is getting closer.

Somewhere in the truths is the conclusion to “the experiment one and two“. Currently it reads as still to write, and cannot be bothered with it right now. Other projects are of interest. Other posts are working their way to the front of my mind. And as the “100 word fiction” from my previous post demonstrates, that can be a strange place to be.

Since I took the decision at the beginnings of this year, to see if I could get back into writing, to see whether a writer would present himself, I have learnt a whole heap of lessons. Some worth a great deal, others sitting haphazardly a top of each other. For example, within the last few days I learnt a lesson or two from Gene Weingarten from just the introduction to his “twenty slices of life” book (my description not his) the fiddler in the subway, a book I featured in a recent poll when deciding what to read next. See, it all fits together somehow. I might just share that lesson someday, but I’ll say this for Gene, he sure can find his way to the heart of the matter, he sure can inject humour where necessary, and he sure can write. He gives hope that there are great writers out there, shows you that you still have a lot to learn, but demonstrates that with a bit of heart and hard work, it is possible.

Crawling out of the lessons pile, with the beaded sweat of struggle, is a recently returning friend called experience. Flying out of the blog starting blocks, and forcefully kicking a gargantuan pile of words until they landed in the seemingly arbitrary, but actually reasoned form of the daily post, I easily flew past the first 100 posts mark. The “writing itch” also reasoned a way out, but soon with a plan for larger hikes to conquer. I realised that as much as I loved the blog, it was becoming like one last topping at the frozen yoghurt store, and taking up far too much time. And I needed to diet. Or rather, I needed to change my diet to incorporate less dessert, and a bit more healthy main course. I was ready to commit more time to some other projects. Ideas were and have been landing like a man trapped in a bus station  waiting for the right bus to get on, only to see the right bus turn up and open it’s doors. I was ready to become a writer. Or a novel writer at least. It dawned on me, had I become a writer of sorts already?

So in pondering, and getting sidetracked with what a long ponder is, I wondered what a writer is. In the past I would have assumed it to be someone who has some written thing published. The dictionary on the Mac operating system defines it as:

“a person who has written something or who writes in a particular way; a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or occupation”.

But now you can self publish with books or blog posts. I’ve written some technical manuals for business (albeit published internally), and websites. I suppose I’ve written them in a particular way. I spend time daily writing. So does that mean I’m a writer?

I suspect yes, and this is where it differs from being an author. The Mac kindly defines that as:

“a writer of a book, article, or document; someone who writes books as a profession”.

To which I would simply define it as, “someone who writes and gets paid for the writing”. So I would guess with the careful reasoning of a 15 year old who just remembered he forgot to do his Maths homework, that I am a writer, but not an author. On an ironic technicality, the technical manual writings do not count as I was not paid specifically for them, they were just part of a wider project. Ok, there was maybe more reasoning than the 15 year old. Perhaps more akin to a small monkey deciding whether to eat a banana or an orange, on a hot summer evening. He had discounted eating his faeces earlier, but that was an entirely separate matter.

Much like transitioning via an entirely inappropriate metaphor and simile, to a further pondering. So when am I an artist? I would tend to think of an artist traditionally as a painter (not decorator), or sculptor (not plasterer or dry-waller), but more recently as a creator within an art discipline. But then arguably anyone who attempts something in an artistic discipline would be an artist, no? Is that allowed. Helpfully the Mac dictionary defines it thus:

“a) a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby. b) a person who practises or performs any of the creative arts, such as a sculptor, film-maker, actor, or dancer. c) a person skilled at a particular task or occupation: a surgeon who is an artist with the scalpel”.

This definition does not state as such, but I would include writing as a creative art, but presumably on the grounds that you are shaping i.e. creating something new and not just copying, or putting some text into your own words without adding something of substance in some way. Which kind of means I’m adjusting the definition to suit my needs, much like a poker player might use cards to um, er, I don’t have a good metaphor there, so we shall move swiftly along.

I used to write stories when I was younger. I revisited some of those. They were of varying quality but the basis of several was sound, and something that could be revisited. Was that art? I don’t know. I’ve been creating poems, and short fiction on this blog (other projects aside), is that art? To an extent, I am going to say yes to both. Is it art of the highest order? Probably not, but I’ve seen how some paint has been spilt onto canvas and that called art, so I think I’m on pretty sturdy grounds. Or at least California grounds, earthquake country, so I suppose yes, it is all relative.

