Toy horses, hobbyhorses

Are You a Hobby Writer?

And if you are, do you admit it? The word “hobby,” after all, derives from a word for a fake little horse used as a children’s toy. Wikipedia has quite an interesting article about hobbies.

Honestly, it’s that word — “hobby” — that’s the problem. It conjures up the petty and the trivial. Hobbies are pointless pastimes for people who lack the talent or the passion for more worthwhile pursuits.

Hobbies include collecting things like postage stamps, beer cans, or pretty pebbles. Or activities such as knitting, embroidery, or making birdhouses. Then there’s gardening (uh-oh). Some even consider reading a hobby.

Hobbies can be picked up and abandoned on a whim. Serious writers don’t do that with their writing, do they?

Hobbies don’t make money or bring fame. Successful writers are rich and famous, aren’t they?

In fact, if you consider writing a hobby, can you even call yourself a writer?

What words other than “hobby” might modify “writer”? Most of the options have an uncomplimentary slant. Dilettante (frivolous), amateur (incompetent), non-professional (unprofessional), independent (disconnected; and “indie author” to many suggests one who aspires to financial success).

The visual arts have a number of terms for artists who follow unconventional paths. Folk art, naive art, and outsider art. I don’t think any of these help us much. For one thing, they are generally applied posthumously by critics or historians. I doubt that Grandma Moses called herself a “folk artist,” or that Henri Rousseau said he was a “naive artist.” The term “outsider writer” does have a certain defiant appeal, but would require explanation every time it was used.

What used to be called amateur theater has become “community theater.” That suits an activity involving a group of people, but calling yourself a “community writer” sounds peculiar. My public library has a collection of works by “emerging authors” and another by “local authors.” There’s some overlap between the two. Let’s face it, though — many of us will remain “emerging” forever, peeking shyly out of our home burrows. And “local” isn’t a word of distinction either.

Let’s return to the word “amateur” for a moment. Its root meaning is “lover of” (sort of like “dilettante,” actually). Wikipedia offers this definition: “a person who pursues a particular activity or field of study independently from their source of income.” Perfect, but for writers, there’s a catch. It’s okay to be an amateur runner or painter, but an amateur writer is automatically a failure because most people think there is only one way of being successful: get traditionally published, sell a million copies and/or win a major award. Anything else is failure, especially self-publishing.

In the end, I don’t think we need a special term for a writer who writes and publishes for the joy of it. Anyone who writes with serious intention may call themselves a writer. And those of us who publish our own works may even call themselves publishers.

This post by A.R. Allen presents a helpful view of the issue.

Are you a hobby writer or a professional (actual or aspiring)? Does the word “hobby” bug you? Can you think of a better term for writers with priorities other than fame or fortune?

Featured image by Manuel de la Fuente from Pixabay

80 comments

      1. I once thought of creating a group called ‘The Silent Writers’, ie those who beaver away at their writing but never get noticed. Some lacking in humour got sniffy about the concept and started lecturing me about presentation….Oh well 🤷‍♂️

        Liked by 6 people

    1. True. Self-expression can’t be said to be a hobby. I like the word amateur, but somehow when applied to activities other than sports, it’s understood as “not really competent.” And by all accounts, many professional writers are barely scraping a living from their writing. Thanks for your apt comments, Roger!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The trouble is in the English language we’re stuck with the word ‘amateurish’ which we tend to use on professionals we are dissatisfied with….usually politicians. Hence us writers have to wade through its implications.
        Maybe we should just call ourselves ‘writers’ but under the suggested following categories. Going in order of material success and bearing in mind a lot of folk opt for self-publishing these days.
        1. Who-oooo! I got a Film/TV series deal.
        2. I write. I have an accountant for the other stuff.
        3. Come on plot! Where are you? The royalties are dipping.
        4. I hate my job. I love my writing. But the former is still the one that pays the bills.
        5. Another rejection! %@*! to publishers, agents, editors…I’m going indie!
        6. I’m indie. I’m known. So why do I still have to ‘schlep’ out to my lousy job?
        7. Yipee! Sales in four-figures!!
        8. Eeee-haw! ! Sales into three-figures.
        9. Oooo……. Nice Reviews!!
        10. ’10’ has no snappy commentary because the self-publishing writer is prone to gloomy introspective soliloquies on the paradox of continuing to write when no one is reading the ‘fribbin’ stuff!
        11. ‘Ha! I play the long game. My work will be discovered by later generations!
        12. Mumble-mumble-mumble……write-write-write….mumble-mumble-mumble-write-write-write-.
        13. Don’t care! I’m gonna write because I want to. Ppbbbth to the world!
        (Feel free to adjust the categories or add to them)

