Ruminations on reading, writing, genealogy and family history, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. © 2006-2023 All rights reserved
I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories , and several Kindle ebooks.
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Friday, June 29, 2007
Writers, writer’s, or writers’.
DESCRIPTIVE PHRASES: Do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: citizens band radio, a Cincinnati Reds infielder, a teachers college, Teamsters request, a writers guide .
Memory Aid: The apostrophe usually is not used if for or by rather than of would be appropriate in the longer form: a radio band for citizens, a college for teachers, a guide for writers, a request by the Teamsters.
An ’s is required, however, when a term involves a plural word that does not end in s : a children’s hospital, a people’s republic, the Young Men’s Christian Association.
The Moneta Lions Club celebrated the 18th anniversary of the club’s charter with Lions Clubs International with a formal dinner meeting June 21 at the Pointe at Mariners Landing in Huddleston.
With credit approval, for qualifying purchases made on a Sears card (Sears Commercial One® and Sears Home Improvement Account (sm) accounts excluded unless otherwise indicated).
The writer's group of manuscripts fell off his desk.
The writer’s group , having only the writer himself as a member, met in a closet at the public library.
Labels: punctuation , writing
Thanks for the EC (educational content) warning. I had to skim this extensive research as it was just a little TMI (too much information)for me. You are a great asset to our group and a wealth of information!
Yes! This is perfect! Thank you so much. This is exactly the one thing I was struggling with today. www.riverswemiss.blogspot.com
Thank you! The same for drivers license? ;>}
I miss Ida B! Not only is she brilliant but she always made me smile.
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Definition of writer
Examples of writer in a Sentence
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'writer.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above
Phrases Containing writer
- co - writer
- present writer
- writer's block
- the present writer
- writer's cramp
- sub - writer
- sports writer
Dictionary Entries Near writer
Cite this Entry
“Writer.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/writer. Accessed 25 Nov. 2023.
Kids definition of writer, more from merriam-webster on writer.
Nglish: Translation of writer for Spanish Speakers
Britannica English: Translation of writer for Arabic Speakers
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The Writers’ Writer’s Writers
By Elizabeth Minkel
What, exactly, is a “writer’s writer”? Last night, Jeffrey Eugenides, Nicole Krauss, and Jhumpi Lahiri tried to accurately characterize the expression. “It’s the definition of obscurity,” said fiction editor Deborah Treisman, kicking things off with a quote from the Times . She’d heard another, possibly better, description: “Someone who lives at or below the poverty line.”
Perhaps the writer’s writer doesn’t have to toil in impoverished obscurity. “I think you can be a writer’s writer and be the toast of the town,” said Eugenides. But he probably “doesn’t like to go out and do things like the New Yorker Festival.” A writer’s writer is most likely American, Lahiri suggested, and often focusses on short stories. “Everybody writes their first book with a certain innocence, a purity of vision,” she said. “The writer’s writer writes every book that way.” He regularly breaks the rules, “offer[ing] a kind of freedom from the reader’s expectations,” said Krauss. The work can be hard to get through—“because you keep reading the same sentence over and over.” “If you mention a story,” said Eugenides, “Someone will quote a line from it.”
John Ashbery once called Elizabeth Bishop the “writer’s writer’s writer.” The panelists offered up their own writer’s writer’s writers, explaining their choices and reading from favorite stories. Eugenides named Denis Johnson, Vladmir Nabokov, Saul Bellow, Nicholson Baker, Colm Tóibín, and John Hawkes. Lahiri chose Mavis Gallant, Gina Berriault, Andre Dubus, James Salter, Fernando Passoa, and Marguerite Yourcenar. And Krauss picked Bruno Schulz, W. G. Sebald, Thomas Bernhard, Yoram Kaniuk, Yehuda Amichai, and Joseph Brodsky. The panelists’ reading choices may offer just as much insight as their writing choices; after all, Lahiri quipped, “A writer is a reader who can’t control himself and therefore writes.”
By The New Yorker
By Alexandra Schwartz
By James Wood
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Events search and views navigation, event views navigation, calendar of events, 16 events, 29, novel year with dr. mathangi subramanian.
Application deadline extended to August 31! Finish your novel in just one year! Do you have a book-length work of fiction that can't seem to find the time to finish? […]
Blend literary and speculative fiction! This course will explore the intersection of literary fiction and speculative fiction, with a focus on works by Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and other writers […]
Crafting Fiction: Element by Element
Let's demystify the craft of fiction writing! By working through basic craft elements of fiction, participants will build a strong foundation for their writing—be it short stories or novels. This […]
Writing Compelling Historical Fiction
Make your fiction — and your non-fiction — come alive by incorporating gripping facts about what the world was really like when your story takes place! During the first four […]
Advanced Personal Essay
Take your essays to the next level. This workshop is for writers who have a good understanding of what a personal essay is, are open to exploring further the many […]
Writing Contemporary Fiction
Write a publishable story for the current literary market! What makes a story fresh? Contemporary? Stand out? Publishable? In this small-sized class, we'll examine a series of contemporary stories to […]
Fundamentals of Persuasive Writing
Transfer strong, well-crafted opinions from your mind onto the page! Learn how to pack a powerful punch when writing persuasively. This six-week workshop teaches you the processes involved in crafting […]
Intro to Flash Fiction
This workshop will introduce writers to the explosive short form of Flash Fiction. This workshop will introduce writers to this explosive short form. Each week, writers will read several contemporary […]
Boot Camp for Writers
Tone up your writing muscles so you can go the distance. Classes begin with a short warm up exercise followed by a prompt for a longer piece. Participants will then […]
Writing about Mental Illness
Write about your experience with mental illness in a safe space. Whether you have experienced mental illness personally or have a loved one with mental illness, writing about it can […]
Mastering Precision at the Sentence Level
Writing good sentences is harder than you think! Each session will consist of an in-person lecture on a particular sentence-level technique, followed by a workshop component. Participants will apply the […]
Finish that Flash
Workshop and edit those flash fiction stories sitting around on your computer! If you have some drafts of flash fiction rattling around your hard drive, this is an opportunity to […]
Creating Novel Characters
Bring your characters to life on the page. When writing a novel, we must know our primary characters inside and out. We need to understand their desires, motivations, and frustrations, […]
Intermediate Novel Writing: The 8 Cs
Let's finish that novel you've started! Are you serious about writing a novel but struggling? This intermediate course will examine the eight fundamental elements of the novel to help you […]
Storytelling: Applying it to Your Writing
Learn how storytelling can enhance your writing. You'll leave the workshop with two strong stories that embody some methods of storytelling. The purpose of the workshop is to help readers […]
Christine Evans & Johannes Lichtman in Conversation with Donna Hemans
DC area writers Johannes Lichtman (Calling Ukraine and Such Good Work) and Christine Evans (Nadia and Cloudless) discuss their new novels, which both feature characters making home in a new place. In a conversation moderated […]
16 events, 30
Beginning your memoir.
Learn ten generative lessons to help you imagine your memoir or provide needed structure for your memoir-in-progress. Join us for a burst of ten generative lessons to help you imagine […]
16 events, 31
Structuring your book.
Explore different ways to structure a novel, memoir, or non-fiction book through exercises and examples. In just two sessions we’ll explore different ways to structure a novel, memoir, or non-fiction […]
18 events, 1
Reading and writing contemporary poetry.
Write new poems based on exciting new poetic voices! In this generative poetry course, we will immerse ourselves in the landscape of contemporary poetry and craft our own poems. Each […]
The Lit Reading: Performing Your Voice Aloud
Improve your public reading skills. Do you love to write but are terrified to share your work aloud? Afraid of the flat voice, the expecting audience, the dreadfully mild golf […]
17 events, 2
Virtual craft chat with poet brian turner.
The Writer’s Center and Poet Lore present a FREE virtual chat about the craft of poetry! We’re joined by Brian Turner to discuss his three new poetry collections, The Wild […]
17 events, 3
The writer’s center live a variety show for literature lovers.
Readings! Live music! Antics! Beer! The Writer's Center LIVE! is a celebration of literature that doesn't take itself too seriously. Attendees are treated to 5 exceptional readings, plus a generous […]
19 events, 4
Learn how our brains are wired for poetry, and use that knowledge to enrich your writing. “Whole-Brain Poetry” is an opportunity to explore some of the ways poetry interacts with […]
Making Your Characters Matter
Create a character who a reader cares about. At the core of every good tale is a character with whom the reader wants to spend time. Discover how to move […]
Shaping Your Book of Narrative Nonfiction
Plan your nonfiction book starting from the big picture! You're keen to write a book of biography, history, or memoir, but find the process intimidating. In this workshop, you'll learn […]
17 events, 5
Dc writers room editors panel.
The Writer's Center welcomes the DC Writers Room for a special editors panel. Four local editors discuss current trends in publishing and give advice on how to navigate this ever-competitive […]
17 events, 6
Café muse featuring poets david keplinger & dorianne laux.
The Word Works, Poet Lore, and The Writer’s Center present Café Muse, featuring poets David Keplinger and Dorianne Laux. The evening begins at 7:15pm with a musical video featuring the classical […]
19 events, 7
Introduction to writing for film & tv.
Learn the fundamentals of screenwriting from a screenwriter & producer. This hands-on workshop will guide beginning and intermediate screenwriters through the process of what it takes to craft a professional […]
Virtual Craft Chat with Memoirist Athena Dixon
The Writer’s Center presents a FREE virtual chat about the craft of nonfiction! We’re joined by author Athena Dixon to discuss her "adventurous and expansive" new memoir in essays, The […]
Poet Alyson Gold Weinberg Book Launch Celebration
The Writer’s Center welcomes poet Alyson Gold Weinberg to celebrate her new poetry collection, Bellow & Hiss. With an introduction by Courtney Sexton, Co-Founder, The Inner Loop. Book signing and […]
17 events, 8
Open mic @ the writer’s center.
Prose, poetry, and spoken word Open Mic at The Writer’s Center! All writers are welcome to come and share 4-5 minutes of their latest work. Limited space. In-person signup starts […]
16 events, 9
Women writers mixer.
Women writers of DC! Join us for an informal gathering at The Writer’s Center! It’ll be a chance to talk shop, network, and hang out with other writers. Please bring […]
13 events, 10
14 events, 11, using setting for structure and impact.
This setting intensive will enhance your fiction and memoir. In this workshop we will learn to use setting as a map, as a structure for storytelling. Setting can be a […]
Your First (or Next) Novel
Get inspired and dive right into the novel of your dreams! Writing a novel takes commitment, but it doesn’t need to be daunting. Learn how to generate a handful of […]
13 events, 12
Syntax as strategy.
Coleridge defined poetry as "The best words in the best order." How a poet handles syntax--the order of words in a sentence--is crucial to everything from establishing the voice of […]
Creative Recovery and Self-Care for Writers
Learn how to navigate all phases of the creative process without burning out. As writers, it’s vital that we nurture our creativity through self-care so we can work with our […]
11 events, 13
12 events, 14, lgbtq+ writers mixer.
Are you a writer who identifies as LGBTQ+? Let’s hang out and talk writing! Come join us for an informal gathering at The Writer’s Center. Please bring a drink or […]
UnClogging Your Brain
Learn to use improvisational technique as a tool for writing. Improvisation puts you directly into the action and heart of the moment. Allow your creative genius to 'script' on the […]
9 events, 15
12 events, 16, writing picture books ii.
Learn how to polish your picture book manuscript before submitting to an agent or editor. You’ve drafted your picture book, what’s the next step? Learn to revise and polish your […]
How to Tell Your Story
Join us for an hour as we discuss and learn different effective methods towards building and developing your story. This workshop is intended to help with all creative projects and […]
Virtual Craft Chat with Poet Jane Huffman
Poet Lore and The Writer’s Center present a FREE virtual chat about the craft of poetry! We’re joined by Jane Huffman to discuss her debut collection, Public Abstract. Jane is […]
9 events, 17
10 events, 18, creating conflict & tension.
Every great story has conflict — grab yours! Strengthening the conflict in any type of fiction will bump up the tension and turn limp, ordinary fiction into an extraordinary tale […]
Write Better Poetry Titles
Expand your poem’s meaning and grab readers’ attention with stronger titles. Titles are one of the most important spots in a poem, but what makes a good title? How can […]
7 events, 19
7 events, 20, 6 events, 21, 6 events, 22, 6 events, 23, 7 events, 24, plotting your novel.
In this workshop, participants will study the architecture of a novel and devise plans for plotting their novels. Whether you are an organized planner or a writer who flies by […]
7 events, 25
7 events, 26, 7 events, 27, 7 events, 28, 8 events, 29, carmelinda blagg book launch.
The Writer’s Center welcomes author Carmelinda Blagg to celebrate her debut story collection, Geographies. With an introduction by Dana Cann, author of The Ghosts of Bergen County and instructor at The […]
7 events, 30
Book promotion through podcasting.
Podcasting is one of the easiest ways to get your book and your voice out there, and we’ll not only be looking at how to find good podcasts and get […]
7 events, 1
12 events, 2, finish your novel.
Learn how to push through writer roadblocks so you can finally finish that novel! Have you been working and reworking the beginning of your novel but can’t seem to push […]
How to Write a Lot
Create, track, and maximize your writing time to finish projects sooner and with less stress! You may think you don't have the time, energy, or inspiration to write because of […]
Creative Spirit: Infusing Your Writing with Energy
Use spirituality to strengthen and freshen your creativity. You will learn to facilitate a concentrated focus and tap into a higher source of inspiration, whether viewed as the highest self, […]
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Writing classes. Free events for writers. New friends and networking. Every year, The Writer’s Center delivers hundreds of ways to connect more deeply with the literary life. Our writers hone their writing craft, master editing and revision, share their work, and get published. Most importantly, we bring likeminded writers together into a fun and welcoming community.
