Chuck Litka has written a post at Writers Supporting Writers about the rewards of writing as an amateur. Read it HERE.
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?
If you’ve read the other parts of this series, you may be thinking it’s about how not to promote your writing. If it inspired anyone to seek out the many blogs offering positive advice on marketing and promotion, so much the better. I admit my approach to these aspects of being my own publisher is lackadaisical. But does that make me a Bad Writer?
This might be an answer…
Writer = one who writes.
Real writer = one who makes one’s living by writing.
Hobby writer/dilettante/fake = one who writes for one’s own amusement, with something other than writing as a source of income.
Is it really so?
Real writers have to market, promote, make business plans, etc. (unless they have publishers who do those things for them). Hobby writers can just put their books out there and hope for the best.
Real writers have to work social media, make connections with their readers, create and maintain their brand. Some, perhaps many, hobby writers do these things too, but their livelihood doesn’t depend on it.
Hobby writers (unless retired with adequate pensions) need to spend most of their time and energy at their day jobs. That leaves only “spare time” for both writing and marketing. Which one do you suppose gets neglected?
Things all writers have in common:
1. A compulsion to write.
2. A desire to have their writing read and recognized.
So the only difference between real writers and hobby writers is that real writers need to make a living from their craft.
This leads to the big questions:
1. Are real writers better at writing than hobby writers?
2. Does any of this matter to readers?
The writing itself may be bad or good, regardless of what kind of writer produces it. Hobby writers, under less compulsion to keep producing new works and marketing their existing ones, may take more time and so turn out work of greater quality. Without the need to direct all their writing to a target market, hobby writers are free to write from inspiration, possibly creating works of originality (or weirdness). On the other hand, career writers must sharpen their game if they want to succeed, so have to pay attention to quality as well as quantity.
All writer-publishers should be aware of the “ugly truth” about the publishing business.
But does this mean if you don’t want to market and promote, or are a dismal failure at it, you’re not a Real Writer?
Of course not! It’s only a problem if you expect to sell a lot of books and make a lot of money. Most of us began writing because it’s what we love to do, not in order to set ourselves up for failure and guilt. We all have choices and not everyone is looking for the same rewards, as illustrated by this quote from writer SK Nicholls (commenting on another writer’s blog post about trad vs. indie publishing): “I have heard people say hobby writers can’t be taken seriously. Only writers writing for money and those who treat writing like a business can succeed. I suppose that depends on your point of view and your definition of success. It certainly isn’t mine.”
It’s crucial to maintain a balance between your expectations of whatever constitutes success for you (money earned, readers attracted, awards bestowed) and the effort you are willing to put into marketing and promotion. The gap may in rare instances be bridged by good luck or magic (but don’t count on that).
For readers, there’s really no point in worrying about whether the writer of a book you are considering is a real writer or a mere hobbyist. Some readers will not read anything that has not been endorsed by critics or reviewers, but most look at the story first. If the story interests and excites them, then they want to know more about the author.
Who are the Real Writers? All of us — all who write with passion and energy, striving to perfect our art. How good we happen to be at selling our work is another matter. There are professional writers and writers who prosper financially, but those are subsets of the broad category. We are all writers.
So endeth the series. The Irascible Indie goes back to reading, mulling, questioning and writing. (And with spring just around the corner, add gardening to that list).