A writer is a person who uses written words in various styles and techniques to communicate their ideas. Writers produce various forms of literary art and creative writing such as novels, short stories, poetry, plays, screenplays, and essays as well as various reports and news articles that may be of interest to the public. Writers' texts are published across a range of media. Skilled writers who are able to use language to express ideas well, often contribute significantly to the cultural content of a society.
The term "writer" is also used elsewhere in the arts – such as songwriter – but as a standalone "writer" normally refers to the creation of written language. Some writers work from an oral tradition.
Writers can produce material across a number of genres, fictional or non-fictional. Other writers use multiple media – for example, graphics or illustration – to enhance the communication of their ideas. Another recent demand has been created by civil and government readers for the work of non-fictional technical writers, whose skills create understandable, interpretive documents of a practical or scientific nature. Some writers may use images (drawing, painting, graphics) or multimedia to augment their writing. In rare instances, creative writers are able to communicate their ideas via music as well as words.
As well as producing their own written works, writers often write on how they write (that is, the process they use);why they write (that is, their motivation); and also comment on the work of other writers (criticism). Writers work professionally or non-professionally, that is, for payment or without payment and may be paid either in advance (or on acceptance), or only after their work is published. Payment is only one of the motivations of writers and many are never paid for their work.
The term writer is often used as a synonym of author, although the latter term has a somewhat broader meaning and is used to convey legal responsibility for a piece of writing, even if its composition is anonymous, unknown or collaborative.
Writers choose from a range of literary genres to express their ideas. Most writing can be adapted for use in another medium. For example, a writer's work may be read privately or recited or performed in a play or film. Satire for example, may be written as a poem, an essay, a film, a comic play, or a piece of journalism. The writer of a letter may include elements of criticism, biography, or journalism.
Many writers work across genres. The genre sets the parameters but all kinds of creative adaptation have been attempted: novel to film; poem to play; history to musical. Writers may begin their career in one genre and change to another. For example, historian William Dalrymple began in the genre of travel literature and also writes as a journalist. Many writers have produced both fiction and non-fiction works and others write in a genre that crosses the two. For example, writers of historical romances, such as Georgette Heyer, invent characters and stories set in historical periods. In this genre, the accuracy of the history and the level of factual detail in the work both tend to be debated. Some writers write both creative fiction and serious analysis, sometimes using different names to separate their work. Dorothy Sayers, for example, wrote crime fiction but was also a playwright, essayist, translator, and critic.
He had done for her all that a man could,
And some might say, more than a man should,
Then was ever a flame so recklessly blown out
Or a last goodbye so negligent as this?
‘I will write to you,' she muttered briefly,
Tilting her cheek for a polite kiss;
Then walked away, nor ever turned about. ...
Long letters written and mailed in her own head –
There are no mails in a city of the dead.
Poets make maximum use of the language to achieve an emotional and sensory effect as well as a cognitive one. To create these effects, they use rhyme and rhythm and they also exploit the properties of words with a range of other techniques such as alliteration and assonance. A common theme is love and its vicissitudes. Shakespeare's famous love story Romeo and Juliet, for example, written in a variety of poetic forms, has been performed in innumerable theatres and made into at least eight cinematic versions.John Donne is another poet renowned for his love poetry.
Novelists write novels – stories that explore universal themes through fiction. They situate invented characters and plots in a narrative designed to be both credible and entertaining.
"Every novel worthy of the name is like another planet, whether large or small, which has its own laws just as it has its own flora and fauna. Thus, Faulkner's technique is certainly the best one with which to paint Faulkner's world, and Kafka's nightmare has produced its own myths that make it communicable. Benjamin Constant, Stendhal, Eugène Fromentin, Jacques Rivière, Radiguet, all used different techniques, took different liberties, and set themselves different tasks." François Mauriac, novelist
A satirist uses wit to ridicule the shortcomings of society or individuals, with the intent of exposing stupidity. Usually, the subject of the satire is a contemporary issue such as ineffective political decisions or politicians, although human vices such as greed are also a common and universal subject. Philosopher Voltaire wrote a satire about optimism called Candide, which was subsequently turned into an opera, and many well known lyricists wrote for it. There are elements of Absurdism in Candide, just as there are in the work of contemporary satirist Barry Humphries, who writes comic satire for his character Dame Edna Everage to perform on stage.
Libretti (the plural of libretto) are the texts for musical works such as operas. The Venetian poet and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, for example, wrote the libretto for some of Mozart's greatest operas. Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa were Italian librettists who wrote for Giacomo Puccini. Most opera composers collaborate with a librettist but unusually, Richard Wagner wrote both the music and the libretti for his works himself.