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Curated Conversation(s): a Latinx Poetry Show
Curated Conversation(s) is a virtual discussion series. Season 1 features debut Latinx poets, and Season 2 pairs Latinx poets from the United Kingdom and United States.
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ONE MORE WEEK to apply to the Compass Fellowship! 🧭✍ S️wipe to read what our former fellows @ofe23 and @crunchysoul have to say about it! ➡️➡️➡️ ✨ Applications open until 11/1. For more info, visit writer.org/compass-fellowship ✨
ONE MORE WEEK to apply to the Compass Fellowship! 🧭✍ S️wipe to read what our former fellows @ofe23 and @crunchysoul have to say about it! ➡️➡️➡️ ✨ Applications open until 11/1. For more info, visit writer.org/compass-fellowship ✨ ...
🎤 Bilingual Open Mic for Latine writers!🎤 All Latine writers are welcome to come to The Writer`s Center on Saturday 10/14 and share 4-5 minutes of their latest work in English, Spanish, or Spanglish. Readings begin promptly at 7. FREE and open to the public. Advance registration required to be a reader. Sign up here: https://writer.org/event/latine-open-mic-2023/
🎤 Bilingual Open Mic for Latine writers!🎤 All Latine writers are welcome to come to The Writer`s Center on Saturday 10/14 and share 4-5 minutes of their latest work in English, Spanish, or Spanglish. Readings begin promptly at 7. FREE and open to the public. Advance registration required to be a reader. Sign up here: https://writer.org/event/latine-open-mic-2023/ ...
TWC alum Angie Kim`s first novel, Miracle Creek, is one of Time`s best mysteries and thrillers of ALL TIME! https://time.com/collection/best-mystery-thriller-books/6309246/miracle-creek-angie-kim/
TWC alum Angie Kim`s first novel, Miracle Creek, is one of Time`s best mysteries and thrillers of ALL TIME! https://time.com/collection/best-mystery-thriller-books/6309246/miracle-creek-angie-kim/ ...
❗❗ There is still time to apply to the Compass Fellowship! If you are a writer or aspiring writer looking for where to go next, this is the opportunity for you! 📆 Application deadline is November 1st. 🧭 Visit writer.org/compass-fellowship for more information.
❗❗ There is still time to apply to the Compass Fellowship! If you are a writer or aspiring writer looking for where to go next, this is the opportunity for you! 📆 Application deadline is November 1st. 🧭 Visit writer.org/compass-fellowship for more information. ...
Author vs. Writer: What Is The Difference?
- Author Vs. Writer
- Similar Words
⚡ Quick summary
Both author and writer refer to a person who writes. In general, the word author is used to refer to a person who writes professionally, especially someone who writes published books. The word writer is typically used more generally to refer to someone who writes anything, including works besides books.
The words author and writer are both used to refer to people who write. Do these two words actually mean different things, or are they both a right word to write about writing?
In this article, we examine the words author and writer , explain the different ways they are typically used, and provide examples that show how we use them in sentences.
What is the difference between author and writer ?
The words author and writer both refer to a person who writes , but they are often used to imply particular meanings.
Typically the word author is used to refer to a person who writes things professionally, especially published books. The title of author is often used to refer to someone who writes fiction, nonfiction, or other published works, such as scientific papers.
- She is a best-selling author who has won two Pulitzer Prizes.
The word writer is used more generally and is often used to refer to a person who writes anything, including works that aren’t published or even read by an audience. An author is usually considered to be a specific type of writer.
- The sketch comedy show has many talented writers .
Using this distinction, a person can be a writer and not an author or both a writer and an author.
It’s also possible to use the words writer and author interchangeably when referring to someone who has written published works, although the word author is typically seen as being more professional.
- Roberto is a science fiction writer. (Roberto may write as a hobby or to earn money.)
- Roberto is a science fiction author. (Roberto has written published novels.)
In general, the word writer is preferred when referring to a person who does writing for something that isn’t a book, such as a songwriter or a video game writer , or who writes something that isn’t intended to be read by an audience, such as a television script or movie screenplay. Articles are typically said to have authors but not often when discussed casually. For example, it’s more likely that a person will ask who wrote an article rather than ask who the author of the article is.
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Examples of author and writer in a sentence
Let’s look at several sentences that show how we typically use the words author and writer .
- Scholars are attempting to identify the author of the religious text.
- Tiffany was a sitcom writer before she became a standup comedian.
- The best-selling book was written by an unknown author under a pseudonym.
- Although the Bangles sang “Manic Monday,” the artist Prince is credited as the writer of the song.
- George R. R. Martin is the author of the Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels and was a writer for the Game of Thrones television series based on his books.
In addition to writer and author , many other words are used to refer to people who do specific types of writing. Some examples include:
- poet : a person who writes poetry
- journalist : a person who writes news or otherwise engages in journalism
- novelist : a person who writes novels
- essayist : a person who writes essays
- biographer : a person who writes biographies
- lyricist : a person who writes song lyrics
- copywriter : a person who writes copy, such as for advertising or press releases
- ghostwriter : a person who writes something while another person is credited as being the author
- blogger : a person who writes blogs
- columnist : a person who writes columns for magazines, newspapers, or other publications
- satirist : a person who writes satire
- critic : a person who writes reviews and criticism
What's the difference between a novel and a book? We've authored a helpful explainer.
Ways To Say
Synonym of the day
Writer or writter?
Correct spelling, explanation: because the word writer comes from the verb write and was created by adding the suffix -er (in this case -r , since the word ends with e ), it is spelled with one t . Otherwise, we would have to change something within the core word. Therefore form writter is a mistake and writer is the correct word.
Definition of writer : noun, a person who writes; an author of a particular piece of written work John Green is an American writer , famous for young adult novels. Jane is a teacher and her husband is a writer .
Incorrect spelling, explanation: this form is incorrect because there is no need to interfere with the core of this word ( write ). We added -er to this verb (and received the word writer ) as this suffix gives the word meaning of a person who does a particular thing. Therefore writer is the correct form here, and writter is mistaken.
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Literacy studies, master of science in education (m.s.ed.) and reading specialist certification (pennsylvania), you are here, inquiry-based master's program for educators and reading specialists committed to educational change and social justice..
The Literacy Studies master's is an interdisciplinary program focused on the study of literacy and language from sociopolitical, cultural, psychological, historical, and linguistic perspectives. This program was previously known as Reading/Writing/Literacy M.S.Ed. Beginning in Summer 2024, this program will be titled Literacy Studies M.S.Ed.
What Sets Us Apart
About the program.
The master’s degree program in Literacy Studies can be completed in just one year. Students can tailor the program to their area of interest, through selecting electives from our courses, from other Penn GSE programs, and from across the University of Pennsylvania. During fieldwork and research, students have the opportunity to work with learners from diverse age groups and cultures, building their expertise as researchers and practitioners.
Fall: 4 courses; Spring: 4 courses; Summer: 2 courses
Research apprenticeship Internship
Culminating experience Academic portfolio
Duration of program 1-2 years (full-time) 2+ years (part-time)
Transfer courses accepted 1 course
The M.S.Ed. in Literacy Studies is a master’s degree program that prepares students to be literacy practitioners, researchers, and policymakers in a wide range of contexts. Four principles guide the program:
- The program is interdisciplinary because literacy, language, and culture interact in rich and complex ways. Literacy and language are studied from sociopolitical, cultural, psychological, historical, linguistic, and literary perspectives.
- The program is inquiry-based, intended to raise questions about the relationships among theory, research, policy, and practice while encouraging students to build their own theories of research and practice.
- The program focuses on diversity, urban settings, and the contexts of different schools, communities, families, and cultures.
- The program is committed to educational change and recognizes that educational institutions are sites in which to work for social justice, equity, and transformation.
Certificate/Licensure offered Reading Specialist certification (PA) available
Dual degree options Master of Social Work (MSW)
The master’s in Literacy Studies program includes 10 courses: four required courses as well as six electives. One of the program’s highlights is the flexibility in choosing electives. Students can take electives from our program, electives from other programs at Penn GSE, or even courses offered elsewhere at the University. The culminating experience is the presentation of the student’s academic portfolio.
The Literacy Studies master’s program with Reading Specialist certification requires 10 courses: eight required courses and two electives. An eleventh course is required for students without a teaching certification or one year of teaching. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for Pennsylvania Reading Specialist certification after the completion of coursework.
For more information on courses and requirements, visit the Literacy Studies M.S.Ed. program in the University Catalog .
Internships and Research
The internship in the Literacy Studies master’s program gives students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom. Through internships in settings such as the Weingarten Learning Resources Center; public, charter, and independent schools; community colleges; and community and social service agencies, students will work with learners across generations and cultures.
During their internships, students work with our faculty in research associated with some of the most distinguished research centers and professional development projects in the country: the Philadelphia Writing Project, the Penn Literacy Network, the National Center on Fathers and Families, the National Center on Adult Literacy, Penn’s Early Childhood and Family Studies Institute, and the International Literacy Institute.
Other Options: Certification, Dual Degree, and Accelerated Program
Reading specialist certification.
The Reading Specialist certification can be part of the master’s program, or students can enroll in it as a stand-alone program. Read more about the stand-alone Literacy Studies certificate in the University Catalog .
Students enrolled in the master’s program have the option of pursuing a dual degree in Literacy Studies (M.S.Ed.) and Social Work (M.S.W.) with Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Interested students should consult with their academic advisor. Learn more about Dual and Joint Degrees at Penn GSE.
Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Degree Program
The Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Degree Program (Accelerated Program) is an exclusive offer for undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania to explore graduate education and apply up to four specific courses to both degrees, at no additional cost while they are full-time undergrads.
Philadelphia writing project fellows program.
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40 Writer’s Writers Whomst Readers Should Read
(but what about all the writer's writer's writer's writer's).
Earlier this week, National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas asked Twitter : “Who do you think is widely considered a writer’s writer?” The question inspired no little discussion online, as well as in the Literary Hub office, and so this list—in which I have collected quotes from respectable sources who have doled out the term—was born.
But first, just what is a “writer’s writer”? For me, the term suggests a writer who is doing something unusual or extra impressive with their chosen form—something another writer in particular would marvel at, because they would understand firsthand how hard it is. Often this means that said writer is obscure to to general public, but not always. Maybe it’s more mercenary than that, and a writer’s writer is just someone other writers mention to one another whenever they want to sound impressive. Or maybe it’s just as simple as it sounds: a writer that only (or mostly) other writers read. (Which begs the question: do non-writers still buy books at all? Whence the pure reader, sans intention?)
Cynthia Ozick described the phrase “a synonym for obscurity. Every writer understands exactly what that fearful possessive hints at: a modicum of professional admiration accompanied—or subverted—by dim public recognition and even dimmer sales. Yet the writer’s writer is said to write not in hope of fame but out of quiet passion, and is thereby accorded a purity not granted to the household name.”
Or, as Anna Fitzpatrick would have it , “To call someone a “writer’s writer” sounds obnoxious, as in, “This book isn’t for civilian eyes. You have to be one of us to get it.” I know a better word for people who think this way: assholes.”
Now, fair warning that “writer’s writers”—at least as declared by critics on the internet in places where I could find them—tend to be white men. Shocking! This of course is due to the hegemonic praise structure that still exists in the literary world (though I dare say it’s getting slowly better) and the fact that—at least according to one known male in the Literary Hub office—educated white men often have a strange need to brag about being their high/obscure taste levels. Why they couldn’t brag about reading obscure books by women of color, who knows.
So now, for whatever it’s worth, and for whatever it means, I present 40 “writer’s writers” for your consideration—and a few more as a bonus from us to you at the end.
According to Boris Kachka in Vulture :
Jim Shepard is one of the best writers you’ve never heard of. . . . Yet Shepard describes himself as “semi-obscure,” a “writer’s writer,” which he takes as a sort of consolation prize: “It used to mean, ‘ writers like him, anyway.’” He is not happy with his place in literary culture; nor should he be, since his commercial timing has always been a little off.
According to Christopher Borrelli in the Chicago Tribune :
Other Men’s Daughters was just reissued by New York Review of Books with an introduction by Philip Roth, who writes that the novel is a “microscope” on its place in time, illustrating “a decisive turning point in American mores . . . when the vast assault upon convention, propriety and entrenched belief began to challenge authority, high and low, and of the wreckage that caused.” He also quotes from his own 1973 review, that Stern’s book “is as if Chekhov had written ‘Lolita.’”
Yet, success didn’t take for Stern.
Despite many more novels and essay collections, a medal from the Academy of Arts and Letters (and a 1995 Heartland Prize from the Tribune ), Stern had long settled into a dreaded backhanded reputation: He became a writer’s writer. Meaning, he remained obscure to the public and didn’t sell many books but he had important admirers (among them Norman Mailer, Joan Didion and Anthony Burgess) who delivered hosannas that didn’t sell books, either. His career became somewhat of a literary equivalent to that famous line about the Velvet Underground, that they sold only a few thousand records but every person who bought one started a band.
According to David Lodge in The New York Review of Books :
Henry Green occupies a special but somewhat puzzling place in the history of modern English fiction. That his real name was Henry Yorke is symbolic of the general elusiveness of his literary identity. He seems to stand to one side of his fictional oeuvre , smiling enigmatically and challenging us to put a label, and a value, on it. He has been called a “writer’s writer,” and even, according to Terry Southern, “a writer’s-writer’s writer.” W. H. Auden, Eudora Welty, V. S. Pritchett, Rebecca West, and John Updike have all described him, at various times, and in various ways, as the finest novelist of his generation, yet he never enjoyed either the commercial success or the literary fame of contemporaries such as Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and Christopher Isherwood.
