Denim versus Dress Up

Collection lace dress

Collection lace dress from J.Crew

Twice this week people have asked me what I do for a living. That’s a question I always find interesting, and perhaps one of these days we’ll get around to the whole Mommy Wars discussion on this blog.  But today I want to talk about how I tend to answer, which I also find interesting and I hope you will as well.

My book Evenfall has been out for over a year now.  I love the story, love the cover, and am pretty happy with how it has been received. I recognize how lucky I am to have had a book in bookstores when publishing is going through such a hair-rending time.  And yet, when people ask what I do, do I say “Oh, thank you for asking, I’m an author?”

I do not.

My usual response is “Gah, babble babble babble, I’m a writer.” Sometimes they’ll ask what I write, in which case I reel off a list of my publishing creds, tacking Evenfall at the end. Other times (like this past week) I’m lucky enough to have my youngest with me, who immediately breaks into my babbling with “She’s an author. She’s been on television and she has a book named Evenfall and in it the dog (reveals entire ending of book).”  This may not help me with sales, but it is gratifying to my ego.

So why does a seven-year-old have no problem saying the A word when I do? I think the answer is in the definition. At my son’s age, writer and author are interchangeable. But I’ve been a writer so much longer than an author I can spot the difference.

Writer, to me, is an action word. It says dig in and get your hands dirty (or as dirty as you get  using a keyboard). It means to take notes, to research, to string words together and then take them apart, to do this again and again until they are as polished and smooth as possible. It’s craftsmanship,  denim and work boots and a soft, comfortable t-shirt.

Author is static. It’s a lovely word, too, but it says “look what I’ve done” not “look what I’m doing.” It’s dress up, don’t touch me, special occasion wear, high heels and sequins and maybe some Spanx. Author has its place, but it’s not for every day.

Despite my occasional attempts to appear otherwise, I’m strictly a t-shirt and blue jeans girl, and that’s fine. I’m more comfortable with a notebook and computer to hide behind. Maybe someday, when I have other books out there, the sparkly bits will incorporate themselves into my working wardrobe a bit more and the line between writer and author won’t be so stark. But for now, I’m still getting my hands dirty.

How do you define the words writer and author?

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Liz Michalski


  1. vaughnroycroft on October 16, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Love this! Not yet an author, but I totally get it. And I’m wearing denim, comfy tee and hoodie. Oh, and smartwool socks. Let’s not forget those. For me thery’re a big part of being a writer. 😉

    • liz on October 16, 2012 at 11:36 am

      OOOH, Vaughn. Smartwool socks are possibly the least fancy, best wardrobe invention ever. : )

  2. Jan O'Hara (Tartitude) on October 16, 2012 at 11:47 am

    I’m not an author, so there’s no decision required for me, but I understand this mindset. For me, it’s not just about the dangers of complacency, or misrepresenting myself, it’s about how other people can change when they know the titles.

    Except within clinical circumstances, I never introduced myself as a doctor. (Weirdly, I do it more within writing because I’m writing these short bios.) I never wore a lab coat in my office and I steered towards informal address because the opposite puts up barriers, making it harder to be effective. Also, people got weird when they knew what I did. We were no longer peers, even though *I* felt we were. I yearned to connect on an unguarded level, and labels get in the way.

    • liz on October 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      I think you’ve hit on something, Jan. Writer, to me, says someone working in the trenches, someone approachable. Author has more of a mystique to me, and I think that can be intimidating.

  3. ddfalvo on October 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Maybe they are two sides of the same coin, but–
    I’m an author, even if I’m not yet published.
    When I printed my business cards (I sometimes write in a coffee shop, it helps build a following when peeps ask what I’m working on), I almost put Writer beneath my name, but three of my sisters all yelped, “No!” “You aren’t just a writer,” they said. “You’re an author, a teller of stories.” In their opinion, authoring is to writing, what calligraphy is to penmanship. It’s unique interpretation and design and personality–it’s creating something new. I write a check, but I author a world.

    • liz on October 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Denise! When I looked up the word author, one of the definitions was to create or source, so you are well within your rights to call yourself one! And I love how you describe the difference between to write and to author. (Just to clarify: I never meant to imply one has to be published to be called an author — I was just musing on why I’m reluctant to use the word when people ask what I do.)

  4. maripassananti on October 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I use the words interchangeably. Now I’m worried I lack depth for failing to worry about this.

    • liz on October 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Mari, don’t worry — that just means you are too busy working as a writer and author to be bothered about it! : )

  5. Christi Craig (@Christi_Craig) on October 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Great post. I, too, choke on the word author, though I have had some short pieces published. Like Jan says, there is a change in the air when “author” is tossed around versus “writer.” But, there are times when I should assert myself as an author to show I’m serious about this business. Like you say, I’ve been in the trenches, I’m studying the craft, I’m doing the deal; I’m not just penciling thoughts into my journals (not to undermine the importance of journaling – I’d be crazy without it – but you know what I mean).

    • liz on October 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      I think what you are doing shows that you are serious already, Christi. Good luck with your writing, and thank you for stopping by.

  6. Aaron Sikes on October 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Haha! Brilliant post Liz 🙂 I do exactly the same thing, but it’s my wife who chimes in with “author” though I am as yet unpublished (accepted, but the antho release is still TBD)

    • liz on October 16, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      Congrats on the acceptance, Aaron! And on having such a supportive wife, too. (I’m assuming her social skills are better than my seven-year-old’s and she’s not going to blurt out any major story spoilers, right?)

  7. Rick Wilcox on October 16, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Add cowboy boots and you are a perfect girl.

    Texas loves you.

    • liz on October 16, 2012 at 9:20 pm

      I think I’d need the hat, too — Texas sun gets awfully hot!

  8. Joan Leacott on October 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    An interesting distinction. I was an author vs I am a writer. But I like Denise’s definition as well. How to combine? I am an author who writes books? A brain-teaser, for sure.

    • liz on October 16, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      How we define ourselves is always interesting to me, Joan. I’m glad it is to you as well.

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