So here’s a bit of a controversial—and, for me, highly charged—topic.
Also, hi! *waves* It’s been a while, but I bet you don’t give a rat’s ass as to why I’ve been off this blog, so I’ll just dive right in.
What are you writing for?
The general consensus in the indie world is that making a living off your writing is the ultimate goal. Everyone is feverishly building their author careers, branding their pen-names, strategizing their production, writing business plans, scheduling their every book (and every day) years in advance, and more. Which is absolutely awesome and inspiring, and quite a little bit intimidating. It’s also one of the many reasons I adore the online writing community—their unwavering determination to work their asses off, to refine their entrepreneurial skills as well as their craft, and try everything to achieve success. The general momentum is like an unstoppable tidal wave, and being even a tiny part of it is highly motivating and encouraging.
But what happens when your goals don’t quite align with this general consensus?
What happens when you don’t want to become a full-time-professional-career-author?
What if you don’t want to make writing your job?
Maybe you already have a full-time job that you love, and don’t want to quit it. Maybe you have other passions as well that you don’t want to give up, and simply don’t have enough time on your hands? Or maybe you’re so filthy rich and don’t have to ever earn a single dime (Hah, right…). What if making a writing career isn’t your goal, for whatever reason? Does that mean writing is just a *gasp* hobby?
In pondering this issue for the last year or so, I found that the word “hobby” has a ghastly negative vibe in the write-till-you-die indie community. Hobbyist writers are generally considered less than professional ones. Success is mainly—if not only—measured in sales and dollars earned. And every single article or book on writing & publishing is geared toward creating a long-term career and increasing your productivity and marketability. Which is all good and fine, except the common denominator in all this advice is the understanding that if you don’t bust your ass day in and day out producing book after book after book, you’re not a real writer, or you don’t really want it.
Don’t get me wrong: a strong entrepreneurial and creative drive is absolutely necessary if you want to write for a living. And I couldn’t agree more with the need for discipline, efficiency, and economy when setting up a business. What I don’t agree with is the underlying assumption that if you don’t relentlessly pursue writing for commercial success, you’re not a “real writer” but a hobbyist, a wanna-be.
So let’s deconstruct this damaging assumption.
A writer writes stories. That’s the most basic definition there is. If you write stories that can entertain others, you’re a writer. Money is not an intrinsic part of that definition. Sure, a professional writer is one who earns his living writing, but for all those who don’t earn enough with their writing to cover their grocery expenses, does it mean they’re not writers? I call bull.
Drive and discipline are also fairly common among creatives who don’t pursue their art as a profession. Being ambitious, organized, and strategic isn’t reserved solely for career artists. It has nothing to do with the final purpose of your endeavors, and everything to do with your level of dedication.
But then… why does the word “hobby” feel like an insult to writers and artists at large? Why do we feel offended when someone calls it our “writing hobby,” even when we’ve not earned a dinner’s worth of money with it yet? Why do so many writing advice articles out there instill this strange sense of pride, and harp on about how we should defend our writing from the dirty label of “hobby” at any cost?
n. pl. hob·bies
An activity or interest pursued outside one’s regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure or relaxation.
Perhaps it’s because writing doesn’t feel very “relaxing” for most of us, but rather exhausting, challenging, emotionally draining and gratifying at the same time.
Perhaps it’s because writing takes a considerable amount of time and effort until it gets even remotely rewarding.
Everyone who ever tried writing a novel will certainly agree that learning the craft and applying it coherently feels much more like hard work than a leisure activity.
Let’s take an even closer look at the general understanding of what a hobby is.
A hobby is an activity you do for love and passion, even if there are no external rewards.
A hobby is an activity you do of your own free will, not because you have to.
A hobby is an activity that brings you fulfillment and gratification on the long term.
So writing is, at its core, a hobby for us all, regardless of the money that may follow or not.
It’s also undeniably hard work.
Running triathlons is also hard work, even for those who don’t do them for a living. Sculpting and painting is hard work even for those who don’t pay their bills with money from their art. Volunteering at animal shelters is hard work. Knitting lace sweaters is hard work. But we do these things anyway, because we get enjoyment and fulfillment out of them. They’re a labor of love. They enable us to outgrow ourselves. They enrich our lives. If writing does all this for you, it qualifies as a hobby.