He was neither shrewd nor lucky in the development of his literary career. After a precocious and promising debut, Blindness (1926), begun while he was still at school, he wrote a brilliant novel about working-class life, Living (1929), several years before such subject matter became fashionable, and then took ten years to write his next, Party Going (1939)—a work whose concern with a group of narcissistic socialites setting off on a Continental holiday seemed rather frivolous in the encroaching shadows of World War II. In the 1940s he became more productive, and more widely read ( Loving  even appeared briefly on the US best-seller lists), but just as he was beginning to attract serious critical attention, interest was diverted by a new wave of British writers, the so-called Angry Young Men, with whose coarse, iconoclastic energies he had little affinity. Whether by coincidence or cause and effect, his creativity seemed to suddenly dry up at this time. The latter part of his life, from the publication of his last novel, Doting , in 1952, to his death in 1973, was a sad story of increasing reclusiveness, alcoholism, and melancholia. His novels went out of print, and his name virtually disappeared from the canon of modern British fiction.
According to Daniel Saldaña París in Literary Hub :
Pitol is one of those authors whom one never leaves. There is always a corner of his work that can be read under a new lens. It is not for nothing, it seems to me, that he is held as a clear example of a “writer’s writer” in recent Latin American narrative. The fact that authors such as Enrique Vila-Matas and Mario Bellatin have turned him into a character in their own fiction only confirms what any reader senses upon reading him: that Pitol is unfathomable; it could almost be said that he is a literature entire of himself.
According to Tim Kreider in The New Yorker :
In one of those few gratifying instances of belated artistic justice, John Williams’s “Stoner” has become an unexpected bestseller in Europe after being translated and championed by the French writer Anna Gavalda. Once every decade or so, someone like me tries to do the same service for it in the U.S., writing an essay arguing that “Stoner” is a great, chronically underappreciated American novel. (The latest of these, which also lists several previous such essays, is Morris Dickstein’s for the Times .) And yet it goes on being largely undiscovered in its own country, passed around and praised only among a bookish cognoscenti, and its author, John Williams, consigned to that unenviable category inhabited by such august company as Richard Yates and James Salter: the writer’s writer.
According to Jonathan Franzen in an interview with PBS :
[Fox] may be more of a writer’s writer, at least in her adult novels. After getting a late start– after an utterly chaotic childhood, two early marriages, and child-rearing– she was very prolific, but much of her output was YA literature (a term she disliked, preferring “books for children”). And for most of the time she was writing, she lived in a male-dominated literary world. Contrast all this with Updike, who came out of Harvard, burst on the scene in his twenties, wrote about the melancholies and sex lives of affluent American suburbanites, and fit the pattern of a male writer having a full and long career. I don’t care for lists myself, so I won’t make a long one here, but I think in general great writing by women is more often overlooked than its male counterparts. I wonder if you’ve read Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River , or Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children , or the stories and novels and essays of Joy Williams. If you haven’t, you should!
According to Terry McDonnell in Literary Hub :
The immense depth of that was in his descriptions of the intimacies of love and the details of disappointment and loss and regret, and it made reading him an ecstatic experience. You read to see what would happen, sure, but you read every word to savor the meaning and balance of each sentence—it was a way to look at life as it passed.
Perhaps that’s why critics called him a “writer’s writer,” a label that annoyed him and, I suspect, everyone else. Jim’s friend, Bruce Jay Friedman, told a story about a weekly writers’ lunch he was part of in the Hamptons that included Mario Puzo ( The Godfather ), Joe Heller ( Catch-22 ) and Mel Brooks ( The Producers ). The group was looking for a new member to liven things up but decided not to ask Salter because, as Puzo put it, Jim was “too good of a writer.”
If you’re an editor there is no such thing, but the implied problem with being a writer’s writer is that it goes with semi-obscurity and lack of commercial success. Not that Jim didn’t do fine; it was just so obvious that his talent outweighed his notoriety and his paydays. Of course Jim never talked about any of this. Then, in late 2012, with the novel All That Is, he was poised for the hit his talent had been promising for so many years.
According to Deidra McAfee in New York :
Fully American and fully literary as few are, he is a writer’s writer—but also a reader’s writer who deserves a wider audience.
According to The Millions :
Maggie Nelson is known best for her non-fiction. Often described as some combination of “lyrical” and “philosophical,” Nelson’s five book-length works of nonfiction have won her a steadfast following. She might be described as a “writer’s writer.” The evidence is in how often her books are named by other writers in our annual Year in Reading series. Bluets , a meditation on the color blue, won praise from David Shields (“utterly brilliant”), Stephen Elliott (“excellent”), Haley Mlotek (“I read Bluets twice in the same plane ride.”), Leslie Jamison, Jaquira Díaz, and Margaret Eby. Meaghan O’Connell wrote of Nelson, “She is one of those people for me, writers who I want to cross all boundaries with, writers from whom I ask too much. She makes me want more than, as a reader, I deserve. She already gives us more than we deserve. It isn’t fair.” Many of the above writers also praised Nelson’s more recent The Argonauts , “a genre-bending memoir,” as did Bijan Stephen, Olivia Laing (“It thinks deeply and with immense nuance and grace”), Karolina Waclawiak (“I found myself underlining on nearly every page”), and Parul Sehgal. Nelson herself appeared in our Year in Reading last year, shining light on books by Eileen Myles and Ellen Miller, among others.
According to Ali Smith in The Guardian :
In the UK at least, until the 2010 publication of her Collected Stories (Penguin), it was quite hard to track down copies of her four collections: Break It Down (1986), Almost No Memory (1997), Samuel Johnson Is Indignant (2001) and Varieties of Disturbance (2007), though a couple of these and a lone novel, The End of the Story (1995), were published in the 90s by Serpent’s Tail. She was hard to find, but held in such regard among those who read her that from the beginning she had the reputation of being a writer’s writer.
But she’s such a reader’s writer, this daring, excitingly intelligent and often wildly comic writer who reminds you, in a world that likes to bandy its words about, what words such as economy, precision and originality really mean. It’s all about how you read and about the reflorescence of what and how things mean with Davis, who works in an understated, concentrated way and in a form that usually slips under the mainstream radar. So look again, because this is a writer as mighty as Kafka, as subtle as Flaubert and as epoch-making, in her own way, as Proust. As a translator, she has recently produced magnificent English versions of classics by the latter two, but it’s the short-story form that she’s made her own, and even changed the potential of, over three decades of honing a style whose discipline is a perfect means of release of hilarity, myth, merciless sharpness, and, most of all, of a celebration of the thinking, vital, fertile mind.
According to Corey Messler in Popmatters :
David Markson is a national treasure. He is championed by many, including young turks like David Foster Wallace. It is often said he is a writer’s writer. The implication is that he might be the one of the best unread writers in America, even though early in his career one of his books was made into a big Hollywood movie ( Dingus Magee ) and Ann Beattie said of him, “Markson is as precise and dazzling as Joyce.”
According to Gabrielle Bellot in Literary Hub :
The prose of Eimear McBride’s brilliant first novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing , recalled many a Modernist writer, from Gertrude Stein to James Joyce—so much so that she’s tired of being compared to Joyce. And her success story is also one both old and new: her novel took nearly a decade to be picked up and acknowledged, at which point it won both the Bailey’s and Goldsmiths Prizes. Her next novel, The Lesser Bohemians , moves to London in the 1990s, featuring a tempestuous love story between a young Irish girl studying drama and an older actor. It “nearly killed” her to write, McBride told the Guardian in August. McBride is the kind of writer’s writer who I’m always excited to read more from.
According to Michael Bible in Literary Hub :
Barry’s status as a writer’s writer bothered him, I think. He always wanted to have Kurt Vonnegut numbers. But I’m glad he never reached that level in his life. Fame is a disease that infects all those who encounter it. From the outside it seems like the pinnacle of a career, the end goal of creative work. But the writing world is littered with those whose fame overshadowed their work and destroyed them from the inside out. People like Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger, who are thought of as eccentric for shunning the public. But in retrospect retreat from fame looks to be the more sane route. I think often of Carson McCullers typing out the Ballad of the Sad Cafe with one finger after a series of strokes. She was famous at the age of 22 and died at 50.
According to Nadja Spiegelman in The New York Times :
The day Lucia Berlin was born, in Juneau, Alaska, in 1936, an avalanche wiped out a third of the town, or so she later wrote. Mythic stories gravitated to her, and in death she acquired one more: that of a writer who died too young and went unrecognized in her lifetime. In truth, when she died, at 68 in 2004, she had published 76 stories and six collections, for which she received several prizes. And yet, just as in her writing, the myth is truer than the truth. She should have written more. She should have been more celebrated. In 2015 Farrar, Straus & Giroux published A Manual for Cleaning Women , a 400-page volume of her re-collected tales . It was rapturously received: Here was a writer’s writer who, at the same time, had tremendous popular appeal. The book made the New York Times best-seller list. She was canonized alongside Richard Yates and Raymond Carver, and her own heroes, William Carlos Williams and Chekhov.
According to Claire Burgess in The Rumpus :
After ten long years without a new story collection from Joy Williams, we are finally rewarded this week with The Visiting Privilege , containing thirteen new stories and thirty-three stories collected from across Williams’s career. Williams is a writer’s writer, a storysmith of the highest caliber whose creations are studied and beloved by the greatest in her field. The back of Visiting Privilege bears acclaim from the likes of Raymond Carver, George Plimpton, and James Salter. A wonderful profile of Williams in the New York Times Magazine last week contains George Saunders praising her comedy, Karen Russell calling her a “visionary,” and Ann Beattie exclaiming over her use of exclamation points. A reviewer at NPR called her “quite possibly America’s best living writer of short stories.” And the stories in Visiting Privilege are worth every inch of the praise.
According to Beth Kephart in Literary Hub :
Horgan died within days of my mailing that letter. Cardiac arrest. He was 91 years old—“the writer’s writer, the biographer’s biographer,” in the words of David McCullough; “that rarest of birds,” said Walker Percy; the story finder and teller often compared to Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, and Thomas Hardy. In memoriam, I filled my library with more Paul Horgan. I searched for others with whom I might light the Horgan flame.
According to Don Lee in Electric Literature :
When I bleat into this kind of self-pitying state, though, I think about a writer who was probably the most miserable person I have ever met: Richard Yates. His work is familiar to quite a few readers now, thanks to a retrospective by Stewart O’Nan in The Boston Review in 1999, Blake Bailey’s biography, A Tragic Honesty, in 2003, and the film adaptation of Yates’s first novel, Revolutionary Road, in 2008, but at the time of his death in 1992, he was largely forgotten, and all his books quickly fell out of print.
Even within his lifetime, he was a writer’s writer, meaning he had a small following among literati but otherwise was almost completely unknown. I came across his work by pure chance in my early twenties. I was in Burbank, California, living in my parents’ condo, which was sitting empty at the time, working odd jobs, and waiting for grad school in Boston to begin. I spent a lot of weekends in a vast used bookstore in downtown Burbank, roaming the aisles and picking out battered paperbacks, almost at random, for fifty cents a pop. I happened to buy Yates’s first collection, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (how could I resist that title?), got hooked, and read everything else I could find by him.
According to CrimeReads :
Elmore Leonard was “the Dickens of Detroit,” “the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers,” and above all a master craftsman. Ever a writer’s writer, Leonard honed his craft meticulously over a career that spanned sixty years and nearly as many books, from westerns to era-defining crime novels like Get Shorty and Out of Sight to short story collections that still infuse the pop and mystery culture to this day. Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing,” published in the New York Times in 2001, has become gospel for many a writer, including such timeless gems as “[t]ry to leave out the part that readers tend to skip” and, most famously, “[i]f it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Leonard was also renowned for his opening lines. (In his “Rules,” he warns writers to skip prologues and never to start by describing the weather.) Rightly, he’s now remembered as one of the greatest lead writers in the history of crime fiction, able to engage a reader, capture a mood, and establish a world in a few brief words.
According to Gail Godwin in The New York Times :
Ward Just is both a writer’s writer and an astute tracker of human souls under duplicity and duress. He writes incisively, with striking imagery and with deep knowledge of how people in power behave, from ambassadors coping with the world’s hot spots to Midwestern community leaders suppressing a local crime. Like many distinguished novelists, Just was a journalist first, covering Washington, London and Saigon before the release of his first novel in 1970. American Romantic , his 18th, is one of his finest. It has all the qualities Just’s regular readers look forward to, yet it’s an equally good place to be introduced to his work.
According to Mary Rourke in Los Angeles Times :
He was often referred to as a “writer’s writer,” and his work was compared to that of such literary masters as Raymond Carver and John Cheever. Busch received a number of prestigious awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters fiction award in 1986 and the PEN/Malamud prize in 1991. Busch once said his goal was to be “a really honest, minor writer of the 20th century.”
According to Hillary Kelly in Vulture :
Critics, especially those who are also novelists, have always liked her work: “If we’re lucky, [ Person of Interest ] may turn out to be a prototypical 21st-century novel,” Francine Prose wrote in the New York Times . Of her most recent novel, My Education , Meg Wolitzer wrote, “I felt like I was in an obsessive relationship with it. I wanted to read it all the time.” Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist, first came to Choi’s work while reviewing American Woman . The two are now friends and neighbors in Fort Greene. “She’s really an original,” Egan says. “She’s following an internal rudder to territory that’s always fascinating.”
Which is to say, Choi is a writer’s writer: “A lot of people that I have a high opinion of have a high opinion of her,” says another friend, the author Sigrid Nunez. But the public has never quite sunk its teeth into Choi’s work, and she knows this. “By the time American Woman was getting critical accolades,” she says “it was underperforming already.”
