A couple of years ago, I realized that most people had no idea what I meant when I said: “I’m a writer.” Do you write poems? They asked. Children’s books? An advice column?
I couldn’t fault them for being confused; “writer" is a very broad term. With so many different kinds of writers writing so many different things, how could anyone guess what I do from day to day? That’s when I started using the term “copywriter” – it was more specific, and a few people knew what I meant, but still – most people asked what section of the bookstore they could find my books in.
Then a friend introduced me as a “copyright.”
That’s when I realized that we writers need to get better at explaining this wild world of words that we inhabit from day to day. So I created this short list of the major categories that fall beneath the word “writer.” For you. Because you might want to know.
Different Kinds of Writers – Or, What Writers Do
(in alphabetical order)
Authors. Broadly defined, an author is someone who has published a book. Not always, but usually. She might be a romance novelist, or a crime writer, or a cookbook author, but in general, an “author” is defined as someone who has her name on the cover of a book. Most authors identify themselves as “novelists” or “nonfiction writers” – but if they have an ISBN number, they're authors. Historically, this is the gold star category that all writers aspire to.
Bloggers. Are bloggers writers? Hey! Don't be such a snob. Bloggers are a newfangled addition to the genus writer, and may or may not overlap with other writer types. There are copywriters who blog. There are journalists who blog. There are novelists who blog. There are people who had never written more than two sentences a row before they started blogging, and now their blog is popular, and they’re getting writing assignments and book deals. It's all good.
Copywriters. A copywriter is someone who primarily creates marketing-related materials. We work with advertising agencies or directly with companies; we write about brands, products, or campaigns. Copywriters write for the web, for print (brochures, catalogs, press kits, postcards – anything you can hold in your hand), packaging (including wine labels, product boxes, jars, and bags) and any and all advertising mediums. Our audience is usually “the consumer” – that means you, if you’ve ever bought anything in your whole life.
Journalists. The term “journalism” generally evokes writers covering serious topics, such as reporting a war or tracking down a political scandal, but a journalist is broadly defined as someone who writes or reports on any topic, from cupcakes to crime. Journalists are expected to stay objective, and not to bring personal bias into their writing. Many people who write for a byline (a byline simply means that the writer's name is on the piece) don’t call themselves journalists – rather, they might call themselves a “freelance food writer,” or “freelance technology writer,” etc. They tend to bring a more personal point of view into their writing – a more “editorial” style than strict journalism.
Poets. You already know what poets do. Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try...
Screenwriters. These people have the “sexy” task of writing for film or television. Sometimes they write movie scripts, other times television scripts. Sometimes they create original scripts, other times they doctor scripts that have been started by others. Yep - "Seinfeld" had a team of writers.
Technical writers. Technical writers write about the hardware, software, and various and sundry devices that make the modern world go 'round. They write documentation, help manuals, user guides and white papers. Their primary audience is the people who use the technology, people who support the technology, or people who develop related technology.
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There are other categories I’ve completely skipped over here: Ghostwriters. Speechwriters. Playwrights. And I haven’t even gotten into the editing realm. This is more complex than it seems at first blush, isn’t it? I hope this has made it less confusing, but I do realize that it may have had the opposite effect.
As with any ecosystem, ours is a wildly competitive environment, populated by fierce egos, dueling agendas and intense loyalties. The longer you stick around, the more nuances you can discern within the pecking order. Over the past decade, blogging and other "instant publishing" technologies have turned the writing world on its head, and things are getting mighty interesting 'round here.
Say what you will about the death of print, or bemoan the fact that people aren’t reading as much as they used to – from where I sit, I see more people being actively engaged with words than ever before. Things change. That’s a good thing.
In fact - know what I think? I think this is a fantastic time to be a writer.
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+ Daily Routines. I've fallen for this fabulous little blog that publishes a peek into the daily routines of well-known writers and other interesting people. Just the other day, they revealed that W.H. Auden was addicted to Benzedrine: "He took a pragmatic attitude toward amphetamines, regarding them as a
"labor-saving device" in the "mental kitchen," with the important
proviso that "these mechanisms are very crude, liable to injure the
cook, and constantly breaking down."" Marvelous.
+ The Would-Be Writers Guild. I've been reading this pee-your-pants-funny blogger & copywriter for about 2 years now, and Tiffany just keeps on giving up the good stuff. A great read.
+ Change This: Stories, Storytelling, Story-Selling in Business. I love the Change This site, because they regularly publish "manifestos" from creative minds. This one is about storytelling. I happen to believe that every writer is a storyteller, and that studying the craft of storytelling more closely would help us to become better at what we do.