Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Author or Hobbyist?

A writer's mind never rests. I've been contemplating my goals of late, especially those tied to writing, acquiring an agent, and publishing. Admittedly, I've unflagging determination and passion for my writing. Who among us doesn't? But I do want to make sure I'm on the right road.

Racheludin, who didn't leave a blog address, left an interesting comment on Douglas' personal blog. She indicated that somewhere she'd heard that a writer should (ideally) have several works in process.
  1. One novel should be undergoing edits
  2. One novel should be in full writing process
  3. One novel should be at rest, awaiting edits
  4. One novel should be at query
This begs the question of whether one is writing as a hobby or a vocation. A hobbyist, it seems to me, is forever tinkering. Think for a moment about the classic car world. Maybe you're working on a '67 GTO, tweaking this, acquiring that, installing a doo-hickey. And polishing the baby? The work is never finished, is it?
A hobby writer, then, is the same: the book is never finished. The plot needs just a little more tweaking. Chapter 7 must be re-written for the 49th time. And Chapter 1? That little baby needs polishing beyond belief because you know you only have 30 pages to hook an audience.
The writer-by-vocation must be, by definition, pragmatic. Of course, one's work must be carefully considered, edited, and polished. But one must move on. The act of writing is, in itself, a thorough education, and completing a novel can only improve one's craft. Thus, one must create, tuck away, revise, query, create --> not in a linear A to Z fashion, but in a recursive, reflective manner, always looping back, always moving upward.
I don't want to be a hobbyist. For a couple years, I think I was. After all, I worked and re-worked my first novel, ignoring the half-finished sequel that now sits abandoned. Looking back, I think it's a better book because of it -- and I certainly learned a great deal through the process. But my goal is writer-by-vocation. And in looking at my current writing habits, I realize that I'm only 2 for 4.
1. I don't have a novel currently undergoing edits
2. I do have a novel in full writing process.
3. Unfortunately, I have cannibalized the sequel that should be at rest, awaiting edits.
4. I do have one novel currently being queried.
So how about you? Where are you in this journey? What do you want out of your writerly life? Do you disagree with this idea of having more than one project in the mix? Most certainly Margaret Mitchell would, as I'm sure other can and will, so I'm not proclaming it The Way.
I am, however, thinking I must be more pragmatic.


  1. I agree. Finish it and move on to the next one.

    So I have a self pubbed book that I's still hawking.
    I have one that's finished and out for query.
    I have another one that I am putting the final tweaks on, but has also been sent out for query.
    I have a new one for which I am still working out the characters and plot. I hope to start writing that one very soon.

    So while I do have a day job, I hope someday to be a writer by vocation.

  2. Oooh I hate it when Microsoft Word tries to correct me..... and gets it wrong....

    So I have a self pubbed book that I'm still hawking.....

  3. I have 1-3, but missing 4. I am going to send no. 1 off in the next few days and see how I get on. The same thing works for academic publishing, and I always have 2 or 3 books on the go, though in that case I always have a contract before I write the book. No such luxury with fiction so the query stage is a lot more nerve wracking. I guess that makes me a writer by vocation (well in ambition terms in any case).

  4. My stats -

    1 - project in final revision stage so I can query
    1 - project about to go through second draft stage
    Many - rough drafts that need to enter first draft stage

    Normally, I do the rough draft, take time away, work on first draft, take time away . . . and so on and so on. There are times when I'll write a rough draft of another story in the 'time away' period, but only because there is sometimes an overwhelming need to write. The working on other projects also creates the necessary distance between phases of a project.

    As for the guidelines . . . well, the heck with them. What works for one person doesn't always work for another person. We're all unique and do things in our own unique way. : )


    Am I a hobbyist? No. I just love to write. I do devote 100% of my time/effort to a project in each different phase - rough to finished project. I don't try to edit three projects at once.

  5. Ehhhhh. I disagree.

    The problem I have with the writer/painter/photographer hobbyist question is it skirts around the issue staring us all in the face:

    Don't quit your day job.

    Now, I know a painter, a writer (several!) and a photographer that makes money doing those things. None have quit their day job (and, btw, raising kids is a day/night job).

    Are they hobbyists?


    Are the making money at their hobby?


    Are they artists?


    Are they artists making money?

    Why, yes they are.

    Is it their day job?


    Do they wish it was their day job?


    Are they striving for that day?



    The issue here is a the word. Somehow, in the artist lexicon, the word "hobby" became derogatory.

    Writing is my hobby. I want it very much to be my career. Failing that, I want it to be my co-career. Failing that, man, I could think of no hobby I would like better.

    If I got published, how freak'n cool would that be? My hobby made me successful! WOW! I RULE!

    Thinking aloud here, maybe the problem stems from a comparison of people who say they writer but in actuality have never finished a manuscript.

    Because they are hobbyists too.

    Hobby (n): enjoyable activity--an activity engaged in for pleasure and relaxation during spare time

    If the time writing does not match that description, you're doing it wrong!

    Alex, you're a writer. Doing the right things to get published is just doing the right things. Hobbyist, author or (my personal favorite) novelist are labels others use to define us.

    Someday, I define myself by tripping on the way to the car on a spec of dust. There is a label for that (believe me, I know). Other days I define myself as writing a spectacular chapter in my work in progress that causes me to print it out and rub it all over my chest while going "yeah Baby yeah WHO'S YOUR DADDY!?! ME THAT'S WHO!"

    There is a label for that too. But, at the end of the day, I am simply going to quote Janet Reid:

    “Fuck all that other crapola about do this /do that. Write well. The end.”