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it was that post by Jami that got me thinking about this again. I liked that term, but when I got to thinking about it, I wondered what visual artists would think. And that people who do make a living from writing might think that what they do also includes an element of art.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Good points. The distinction that I’ve to from observation about how the words seem to be used is that a writer is someone who writes (whether it be published or not), and an author is a writer whose work is published.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, there is a difference between “writer” and “author,” as you say. I’m okay with thinking of myself as an amateur author, actually, since I certainly have no pretensions to being a successful publisher. (Although I think my books look professional enough.)

          Liked by 2 people

      2. I’m a professional artist. In commercial galleries, published as an illustrator by publishers other than myself. The whole 9 yards and a bit extra. I consider myself an “author-artist-publisher” because so much of what I do is created from idea inception to public display/access by me. For ex: I propose (including writing a proposal) an exhibit to a gallery/etc location, produce all the artwork, write about my work in artist statements and other documents. I also, often, produce a book or coffee mugs or other items that I publish with words and art…. to accompany my exhibit. I do all of this so that I’m able to offer my ideas, my content, to people at multiple price points. It has bothered me in the past when the price for access to my stuff began at 500 dollars and only went up in price from there. I felt it left too many people out. So I cheerfully embrace the author-artist-publisher hybrid even though some in the trad art world, writing, book publishing worlds may not approve. I figure I’n doing something like a weird Internet career this way, I’m not following Hoyle but forging my own path. It’s working for me so…. call me whatever you like, author, artist “hey you”, and I’m there! Fun post Audrey, thanks!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow, you certainly have a versatile approach to creating art and making it accessible, Sue. the internet has made it possible for creatives of all types to work out how they pursue and share their passions. And I’m really pleased at how much discussion this post has sparked. Thanks for contributing to it!

          Liked by 1 person

  1. I think Inkplume is right. We are writers, period. Whether we make money or not is our personal business, not anyone else’s. I really, really dislike “hobby” because it suggests frivolity, and hey! I am very serious about the craft and art of writing. My library uses “emerging writer”, too, and it makes me laugh. At 85, I’ve been emerging for so long, I’ve already gone around the world three times!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes, “emerging” does carry the implication that one day we will emerge into something better than we are now. And I’m afraid I think “hobby” is burdened with an overtone of frivolity (although I’ll bet people who are really serious about their hobbies may disagree). Thanks for your thoughts, Lea!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I suppose if one writes strictly for one’s own amusement, that might be a hobby. Maybe not if it’s therapy, though. But once you move on to publishing, whether trad or indie, there seems to be more at stake. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Becky.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think of the word “hobby” in negative terms. Hobbies are things we enjoy doing. No one says, “My hobbies are cleaning the house, washing the dishes, or doing the laundry.” I consider writing a hobby because it is something I enjoy that stimulates the creative side of my brain. It is not a significant source of income, but that has never been a motivating factor for me.

    As I tell my wife about all things in retirement, “When it stops being fun, I’ll find something else to do.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I certainly can’t argue with that, Pete. I guess not everyone equates the word “hobby” with something frivolous done just to pass the time. (It’s hard to believe anyone actually has time they have to fill with something!) And the idea of doing laundry as a hobby makes me smile.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t think writing is frivolous at all; it’s a skill that we can get better at with practice and learning from others. I don’t think most writers treat writing seriously, as they should.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I think exactly like you. I use HOBBY as well, because for me hobby = passion, without any negative connotation. It is something I do no matter the money, because I have a passion for it. I write for passion, I have a profession for paying the bills. (Well, if I sell some books it is nice too, but not required. Most of mine I have given away for free). In the moment I will feel writing becomes a job, I will give up, because it means the passion spark is lost.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the education. I hate how some excellent words have been commandeered to diminish others. Amateur sounds like a great word: mi amour of everything. I like the word ‘gay’. What a happy, joyous word–I’d like to be gay someday, again. I was gay as a child, I’m sure of it.