According to Roxane Gay in The Nation :
Paul Yoon’s slender novel Snow Hunters is exquisitely written—the kind of book that makes you think, this is the work of a writer’s writer.
According to Emily Bobrow in 1843 :
Why aren’t more people familiar with the work of Sigrid Nunez? At 66, she seems doomed to be a writer’s writer, beloved by a loyal few for her clear, incisive prose, but regrettably overlooked by almost everyone else. Perhaps The Friend – her seventh novel – will change this. The book is an intimate, beautiful thing, deceptively slight at around 200 pages, but humming with insight. After the unexpected suicide of her best friend, a woman becomes the caretaker of the hulking, melancholic Great Dane he left behind. In another writer’s hands this might seem too slim a premise, but Nunez has made her book into an artfully discursive meditation on friendship, love, death, solitude, canine companionship and the life of an aging writer in New York. Far from being heavy going, this novel, written as a letter to the late friend, is peppered with wry observations, particularly those of a writer stuck teaching undergraduates. (Why, for example, do students always describe characters by their eye and hair color, “as if a story is a piece of ID like a driver’s license”?) Like a magpie, Nunez’s heroine plucks wisdom from writers, philosophers and films to weave a story about the search for meaning in dark times.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
According to Hermione Hoby in The Guardian :
[Zadie] Smith also wrote: “Everywhere I’ve gone this past year the talk, amongst bookish people, has been of this Norwegian.” And Knausgaard does indeed seem to have reached a “writer’s writer” status, like that of Marcel Proust, to whom he is most often compared. (Knausgaard has said: “I not only read À la recherche du temps perdu , but virtually imbibed it.”)
According to Sarah Nicole Prickett in Bookforum :
One afternoon I was in the office of a psychoanalyst I know, scanning the alphabetical shelves for a book by Melanie Klein on envy and gratitude, when I glimpsed old copies of Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis (1981) and In the Freud Archives (1984) and saw a chance to get some perspective. Malcolm is a magazine writer’s writer: No journalist of her stature is so frequently discussed among people I know who write “pieces” while being undiscussed by people I know who don’t.
W. G. Sebald
According to Arthur Lubow in The New York Times :
When The Emigrants , his first book to be translated into English, came out in 1996, it won the critical esteem he already enjoyed in German and established him in the English-speaking world as a writer’s writer. Susan Sontag called it “an astonishing masterpiece” that “seems perfect while being unlike any book one has ever read.” In his next book, The Rings of Saturn , he composed a phantasmagoric travelogue across southeastern England. The biographer Richard Holmes, who lives in Norwich and is the author of Footsteps , itself a hybrid of biography and travel writing, calls The Rings of Saturn “a brilliant book and very, very original, with this almost deadpan humor and these wonderful shifts—it’s rather magic.”
According to Rebecca Makkai in an interview with BOMB :
He is indeed a Southern Gentleman, one of the best. And a writer’s writer. When I find another writer who loves David Huddle, we tend to embrace on the spot.
According to Joyce Carol Oates in The New Yorker :
A wonderful writer, whom I first began reading in the nineteen-sixties, when I lived in Ontario, Canada. Alice Munro has always been, among her other attributes, “a writer’s writer”—it is just a pleasure to read her work. And how encouraging to those of us who love short stories that this master of the realistic, “Chekhovian” short story is so honored. In a world so frantically politicized and partisan, the achievement of Alice Munro is truly exceptional.
According to Chris Power in The Guardian :
No living author seems to me less deserving of the term “writer’s writer” and its implication of remote obscurity than Mavis Gallant. In Michael Ondaatje’s words, “among writers she is a shared and loved and daunting secret”, and it seems a telling detail that while she remains too little known, those who read her tend to move, as I did, from ignorance to devotion with uncommon haste.
Breece D’J Pancake
According to Jon Michaud in The New Yorker :
It’s not hard to see why Pancake has become a sort of secular saint for some writers. Writing is an act of faith. Writers face endless rejection, constant self-doubt. For many writers, practicing their art requires a vow of poverty or, at the very least, a vow of doing without. Pancake suffered through all of this and more, and yet he was delivered to the afterlife of publication and acclaim.
Nevertheless, Pancake deserves to be more than a writer’s writer. In his stories, objects are constantly being unearthed: fossils and coal from the earth, skeletons and arrowheads from Indian burial grounds. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake is a sharp, flinty object, an arrowhead left behind by a talented and tragic young author. It would be easy to allow his one collection of stories to be buried under the landslide of books published every year. But it’s worth doing a little excavating to dig it up. The past few years have seen late-in-the-day and posthumous revivals of interest in writers such as Renata Adler, Elena Ferrante, and John Williams. Get out your pickaxes. It’s high time for a Pancake revival.
According to Jennifer Brice in Ploughshares :
Although her work is widely read, Patricia Hampl is also a writer’s writer—lyric, cerebral, a boon companion at any stage of the writer’s journey. The arc of her career parallels the rise of personal writing in America in the past half-century. It may be that the genre most closely associated with memory—“that captivating mystery,” she calls it—chose her, not the other way around. Indeed, she uses the language of surrender to describe her writing process. “I conscripted myself to be the protagonist of these books,” she told National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm in 2007. “As memoir began gaining ground, I realized I was riding this strange tiger.”
According to Amy Hempel in an interview with Antenna :
That talk that Gary Lutz gave a couple of years ago is every bit as important as Diane said. Gary has been an extraordinary “writer’s writer” for years, and as more people read and listen to him, his influence grows. Gary Lutz sounds like nobody else. He is one of the most precise and daring writers I can think of. There are no half-measures in his stance regarding fiction. You can set a course by some of the things he said in that talk, which I think was also published in the Believer . He is always worth reading, and re-reading!
According to Joe Winkler in Vol. 1 Brooklyn :
There’s something of the writer’s writer status in Robert Walser. Read by few since his death, but adored by the right people (Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, W.G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, J.M. Coetzee and, more recently, Ben Lerner, Rivka Galchen and Benjamin Kunkel) there’s something of an in-the-know feel about reading Walser. As his writings become almost completely translated, more and more writers discover this often meek, playful, and secretive artist and feel in the presence of found genius.This status of a writer’s writer speak not only to the act of discovery, the gift of stumbling upon this unknown brilliant person, but also to the nature of the enjoyment. Walser, like other writer’s writers can do so much in one sentence as to floor anybody who values words, sentences, and the basic building blocks of literature.
According to Benjamin Percy in Esquire :
Woodrell has long been considered a world class prose stylist and storyteller: a writer’s writer. Yet despite his acclaimed novels—among them, the darkly brilliant The Death of Sweet Mister (about a deeply troubled mother and son living in a graveyard) and the PEN West–winning Tomato Red (about an out-of-control criminal who tries to make right but always ends up wrong)—he has somehow remained one of American literature’s best-kept secrets. It was not until Winter’s Bone , published in 2006, was adapted into the 2010 Oscar-nominated film about the poor, desperate, and unforgettable Ree Dolly on a mission to save her family and find her meth-cooking father that Woodrell received widespread attention.
Donald E. Westlake
According to Scott Bradfield in the Los Angeles Review of Books :
When the final volley of bullets arrives in The Comedy is Finished , one of the kidnappers tells Koo: “It sounds like the critics found you.” And while it is likely that critics might not have found or appreciated a novel this good even had it been published back in the time it was written, Westlake clearly didn’t care too much about being taken “seriously,” continuing to produce serious-even-when-funny great books in a remarkable career that never ended until he died. Over several decades of calm, passionate literary production, he never wrote a bad sentence or a bad scene, and he produced so many good books that he needed a filing cabinet of pseudonyms just to keep up. Which, come to think of it, may qualify him as that rarest beast of all: the writer’s writer’s writer. There was always too much of him to go around—which means the rest of us have plenty of time to catch up.
According to Alexander Helmintoller in Zyzzyva :
Lerner, who is first and foremost a poet, is a writer’s writer. His first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station , came out to great acclaim in 2011. He is constantly experimenting with form and the limits of plausibility—and breaks these literary conventions by fictionalizing nonfiction—frequently employing apostrophe to blend fiction and nonfiction and to reveal the mechanisms at the writer’s disposal. It is as if we have been invited into a space much more intimate than the writer’s studio: In 10:04 , we observe his relationships, his travel to shameful fertility appointments in which he must provide a “sample” for testing in order that his best friend Alex be able to move forward with intrauterine insemination. We are with the writer as he washes his hands again and again after worrying that his pants (which have touched the D-line train seats) and the remote used to navigate the clinic’s digital library of “visual stimuli” will contaminate his sample. We pass through his life in New York, his residency in Texas, back in time to meet his mentors, and even leap forward into multiple projected futures. So while the novel is largely defined by its lack of unity of plot, the scenes, however far removed they are from each other, stand alone, and are striking in their humor and wit.
According to Charles McGrath in the New York Times :
Thanks in large part to Charles Bukowski, who rediscovered Fante in the late ’70s and helped get him back in print, Bandini’s transparent neediness as a writer has endeared him to generations of younger authors, who turned Ask the Dust into a cult book—a writer’s writer’s novel—though it sold no more than a couple of thousand copies when it first came out.
According to Michelle Dean in The New Republic :
it must have been very hard to actually be Elizabeth Hardwick. Her marriage to Robert Lowell in 1949 brought her both transcendent passion and abject disaster. She spent many years playing his nursemaid, as he was repeatedly committed to mental institutions, and bearing his infidelities as a function of his madness. Perhaps worse, she was in her professional life that double-edged thing, a writer’s writer. She lived in a welter of literary gossip, surrounded by people who managed, by most measures the world cared about, to do more than she did: to write more books, win more awards, attract more readers. Mary McCarthy, Joan Didion, and Susan Sontag all counted as her friends, though she did not become as famous as they did. She managed, somehow, to present her secondary status as evidence of more seriousness. There is always something slightly vulgar, to intellectuals, about worldly success, and Hardwick benefited from the idea that the best fiction, the best criticism truly thrive at a slight remove from the masses.
According to Jonathon Sturgeon in Flavorwire :
The quintessential American writer’s writer, or critic’s writer, or whatever, Steven Millhauser has long excelled at the three major forms of fiction. In 1997 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Martin Dressler, a chimerical 19th century study that discovers Modernist ennui under the turtle shell of the American dream. He has been praised, too, for his novellas, by Jim Shepard and others, who rightly imply that he has more or less mastered the American incarnation of the form—even if, as Millhauser wryly explains it, the novella isn’t a form but a length.
According to Christian Lorentzen (sort of) in Vulture :
A tempting answer to the question of what happened to Fuckhead is that he became his author, who died on May 24, 2017, at age 67, of liver cancer. Sometimes the biographical fallacy isn’t a fallacy, and we know that Johnson spent a lot of his 20s in a haze of alcohol, heroin, and whatever else came his way. He quit drinking in 1978, at age 29, and his first novel, Angels , appeared in 1983. By the time of his death, he was the author of 19 books of fiction, plays, poetry, and reportage—one of which, the Vietnam War novel Tree of Smoke , won the National Book Award in 2007. He’s called a writer’s writer, but his audience is in fact legion. There are people walking around who know his books by heart. You probably know somebody like that.
And since, as we’ve established, the definition of “writer’s writer” is subjective at best, here are still more suggestions from Lucas’s Twitter thread and the writers and readers of the Literary Hub office:
Clarice Lispector, Bruno Schulz, Marie NDaiye, Rachel Cusk, John Keene, Penelope Fitzgerald, Annie Dillard, Marguerite Duras, Marguerite Yourcenar, Violette Leduc, Roberto Bolaño, Carole Maso, William Maxwell, Angela Carter, Oakley Hall, Chester Himes, Elizabeth Tallent, Mary Robison, Tom McCarthy, Lidia Yuknavitch, Vasily Grossman, Sara Gran, Ryu Murakami, Charles Baxter, Andre Dubus, Joseph Roth, James Lasdun, Alexander Chee, Toni Cade Bambara, Georges Perec, Fernando Pessoa, Gayl Jones, Anna Kavan, Kathryn Davis, Kiese Laymon, Amy Hempel, Donald Antrim, Renee Gladman, Anne Carson, Helen DeWitt, James Alan McPherson, George Saunders, Gene Wolfe, Stephen Dixon, Geoff Dyer, Eileen Chang, Muriel Spark, etc. etc. etc.
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What does a writer do?
Would you make a good writer? Take our career test and find your match with over 800 careers.
What is a Writer?
A writer creates written works, such as books, articles, scripts, poetry, or any other form of written content. Writing is a form of expression that allows individuals to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and emotions to an audience through the written word. Writers use their imagination and creativity to develop characters, plots, and themes that engage readers and captivate their attention.
Being a writer requires discipline, dedication, and a passion for writing. Writers often spend hours or even days crafting their work, carefully choosing each word and sentence to convey their message effectively. They must have a strong command of language, grammar, and syntax, as well as the ability to research and organize information. Writers can work in a variety of fields, including journalism, advertising, publishing, and entertainment, and their work can have a significant impact on the world by informing, inspiring, or entertaining audiences.
What does a Writer do?
Writers play an important role in society by using their creativity and imagination to convey ideas, experiences, and perspectives through the written word. They provide us with a window into the past, present, and future, and can challenge our assumptions, expand our horizons, and evoke powerful emotions.
Writers can shape public opinion and influence culture through their works, whether it's through fiction, nonfiction, journalism, or poetry. They can also inspire and empower individuals by giving voice to the marginalized and underrepresented, or by expressing universal truths about the human experience. In short, writers have the power to educate, entertain, and enlighten, and their contributions are invaluable to the enrichment and advancement of society.
