Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In defense of the hobbyist author

So Chuck Wendig wrote a post recently on Writing vs. Publishing (Or: "No More Half-Measures, Walter").  Chuck's a clever, articulate guy, and I agree with much of the post, which discusses the difference between writing for fun and writing for publication.  But one thing he says makes me uncomfortable, and it's a thing I've seen many of my fellow authors say: professional writing is not a hobby.

I understand the sentiment behind it.  They're saying, hey, if you're putting your work out in the world with the expectation that people are going to pay for it, then by God, you'd better take the quality of that work seriously.  Don't just shove it out there, do your best to make it the absolute best it can be.  I agree 100% with that idea.  But you know what?

I am a traditionally published, agented, "professional" author (as in, I get paid for what I write), and yet I firmly consider writing my hobby.  I have zero intent of trying to turn it into a career.  Engineering is my career.  This is my passion.  I consider the money I earn as "bonus money" - great if I get it, oh well if I don't.

I know I'm lucky to be in a position where I can afford to think that way.  I know many other authors aren't.  I know still more are hugely excited to make writing their career - they dream of the day when writing can be their sole source of income.  But to anyone out there who reads all these blog posts about how you've got to treat writing as a business and get serious about your career, and has a gut response of but I don't WANT to make writing my career!... I want you to know that doesn't mean authorhood isn't for you.  You can be an author who is serious about producing quality work while still writing for fun.

Honestly, hobbyist authordom provides a lot of psychological advantages.  Publishing is a crazy stressful industry, especially because so many of the ingredients of commercial success are out of an author's control.  But as a hobbyist, I don't have to obsess over my sales rankings.  I can shrug when my publisher is months late in paying me.  I only do marketing and promotional activities I find fun.  I can cheer for author-friends who receive awards and make top-10 lists without the least shred of envy.  I can write what I like without worrying over marketability.  The best advantage of all is that when I'm faced with a publishing decision where my head and my heart are in conflict, I have the freedom to go with my heart.

Freedom doesn't come without cost.  I may not reach as many readers as my more driven peers, or publish as many books.  But that's a trade-off I'm willing to make.  One of my favorite t-shirts has a picture of two climbers carrying skis up a mountain, with the caption, "Let Someone Else Climb the Corporate Ladder."  That's my motto, all the way.  I treasure the freedom to make joy in writing (and in life overall) my highest priority.  It doesn't mean I ever compromise on the quality of my work; or that I think creators shouldn't be compensated for their efforts.  It just means I make decisions with a different focus than a "career" author.

So to my peers who consider authorhood their career: I salute you! Takes a lot of tenacity and guts.  Just remember that authors who choose differently aren't necessarily doing it wrong.  And to writers who want to share their stories with others but recoil from the thought of becoming entrepreneurs: that's okay.  There's room for you in publishing, too.


  1. Hey, Courtney!

    Great post and I'm in agreement with you -- I don't look down on those who don't make writing a career. Nor do I think there's anything wrong at all with choosing to make no money at all at writing -- one should write for whatever reason is most appealing.

    Mostly I think here I think if there's any disconnect it's in our definition of "hobby" --

    Not that Wikipedia is a perfect source, but:


    Wikipedia defines it as amateur, meaning, not professional ("unpaid"). And for me publishing (not writing) is a professional endeavor when you do so with the goal of asking for money. And there all I'm suggesting is that an author-publisher (meaning those who publish their own material) treat such a professional endeavor as, well, professional. For your own sake and the sake of the audience. That doesn't mean it needs to be a number one priority, nor must it be career-focused. I just mean, if you're gonna sell it, do so with a grade of professionalism and not as an amateur.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    -- c.

    1. Chuck, thanks for stopping by! I think you're right about the disconnect on "hobby"...perhaps we need a better word to describe an activity that an enthusiast takes seriously in every aspect except the financial. (Speaking as someone who is both a figure skater and a climber, I'm used to "hobbies" which are utterly non-lucrative, require massive amounts of time and training, and are taken as deadly seriously by their devotees as the most fervent of religions.) Or maybe I should start calling myself a semi-pro writer: someone who makes money at it but has no intention of making a living. :)

      Anyway, I thoroughly agree with the main point of your original post, that anyone who wants to sell their writing should act in a professional manner, regardless of their goals.

  2. Well said! I felt the same release of pressure when I stopped trying to be a professional photographer. You still aim to do the best work you can, you still aim to get better and learn more, but you're not spending most of your time thinking about advertising, insurance, and pricing.

    And I agree with Chuck's point, too - I was at a wedding where I did candids as a gift and presented them mounted on heavy paper in a fitted box. The photographer got $100 an hour and delivered the prints in sandwich bags. I was like, dude, be professional!