Chi son? Sono poeta. Che cosa faccio? Scrivo. E come vivo? Vivo.
("Who am I? I'm a poet. What do I do? I write. And how do I live? I live.") Rodolpho, in Puccini's La bohème
Usually writing in verses and choruses, a lyricist specializes in writing lyrics, the words that accompany or underscore a song or opera. Lyricists also write the words for songs. In the case of Tom Lehrer, these were satirical. Lyricist Noël Coward, who wrote musicals and songs such as "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and the recited song "I Went to a Marvellous Party", also wrote plays and films and performed on stage and screen as well. Writers of lyrics, such as these two, adapt other writers' work as well as create entirely original pieces.
"Making lyrics feel natural, sit on music in such a way that you don't feel the effort of the author, so that they shine and bubble and rise and fall, is very, very hard to do." Stephen Sondheim, lyricist
A playwright writes plays which may or may not be performed on a stage by actors. A play's narrative is driven by dialogue. Like novelists, playwrights usually explore a theme by showing how people respond to a set of circumstances. As writers, playwrights must make the language and the dialogue succeed in terms of the characters who speak the lines as well as in the play as a whole. Since most plays are performed, rather than read privately, the playwright has to produce a text that works in spoken form and can also hold an audience's attention over the period of the performance. Plays tell "a story the audience should care about", so writers have to cut anything that worked against that. Plays may be written in prose or verse. Shakespeare wrote plays in iambic pentameter as does Mike Bartlett in his play King Charles III (2014).
Playwrights also adapt or re-write other works, such as plays written earlier or literary works originally in another genre. Famous playwrights such as Henrik Ibsen or Anton Chekhov have had their works adapted many times. The plays of early Greek playwrights Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus are still performed. Adaptations of a playwright's work may be faithful to the original or creatively interpreted. If the writers' purpose in re-writing the play is to produce a film, they will have to prepare a screenplay. Shakespeare's plays, for example, while still regularly performed in the original form, are often adapted and abridged, especially for the cinema. An example of a creative modern adaptation of a play that nonetheless used the original writer's words, is Baz Luhrmann's version of Romeo and Juliet. The amendment of the name to Romeo + Juliet indicates to the audience that the version will be different from the original. Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a play inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet that takes two of Shakespeare's most minor characters and creates a new play in which they are the protagonists.
Player: It's what the actors do best. They have to exploit whatever talent is given to them, and their talent is dying. They can die heroically, comically, ironically, slowly, suddenly, disgustingly, charmingly or from a great height.Tom StoppardRosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Act Two)
Screenwriters write a screenplay – or script – that provides the words for media productions such as films, television programs and video games. Screenwriters may start their careers by writing the screenplay speculatively; that is, they write a script with no advance payment, solicitation or contract. On the other hand, they may be employed or commissioned to adapt the work of a playwright or novelist or other writer. Self-employed writers who are paid by contract to write are known as freelancers and screenwriters often work under this type of arrangement.
Screenwriters, playwrights and other writers are inspired by the great themes and often use similar and familiar plot devices to explore them. For example, in Shakespeare's Hamlet is a "play within a play", which the hero uses to demonstrate the king's guilt. Hamlet gains the co-operation of the actors to set up the play as a thing "wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king".teleplay writer Joe Menosky deploys the same "play within a play" device in an episode of the science fiction television seriesStar Trek: Voyager. The bronze-age playwright/hero enlists the support of a Star Trek crew member to create a play that will convince the ruler (or "patron" as he is called), of the futility of war.
A speechwriter prepares the text for a speech to be given before a group or crowd on a specific occasion and for a specific purpose. They are often intended to be persuasive or inspiring, such as the speeches given by skilled orators like Cicero; charismatic or influential political leaders like Nelson Mandela; or for use in a court of law or parliament. The writer of the speech may be the person intended to deliver it, or it might be prepared by a person hired for the task on behalf of someone else. Such is the case when speechwriters are employed by many senior-level elected officials and executives in both government and private sectors.
Critics consider and assess the extent to which a work succeeds in its purpose. The work under consideration may be literary, theatrical, musical, artistic, or architectural. In assessing the success of a work, the critic takes account of why it was done – for example, why a text was written, for whom, in what style, and under what circumstances. After making such an assessment, critics write and publish their evaluation, adding the value of their scholarship and thinking to substantiate any opinion. The theory of criticism is an area of study in itself: a good critic understands and is able to incorporate the theory behind the work they are evaluating into their assessment. Some critics are already writers in another genre. For example, they might be novelists or essayists. Influential and respected writer/critics include the art critic Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) and the literary critic James Wood (born 1965), both of whom have books published containing collections of their criticism. Some critics are poor writers and produce only superficial or unsubstantiated work. Hence, while anyone can be an uninformed critic, the notable characteristics of a good critic are understanding, insight, and an ability to write well.
