I meet a lot of writers. At expos and book signings, at writing conferences and even less-expected places, like the grocery store and church functions. I love meeting like-minded people! Some of these writers are published authors, either traditional or indie published. Some are still in the pre-publication phase, looking hopefully towards an as-of-yet unrealized future where their works are published. I find that writers in the pre-publication crowd tend to fit into two categories.
The first are actively seeking to better themselves and their writing. They go to conferences, listen to podcasts, peruse blogs, but most of all they WRITE. They write until their fingers bleed. They press friends and family to read what they've written, grit their teeth and take any criticism that comes. They query agents endlessly, take notes at writing conferences, and get flustered when an already-published author asks them what they write or what their story is about...then take the advice they are given to improve the pitch. These are the ones who are motivated to become published writers. They have goals, steps they are actively taking to pursue that pie in the sky and make writing their career. These are the ones that are becoming more and more rare because self-publishing makes it so easy to push a button and say "I'm published." These are the writers I call potential "career writers".
Then there's the second kind of pre-published writer. They write...or rather, they have a story they started once years ago, sometimes decades. It might even still be just an idea. They can tell you the plot, recite character names, traits, and background stories by heart, but if you ask about publication or when they will be finished, that's when it gets awkward. There are always excuses. They might not even remember the last time they wrote. They they clearly love writing, but it is pretty obvious that this is a different breed of writer than the first. I call these "hobby writers".
Now I want to be clear, right here at the beginning. Both of these types of writers are wonderful, creative, talented people. Both of these writers have vast amounts of potential. Both are fantastic individuals whom I respect and would love to be friends with. They can both call themselves writers, and honestly, I've been in both positions at different parts of my life.
Both writers are best served by one valuable thing: acknowledging what writing is to them.
By understanding if you intend to make writing a career (or if it already is!) or if it's simply a hobby, you can prioritize your life without feeling the guilt that comes with taking too much or not enough time on something. If you know writing is like a career to you, then giving it more time and space in your life would be a priority over most other things. If you know writing is more like a hobby, then letting it go so you can do things you enjoy more will create so much more freedom. It's all about expectations.
To be extra clear, I don't mean "career" in the sense of "job". Many career authors have regular day jobs like anyone else, either to make ends meet because their writing career provides a hobby-sized income, or because they enjoy their day job and just don't care to quit. What separates hobby authors and career authors is largely one word: PROGRESS. Check out these dictionary definitions of "hobby" and "career" that I love:
Which do you associate more closely with? Not sure? Keep reading for 5 questions you can ask yourself to help you decide if writing is a hobby or a career for you. And remember, this can change at different times in your life, so relax and enjoy the journey of understanding yourself and where writing fits into your life.
1. How often do you write and when do you think about it?
You might be tempted to say "all the time", but be honest with yourself. Do you only think about writing when someone else mentions they've written or published something? Or do you find yourself daydreaming about your stories anytime and anywhere? The point of this question is to help you identify the passion and priority your story creating takes in your life. If you have a story that you wrote years ago that has sat on a shelf and gathered dust, try taking it down and reading parts to see if it still has value to you. Does it make you want to write again, even if that means starting a different story and letting this one go? If you have a story you are actively working on, that's great! You can move on to the next question.
2. Do you enjoy it?
There are always parts of the process you won't enjoy. For me it's self-editing. I like it when others give me feedback and I can edit based on their comments, but I really don't like taking a second (or third, or fourth) look through my own words to try and improve it. As a result, I limit this step as much as possible and usually only go through one, maybe two self revisions before someone else (my writing group or some beta readers) sees it. Others dislike writing the first draft, for some it's marketing on social media or appearing at book signings after publishing.
My lack of love for self-revision does not deter me from loving the process as a whole. Every time I finish a draft, get feedback from my writing group or readers, or finally hold that newly published book in my hand, the thrill of success makes the entire journey worth it. I know it's something I definitely want to continue doing.
If you tend to drag your feet through part of the writing process, complain all the time, or generally act/feel miserable or like you're forcing yourself to do it like you would a school assignment, re-evaluate your goals and decide if writing is really for you. There's nothing wrong with deciding that something you once enjoyed isn't fun any longer. We change, our lives change, different things become priorities. Learn to set it aside without guilt. The best thing about writing is that even if we set it aside for years at a time, we can always come back to it. Unlike a pro-Athlete, who only has a certain number of years in their prime before the game turns to younger players, getting older typically makes us wiser and gives us more experiences to write about. You'll thank yourself for letting go of regrets and living fully now, rather than holding onto something that doesn't bring you joy.
Writing is thrilling, it's part of me. I can't imagine my life without it, and I can tell when I've gone too long without working on my stories. Which leads me to the next point:
3. How do you feel when you haven't been writing for some time?
The length for this will vary, of course. I feel it after about two weeks. if I haven't written anything or at least edited one of my works in progress, I get depressed and moody, I lose motivation for housework, other jobs or assignments, even to write, which is a bit self-defeating. It's so important to be in a good routine for writing. For some that means writing every day. For others it means making time wherever they can. For me it means writing has to be part of my life. It's a lifestyle, which makes it a natural choice for me to write as a career, even a part-time career I manage while staying home with my kids.