Duties and Responsibilities The duties and responsibilities of a writer can vary depending on the specific type of writing they are engaged in, but in general, the following are some of the key duties and responsibilities:
- Research: Writers are often required to conduct extensive research on the subject matter they are writing about. This could involve reading books, articles, and other resources, conducting interviews, and gathering data.
- Planning and organizing: Before starting to write, a writer needs to plan and organize their thoughts and ideas. They must outline the structure of the writing piece, including the main points they want to make, the tone and style they will use, and the intended audience.
- Writing and editing: This is the core duty of a writer. They must write clear, engaging, and concise content that communicates their message effectively. Additionally, writers must edit and proofread their work carefully to ensure that it is free of errors, inconsistencies, and typos.
- Meeting deadlines: Writers must be able to work to deadlines, as they are often working on projects with strict deadlines. They need to manage their time effectively to ensure that they can complete their work on time.
- Collaborating with others: Depending on the type of writing they are doing, writers may need to work collaboratively with other writers, editors, designers, and publishers.
- Staying up-to-date with industry trends: It is essential for writers to stay current with trends and changes in their field. They should read industry publications and attend conferences to stay informed and updated.
- Marketing their work: In many cases, writers are responsible for promoting their work and finding new clients or readers. This involves using social media, creating a website, and networking with other writers and industry professionals.
- Adapting to different formats: Writers may be required to write for different formats, including print, digital, and multimedia. They need to be adaptable and comfortable working with different mediums.
- Maintaining confidentiality: Depending on the nature of the writing project, writers may need to maintain confidentiality about their work, especially if they are writing about sensitive or confidential topics.
- Continuous learning and improvement: Writers should be committed to continuous learning and improvement. They should be open to feedback and willing to learn new skills and techniques to enhance their writing abilities.
Types of Writers There are various types of writers, each with their own unique skills and specialties. Here are some of the most common types of writers and what they do:
- Fiction Writers : Fiction writers create works of imaginative prose, such as novels, short stories, and novellas. They may specialize in specific genres, such as science fiction, romance, or mystery, or they may write across a range of genres. Fiction writers use their creative skills to develop characters, settings, and plots that engage readers and keep them hooked until the end.
- Nonfiction Writers : Nonfiction writers create works of fact-based prose, such as biographies, memoirs, history books, and journalism. They use their research skills to gather information and then use their writing skills to craft engaging and informative narratives that convey the truth about the subject matter.
- Grant Writers : Grant writers prepare grant proposals for non-profit organizations and other entities seeking funding. They must be skilled in writing persuasively and have knowledge of grant writing techniques.
- Academic Writers : Academic writers may write research papers, essays, and other materials for academic publications. They may also work as ghostwriters for academics who need assistance with their writing.
- Screenwriters : Screenwriters write scripts for film. They use their storytelling skills to create compelling characters, plots, and dialogue that translate well to the screen.
- Television Writers : Television writers write scripts for television shows. They create the storylines, characters, and dialogue for each episode, and work with other writers and the production team to ensure the show meets its goals.
- Playwrights : Playwrights are writers who create scripts for plays and theater productions. They develop characters, storylines, and dialogue, and craft scripts that are designed to be performed by actors on stage.
- Speechwriters : Speechwriters write speeches on behalf of others, such as politicians, executives, and public figures. They research and gather information on the subject and the audience, craft compelling messages, and use persuasive language to convey key ideas and points.
- Copywriters : Copywriters write advertising copy, slogans, and other marketing materials. They use their writing skills to create persuasive messages that motivate people to buy products or services. Copywriters must understand the target audience and be able to write in a style that resonates with them.
- Journalists : Journalists write news articles, feature stories, and investigative reports for newspapers, magazines, websites, and other media outlets. Journalistic writing is typically focused on presenting facts and information in a clear and concise manner, often with an emphasis on objectivity and accuracy.
- Technical Writers : Technical writers create user manuals, instructions, and other technical documents. They use their writing skills to make complex technical information accessible to non-experts. Technical writers must have a strong grasp of the subject matter and be able to communicate it clearly and concisely.
- Bloggers : Bloggers create and publish content on a website known as a blog. They typically write about a particular topic or niche and aim to engage with their audience through their writing. Bloggers may also use social media and other platforms to promote their content and build their audience.
- Travel Writers : Travel writers describe the places they have visited and the experiences they had while travelling. Contemporary travel writing includes pieces presented in a blog-style format, providing advice and tips and focusing on must-sees.
- Sports Writers : Sports writers cover sporting events and write about sports topics for newspapers, magazines, websites, or other publications. They attend games, interview athletes and coaches, gather information about statistics and performance, and craft articles that inform, analyze, and entertain readers.
- Ghostwriters : Ghostwriters write books, articles, and other content on behalf of someone else, who is usually credited as the author. Ghostwriters must be able to write in the voice of the credited author and capture their ideas and perspectives accurately.
- Content Writers : Content writers create online content, such as blog posts, articles, and social media posts. They use their writing skills to create engaging and informative content that attracts readers and drives traffic to websites. Content writers must be able to write in a style that is optimized for search engines and social media platforms.
- Poets : Poets write verse, using language in innovative and expressive ways. They may focus on a range of subjects, from personal experience to social issues, and they use imagery, metaphor, and rhythm to convey meaning and emotion. Poets often perform their work in public settings, such as poetry slams or readings.
- Lyricists : Lyricists write the words, or lyrics, to a song. Their primary role is to create poetic and evocative language that complements the melody and helps convey the song's intended meaning or emotion.
- Food Critics : Food critics write reviews and critiques about restaurants, food, and dining experiences. Their reviews can have a significant impact on the success or failure of a restaurant. They may work for newspapers, magazines, websites, or other media outlets.
- Music Critics : Music critics use their writing skills to provide insightful and informed critiques that help listeners understand various musical works in greater depth. They can work for newspapers, magazines, online publications, and radio stations.
Are you suited to be a writer?
Writers have distinct personalities . They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also investigative, meaning they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive.
Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if writer is one of your top career matches.
What is the workplace of a Writer like?
The workplace of a writer can vary greatly depending on their personal preferences and the nature of their work. Some writers prefer the comfort of their own home, where they can create a space that inspires their creativity. They may have a dedicated writing room or a cozy nook with a comfortable chair and a desk where they can work undisturbed. Other writers may find inspiration in public spaces like cafes, libraries, or parks. These places can offer a change of scenery and provide an opportunity to observe the world around them for inspiration.
Regardless of the location, most writers require a quiet environment to concentrate and focus on their work. They may need to block out distractions like noise, social media, or emails. Some writers even use specialized software or apps that can help them stay focused and minimize distractions.
Many writers also require access to research materials and resources, whether physical or digital. They may have a collection of books, articles, or reference materials that they need to consult while working. Some writers rely heavily on online research, utilizing search engines and databases to gather information and inspiration for their writing.
In addition to these practical considerations, many writers also require a supportive and inspiring environment to do their best work. This can include support from family and friends, encouragement from fellow writers or mentors, and opportunities to attend workshops or conferences to improve their craft. Some writers may also benefit from regular exercise, meditation, or other self-care practices to help them stay focused and inspired.
Frequently Asked Questions
Copywriter vs writer.
Copywriting and writing are two distinct professions that involve different types of writing and require different skills and approaches.
Copywriting is a form of writing that focuses on creating persuasive and compelling content for advertising, marketing, and sales purposes. Copywriters are responsible for crafting messages that motivate people to take a specific action, such as making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or visiting a website. Copywriting is typically focused on achieving specific business objectives and is often used in digital marketing, print ads, and other forms of advertising.
On the other hand, writing refers to a much broader field that encompasses a wide range of writing styles and formats, including fiction, non-fiction, journalism, blogging, and more. Writers are generally concerned with creating original, high-quality content that informs, entertains, and educates readers. Writing can be a more creative and exploratory process than copywriting and may involve more in-depth research and character development.
In terms of skills, copywriters need to be skilled in persuasion, research, and marketing, and must be able to write in a concise, clear, and engaging style. Writers, on the other hand, need to have strong storytelling and narrative skills, as well as a strong command of language, grammar, and structure.
While there is some overlap between copywriting and writing, they are two distinct professions that require different skills and approaches. Ultimately, the choice between copywriting and writing will depend on your personal interests, strengths, and career goals.
Writing and Journalism Related Careers and Degrees
- Fiction Writer
- Nonfiction Writer
- Grant Writer
- Academic Writer
- Television Writer
- Technical Writer
- Travel Writer
- Sports Writer
- Content Writer
- Food Critic
- Music Critic
- News Reporter
- News Anchor
- Creative Writing
- Technical Writing
- Children's Literature
- Broadcast Journalism
How long does it take to become a Writer?
Becoming a writer is a highly individualized process, and there is no set timeline for how long it takes to achieve success as a writer. Some writers may achieve success relatively quickly, while others may take years or even decades to establish themselves in the field.
Some factors that can influence how long it takes to become a writer include:
- Natural talent: Some writers may have a natural talent for writing, which can make it easier for them to produce high-quality work quickly.
- Learning curve: For many writers, there is a significant learning curve as they develop their craft and learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry. This can take time and may involve setbacks and failures along the way.
- Persistence and dedication: Becoming a successful writer requires persistence and dedication, as writers must be willing to put in the time and effort necessary to hone their skills and establish themselves in the field.
- Networking: Networking can be an important factor in a writer's success, as it can lead to opportunities for publication, mentorship, and collaboration. Building a strong network of contacts can take time and effort.
- Industry trends: The publishing industry is constantly evolving, and what works for writers today may not be effective in the future. Keeping up with industry trends and adapting to changes can be a lifelong process.
In general, becoming a successful writer is a long-term process. While some writers may achieve success relatively quickly, most will need to invest significant time and effort into their craft to achieve their goals.
Pros and Cons of Being a Writer
Being a writer can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career, but it also has its challenges. Here are some pros and cons to consider if you are thinking about becoming a writer:
- Creative expression: Writing allows you to express yourself and your ideas in a unique way. It can be incredibly fulfilling to share your thoughts and emotions with others through your writing.
- Flexibility: Many writers have the freedom to work from home or choose their own hours. This can be ideal for those who need a flexible schedule due to family or personal commitments.
- Intellectual stimulation: Writing requires research and critical thinking, which can be intellectually stimulating and rewarding.
- Opportunity for growth: Writing is a skill that can be developed and improved over time. With practice and dedication, writers can continue to grow and improve their craft.
- Potential for financial success: Successful writers can earn a comfortable living from their work, whether through book sales, freelance writing, or other opportunities.
- Isolation: Writing can be a solitary activity, which can be challenging for some people. It may require spending long hours alone, which can be difficult for those who thrive on social interaction.
- Rejection: Writing is a competitive field, and rejection is a common experience. This can be discouraging and difficult to handle, especially when facing multiple rejections.
- Uncertainty: Writing can be unpredictable, with no guarantee of financial success or job security. This uncertainty can be stressful and anxiety-inducing for some.
- Self-discipline: Writing requires self-discipline and motivation, as there may be no one else to hold you accountable for your work. This can be challenging for those who struggle with procrastination or self-motivation.
- Perfectionism: Many writers are perfectionists, which can lead to a never-ending cycle of editing and re-writing. This can be exhausting and may prevent writers from ever feeling satisfied with their work.
Writers are also known as: Author
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Nearly two months after the end of the 148-day writers strike , the Writers Guild of America West is taking on Amazon over a number of stalled series.
The guild has accused the streamer of violating its contract after it emerged that Amazon Studios has yet to reconvene writers rooms for several shows that were already underway before the work stoppage earlier this year.
Clarity Or Confusion: New SAG-AFTRA Advance Residual Payment Procedure Rattles Talent Reps
2023-24 episode count & production start plans tweaked for series like ‘grey’s anatomy’, ‘csi: vegas’ & wolf entertainment dramas as strike goes on.
It’s not clear which series are affected or what is preventing the series from getting back up and running but while writers, who are not being paid, are still under contract for Amazon Studios series, they cannot search for other writing work.
A rep for Amazon declined comment.
The streamer has been going through the process of evaluating its pipeline. Just yesterday, three series – The Horror of Dolores Roach, Harlan Coben’s Shelter, and With Love – were canceled .
According to sources, decisions are still being made on which series will be going forward, with calls on restarting writers rooms tied to that.
The Ankler was first to report the news.
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12 Writers Discuss Writing
From the "Writers on Writing" Column in the NYTimes
Astrakan Images//Getty Images
- An Introduction to Punctuation
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
For almost a decade, the "Writers on Writing" column in The New York Times provided professional writers with an opportunity to "talk about their craft."
Two collections of these columns have been published:
- Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times (Times Books, 2001)
- Writers on Writing, Volume II: More Collected Essays from The New York Times (Times Books, 2004).
Although most of the contributors have been novelists, the insights they offer into the process of writing should be of interest to all writers. Here are excerpts from 12 of the authors who have contributed pieces to "Writers on Writing."