We can claim with at least as much accuracy as a well-known writer claims of his little books, that no newspaper would dare print what we have to say. Are we going to be very cruel and abusive, then? By no means: on the contrary, we are going to be impartial. We have no friends – that is a great thing – and no enemies." Charles Baudelaire, introducing his Review of the Paris Salon of 1845
An editor prepares literary material for publication. The material may be the editor's own original work but more commonly, an editor works with the material of one or more other people. There are different types of editor. Copy editors format text to a particular style and/or correct errors in grammar and spelling without changing the text substantively. On the other hand, an editor may suggest or undertake significant changes to a text to improve its readability, sense or structure. This latter type of editor can go so far as to excise some parts of the text, add new parts, or restructure the whole. The work of editors of ancient texts or manuscripts or collections of works results in differing editions. For example, there are many editions of Shakespeare's plays by notable editors who also contribute original introductions to the resulting publication. Editors who work on journals and newspapers have varying levels of responsibility for the text – they may write original material, in particular, editorials; select what is to be included from a range of items on offer; format the material; or check its accuracy.
Encyclopaedists create organised bodies of knowledge. Denis Diderot (1713–1784) is renowned for his contributions to the Encyclopédie. The encyclopaedist Bernardino de Sahagún (1499–1590) was a Franciscan whose Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España is a vast encyclopedia of Mesoamerican civilisation, commonly referred to as the Florentine Codex, after the Italian manuscript library which holds the best preserved copy.
Essayists write essays, which are original pieces of writing of moderate length in which the author makes a case in support of an opinion. They are usually in prose, but some writers have used poetry to present their argument.
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. The purpose of a historian is to employ historical analysis to create coherent narratives that explain "what happened" and "why or how it happened". Professional historians typically work in colleges and universities, archival centers, government agencies, museums, and as freelance writers and consultants.Edward Gibbon's six volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire influenced the development of historiography.
Writers who create dictionaries are called lexicographers. One of the most famous is Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), whose Dictionary of the English Language was regarded not only as a great personal scholarly achievement but was also dictionary of such pre-eminence, that would have been referred to by such writers as Jane Austen.
These three highly influential, and initially very controversial, works changed the way people understood their place in the world. Copernicus's heliocentric view of the cosmos displaced humans from their previously accepted place at the centre of the universe; Darwin's evolutionary theory placed humans firmly within, as opposed to above, the order of nature; and Freud's ideas about the power of the unconscious mind overcame the belief that humans were consciously in control of all their own actions.
Translators have the task of finding some equivalence in another language to a writer's meaning, intention and style. Translators whose work has had very significant cultural effect include Al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf ibn Maṭar, who translated Elements from Greek into Arabic and Jean-François Champollion, who deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs with the result that he could publish the first translation of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs in 1822. Difficulties with translation are exacerbated when words or phrases incorporate rhymes, rhythms, or puns; or when they have connotations in one language that are non-existent in another. For example, the title of Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier is supposedly untranslatable because "no English adjective will convey all the shades of meaning that can be read into the simple [French] word 'grand' which takes on overtones as the story progresses." Translators have also become a part of events where political figures who speak different languages meet to look into the relations between countries or solve political conflicts. It is highly critical for the translator to deliver the right information as a drastic impact could be caused if any error occurred.
Even if translation is impossible – we have no choice but to do it: to take the next step and start translating. ... The translator's task is to make us either forget or else enjoy the difference.Robert Dessaix, translator, author
Writers of blogs, which have appeared on the World Wide Web since the 1990s, need no authorisation to be published. The contents of these short opinion pieces or "posts" form a commentary on issues of specific interest to readers who can use the same technology to interact with the author, with an immediacy hitherto impossible. The ability to link to other sites means that some blog writers – and their writing – may become suddenly and unpredictably popular. Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani education activist, rose to prominence because of her blog for BBC.
A blog writer is using the technology to create a message that is in some ways like a newsletter and in other ways, like a personal letter. "The greatest difference between a blog and a photocopied school newsletter, or an annual family letter photocopied and mailed to a hundred friends, is the potential audience and the increased potential for direct communication between audience members". Thus, as with other forms of letter, the writer knows some of the readers, but one of the main differences is that "some of the audience will be random" and "that presumably changes the way we [writers] write." It has been argued that blogs owe a debt to Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne, whose Essais ("attempts"), were published in 1580, because Montaigne "wrote as if he were chatting to his readers: just two friends, whiling away an afternoon in conversation".
