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When someone says:

This author is a writer's writer.

I understand that as meaning the author is accomplished and generally excellent. It's a bit fuzzy in my mind how it can mean this, but I can roll with it.

What I'd like to know is: can this be said without pretense by a nobody, by someone who is not a writer? Is that "reserved" to people in the profession to call each other?

I also assume the same goes for any substitution of the word "writer", say with "philanthropist", "programmer", or "comic book artist."

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@Dusty is right. It's the answer I would have given. –  Robusto Sep 20 '11 at 0:26
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Obviously, only a writer's writer's writer can justly judge who is a writer's writer. (And yes, I am of course writer's writer's writer's writer, or I could not have written the previous.) –  JeffSahol Sep 20 '11 at 1:22
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

So to expand on my comment a bit more, a writer's writer isn't just an excellent writer, but a writer who is admired/appreciated/respected by other writers, but may not be by the general public (contrasted with, for instance, a writer who may be a commercial success, but isn't well thought of amongst his peers).

So while anyone can note that someone is a writer's writer as a general observation, there's an intrinsic implication that that title is bestowed by the group itself.

And yes, you can apply the construction to various professions (or other categories of people, e.g. a man's man), although certainly some are a bit of a mouth full (a comic book artist's comic book artist, for instance)

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I've used "programmer's programmer" for a colleague even though I can write simple programs only. I can comprehend that he really understands how a computer language (including the build process) works and is amazing at optimization and refactoring code. It's definitely a phrase of admiration.

Although I've never used it, I would call Gene Wolfe a writer's writer (or maybe an author's author). He's well-respected in the science fiction and fantasy community. I've read several of his books, and can see that he writes great sentences, etc. and understand why so many people love his writing. Ultimately, however, he's just not my cup of tea. I just don't care enough about his characters or story to keep reading. That's a failing on my part, I think!

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One doesn't have to be a writer to be aware of the level of adulation that someone like, say, the late David Foster Wallace received in reviews that were written by people who themselves have more literature degrees than they knew what to do with, and perhaps even have a published novel or two of their own.

I can say without pretension that David Foster Wallace was (is) a writer's writer.

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No. David Foster Wallace is not a writer's writer by any means. Writers as well as the general public admire Wallace for the scale he works on and the stories he tells. But craft—and this is important to the term of being a writer's writer—craft-wise, Wallace was not that dense—one can see this in his tangents and digressions. For Wallace, a story happens in the present and the knowledge of what moves the present, not necessarily the density of the craft in each word, line by line. –  user30750 Nov 12 '12 at 0:37
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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 12 '12 at 0:43

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