Geraldine Brooks "Write what you know. Every guide for the aspiring author advises this. Because I live in a long-settled rural place, I know certain things. I know the feel of a newborn lamb's damp, tight-curled fleece and the sharp sound a well-bucket chain makes as it scrapes on stone. But more than these material things, I know the feelings that flourish in small communities. And I know other kinds of emotional truths that I believe apply across the centuries." (July 2001)
Richard Ford "Beware of writers who tell you how hard they work. (Beware of anybody who tries to tell you that.) Writing is indeed often dark and lonely, but no one really has to do it. Yes, writing can be complicated, exhausting, isolating, abstracting, boring, dulling, briefly exhilarating; it can be made to be grueling and demoralizing. And occasionally it can produce rewards. But it's never as hard as, say, piloting an L-1011 into O'Hare on a snowy night in January, or doing brain surgery when you have to stand up for 10 hours straight, and once you start you can't just stop. If you're a writer, you can stop anywhere, any time, and no one will care or ever know. Plus, the results might be better if you do." (November 1999)
Allegra Goodman "Carpe diem. Know your literary tradition, savor it, steal from it, but when you sit down to write, forget about worshiping greatness and fetishizing masterpieces. If your inner critic continues to plague you with invidious comparisons, scream, 'Ancestor worship!' and leave the building." (March 2001)
Mary Gordon "It's a bad business, this writing. No marks on paper can ever measure up to the word's music in the mind, to the purity of the image before its ambush by language . Most of us awake paraphrasing words from the Book of Common Prayer, horrified by what we have done, what we have left undone, convinced that there is no health in us. We accomplish what we do, creating a series of stratagems to explode the horror. Mine involve notebooks and pens. I write by hand." (July 1999)
Kent Haruf "After finishing the first draft , I work for as long as it takes (for two or three weeks, most often) to rework that first draft on a computer. Usually that involves expansion: filling in and adding to, but trying not to lose the spontaneous, direct sound. I use that first draft as a touchstone to make sure everything else in that section has the same sound, the same tone and impression of spontaneity." (November 2000)
Alice Hoffman "I wrote to find beauty and purpose, to know that love is possible and lasting and real, to see day lilies and swimming pools, loyalty and devotion, even though my eyes were closed and all that surrounded me was a darkened room. I wrote because that was who I was at the core, and if I was too damaged to walk around the block, I was lucky all the same. Once I got to my desk, once I started writing, I still believed anything was possible." (August 2000)
Elmore Leonard "Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said' ... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange." (July 2001)
Walter Mosley "If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. The consistency, the monotony, the certainty, all vagaries and passions are covered by this daily reoccurrence. You don't go to a well once but daily. You don't skip a child's breakfast or forget to wake up in the morning. Sleep comes to you each day, and so does the muse." (July 2000)
William Saroyan "How do you write? You write, man, you write, that's how, and you do it the way the old English walnut tree puts forth leaf and fruit every year by the thousands. ... If you practice an art faithfully, it will make you wise, and most writers can use a little wising up." (1981)
Paul West "Of course the writer cannot always burn with a hard gemlike flame or a white heat, but it should be possible to be a chubby hot-water bottle, rendering maximum attentiveness in the most enterprising sentences." (October 1999)
Donald E. Westlake "In the most basic way, writers are defined not by the stories they tell, or their politics, or their gender, or their race, but by the words they use. Writing begins with language, and it is in that initial choosing, as one sifts through the wayward lushness of our wonderful mongrel English, that choice of vocabulary and grammar and tone , the selection on the palette, that determines who's sitting at that desk. Language creates the writer's attitude toward the particular story he's decided to tell." (January 2001)
Elie Wiesel "Acutely aware of the poverty of my means, language became an obstacle. At every page, I thought, 'That's not it.' So I began again with other verbs and other images. No, that wasn't it either. But what exactly was that it I was searching for? It must have been all that eludes us, hidden behind a veil so as not to be stolen, usurped and trivialized. Words seemed weak and pale." (June 2000)
- revision (composition)
- Explore and Evaluate Your Writing Process
- The Writer's Voice in Literature and Rhetoric
- How to Write a Thank You Note
- How to Write a Response Paper
- Discovery Strategy for Freewriting
- What Is Tone In Writing?
- What E.B. White Has to Say About Writing
- Mood in Composition and Literature
- The Basic Characteristics of Effective Writing
- How Do You Edit an Essay?
- Writers on Reading
- Focusing in Composition
- Outlines for Every Type of Writing Composition
- What Is a Synopsis and How Do You Write One?
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Writing styles may be hard to define, but something separates Hemingway from Steinbeck, Atwood from LeGuin, or Keats from Wordsworth. Though two given writers might dwell on similar themes, every writer expresses a unique writing style, conveyed through elements like word choice, narrative structure, and the author’s own voice.
But what is style in writing? On some level, style is ineffable. It’s also emergent: when you parse the elements of writing styles, you lose something that lives in how you put them together.
This article provides tips for honing style in your own work. We’ll analyze the different types of writing styles, look at examples of different writing styles from famous authors, and suggest different ways to experiment in your own work.
But first, let’s clarify what we mean when we say “writing styles.” What is style in writing?
What is Style in Writing?
Think of writing style as the author’s thumbprint—a unique and indelible mark on the voice and personality of the work. If a writer’s work is a house, style is what adorns that house: the window blinds, the doormat, the freshly painted eaves.
Style is like an author’s thumbprint—a unique and indelible mark on the voice and personality of the work.
Authors doesn’t only hone their style deliberately: writing styles emerge as a result of dedication, the author’s own personality, and a continuous experimentation with language and meaning.
To illustrate what we mean by style, let’s compare two examples of different writing styles from two different works of fiction. Each excerpt talks about the same dilemma—the endurance of memory—but approaches that dilemma in uniquely stylish ways.
“Perhaps you have forgotten. That’s one of the great problems of our modern world, you know. Forgetting. The victim never forgets. Ask an Irishman what the English did to him in 1920 and he’ll tell you the day of the month and the time and the name of every man they killed. Ask an Iranian what the English did to him in 1953 and he’ll tell you. His child will tell you. His grandchild will tell you. And when he has one, his great-grandchild will tell you too. But ask an Englishman—” He flung up his hands in mock ignorance. “If he ever knew, he has forgotten. ‘Move on!’ you tell us. ‘Move on! Forget what we’ve done to you. Tomorrow’s another day!’ But it isn’t, Mr. Brue.” He still had Brue’s hand. “Tomorrow was created yesterday, you see. That is the point I was making to you. And by the day before yesterday, too. To ignore history is to ignore the wolf at the door.”
—John le Carré, A Most Wanted Man
Compare this with the following excerpt:
“The ones who did it can always rationalize their actions and even forget what they did. They can turn away from things they don’t want to see. But the surviving victims can never forget. They can’t turn away. Their memories are passed on from parent to child. That’s what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.”
—Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
Each quote addresses a similar theme : how the perpetrators forget, but the victims always remember, and how that remembering shapes the world. Yet they approach the topic in different ways. John le Carré illustrates his point by examining historical, world-altering events. He uses dialogue and describes the gestures of his characters to punctuate his ideas, and he ends by suggesting that, if we do not remember, then we are infinitely more vulnerable to the metaphorical “wolf at the door.”
Haruki Murakami, by contrast, uses far fewer words to illustrate the same idea. His sentences are less laden with imagery and description; they are merely vehicles to his conclusion that the world is “an endless battle of contrasting memories.”
Each author takes his own route, and each excerpt will connect with the reader in different ways. Such differences in expression are the essence of style. Writing styles showcase how a writer reaches their point, encompassing the totality of the author’s word choice, sentence structures, use of literary devices, etc. It is the gestalt of every decision, both conscious and unconscious, that the writer makes in the text.
What Authors Say About Writing Style
Before we move on, let’s illustrate this point about authors’ writing styles in another way: different quotes from authors on writing styles themselves.
- “Style is the dress of thoughts; and let them be ever so just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will appear to as much disadvantage.” —Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield
- “When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man.” —Blaise Pascal
- “The essence of a sound style is that it cannot be reduced to rules–that it is a living and breathing thing with something of the devilish in it–that it fits its proprietor tightly yet ever so loosely, as his skin fits him. It is, in fact, quite as seriously an integral part of him as that skin is. . . . In brief, a style is always the outward and visible symbol of a man, and cannot be anything else.” —H.L. Mencken
- “You do not create a style. You work, and develop yourself; your style is an emanation from your own being.” —Katherine Anne Porter
- “Style is that which indicates how the writer takes himself and what he is saying. It is the mind skating circles around itself as it moves forward.” —Robert Frost
- “Style is what unites memory or recollection, ideology, sentiment, nostalgia, presentiment, to the way we express all that. It’s not what we say but how we say it that matters.” —Federico Fellini
- “Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of style.” —Jonathan Swift
- “The web, then, or the pattern, a web at once sensuous and logical, an elegant and pregnant texture: that is style.” —Robert Louis Stevenson
- “Thought and speech are inseparable from each other. Matter and expression are parts of one; style is a thinking out into language.” —Cardinal John Henry Newman
- “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” —Stephen King
- “It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.” —P.D. James
Elements of Writing Styles
Every author makes key decisions about their writing, and those decisions build over time into a cohesive writing style. What decisions do they have to make? In other words, what are the elements of writing styles?
Creative writing styles are honed through a combination of the following:
- Word choice
- Economy and concision
- Literary devices
- Context and purpose
- The author’s location, time period, and influences
Let’s explore each element in detail.
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Elements of Writing Styles: Word Choice
Also called diction, word choice refers to the artistic decisions a writer makes in choosing one word over another, and how those decisions affect the meaning, mood , tone , and ideas conveyed to the reader.
Word choice refers to the artistic decisions a writer makes in choosing one word over another, and how those decisions affect the meaning, mood, tone, and ideas conveyed to the reader.
Take a look at the following two example sentences. Only one word has been changed in each sentence, and those words are synonyms, but the changed word has a huge impact on the way each sentence is read.
- The Union beat The Confederacy during the American Civil War.
- The Union subjugated The Confederacy during the American Civil War.
As you can see, changing “beat” to “subjugated” affects every part of the sentence. The sentence moves from neutral and informative to passionate and descriptive; the idea, once impartial, now comes across as heavily invested in the outcome of the Civil War. A word like “subjugated” transmits to the reader that the Union was extremely powerful, even suggesting that the Confederacy was a victim of the North.
Small details such as word choice can have huge impacts on writing styles. Another important element to consider is syntax.
Elements of Writing Styles: Syntax
Syntax refers to sentence structure—how rearranging the order of words impacts the meaning transmitted to the reader. It is closely related to diction, but where diction is concerned with the choice of words, syntax is concerned with the arrangement of those words, as well as the length and complexity of sentences.
Syntax is concerned with the arrangement of words, as well as the length and complexity of sentences.
Much of syntax is innately learned, especially to native English speakers. For example, an English sentence is typically constructed with the subject first, and then the verb, followed by the object of that verb. See below:
- The quick brown fox (subject) jumped (verb) over the lazy dog (object).
If the daring writer wanted to complicate this syntactical order, they might write “Over the lazy dog, the quick brown fox jumped.” Of course, such experimentations can prove dangerous, as the reader might misinterpret that construction, or read it as shallow or pretentious.
Nonetheless, paying close attention to the structure, length, and word order of sentences can allow writers to develop their writing styles. Here are some other ways one might experiment with syntax:
- Structure (active to passive): The lazy dog was jumped over by the quick brown fox.
- Length : The fox jumped over the dog. OR: The quick, sly, and daring fox jumped right over the lazy and motionless dog.
- Word order : The brown fox jumped quickly over the dog lying lazily.
Notice how each of these syntactical changes affect the rhythm, meaning, and style of the sentences. Some changes certainly worsen the effect of the sentence.
A final element of syntax is punctuation. Commas, colons, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods each have their own specific use in English grammar. How the author decides to use each punctuation mark contributes to the overall style of their sentences.
Elements of Writing Styles: Economy and Concision
All stylish writers know how to use economy and concision. They know how to use fewer words, not more, and they know how to make every word count.
There are certainly rules and guidelines for concise writing. The economic writer knows to:
- Avoid adverbs.
- Use strong, visual verbs.
- Employ prepositions sparingly.
- Only use adjectives when necessary.
- Stay inside the active voice, unless the passive is necessary.
- Provide only the important details.
Later in this article, we dive deeper into concision. Nonetheless, let’s demonstrate this key facet of writing styles.
Here’s a simple, effective sentence:
We careened from California to Maine.
The wordy writer has many reasons to make this sentence more complicated. Perhaps the reader does need more information. But, the writer might also be insecure about their own writing, or else they might think every detail needs to be ornate (a tactic called purple prose ). Here’s the above sentence, written wordier. In parentheses are the rules broken from the list above.
We were driven (5) swiftly (1) and without (3) direction in (3) our little blue Chevy (4, 6), somehow (1) finding (2) our way from California to Maine.
Perhaps the little blue Chevy is important to the story. It does add some personality to the people in the car. Otherwise, this sentence is haphazard, conveying too much to the reader in too many words.
Elements of Writing Styles: Literary Devices
Literary devices are specific writing techniques that forge novel connections and possibilities in language. You are probably familiar with common devices, like metaphors and similes . However, there is a wide range of devices available to creative writers, from the hyperbole to the synecdoche, from the onomatopoeia to the paranomasia .
In any work of creative writing, literary devices are essential to both the author’s meaning and their writing style.
In any work of creative writing, literary devices are essential to both the author’s meaning and their writing style. Sometimes, the device is confined to a single sentence in the text. Other times, various elements of the writing—its plot , characters, and settings—act as metaphors for broader ideas and themes.
Here’s an example of a metaphor that’s daring, stylish, and effective:
“Love is so embarrassing. I bled in your bed. I’m sorry. I have built you a shore with all my best words & still, the waves.”
Out of Bound by Claire Schwartz
This is a striking metaphor, heartbreaking in its imagery. The speaker laments at the imperfectness of love and language: how, no matter how carefully and precisely a lover chooses the words they use to love another, those words are, inevitably, broken down by “the waves.” What do those waves represent? Perhaps the limits of language—the ever-present gap between what is spoken and what is understood. In the same way that love is modified by language, the shore is always modified by the waves.
