When do you get to call yourself a ‘writer’ or an ‘author’?

This is a question that’s asked a lot on YouTube and on other social media sites by people who either are writing a book or people who want to write a book.

Everyone has a different answer to this question. At one extreme, some people say that you are only an author or a writer once you’re making a lot of money from books you’ve written. This is a very unpopular opinion, as it would mean that lots of people who are generally considered authors or writers by most other people would now lose the title – it would be a fairly useless definition. At the other end, some people say that you are a writer if you write. This definition is, in a literal sense, completely true, but also so broad as to possibly make the title ‘writer’ useless.

Now, I’ll start this post by saying that actually I really don’t mind how anyone else decides to use these terms – you want to call yourself a writer or an author? Go ahead – it doesn’t bother me. I’m not writing this post to try to suggest a ‘right’ definition for these terms – use whatever criteria you want.

The reason why I’m writing this post is because I had strict criteria that I used for myself – before I would call myself an ‘author’ – and it was very rewarding. And other people may also find it rewarding, so I thought I’d write it down in a blog post, in case anyone else wants to do it too.

(I’ll also say at this point that I’ve never really had any interest in the word ‘writer’ – I technically am a writer, but I’ve never used the word to describe myself. The word I’ve always fixated on is ‘author’ – the rest of this blog post is going to be about the word ‘author’, but it could equally apply to ‘writer’ if that’s the term you prefer.)

I only started referring to myself as an ‘author’ once I’d published my first fiction book (which was Zolantis back in 2018). I had been writing fiction for many years before that, but I only allowed myself to start using the term once I had published some of that fiction in my first book. There weren’t any criteria on what kind of book it had to be – it didn’t have to be a novel (in the end it was, but Zolantis wasn’t planned as a novel – it’s really more of a long novella). It didn’t have to sell loads of copies either – in fact I didn’t care if it didn’t sell any copies at all. It just had to be a book, and it had to be published.

Doing it this way was very motivating, because for the entire time before publishing Zolantis, I really wanted to finish a book, so that I could start using the title ‘author’. The desire to have a book of which I was the author, and to be able to start using the title ‘author’, gave me the drive to finish Zolantis. And then when I did finish it, not only did I have the reward of a book that I could hold in front of me that was mine, but I could also start using the title.

And this would be my advice to anyone else: if you wait until your first book is published before using these terms, it will drive you to finish that first book (and the first one is often the hardest one to finish).

Dramatic Dissonance

In my reviews of Star Trek Picard, I’ve started using the term ‘dramatic dissonance’ to describe something that we’re seeing on-screen. This particular phenomenon or quality may already have a term to describe it – if it does, I don’t know what it is, so for now I’m going to use ‘dramatic dissonance’ (to mimic the phrase ‘dramatic irony’). And while I’ve started using this term in my Star Trek Picard reviews, it’s something I’ve seen in lots of other shows too – like Star Trek Discovery and recent Doctor Who – so I thought I’d write a blog post about it in order to define it more clearly.

Dramatic dissonance is when the reactions of the characters to each other, or to the events of the story, are different to the audience’s reaction to the characters or to the events of the story.

Here’s an example of this: one character says something, and several other characters around them consider it a very awkward thing to say, or a faux pas, but the audience doesn’t think that it’s an awkward thing to say.

Here’s another: one character does something (it could be anything), and all of the characters around them think that this character is a genius for doing it, but the audience isn’t impressed by it at all.

This second example is one we’ve seen a lot in both Star Trek Picard and Star Trek Discovery – in fact this second example is often a way of determining whether a character is a Mary Sue. (Other characters will just think that they’re brilliant no matter what they do.)

Dramatic dissonance is a bad quality for a show to have. It is, by its very definition, unrealistic, and if a show has it, the audience will sense something is amiss, even if they can’t quite put it into words. The audience can sense it because things in the show don’t seem to make sense.

I’m not sure I could exactly say what the origins of dramatic dissonance in a show actually are, but I don’t think it’s an acting problem – I think it comes from the writing. It may come from writers thinking too much about ‘How do I want this character to react?’ rather than ‘How would they react?’.

A dictionary of vocables

Vocables are fun. Vocables are those words that aren’t quite words like ‘ah’ and ‘oi’ and ‘huh’. They’re normally an approximation of a sound we make in conversation to convey a specific idea.

To me, every vocable has a very specific meaning, and I choose which vocable I use at a specific point in a piece of text very precisely.

So I thought I’d write down what I think lots of different vocables mean in a kind of short dictionary of vocables.