Okay, fine, if you still can’t stomach that word, just call it passion then. Vocation. Escape.
Writing is definitely a passion and an escape for me, but it’s certainly not a job. I don’t want to make a career out of it. I don’t work toward quitting my day job and living off my novels as a “professional author.” I do write because it challenges and fulfills me. I write because it enriches my life and serves as a long-term reminder that I can make something out of nothing, something that other people might enjoy as well. Does that make me less of a writer? Puh-leaze.
But, to return to the initial question… If you don’t work towards having a successful writing career like everyone else… What are you working toward?
What’s your goal then?
What are you struggling for? How will you measure success, or even improvement? Do you even need to define tight metrics for something done solely for self-actualization?
All good advice on writing and publishing out there is geared toward achieving financial success with your writing, and building a long-term career. It all revolves around launching a series properly, marketing to your target audience, writing to that market to begin with, planning, executing, and promoting your books like a full-time professional to achieve the maximum possible results, make thousands of sales, hit a bestseller list, get a shitton of newsletter subscribers, and so on.
What are you going to do if you don’t aim toward commercial success with your books? Does that mean you won’t do any marketing at all? Will you just half-ass your way through the whole production part of writing, and just slap a Paint-drawn cover on your book and upload it quietly?
Of course not.
Pursuing writing as a passion or hobby doesn’t save you from some investments. Just like with other hobbies, where you might have to buy gear, pay for materials or rent spaces, organize yourself and manage your resources and projects, writing requires organization and investment. Even though you may not try to hit the New York Times bestselling list, or make 10K in your release month, or get 100 positive reviews in your first release week, you may still want to publish the fruit of your labor of love properly. You will want to give it a chance to find readers and delight other people. You will want to at least get a feeling of accomplishment after all your effort.
Marketing definitely requires investment if it’s to work properly. It may not be solely financial, but it will definitely require a lot of time, preparation, and knowhow.
I can already hear it: “Ugh, marketing. I hate marketing. If writing’s my hobby and all it’s supposed to do is make me happy, do I really have to do marketing?”
No. That’s the good part!
If writing’s your hobby (your passion, vocation, escapist romp through the thesaurus) then you don’t have to do anything. There’s no pressure to achieve financial results, and that means marketing becomes just… sharing something you love with other people with similar interests. You can keep all the fun parts of marketing—cheering for your passion, talking about your favorite genre, making cool graphics and chatting with people using self-made hashtags—while ditching all the tedious parts, like the meticulous metrics and constant ROI calculations. Just go ahead and share the love. If your book sells, great! And if it doesn’t, you at least know you gave it a chance—that it will continue to have for as long as it’s available online—and you can move on to your next writing project with a full heart and a clear conscience.
At least, that’s how I approach things. I do have a slight addiction to self-publishing podcasts and forums, so I constantly learn about this industry and its intricacies. Not because it’s my livelihood, but because it’s my passion, and that means I truly love it and want to know all about it, and navigate its waters gracefully. I want to find fulfillment in it, with all its facets.
That’s what it all boils down to: Self-fulfillment.
If you don’t write to make a living… If you don’t write to go down in history… If you create imaginative worlds filled with people you’d love to know (or be) in an elaborate play… then your main metric is enjoyment. Yours, and that of your readers, be they just your family and friends, or hundreds and thousands who found your work online. And doesn’t that feel incredibly liberating?
Oh, and just one more thing.
Being a “hobby” writer doesn’t automatically mean you’ll write only when the inspiration hits you and your schedule happens to be empty. It doesn’t mean all you’ll put out is an obscure literary novel every decade. It can just as well mean you publish erotica shorts every month. It can mean you write a new SF series every year, publish a novel every couple of months, organize an anthology every autumn, join contests every summer, etc.
Writing mainly for passion doesn’t automatically mean you’ll drag your ass and not take writing seriously. It doesn’t mean you won’t set goals for yourself, make plans and schedules, and organize your projects properly. It just means you don’t have the added pressure of achieving steady financial results. That’s what’s so freaking cool about it, don’t you agree? There’s no pressure. Just self-fulfillment. 😉