    Hobbies? I don’t have those anymore.

    Aspiring author. Novice writer. That’s me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s a pity that “amateur” and “dilettante” have acquired those belittling nuances, considering their roots in love and delight. And you know, once you’ve poured a lot of effort into writing and seen improvement, I think you can call yourself a writer without qualifications. (Hmm, that could mean different things, couldn’t it?)

      Like

  4. There is nothing wrong with hobbies, doing anything that refreshes your mind away from work – but writing is more then that, the same as other creative pursuits, we want to create something permanent. If you read your work at a group, or people you have never met comment on your writing, or the ultimate – someone on another continent reads your novel and writes a good review you are a writer!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I suppose it’s because attaching numbers appears to simplify comparisons. But that’s a rather ignorant way of looking at things. The arts (and writing is one of them) are too complex and personal to reduce to numbers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree!! And all art, writing successes are forged on the anvil of a long line of unpublished works. That a particular writing, or artwork, makes money is a byproduct of a lifestyle of a creative habit. It’s the habit of regularly producing work that is important not whether one item makes money.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I call writing my “vocation” and refer to myself as an “author” when in public (a “writer” among friends and writers). Definitely not a hobbyist since I spend no less than 8 hours a day at this stuff! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha! Things besides writing you do for fun might be called hobbies. And I think of writing as a vocation too. When I was still working as a librarian, writing was an “avocation.” Thanks for your comment, Diana!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. -grin- I’m happy with Indie author. It feels like a huge step up from a decade ago when just saying ‘I write’ would have twisted me up in knots. One day I would love to be able to append ‘Hugely Successful’ to ‘Indie author’. I suspect that like Grandma Moses, though, I may have to wait a while. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indie Author is a new term that doesn’t have a lot of belittling connotations attached to it. Hopefully some of us will be able to add “successful” before it’s also “posthumously.” 😀

      Like

          1. p.s. Audrey?
            I just read your review of Vokhtah. Thank you. I was expecting you to not like it. Honestly, I would have been happy with 3 stars. Instead you made my heart sing. Thank you.

            I’ve copied your review and will post it tomorrow. I’d do it right now, but the Covid-19 news is not good so I’m saving up the good news for tomorrow.
            -hugs-
            Stay healthy.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Success is not the arbiter of artist and amateur. If you want to write or draw or act or paint, you name it; and if that’s all you can think about and will heaven and earth to do what drives you, then you are an artist. I’m a writer because that’s what drives me and now I’m retired what I devote my time doing. The fact that I’ve received over $200.00 in royalties from Amazon over the last eight years may make me small change in the grand scheme of things, but it still passes as making me a professional author. At that point it becomes more than a hobby.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. When people ask me what I do, I answer that I am a civil servant. I then add that I write poetry in my spare time and mention that I’ve published several collections of my work. Few (if any) poets can survive purely through their writing, but this does not make the composition of poetry a hobby. Thanks for this interesting post, Audrey. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is my first time reading one of your post, and I have to say, it feels like you have been reading my mind for over 20 years! Since teaching has been my major source of income, I can’t get past writing as a hobby or amateur. Thanks, Pat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The boundaries between writing purely for one’s own amusement and actually putting one’s work out into the world have shifted since self-publishing became possible and almost respectable, so where a writing hobby ends and being a serious author begins seems to be up to every author to decide.

      Like

  10. The word “hobby” doesn’t bug me too much. I actually became a lot happier in my writing life once I realized I probably wouldn’t ever be big-time famous. I take my writing seriously and keep trying to build my platform, but it’s okay with me if it remains something fun that doesn’t pay a lot of money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’ve arrived to the same conclusion. I just think the word “hobby” trivializes whatever it’s applied to. In the end, though, we can all say “I’m a writer,” and leave it at that.

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