Ow, Argh – Pain
Aw – Adoration
D’aw, D’aww – Excessive Adoration
Ew, Eww – Disgust
Oh – Realisation
Ooh – Titilating Realisation
Ah – Exciting Realisation, Disappointment, Awkward Realisation
Ahh – Nostalgia
Aah – Relaxation
Uh, Um, Er, Erm – Hesitation
Om, Ohm – Meditation
Aha – Surprise
Ha – Cynical Laughter
Hahaha – Continuous Laughter
Bhahaha, Phahaha – Explosive Laughter
Haha – Are you an idiot? No-one laughs like that.
Mhm, Mha, Mwahaha – Evil Laughter
Heh heh, Hehe – Aspiring Evil Laughter
Teehee – Mischievous Laughter
Oi!, Hey! – Critical Interjection
Ey, Eh – Knowing Suggestion
Meh, Eh – Indifference, Apathy
Psst – Whispered Interjection
Pfft – Cynical Rejection
Hmm – Thought
Mmm – Deliciousness
Huh – Confusion
Arr! – Pirates
Zzz – Sleep

Hyphens – the greatest punctuation mark ever

I have a number of idiosyncrasies in the way that I write: I like putting brackets within brackets – sometimes three or four levels deep; I put spaces around ellipses and forward slashes (if I even use a forward slash at all – I prefer not to – I think it looks inelegant as a symbol for ‘or’); and when I write dates I only use numerals for the year – the rest I write in full words.

But probably the most prominent of my idiosyncrasies is the way I use hyphens. In fact I’ve already done it several times in this post. I use hyphens where others might use commas or semicolons to mark a separate, but related, idea to the main sentence.

I think of it as a self-interruption – I’m interrupting my own comment. I did it just then. Some people would say that I should be using a semicolon there. However, I do use semicolons as well as hyphens, but I use them for different expressions. I use a semicolon when the second idea that I’m introducing is not intended to seem like an interjection to the first – I’m not trying to adjust what I previously said – I’m just trying to add to it. I use a hyphen when I’m trying to mimic in writing an expression I use in speech. So for example, I would use a semicolon in:

‘Ben was very tall; he was the tallest in his class.’

But I’d use a hyphen in:

‘Ben was very tall – the tallest in his class, in fact.’

The second of these examples makes it seem more like the second idea is an adjustment to the first. I find it reads more like a natural conversation. The first reads slower.

Similarly, some people would say that I should be using commas where sometimes I use hyphens. But again, I use hyphens for the sense of self-interruption. So for example, I would write:

‘Ben was the tallest in his class – which was odd, because he was about average height compared to the general population.’

If the first hyphen here were a comma, it would make the second part of the sentence seem like the main idea of the sentence. The hyphen makes the second idea seem more like a tangent – an interrupting thought that is not the main point.

I call this an idiosyncrasy, but of course lots of people use hyphens in this way – I think more and more people are – I’m sure this was less common ten years ago. Nevertheless it’s still thought of by many as being grammatically incorrect. I think even if at one point it was ‘officially’ grammatically incorrect, the hyphen is so useful and versatile when used in this way that we should use it, and change the ‘official’ rules of grammar to allow for it.

Apostrophic Abbreviations

I remember learning about apostrophes in primary and secondary school. I remember learning that they could be used to indicate possession with the possessive s – for example, ‘Ben’s blog’. And I remember learning that apostrophes were also used in abbreviations – they denoted letters that had been omitted to make two words shorter.

This is something we all learn in school. But I think something else we learn at the same time is that there is a set of words that are abbreviated in this way (words like I’ve and you’re) and that that’s it – no other words can be abbreviated in this way.

But in the last two years or so, I realised that there really isn’t anything to stop me from using apostrophes to abbreviate more words. (It might not be considered grammatically correct by a number of grammar and spelling aficionados, but I don’t think there’s any point sticking to a rule of grammar if the rule adds nothing to the language.) There are words that I abbreviate when I speak them – sometimes if I want to write a sentence, but convey the same meaning as if I had spoken it, I want to abbreviate the same words.

So I have started doing this – I have started abbreviating other words – beyond the standard set – and here are some of the ones that I use:

  • I’d’ve – I would have
  • You’d’ve – You would have
  • They’d’ve – They would have
  • What’ve – What have
  • When’ve – When have
  • to’ve – to have
  • Couldn’t’ve – Could not have
  • Wouldn’t’ve – Would not have
  • There’re – There are
  • Where’re – Where are
  • Who’re – Who are
  • Y’know – You know
  • D’y’know – Do you know
  • J’know – Do you know
  • ‘snot – It’s not
  • ‘salso – It’s also

In this list there are words which have two apostrophes in them where I’ve smashed together three words. I find this to be delightfully absurd. Two apostrophes is altogether too many apostrophes to have in a word – much the same way that twelve sides is too many sides for a £1 coin to have – and that’s why I think it’s brilliant (and I like the new £1 coin too).

Some of these words even start with apostrophes – also a lot of fun.

It doesn’t save any time writing words like this – I write fewer characters but I spend more time thinking about when to type the apostrophes. I use these abbreviations in order to make what I write more similar to what I say. They can prevent something I write from seeming too formal and stiff.

Microsoft Word complains when I do this, of course, as does my phone when I use these abbreviations in text messages. But I have a lot of idiosyncrasies in my writing, and I’ve long since ignored Word’s opinion of it. (‘Yes Word, I do in fact WANT that line to be a sentence fragment.’)