  6. I'm kind of in between Anthony's views and yours. I do agree that there is a difference between a 'writer' and an 'author.' Author says, to me, published. Writer says growth. Of course, writing is one of those things that can never be perfected. It's a skill that takes time to cultivate, and once you've reached a certain level (and contacted the right people as well) you can be considered an author.

    In other words, all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors.

    That's my 2 cents, anyway.


  7. I noticed while doing my taxes this year that the IRS has a monetary value ascribed to professional writer vs. hobbyist.

    I've talked to writing groups before and my advice there has basically been: what is your goal? If your goal with your writing is to please yourself and share your work with friends and family, then there is NOTHING wrong with that. I know many people who have decided to go that route.

    If your goal is to get published by a small, mid, or large publisher, I think you should write daily on your best WIP (and it's best to set a small, attainable goal..maybe a page a day), connect with other writers/agents/editors online, and keep an eye on the industry.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. I agree partially.

    I think:
    -One novel should be at query
    -One novel should be at rest, awaiting edits
    -One novel should be in full writing process OR undergoing edits

    My edits are very involved, as is my writing process, and I think it would be hard (for me personally, anyway) to juggle both at the same time.

  9. Oh I could never, ever have four novels going at the same time. I know people do it...but I have a whole 'getting into character' thing that goes on w/ my writing and I can't muddle it up w/ too many stories. Two max. One finished and out on submission and one in the works. That's the best I can do.

  10. What Anthony said. It doesn't depend on your wants, it depends on the practicalities of your situation.

  11. @douglas: you are the writing machine! congrats :)

    @Rob Kitchin: wow! you're doing quite well, it seems. good luck w/ the querying process --> having experience w/ academic publishing lends you some cred, i think. :) keep us all in the loop; i'll be rooting for you!

    @Scott: yes, good thoughts. like most rules, you just adjust them to find what works for you. but kudos to you for focusing so much time and energy on your vocation!

  12. @anthony et al (yes, he gets his own post, and yes, he usually deserves it):

    let's make sure we're disagreeing about the same apple & orange. i defined hobbyist & author quite clearly in this post -- which is, i now understand, not how the World at Large defines either Author (published & much lauded) and Hobbyist (artiste madly scribbling away, but not yet discovered).

    not wanting to get tripped up by nefarious wordage, all i'm saying is this: sh*t or get off the pot. write the freaking book or don't. learn from your mistakes and move on. write your next book at the highest level you're capable of.

    that's what i'm saying.

  13. @Stef: interesting 2 cents & interesting discrimination between the two, author and writer. i'm thinking, and this is just me, that i'd rather be a writer. 'cause i've read a lot of authors who aren't writers.

    who knows, tho :)

    @Elizabeth: I should have known that the IRS would simplify our lives by creating a monetary definition for professional writer. oh me of little faith ;) you are so right: one's writerly goal drives and forms so much. and daily writing is always good stuff

    @kathleen O'Keeffe: you are so practical. i cannot imagine trying to truly edit one while writing on another. in fact - what am i saying? i don't. i've never mastered that piece ... and maybe i should accept that as wisdom

    @Tess: do you write stand-alone novels or series-based ones? I think the piece that I need to add is the one in incubation that's awaiting edits. Sometimes i've found that my work benefits from sitting as long as 6 mo or a year...but maybe that's just a growth thing.

    @notenoughwords: one must be practical, yes?

  14. Great post! It's too easy for those outside writing to label all writers as hobbyists. I still get this from friends at times, even (often) well-meaning ones.

    The work is definitely full-time, and I think very few of us are ever able to quit our day jobs. Donald Maass has great advice on this subject in his book, How to Be a Career Novelist.

  15. Alex, you are correct in your definition is the most common one. My definition, while academically correct, sadly, is an anachronism.

    My point is to rally against labels.

    Your point was: poop or get off the potty!

    That is a worthy point. A worthy point indeed.

  16. re: the IRS. Here's an analogous situation

    A friend of mine worked for a decade trying to establish himself as an actor in NYC. He was in shows, did his own one-man shows, put on shows that other people appeared in. He had all the expenses and income you might think - more of one, less of the other than he wanted. He kept receipts and claimed many of his expenses for his acting as business deductions.

    Long story short, he eventually got audited. After much inquiry, the IRS said that since his income from the acting was significantly less than a third of his total income, and his claimed acting expenses outstripped his acting income, it was only a hobby, not a job.

    That would have meant that all of his deductions over the past several years were ineligible and he would owe the money plus interest and penalties. He successfully argued that his acting *was* a job and a vocation and that the low earnings were par for the course at this stage of his acting career.

    The IRS eventually accepted the argument, but it was close.

    So, a rule of thumb that I've adopted is the "income greater than expenses + one third of total income" as the divider between hobbyist and professional.

    Not like that matters for me, really, as I am still deep, deep in hobbyist territory.

  17. So many interesting comments. I especially liked your comment for Anthony.

    My one little thought here is that if you stick with it for years and years, and don't get stuck on just one or two big projects, you will wind up with works in all of those categories.

    I don't have any profound ideas, but I do like the idea of continueing on and getting more and better projects out there. Easier said than done, but doable.

  18. @andrea cremer: yes, indeed. i enjoyed attending a Maass workshop last May and his books are on my current hit-list :)

    @anthony: your point is equally as worthy. we must always rally against labels -- complacency and indifference will get us in the end.

    @tony noland: eek! thanks for sharing that scary story :) IRS waters are too deep, too dark, and too shark-infested for me!!

    @dave: i think that's what i was trying to get across. in the end, it's better to continue the growth process instead of reworking the same tired novel... on the other hand, some people may eventually write, publish, and retire on that one great novel :) (or, like the author of confederacy of dunces and so many others, find fame & fortune after death)


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