Sunday, May 15, 2011

Writing Will Be a Hobby Until You Treat It Like a Business

Someone recently called my writing a hobby. Luckily for that someone, I love them very much, so I politely explained that writing was my side business, not my hobby. Collecting baseball cards is a hobby. Building little ships inside glass bottles…that’s a hobby. Writing is a form of art, the results of which some people will actually pay for! If you expect to be paid to do what you do, you need to treat it like a business.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines hobby as the following: An activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure. Let’s see where the definition of hobby, at least in my mind, fails with regard to writing. “An activity or interest…” Ok, check. Writing should be both an activity (the act of writing) and an interest (reading other writing and about writing). “…outside one’s regular occupation…” Well, until they start posting positions for novelist on Monster, then yes, this will have to occur outside my regular occupation of not writing. But, anytime someone wants to throw money my way to sit in a room and write, I’ll entertain all offers. Now here’s where the definition begins to break down, “…engaged in primarily for pleasure.” If I had no intention of publication, then this definition might ring true. However, as much as I love writing, I don’t see it as something done for sheer pleasure. My goal is the business of publication. And a business cannot be run lightly or it will fail. And, failure is not an option (if only I were too big to fail).

I am now as serious as I’ve ever been about my writing. As much as I wanted to be serious in the past, it was only after making the conscious effort to focus my spare energies did this become true. It was catalyzed by the completion of the first draft of my first novel almost two years ago now. I knew that if I didn’t treat my art seriously, no one would. But, when I completed my second novel, I realized that in order to truly rise to the next level, I was going to have to do some serious legwork. It wasn’t going to just magically happen on its own. It was only going to be through hard work and constant effort that I could break through that invisible ceiling others tend to put on those who pursue the arts.

How quick we are to slap the “hobby” tag on something that is a nontraditional occupation. Try this. Ask someone what they do. If they give you a standard occupation answer (eg, accountant, nurse, programmer, lab tech), ask them for proof and see how they react. Did they give you an odd look? However, this is the same thing they would do if someone responded with dancer, writer, painter, sculptor, etc. People want proof of your career as an artist. No one ever asks an accountant to show them their books. If I answered “Writer” to someone who has asked that question, I’d get “What kind of writer? Are you published?” And, if you’re not published and have your book on the shelf at Barnes & Nobles, then “What else do you do?” So, for now, I’m a writer waiting to be discovered and doing everything in my power to make that happen. In the meantime, I peddle my talents to the highest bidder and hope that someday I can say, “Writer,” and be able to rattle off a half dozen books in print.

How do you rise above being a hobbyist? Well, there’s no magic formula. But first, you have to understand that treating writing like a business means enduring the times when it isn’t about the pleasure. In business, there are times when you do what you have to, not because you want to, but because it is what the business needs. Luckily, writing as a business means doing what you love best most of the time; writing! But, to bring it to the next level, you are going to have to work at your craft and learn the ins and outs of the business. This can include reading, researching, marketing, managing your projects, and attending conferences. Now, for most of us, this means squeezing all of this into what few hours we have left in the day during the week, after getting home from our paying job (some people refer to this as their “real job”; I beg to differ). And, depending on your penchant/need for sleep, number of children/pets/spouses in the house, and your ability to avoid the mind vacuum I like to call “TV”, this may leave you with very little time to actually enjoy what it is you are doing.

If you find yourself getting up every day and going to a job you don’t consider your career, why can’t you put the same effort into something you want to be your career? As a writer, there is little excuse to not find time every day to further your business, even if it’s only ten minutes. And, I don’t even mean writing (though that should be the primary activity). Whether it’s blogging about writing, reading other people’s writing blogs, tweeting with other writers, researching agents, publishers, and the latest trends, there are many ways to invest your time learning the tricks of the trade. The point is to keep the business fresh in your mind. If it’s fresh to you, it’ll be fresh for your consumer (ie, readers).

Treating your writing like a business won’t be easy. You have to have patience, determination, and thick skin. Like most businesses, you have to be willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. You have to be willing to learn from others. No one way is the way, but you should always keep an open mind to those who have more experience. Businesses fail all the time. Writing is one of the few businesses you can “fail” in repeatedly and still have a shot at making it (mainly because our failures only cost time and not a whole lot of $$$, unless you believe that whole time = money hooey). There are few golden tickets here and if you spend your time waiting for one, you might have a long fruitless wait ahead of you. But, there are plenty of stories of hard work leading to success. Treating your writing like a business means taking control and making it work for you. If you’re serious about anything, whether it’s writing…or building little ships in bottles, your efforts and attitude toward it are what will lift it above the status of hobby.

What do you do to elevate your art beyond the hobby level?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You make a really great point about how it's a conscious choice and subsequent tenacious effort to make writing more than a hobby and have hope of success. And I think the choice and effort are also what allow you to endure the slings and arrows of those who want to "hobbify" your work.

    I also think the notion that all non-day-job endeavors are hobbies is a strange one. Maybe it's a bit about recognizing that just as we are multifaceted in other ways, we can be multifaceted (and multi-tasking) when it comes to careers/business. Just because it isn't a 9-5, doesn't mean it's not a job, doesn't mean it's not crucial and can't be fruitful.

    People who juggle kids and careers, for instance, have two jobs (and sometimes more). Few of them would call parenting a "hobby" simply because they spend half their day doing something else, which incidentally has monetary incentives that child-rearing doesn't (that, of course, has its own incentives). I think the first half of your last paragraph, about what a business requires, can be quite easily applied to parenting.

  3. Thanks for the comment, CLO! I think that writing a novel has many direct correlations to parenting (without the diapers), so that makes sense. It's your little creation that you nurture and love before sending it out into the big bad world, hoping that you've prepared it as best you can. :)