Many stylistic decisions go into the construction of literary devices, including:
- Which devices are used.
- The images used to convey deeper meanings.
- The word choice and syntax of those devices.
Indeed, the construction of literary devices is closely related to syntax and word choice, but the way that the writer employs those devices and makes connections and comparisons is key to honing an author’s writing style.
To learn more, check out our articles on common literary devices and rhetorical devices .
Elements of Writing Styles: Context and Purpose
While an author’s writing style is the product of their own artistic integrity, some creative writing styles develop in relation to the context and purpose of the writing itself.
Some creative writing styles develop in relation to the context and purpose of the writing itself.
For example, an author might choose to write a murder mystery novel, a middle grade fiction book, and a historical account of the Sino-Japanese War. Each publication would have its own unique writing style, because the writing serves a different purpose in each book, and the author will have to write towards different audiences. We’ll explore this shortly when we look at the different types of writing styles.
In creative writing, the question of audience can matter a great deal. You would not want someone with a hard-boiled writing style to publish a romance novel in the same voice, nor would you expect a law critic to write poetry using the same word choice.
While audience should not define the author’s style and intent, it is a necessary consideration in the editing process before a work is published.
It is also important to note that there are different types of writing styles for different contexts. Let’s review those briefly.
Different Types of Writing Styles
In standard rhetorical analysis, there are four different types of writing styles: narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and expository. We mention a fifth style, the creative style, because certain decisions and elements are available to creative works that are not usually available to other writing styles.
Narrative Writing Styles
At its simplest, narrative is a synonym for storytelling . As such, narrative writing styles employ certain storytelling tactics to communicate a plot with characters, settings , and themes.
Narrative writing styles employ storytelling tactics to communicate a plot with characters, settings, and themes.
Here’s an example of a narrative writing style, which seeks to communicate the essential details for a reader to understand the story:
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.
I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.” —Opening lines of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
These two paragraphs give us the essentials. We know that the narrator is a child with an unkind family (character), that they live somewhere bleak and chilly (setting), and that the speaker has been made to feel inferior to her peers (theme).
Narrative writing styles are commonly used in the following:
- Creative nonfiction
- Narrative poetry
- Legal writing
- Marketing and brand development
Descriptive Writing Styles
Descriptive writing seeks to evoke sensory experiences. This type of writing concerns itself with the effective use of imagery , including non-visual forms of imagery like sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and kinesthetic and organic images.
Descriptive writing seeks to evoke sensory experiences.
Here’s an example of a descriptive writing style, which uses imagery and other devices to reconstruct a particular sensory experience through language:
“The flower shop was here and it was my father’s domain, but it was also marvelously other, this place heavy with the drowsy scent of velvet-petaled roses and Provencal freesias in the middle of winter, the damp-earth spring fragrance of just-watered azaleas and cyclamen all mixed up with the headachey smell of bitter chocolate.” —Patricia Hempl, excerpt from The Florist’s Daughter
The writer employs a variety of images, scents, and comparisons to describe the sensual intensity of the flower shop. Details of the shop’s setting, smells, and the narrator’s relationship to the shop itself combine to make this an effective, descriptive passage.
Descriptive writing styles are commonly used in the following:
- Medical writing
Persuasive Writing Styles
Persuasive writing wants to change your mind. By employing logic, argumentation, and various rhetorical strategies, persuasive writers seek to convince you that their argument or interpretation prevails.
Persuasive writing wants to change your mind.
Here’s an example of a persuasive writing style, which uses rhetorical strategies to convince you about a certain worldview:
“Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don’t know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetual recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare.” —James Baldwin, excerpt from Giovanni’s Room
In addition to Baldwin’s lyrical prose style, key elements of this passage try to persuade the reader of the narrator’s worldview. “Garden of Eden” and “flaming sword” are strong visual metaphors, and setting up this worldview as a binary (people who remember or forget) encourages the reader to sort people into one of two categories. While persuasive writing styles usually come off as confident, the narrator’s admission that he doesn’t precisely know the answer to this conundrum helps humanize the conflict he’s debating. Certainly, this is a depressing worldview, and one which the reader is free to disagree with, but the strategies Baldwin takes in constructing this paragraph are certainly compelling.
Persuasive writing styles are commonly used in the following:
Expository Writing Styles
Expository writing wants to tell you about something as neutrally as possible. The goal is to be informative: by conveying something with as little bias and interpretation, expository writing styles stick to the facts. Do note that bias is universal: it is nearly impossible for any text to remove itself from bias completely.
Expository writing wants to tell something as neutrally as possible.
Here’s an example of an expository writing style, which conveys facts in a linear and digestible paragraph:
“On June 13, 1910, Arthur James Balfour lectured the House of Commons on ‘the problems with which we have to deal in Egypt.’ These, he said, ‘belong to a wholly different category’ than those ‘affecting the Isle of Wight or the West Riding of Yorkshire.’ He spoke with the authority of a long-time member of Parliament, former private secretary to Lord Salisbury, former chief secretary for Ireland, former secretary for Scotland, former prime minister, veteran of numerous overseas crises, achievements, and changes.” —Edward W. Said, excerpt from Orientalism
This opening passage of Orientalism sets the scene factually: we learn the time period, some geopolitical issues, and a main actor in all of these events. Yes, the passage does play up the significance of Arthur James Balfour and his many accolades, but this, too, is expository description, letting the reader know exactly who and what we are dealing with.
Expository writing styles are commonly used in the following:
Creative Writing Styles
Creative writing styles combine the previous four types: a creative writer can employ narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and expository strategies in their work. You may have noticed that creative genres, like fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, routinely show up under the categories of writing that employ the above four styles. This is because authors must employ a variety of strategies to tell effective stories.
Creative writers can employ narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and expository strategies in their work.
But, in addition to employing the previous four styles, creative writing also seeks to experiment and find new, artistic possibilities in language. Poetry is an obvious example, as the use of stanzas and line breaks affects how the language is read and interpreted. But there are also countless examples of experimentation in prose, from the use of stream of consciousness to the Oulipian n+7 .
Here’s an example:
“I turned out the light and went into my bedroom, out of the gasoline but I could still smell it. I stood at the window the curtains moved slow out of the darkness touching my face like someone breathing asleep, breathing slow into the darkness again, leaving the touch. After they had gone up stairs Mother lay back in her chair, the camphor handker- chief to her mouth. Father hadn’t moved he still sat beside her holding her hand the bellowing hammering away like no place for it in silence When I was little there was a picture in one of our books, a dark place into which a single weak ray of light came slanting upon two faces lifted out of the shadow. You know what I’d do if I were King? she never was a queen or a fairy she was always a king or a giant or a general I’d break that place open and drag them out and I’d whip them good It was torn out, jagged out. I was glad.” —Excerpt from The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
This is, of course, a highly literary and experimental piece of writing, but it demonstrates something distinct to creative writing styles. The italicized portions of text are streams of consciousness—moments where the reader has direct access to the unfiltered thoughts, images, and memories flowing through the character’s mind. Understanding these passages requires close attention to the text, as well as several re-reads. While creative writing styles can be far simpler than this, the point is that a creative writer takes great liberties to experiment with language, in ways distinct to creative writing, which seek to mine the wide varieties of the human experience.
Creative writing styles are commonly used in the following:
- Lyric essays
- Creative journalism
Elements of Writing Styles: The Author’s Location, Time Period, and Influences
Lastly, writers are undeniably influenced by their location, time period, and literary influences. For example, if you’ve ever read a poem or novel from Victorian Era England, you know that the Victorian writers (like the Brontës, Charles Dickens, or Percy Bysshe Shelley) often wrote in elaborate and flowery language. By modern standards, Victorian writing styles might seem overwrought; but, that style was influenced by the era’s appreciation for emotional intensity, as well as the tendency to pay writers per-word.
Writing Styles: Examples and Analyses
Let’s take a look at three writing styles examples. For each writer, we will examine how various stylistic strategies affect the overall mood and interpretation of the text, while also discussing that writer’s influences and likely intent. All examples come from published works of classic literature.
Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Style
Ernest Hemingway once wrote “A writer’s style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous. The greatest writers have the gift of brilliant brevity, are hard workers, diligent scholars and competent stylists.” Hemingway’s writing style certainly lives up to this quote, as his words are often simple, direct, and unadorned.
Here’s an excerpt from his short story “ A Clean, Well-Lighted Place .”
It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.”Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.
“He was in despair.”
“How do you know it was nothing?”
“He has plenty of money.”
Hemingway’s writing style seeks to dispense the precise amount of information necessary for the reader, without any garnishment. Notice the details he provides: the exact time does not matter, only that “it was very late.” Notice, also, a similar pattern with the dialogue. People generally don’t speak in such clipped sentences, but the characters of this story speak to give just enough context for the story’s themes.
Additionally, the visual details, such as the dew settling the dust and the shadows of leaves against the electric light, evoke the sensation of a space that’s quiet and comforting, if also a little bit eerie.
Notice, also, the general lengths of the sentences. The first paragraph is built on longer sentences and clauses, which inevitably juxtaposes sensory details (an old man in the shadow of leaves cast by an electric light.) The effect of these sentences is that time feels slower, as the reader’s focus is on the kaleidoscope of details paused in this one moment in a quiet café.
Finally, pay attention to the lack of pretensity in Hemingway’s word choice. While the story itself deals with complex themes, including the question of nihilism, the language itself is simple, direct, and accessible.
Hemingway got his start in writing as a journalist, then as a short story writer, both of which certainly influenced his economic style. He famously coined the “Iceberg Theory,” which describes writing that focuses on surface-level details without explicitly analyzing underlying themes, rather implying those themes for the reader to interpret. Hemingway was also greatly influenced by World Wars I and II, and his writing style may have been a reaction to these wars, eschewing the flowery language of pre-war literature for a hardened, masculine style.
Toni Morrison’s Writing Style
A master of voice and character, Toni Morrison’s writing style borrows heavily from vernacular, from history, and from her own unique relationship to analogies and metaphors. Morrison frequently plays with sentence lengths and imagery, but her writing never fails to be compelling, lyrical, and delicious to read.
Here’s an excerpt from Recitatif , her only published short story:
My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick. That’s why we were taken to St. Bonny’s. People want to put their arms around you when you tell them you were in a shelter, but it really wasn’t bad. No big long room with one hundred beds like Bellevue. There were four to a room, and when Roberta and me came, there was a shortage of state kids, so we were the only ones assigned to 406 and could go from bed to bed if we wanted to. And we wanted to, too. We changed beds every night and for the whole four months we were there we never picked one out as our own permanent bed.It didn’t start out that way. The minute I walked in and the Big Bozo introduced us, I got sick to my stomach. It was one thing to be taken out of your own bed early in the morning—it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race. And Mary, that’s my mother, she was right. Every now and then she would stop dancing long enough to tell me something important and one of the things she said was that they never washed their hair and they smelled funny. Roberta sure did. Smell funny, I mean. So when the Big Bozo (nobody ever called her Mrs. Itkin, just like nobody ever said St. Bonaventure)—when she said, “Twyla, this is Roberta. Roberta, this is Twyla. Make each other welcome.” I said, “My mother won’t like you putting me in here.”
Both lyrical and conversational, Morrison’s style simply makes you want to read more. Pay attention to two things:
One, the lengths of these sentences. Morrison routinely switches from short sentences to longer ones, partially to emphasize important details in short sentences, and partially to keep the pace of the story engaging. The alternation of short and long sentences mirrors a conversational storytelling style.
Two, the childlike voice behind the narration. It is clear that the narrator is a child. Despite being directly stated, this fact is also obvious when certain elements of word choice are analyzed. Phrases like “smell funny” and “Big Bozo” clue the reader towards a speaker whose words and observations are that of a child.
One thing that’s absent from these paragraphs, but very much present in Morrison’s writing style, is the use of surprising comparisons (similes, metaphors, and analogies). This example comes later in “Recitatif”:
“I used to dream a lot and almost always the orchard was there. Two acres, four maybe, of these little apple trees. Hundreds of them. Empty and crooked like beggar women when I first came to St. Bonny’s but fat with flowers when I left.”
The simile “empty and crooked like beggar women” might be shocking to the reader, but it provides great insight into the personality of the narrator. This sentence is also ripe with foreshadowing , since the trees were “fat with flowers” when the narrator leaves St. Bonny’s.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Writing Style
One of America’s most influential writers, Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry and fiction forged new possibilities in the written word. Poe’s writing is often dark, gothic, and tinged with insanity, and his style reflects the problems that haunt his protagonists. Notice how psychosis influences Poe’s writing style in this excerpt from “ The Tell-Tale Heart :”
Poe adapts his style quite well to write a character who is clearly self-aggrandizing and obsessed with his own genius. The storytelling here has lots of repetition , such as “slowly—very, very slowly” and “cautiously-oh, so cautiously—cautiously” which makes the narrator sound in love with his own voice. And, it takes a while for the reader to understand what the narrator is doing, as his erratic behavior, like poking his head into the door for an hour, goes without a clear explanation.
Nonetheless, this writing is typical of Poe’s Gothic style. The use of words like “madman,” “midnight,” “vulture,” and “Evil Eye” give this story the grim moodiness characteristic of Poe’s writing. Additionally, the frequent use of em dashes and lengthy sentences propels the reader slowly, as we come to understand every minute detail that forms the totality of this character’s psychosis. This methodical, psychological writing style helps define Poe as a master of mystery and suspense.
Tips for Honing Your Own Author’s Writing Style
Writing styles develop with time, and there’s no singular thing any writer can do to hone their style. Rather, an attentiveness to language and a willingness to experiment are the best things you can do for yourself as you hone your author’s writing style. Nonetheless, here’s 7 pieces of advice for anyone who wants to write with style, flare, and confidence.