On the other hand, maybe you never notice you haven't been writing until someone brings it up or something reminds you, and then you might feel guilty because you didn't miss it, or perhaps you feel suddenly inspired and make new goals to finish that story, but the inspiration only lasts a short time and then peters out again without you really noticing. When you're chronically not writing and it doesn't negatively impact your life, perhaps it's more of a hobby than a lifestyle/career for you.
4. What is your end goal?
Do you want to finish that story so others can read and enjoy it? Do you want to teach something (perhaps through non-fiction or memoir)? Do you just want to get it done so you can say you did it? Do you want to make money? Do you want to finish for friends and family? Do you want to see your name in print or on a bookstore shelf? Has it been a lifelong dream of yours to be published?
None of these goals are bad goals. In fact, they're all pretty great. Make sure to consider every angle of your goal and make it S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound). For instance, if you want to publish stories to make money, make sure you understand what that takes in the market today. You CAN make a really decent living writing and publishing books, but it takes knowing what your genre market is hungry for, writing it well, then marketing it (especially if you're self-published!). Entire books have been written on all of these subjects, and I've read several in each category. Have you made the effort it takes to succeed at your goal?
There are all sorts of tips and tricks available for free out there for being a successful writer, but if you think "If I write it, readers will pay," you've got another thing coming! It takes a lot of dedicated effort, time, money, and other resources, or being the next Brandon Sanderson or J.K. Rowling and getting picked up by a "Big 5" publisher get there fast. For most writers, this is going to be a long process. Only you can decide how successful you're going to be and how fast you can get there.
Once you evaluate your goal and make sure it's realistic, and once you know what it takes to get there, is that is enough to deter you? If yes, then writing might be a hobby rather than a career right now. Which takes us to the next question:
5. What are you willing to overcome to accomplish your end goal?
I once dreamed of being traditionally published. When I realized the VAST amount of often-unrewarded effort that goes into querying agents and landing a contract, not to mention the amount of control I would have to give up over the final project, I decided traditional publishing routes were not for me. I found a hybrid publisher, also known as an indie publisher (but not to be confused with a vanity press) who accepted my manuscript for "Woven" and worked with me under a contract that gave me most of my rights, allowed me to choose cover art and deadlines for my books, and was all-around a very author-favorable royalty arrangement. Because I hired my own editor and cover artist, I had to overcome a financial hurdle in the midst of patchy employment for my husband. I got creative, found people to support my dream, and made it happen. Money, and all the excuses that come with having a young family, didn't stop me, although I'm sure no one would have faulted me if they had.
Evaluate your excuses. What's stopping you from accomplishing your writing goals? Is it that you have no time? Is it that you don't have money to self publish? Is it that you don't feel good enough? Write them down and really examine yourself. Do you have the motivation to do what it takes to overcome those hurdles? If not, writing is most likely a hobby. If you'll do anything to make it to the goal you have for yourself, even if it takes longer than you thought it would, then perhaps you're ready to make this a career. There's one thing I know for sure: if you don't take yourself seriously, then no one else is going to.
I want to add a note on comparison here: comparison is the death of creativity and progress. There are authors out there who literally churn out a finished draft and publish it in 6 weeks. They rapid-release their novels and they are incredibly successful. I think they are amazing. If I chose to, I could sacrifice sleep, sanity, and possibly my family to do the same thing and reach the same level of success at the same speed. That's what it would take for me to copy their success.
Now, I'm not saying these authors do sacrifice their families, nor am I trying to make it a moral issue. I'm saying you should know yourself, know your limits, and make goals accordingly. My goal is to release two books a year. In five years I want to have 10 books released. I'm in it part-time for the long haul, and that makes my goals very different from someone who is a full-time author who writes 8 hours a day and produces books at a rapid rate. I've chosen goals that stretch me, but not so far that it puts excessive strain on my other job as a mom.
The most important thing I can impress upon you here at the end of this blog post is that being a hobby writer or a career writer DOES NOT change your value as a person. It never will. One is not better than the other, and the reasons for choosing the path you take are as varied as the people on this planet. When you acknowledge which path you're on, your direction becomes clearer and your efforts become more worthwhile. Decide what writing means to YOU and stick with it.
Maybe writing is more of a hobby right now, but there might come a season when you can dedicate all the time and energy into it that you want. Maybe writing is a career right now, but maybe a time will come when you can't keep it up at the same pace any longer, and you realize it's time to take a step back. There is no shame in either path; it's all about overcoming idealistic expectations, setting realistic goals, and living our lives to the fullest, no matter how much we're writing or whether or not we're published.
What does writing mean to you?
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.