On “Authors” versus “Writers”, and the notion of “Literary Merit”

Please note: this has nothing to do with anyone’s Twitter, Facebook, blog, or other “handle”; that’s marketing, a creature I still don’t understand.


Maybe it’s the small-town, down-home in me, but I have a very hard time referring to myself as an “author;” the word conjures up images of a stuffy old man sitting in a wing-back chair, wearing a red velvet smoking jacket and rambling endlessly about poetic beat and the “literary merit” of other people’s work. In other words, talking a LOT about other people’s writing, but doing damn precious little of their own. 

Well, I don’t own a wing-back chair, I’ve never even wanted to wear a smoking jacket, and I can’t imagine questioning the “literary merit” of someone else’s work. Truth be told, virtually every time I’ve been subjected to these discussions of “literary merit,” it’s been someone criticizing the work of someone who simply writes better than they do.

When someone asks me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer.

Compare the image of an “author” with what I do, and it’s a startling difference; I sit in an old couch on my front porch with my laptop, drinking unholy amounts of coffee while I bang away at the keyboard and listen to music or cheesy movies as neighborhood kids run up and down the street, yelling and laughing. Instead of a smoking jacket, I’m usually in torn jeans, old sneakers, and a ball cap. Rather than an expensive pipe sitting unused in a crystal ashtray, I have a cheap pipe (in this case, a Carey “Magic Inch” I picked up for a song recently) burning good tobacco. The crystal ashtray is, in fact, an old tin can. Then again, when does reality ever resemble an image?

I don’t begrudge anyone who claims the title of “Author,” chances are they bust their butts on the keyboard just as hard (and probably harder) than I do. I just can’t bring myself to use it, partly because everyone who’s ever bored me silly with talks of “literary merit,” “thematic structure,” and such have unanimously insisted they were “Authors,” with a capital “A”, naturally. I don’t create “works of literary merit,” I tell stories. I don’t give a fig about “literary merit,” I want a good story that entertains and makes the reader think.

Maybe someday I’ll be an author creating literary works; for now, I’m happy to be a writer telling stories. Some of them will make you laugh, cry, or check under the bed before you go to sleep.  Others will piss you off, or simply make you think I’m an idiot who should be kept away from a keyboard for everyone’s good. As long as they get a reaction, I’m okay with it. Boredom, though; that would bring me down.

And after I’m gone, if people are still discussing my work, God forbid the first thing that comes up is “literary worth” or “thematic structure.”

If this occurs, and you’re present for it, ask them what they actually thought of the story, damn it.


One thought on “On “Authors” versus “Writers”, and the notion of “Literary Merit”

  1. Pingback: AUDIO - Indie Author Interview: Michael Chambers "Smiling Jack"

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