1. Creative Writing Styles: Experiment with Language and Syntax
Take risks in your writing. Be unconventional, and don’t always go for the expected word or phrase. Style doesn’t develop from playing it safe—it develops from making active decisions in the words you use to express your ideas.
What do we mean by taking risks? Here’s an example of a risky sentence, from poet Eduardo C. Corral: “Moss intensifies up the tree, like applause.”
This is a daring comparison: we don’t often think of moss “intensifying,” and so that verb already seems strange and risky. But then the moss itself is compared to applause, so now the visual cue of intensifying moss is being compared to intensifying sound. The product of this simile is that we see moss blooming and expanding across the tree, which makes this an effective and stylish sentence—but there’s a level of risk, faith, and skill involved in making this simile work .
Taking risks allows you to see what works and what doesn’t in your writing. So make bold comparisons! End your paragraphs with em-dashes! Try using four different languages in a single sentence!
Just be sure to review your work after and assess what does and doesn’t work for the reader. And, when you’re not sure what to do, try doing the complete opposite of what seems intuitive. You might find a short sentence works better than a long one, for example.
2. Creative Writing Styles: Experiment with Writing Forms
Creative writing styles often adapt to the form of the writing itself. For example, genre writing styles vary from genre to genre. You wouldn’t expect a writer of hard-boiled noir to have the same terse, simplistic style when writing romance fiction (although I would love to read that).
As you hone your writing style, experiment reading and writing in different forms. Pay attention to how the form demands you to make different stylistic decisions. The words you choose in a love sonnet will be different from the words you choose in a flash essay about your childhood. And, certainly, your sentence lengths will differ when you’re writing literary fiction versus speculative fiction .
Getting into the habit of making these stylistic decisions, and paying attention to those decisions, will help you create a mental framework for the ways you approach writing. Such is the nature of style development.
3. Creative Writing Styles: Consider Character
Character development is an essential part of fiction writing, and it will naturally affect the style you use to write. If you’re writing in first person or third person limited, then your protagonist’s personality will affect everything, because their worldview tinges the way you tell their story. Key observational details and thought processes from main characters naturally bleed into the style of the writing itself.
You can see this in action in the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. His second novel, The Beautiful and Damned , is written from the third person limited point of view of Anthony Patch, an unambitious libertine whose personality is defined by wry cynicism and a rigid belief in the purposelessness of life. These personality traits often affect the storytelling, as the reader sees the world through Anthony’s eyes, and thus trudges through a lot of Anthony’s ironic commentary and disdain for others.
Fitzgerald’s next novel, The Great Gatsby , is completely different, both tonally and stylistically. Written from the first person point of view of Nick Carraway, an optimistic bond salesman who wants to immerse himself in the high society of New York’s nouveau riche. Much of the style is poetic and introspective, honing in on the creative chaos of the Jazz Age and the tragedy of the American Dream.
For your own writing, alter your style to reflect the traits of your characters. Style reflects personality, and the person narrating your fiction will certainly want to tell their story in their own way.
4. Creative Writing Styles: Omit Needless Words
While style can take many forms, one thing that all good author’s writing styles have in common is an economy of language. In other words, no word in good writing is excessive or unnecessary. To sharpen your own style, you must omit needless words.
What does that look like? There are two ways to omit needless words: striking out redundancies, and rewriting phrases.
Here’s two examples. First, let’s look at redundancy. A redundancy is when you communicate something multiple times without refining the meaning of your words. Here’s a redundant sentence:
“The girl vaulted over the large gray boulder.”
Nothing is explicitly wrong with this sentence, but several words are giving repeat information. You don’t need the word “over,” because to vault means to jump over something. And, you don’t need the word “large,” because a boulder is, by definition, large. Finally, most rocks are gray, and the word “gray” isn’t offering much useful detail.
A much cleaner sentence would simply be “the girl vaulted the boulder.”
Another example is to rewrite phrases. If you don’t think about your words, it’s easy to communicate something in 10 words when 2 will do. Here’s another example sentence:
“She worked many long hours in order to secure a trade deal with the company.”
God, doesn’t that just read like a corporate memo? It’s passively worded and nondescript. Isolate any phrase in this sentence, and it can be truncated into something much more straightforward. Be sure to avoid phrases like “in order to”—simply “to” will always suffice.
Here’s a cleaner sentence: “She hustled to secure the Nike trade deal.”
Lastly, some categories of words are better than others. Nouns and verbs are necessary for understanding the action of a sentence. Adjectives should be used sparingly, and only when that description is necessary for the reader. Adverbs, which modify verbs, should only be used when there isn’t a sharper verb. For example, “breathing heavily” is much better written as “panting.”
For more advice, check out our article on how to omit needless words .
5. Creative Writing Styles: Read Like a Writer
How do published writers write so well? What did they do to craft such artful sentences, effective plots, or in-depth characters? While you can certainly learn these tricks by taking a writing class , you can also learn them by reading like a writer.
Reading like a writer means paying attention to the construction of a piece of literature and thinking about why that writing works. We did a little bit of this when we examined the above writing styles examples. By examining the elements of writing styles—word choice, sentence structure, character and voice, etc.—we paid attention to what makes each excerpt an effective piece of writing.
Employ those same strategies in the work you read. If there’s an author you like or whose style you admire, pay attention to what makes that style effective. And don’t be afraid to emulate that style in your own work: writers often borrow from each other’s styles and strategies to hone their own voice.
6. Creative Writing Styles: Study Poetry
The writing styles tips in this article primarily pertain to prose writers. But, whether you’re writing poetry, prose, or some secret third thing, reading poetry is essential to honing style.
Poets are masters of language. They know how to build tension, pacing, and rhythm in their sentences. They know how to make that tension correspond with what they’re writing about. They manipulate vowel sounds, constants, tools like rhyme and meter, and a whole other host of poetic devices to move their readers.
Writing poetry is its own separate challenge. Prose writers don’t need to write poetry to master their writing styles. But they absolutely should study poetry. What makes language beautiful? What makes a poem concise? How does the flow of a sentence accentuate its meaning? Asking these questions and listening to the poets will help you experiment in your own pages.
7. Creative Writing Styles: Write Every Day
The key to honing your style is to write every day. A diligent writing practice will train your brain to think about language and make continuous stylistic choices in your work. Even if you can only manage 10 minutes a day on a writing project, or even if you just keep a writing journal, the simple practice of putting thoughts to words and words to pages will naturally sharpen the personality you put into your writing.
Hone Your Own Writing Style at Writers.com
One last piece of advice on writing styles is to read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. You can find a free copy of it online here . Most of the advice in this book has remained true in the many decades since its publication, and while rules are certainly made to be broken, you should understand the rules first before breaking them.
Want clear, direct feedback on your writing styles and the other elements of your work? Take a look at any of the upcoming creative writing classes at Writers.com! Our instructors are masters of the craft and know how to sharpen your words so that they zing across the page.
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How ‘Terms of Endearment’ Brought a Mother and Daughter Closer
A writer remembers bonding with her mother over the film’s unusual mix of sorrow and laughter, a blend that helped immeasurably through painful loss.
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By Dina Gachman
Anyone who remembers the heft of a phone book or the twist of a landline cord probably has some memory of watching Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) climb into her baby’s crib to make sure her peacefully sleeping daughter is still alive. Or maybe your mind goes to the scene in which the pearl-clutching Aurora and her Lothario-with-a-heart-of-gold neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), speed down a Texas beach in his convertible, hair tousled and libidos charged.
I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a perfect film, since one person’s “Jaws” is another’s “Rules of the Game,” but I would argue that 40 years after its release, “ Terms of Endearment ,” directed by James L. Brooks and based on a Larry McMurtry novel, comes pretty close.
McMurtry’s 1975 book received mixed reviews, although a Times critic wrote that he “can write up a mess and still win you over with it.” The story, available on most major platforms , hinges on the relationship between Aurora, a wealthy Houston widow, and her rebellious daughter, Emma (Debra Winger). It moves swiftly from that now iconic crib scene to Emma’s troubled marriage to the pretentious, adulterous Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels). Thanks to his job (and his ego), Emma is forced to leave her beloved Texas for Iowa and then Nebraska. Flap is a guy who uses words like “quisling” and blames “pregnancy paranoia” for his wife’s cheating accusations. Those two things alone should explain why Aurora despises her son-in-law.
Then there’s the unexpected turn after the halfway mark. I first watched “Terms of Endearment” as a teenager in Houston sitting at home with my cinema-loving mom. I had never seen a movie with scenes about a lump in a woman’s armpit, or a cancer diagnosis, or a desperate, grief-stricken mother crying out for medication for her child. As wrenching as those moments were, the comedy and the tears blended in a way I had never experienced as a viewer. Even years before deep loss came into my own life, that delicate balance of pain and humor seemed right. It felt true.
We watched the movie together repeatedly over the years, and each time my mom and I bonded over our love of Aurora’s hilarious brand of cantankerous Southern belle (even though the character had originated in New England). We related to the mother-daughter dynamic of wanting to murder each other one moment, and cuddling in bed giggling the next. Since we knew the neighborhood Aurora lived in, the affluent River Oaks, we felt a kinship with the characters, as if they existed within our universe. We also agreed that you would never drive along a Texas beach from River Oaks to go eat at Brennan’s since they’re about five miles apart and the only nearby water was a bayou, but we let that cinematic cheat slide.
Mostly, we bonded over the film’s message that levity and sorrow can, and should, coexist. I hesitate to even call it a “message” though, because there’s nothing heavy-handed about the way it’s delivered. The theme is just part of the fabric of the movie, like Aurora’s petal pink décor or Emma’s messiness. It exists in the performances, the score and, of course, the writing. When a doctor tells Aurora, “I always hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” she shoots back, “And they let you get away with that?” MacLaine delivers the line with the perfect blend of bitchiness and a mother’s protective, powerful love for her child.
Brooks, a creator of television classics like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Taxi,” saw something in McMurtry’s “mess,” and spent four years trying to get the movie greenlit. “Somebody sent me a book that I had a real reaction to,” Brooks said in a 1983 interview . Nicholson signed on to play the retired astronaut Breedlove because of the complexity of the relationships and because the script made him cry. At the time, Brooks said the adaptation of the novel ended up being the toughest thing he had ever written.
The struggle paid off. “Terms of Endearment,” initially rejected by studios that thought audiences wouldn’t want to see a movie in which a main character dies, was nominated for 11 Oscars. It won five, including best director and best picture, which no doubt made Paramount happy it took the risk. MacLaine and Nicholson also won Oscars. In addition to the acclaim, the film became a cultural touchstone. When I recently asked people what they remembered about the movie, I received a barrage of replies like, “Oh, how I bawled!” and “That opening scene!” Not one person said it was too sad.
Despite my love for the film, I avoided watching it over the past eight years until this summer. Some people love sad movies the same way others crave horror. We get to experience emotions that we typically tamp down and avoid. It wasn’t that I had been avoiding sadness, but that I’d had too much of it. I didn’t need any help channeling a good sob session.
My mom, who adored the film as much as I did, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2015, and she died in 2018. How could I possibly sit through the scene where a distraught Aurora screams at the hospital staff to give her daughter the medicine? How could I continue breathing when Emma gives that little wave to her mother near the end?
For several years, I couldn’t fathom enduring any of it, but then something shifted. I missed the movie and those complex relationships that made Nicholson cry. Why should grief ruin my ability to watch something I love? Or maybe I decided to watch it again because I’m a masochist. Whatever the reason, I didn’t want to lose this film I cherished or to give up on the scenes that filled me with such joy, just because I feared the tears.
In Richard Schickel’s 1983 Time magazine review , he wrote, “The impulse in praising a film for which there are almost no analogies is to define it by what it is not, but that is really not good enough. It deserves some blunt declaration of respect and unguarded affection.”
When I sat down to watch “Terms of Endearment” again, I knew what was coming. And yes, I cried. But the humor won out. It made the inevitable emotional breakdown worth it. For someone born long after the days of landlines and phone books, seeing Emma’s son in a child seat that’s in the front seat will probably be shocking . Emma’s best friend, Patsy (Lisa Hart Carroll), owns what was then a first of its kind: a top-of-the-line mobile phone that’s so huge by today’s standards she may as well be holding a tanker truck in her hand.
Watching the film in 2023, Emma reminds me of many women of my mom’s generation. She is a stay-at-home parent who is annoyed and even a little bit scandalized when Patsy’s New York friends talk about abortion or divorce or — God forbid — having careers. She is, as Flap calls her on their wedding day, a “sweet-ass gal.” Emma might come across as retro these days, but I would much rather hang out with her than with Patsy’s humorless friends.
“Terms of Endearment” does that rare thing that only the best films accomplish, which is that it makes you feel as if the characters continue to exist after the credits roll. They’re out there somewhere, talking on their giant phones, trimming their rose bushes, living their lives. The actors so deeply inhabited the characters, whether it’s Emma blowing her nose into wadded-up tissues while wearing her wedding dress, Aurora and Garrett pretending to hate each other, or Flap flirting with that grad student while his baby is strapped to his chest. I know Flap is a character in a film, but he is also quite possibly the most infuriatingly banal example of a colossal jerk I have ever witnessed. If I ever see Daniels walking down the street, I’m afraid I may actually heckle him for cheating on Emma.
When MacLaine won her best actress Oscar, she said, “Jim Brooks deeply wanted to make a film about the defects and imperfections and foibles of people in a humorous and loving way.” Four decades after its premiere, the clothes may look dated, but that sentiment never gets old.
Dina Gachman is an Austin-based writer. More about Dina Gachman
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