Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | January 10, 2012

What’s in a Name? or Who Am I?

As Kerry Gans pointed out in her post last week, Climbing the Writing Mountain, the life of a writer means following a path that is rarely flat or straight. Most of us begin the journey by simply writing. At some point, we decide that we want to share our work through publication, and these days, the road to publication involves social media and includes telling people who you are. The days of the anonymous or almost anonymous writer are gone.

Over the last four years, my journey along the writing road has included venturing into the rewarding and, at times, exasperating world of social media. In addition to being part of The Author Chronicles group blog, I have a website, two individual blogs, and a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and YouTube. For these and other social media sites and when submitting work to a magazine or anthology, I often have to include a bio or profile. While I have little trouble pouring out the words of a story, I find the process of choosing words to briefly describe myself harder than breaking up a boulder with a toothpick.

Writing my Twitter profile provided the most recent challenge. In 160 characters (they give you twenty more for the profile than the 140 allowed in a tweet), I had to summarize myself. Some of that was easy. Retired high school English and history teacher. Mom. Wife. My interests — though I have many more than could fit in the profile. What gave me the most anguish was choosing how to describe myself in the new occupation I’d chosen, the occupation which fulfilled a dream I’d had since a child.

Should I call myself an author? Some of my author/writer friends told me that author refers to writers who have published books. I haven’t had a book published yet, although I have a short story published in an anthology. My story is part of a book. Does that count?

I checked a couple dictionaries. The definition of author is similar in both. An author is someone who writes a book, article, poem, play, or other literary work that is intended for publication. That means that writers who have nothing published can, without a twinge of conscience, refer to themselves as authors. So, I am an author!

Wait! What’s this? One of the dictionaries adds that the term author is specifically used to refer to a person whose profession is writing books — and that means a writer who is making a living as a writer.

Not me. Not yet.

My search goes on.

Since I primarily write novels, I wonder if I should call myself a novelist. No. That’s not inclusive enough. I also write occasional short stories, poems, and blog entries, which don’t fall into the novelist category. On the other hand, I write too few short stories, poems, and blog entries to feel comfortable naming myself a short story writer, poet, or blogger. Choosing such specific terms feels too limiting — perhaps I might someday decide to write a screenplay or graphic novel — while putting in an all-inclusive list doesn’t seem practical either.

Time to check the thesaurus. I quickly discard essayist, biographer, journalist, reporter, columnist, playwright, dramatist, dramaturge, tragedian (though I am beginning to feel like a tragic character in a bad comedy), and bard. After considering scribbler, scrivener, and scribe, I decide they sound too outdated. And while I do not feel the necessity to strictly adhere to political correctness all the time, I just can’t see referring to myself as a penman. A penwoman? I think not! Which brings me to woman of letters or wordsmith, both very worthy terms, but a bit too lofty for me, I think.

And so, after all this agonizing and researching, I choose to call myself a writer, the broad category that includes anyone who writes any type of non-fiction, fiction, poetry, articles, blogs, and so on. What a relief! Now I can feel free to write recipes, comic books, editorials, or even a memoir, and I won’t have to go back and change my profile.

Hallelujah! I’m a writer!

References used: Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged), Webster’s New World College Dictionary, and Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus


  1. Judy, yes A WRITER! And I think we all feel like a tragic character in a bad comedy at times with it. Although I do like bard…drinking mead would go along with that, you think?


    • I like bard myself, and the mead would be delightful. I picture bards as oral storytellers more than writers, so of course, they would need plenty of mead to keep their throats lubricated!


  2. Thank goodness they invented the word processor, or I’d have to ‘fess up to being a scribbler, with my shocking handwriting…


    • And I shudder to think of the revising before word processors!


  3. You’re a “J”, silly.

    Love the blog!


  4. To why we write, to whom we consent our wills of intelligence to, and to why we ought to continue defining ourselves are just the innumerable questions that we ask ourselves!

    Writers, authors, or publishers, these titles don’t hold weight much as we are mere muses to the universe that is so grand and vast. Title has no hold over me as it is because the universe can lift my soul & change me to any artist in a blink of its eye! That’s the beauty of writing because the universe will tell us to write this and draw us a different picture that it has conceived!

    If I had to choose, I would say that I am a wordsmith! As I love to bend, twist and shape the words to ways where they ought to be. For words are like art, how we perceive and receive their beauty is magnified and vivified majestically!

    Love the blog! I look forward to more of it! 😀


    • Thank you, Emmanuel! You are a wordsmith indeed!


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