Somewhere amongst that, much like a dorito chip plunging into a dip whilst we wait for the bbq to heat up, is me. I’m there in various amounts, more often mild or medium heat, but I’m dipping in, double dipping, and scraping up the bowl. And trying other dips. There are several slices of me in the blog, and various degrees of naughtiness. I’ve had comments with other bloggers about disclaimers in posts, and the conclusion was that if one was necessary, that it should go at the end of a piece, leaving the reader free to read and form opinion without expecting “the controversial bit”. This is so your “art”, speech marks appearing necessary still, can breath and be as one, or some such existential nonsense. Or if nothing else, the reader can approach with limited expectations other than those you as the artist, have shaped. I often use one in the middle of my “Monday Haiku” posts but that is partially a running gag, and partially to distinguish two similar but separate sections. Obviously you are free to warn your readers any way you wish, but in my opinion, try to treat the readers with intelligence first, it is good for the art, and soothes your writing soul.

So at some point I think I became a writer, although I’m not sure exactly when. I have yet to become an author, because I feel a specific published piece (larger than a blog post) and available to the public, is a good thing to aim for. I am an artist of sorts, I think some of my fiction counts for that (most of which kind reader, you have not had the opportunity to read), if not one trying to improve and expand, like my waistline would be if I was locked in a sweet shop. And in doing all this, I think I am finding which bits are just me. Call it my voice, the soul of my writing, or something similar, but I’m definitely there. Somewhere. But still I have to question:

What do you consider to be a writer, an artist anywhere do you fit in?

Lexicon word of the day: artily.

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37 comments on “At which point do I become a writer, an artist, or just myself?

  1. Smaktakula says:

    Some excellent points as always. This is something to which I’ve given some thought as well, although I haven’t come up with anything concrete. I think a person is a writer if he considers himself a writer, irrespective of whether he writes. Like you ask, what is a writer? Is it the whole of my being.

    So do I consider myself a writer? I write. That’s enough for me.

    • Elliot says:

      Well given that you write creative posts on the blog, I think you can consider yourself a writer. I think often whether you consider yourself one is in the way someone might say “my profession is…”, where as for a lot of us, we work other things and write at other times. I’m thinking that does qualify as a writer even if not in the full time sense.

    • La La says:

      I spent some time thinking this over and I agree with Smaktakula’s comment.

      There are days I feel like a writer and other days I don’t give myself the credit, but you know what? I write, and that’s good enough for me, too.

      • Elliot says:

        The more comments appearing, the more I think people are copping out. Why can people not say “I write often, therefore I am a writer”? You can be a writer for a hobby as well as a profession. Saying I write and that’s enough is selling yourself short.

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    I still don’t feel comfortable calling myself a writer out loud, though it’s become easier to admit to myself in my own mind. I’m not even sure it will be more comfortable when my book comes out, but I think your distinction between writer and author is good. I suspect if one keeps at it and is lucky enough to get a few things published, then the self-described moniker becomes easier to use. But I like Smak’s comment: “I write. That’s enough for me.”

    • Elliot says:

      As I just commented to Smak, I think it is because when you call yourself one it is because you tend to be saying it as a profession where as realistically you can call yourself one if you write creatively on a regular basis. If you say it to someone else they read it as my profession is…

  3. Anne says:

    You are what you do. 🙂

  4. Margarita says:

    I love dictionary definitions, they are such a wonderful way to narrow the field of focus. They are also a great tool for pondering and self-exploration. I use the dictionary frequently.

    I feel that we are all artists in that we, each and every one of us, are creating our lives every day. To me, that’s the ultimate creation and expression of artistry. Within the more limited definition of artist, whether it be of word or image, I have no such aspirations or pretensions. I simply observe and share what I see. Luckily for me, there are people out there who enjoy that!

    All the best, M

    • Elliot says:

      But the larger definition or artist makes it meaningless as that is what everyone is doing, but I know what you mean. I would argue that some people are just ambling through life and not making much of opportunities that either they don’t see, or don’t take, or don’t make much use of if they do see them. I wouldn’t call them artists, where as people who make something of opportunities, or create them, are.

      I suppose all that means I consider an artist to be a creator (of some kind).

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I make the distinction with publishing. A writer is someone who writes. An author is someone who has published an original work. I’m gradually learning to apply these definitions to myself. I write—therefore I am a writer. But do I tell that to people I meet at parties, for example? Well, not yet. But I should.

    • Elliot says:

      I would agree. Telling someone else you are a writer implies (or seems to) that you have published, which is I think why many of us are reluctant to call ourselves writers.

      Do you consider yourself an artist?

      • jmmcdowell says:

        Hmm, I tend to think of artists as working in “physical” media (like painting and sculpture), as opposed to the written word or music. But the creative process may be very similar for all of these. So I can see where another writer might say, “Yes, I’m an artist.”