Columnists write regular pieces for newspapers and other periodicals, usually containing a lively and entertaining expression of opinion. Some columnists have had collections of their best work published as a collection in a book, so that readers can re-read what would otherwise be no longer available. Columns are quite short pieces of writing so columnists often write in other genres as well. An example is the columnist Elizabeth Farrelly, who besides being a columnist, is also an architecture critic and author of books.
Writers who record their experiences, thoughts or feelings in a sequential form over a period of time in a diary are known as diarists. Their writings can provide valuable insights into historical periods, specific events or individual personalities. Examples include Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), an English administrator and Member of Parliament, whose detailed private diary provides eyewitness accounts of events during the 17th century, most notably of the Great Fire of London. Anne Frank (1929–1945) was a 13-year-old girl whose diary from 1942 to 1944 records both her experiences as a persecuted Jew in World War II and an adolescent dealing with intra-family relationships.
Journalists write reports about current events after investigating them and gathering information. Some journalists write reports about predictable or scheduled events such as social or political meetings. Others are investigative journalists who need to undertake considerable research and analysis in order to write an explanation or account of something complex that was hitherto unknown or not understood. Often investigative journalists are reporting criminal or corrupt activity which puts them at risk personally and means that what it is likely that attempts may be made to attack or suppress what they write. An example is Bob Woodward, a journalist who investigated and wrote about criminal activities by the US President.
Journalism ... is a public trust, a responsibility, to report the facts with context and completeness, to speak truth to power, to hold the feet of politicians and officials to the fire of exposure, to discomfort the comfortable, to comfort those who suffer. Geoffrey Barker, journalist.
Writers of memoirs produce accounts from the memories of their own lives, which are deemed unusual, important, or scandalous enough to be of interest to general readers. Although intended to be factual, readers are alerted to the likelihood of some inaccuracies or bias towards an idiosyncratic perception by the choice of genre. A memoir, for example, is allowed to have a much more selective set of experiences than an autobiography which is expected to be more complete and make a greater attempt at balance. Famous memoirists include Frances Vane, Viscountess Vane, and Giacomo Casanova.
Writers of letters use a reliable form of transmission of messages between individuals, and surviving sets of letters provide insight into the motivations, cultural contexts, and events in the lives of their writers. Peter Abelard (1079–1142), philosopher, logician, and theologian is known not only for the heresy contained in some of his work, and the punishment of having to burn his own book, but also for the letters he wrote to Héloïse d'Argenteuil(1090?–1164).
The letters (or epistles) of Paul the Apostle were so influential that over the 2000 years of Christian history, Paul became "second only to Jesus in influence and the amount of discussion and interpretation generated".
Water damaged unpublished autograph manuscript page of Bligh's voyage in the launch of HMS Bounty, from the ship to Tofua and from thence to Timor April 28 to June 14, 1789, after the Mutiny. It contains notes used later as the basis for his report and all his subsequent narratives.
Report writers are people who gather information, organise and document it so that it can be presented to some person or authority in a position to use it as the basis of a decision. Well-written reports influence policies as well as decisions. For example, Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) wrote reports that were intended to effect administrative reform in matters concerning health in the army. She documented her experience in the Crimean War and showed her determination to see improvements: "...after six months of incredible industry she had put together and written with her own hand her Notes affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army. This extraordinary composition, filling more than eight hundred closely printed pages, laying down vast principles of far-reaching reform, discussing the minutest detail of a multitude of controversial subjects, containing an enormous mass of information of the most varied kinds – military, statistical, sanitary, architectural" became for a long time, the "leading authority on the medical administration of armies".
A scribe writes ideas and information on behalf of another, sometimes copying from another document, sometimes from oral instruction on behalf of an illiterate person, sometimes transcribing from another medium such as a tape recording, shorthand, or personal notes.
Being able to write was a rare achievement for over 500 years in Western Europe so monks who copied texts were scribes responsible for saving many texts from classical times. The monasteries, where monks who knew how to read and write lived, provided an environment stable enough for writing. Irish monks, for example, came to Europe in about 600 and "found manuscripts in places like Tours and Toulouse" which they copied. The monastic writers also illustrated their books with highly skilled art work using gold and rare colours.
A technical writer prepares instructions or manuals, such as user guides or owner's manuals for users of equipment to follow. Technical writers also write various procedures for business, professional or domestic use. Since the purpose of technical writing is practical rather than creative, its most important quality is clarity. The technical writer, unlike the creative writer, is required to adhere to the relevant style guide.