      • Elliot says:

        I think many people tend to think of artists as “higher culture” but I don’t think it applies in that way so much now. Van Gogh was regarded as awful in his day, that he pretty much had no skill compared to the big names of the day. With the benefit of time he is now seen as someone who’s style was just very different but with its own worth. I feel a similar way with writing. It is all relative, and if creative is art. Different standards are around obviously, but I would also argue the same point with e.g. paintings.

  6. I’ve always been a writer – I’ve been drawn to write since I was 8 years old. It wasn’t something I chose – it chose me. It took me a long time to admit that out loud, however 🙂 Personally, I’ll consider myself an author when I’ve sold my first book!

    • Elliot says:

      And what about an artist. You write poetry and stories, would you consider yourself an artist?

      • I wouldn’t be comfortable with that term. Writer is good for me. Poet? I’d like to think myself one from time to time. Author? One day soon I hope. Artist? Nah, not me.

      • Elliot says:

        It seems to me that people seem to view an artist as either “higher culture” or “special talented”, in the sense that artist = v good. No-one wants to say, yes I can create something good when I’ve seen numerous examples on blogs where people create something memorable with words. I’m not sure how that differs from other art when I give it some thought.

      • You’re right actually. I’ve read plenty of writings that are truly inspiring, as much or more than a painting I might enjoy.

  7. All of us can be writers or painters. We become authors, poets and artists when others so describe us. Ironically the quality may be identical despite the titles.

    • Elliot says:

      You might be onto something with “a title bestowed”. However as you also point out, does that make it any different other than someone saying it? The techniques and the effort might be the same, and there are different quality levels in art, or some that work better than others. Depending on your perspective of course, and it is all qualitative.

  8. For some reason the word “author” feels pretentious to me. I like “writer.” Although I never really thought about whether I’m one or not. I think Smak said it best. I write. Does that make me “a writer”? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter to me all that much as long as I’m content with what I’m doing.

    • Elliot says:

      One thing clear from the comments is the three words are big words that people seem to be afraid of. If this was grammar, or an annoying but common phrase, people would be keen to show how to correct it or why it is annoying. Yet these words have simple, but aspiring (to many) meanings. If you write often and creatively, then you are a writer.

  9. Good post Elliot 🙂

    This is something I’ve thought about a lot the last few months, and now, I’ve found that happy place where I can say “I am a writer” because, I write 🙂

    Like you though, I won’t consider myself an “author” until I have a book published 😉

    Xx

    • Elliot says:

      Thanks Vikki. I’ve learnt that the three words seem to be words people are afraid of. You are one of the few who has said that you are a writer, because you write, and I completely agree.

  10. Jeannie says:

    I’m reluctant to put a label on myself but I do write…I have been published…am I writer? I believe so, but so are those who write in a daily journal, or blog regularly, or write lines of poetry even if for their eyes only. I really don’t know Elliot but I hesitate to tell others I write because non-writers seem to equate the title to one who writes regularly as a journalist or is a published novelist and earn money doing so. Writers are more aware of the distinctions I think but how do you say it, “I am a writer” with confidence? I don’t know…still working on that one myself! 🙂

    • Elliot says:

      I think you can safely say you are a writer, especially as you have been published. You can refer to yourself as a part time writer, although that doesn’t seem to do it justice!

      I understand what you mean though about telling it to others. When you say something like that to others, they think of it as you telling them of a profession. But you can be a writer, and a lot of it be for a hobby (or practice, or because you need to).

  11. DyingNote says:

    Do those distinctions bother you or are they even important to you? I suspect there’s a context to this piece.

    • Elliot says:

      I just thought the idea was interesting and wondered what others were prepared to say they were. It is just language and means whatever it means to the people who use it. I see plenty of blog posts about other words and their usage, but these words seem to be scary to people, even just saying “yes I am a writer”, as you can see from other comments. Which is amusing given how creative people can be with their blogs.

      • DyingNote says:

        Yeah, this admission being scary to people surprised me a lot. I wouldn’t have thought about it all

      • Elliot says:

        I knew of this as a minor thing, which is why I tackled a post on it, but I didn’t know it was to this extent with many bloggers. Really, for me it is as posted, but at the same time, it is not something I give a lot of importance or thought to. Whether I am one or the other or all three, it does not change what I am trying to do right now.

  12. I categorize author as published. Writer is someone who writes. In my mind, they have to finish things. Write a short story, a poem, a novel. I didn’t feel comfy saying I was a writer until I had one finished novel. But that’s me. 🙂

    • Elliot says:

      I agree and judging by the other comments, you are not on your own. It seems to me that the definition of writer means you must have “complete” writings to show.

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