Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Writing as a Hobby, or Not?

Posted by Eileen Astels

I attended a writer's conference last week, and one of the hot topics that kept recurring for me was the concept of writing as a professional, rather than as a hobbyist.

So, what defines one from the other?

Well, the consensus seemed to hover around the concept of commitment. Are you committed to write for publication (even if you don't know when that day will come), or are you just a dabbler, testing the literary waters sort of speak?

In one session of the continuing education class that I took, three elements that make you a professional writer was proposed.

1) Structure
2) Vision
3) Support System

Under Structure, setting a specific time to regularly write each day came into discussion. But what if you can't write each day, even for ten minutes? Are you doomed from the professional status if instead you write eight hours straight every Friday? Not likely. The idea is to develop a schedule, one that is strict, that you maintain faithfully, but works within your lifestyle, full time job, family responsibilities, etc.

Once you define when you are going to write, the next thing to consider is where. Create a place that is solely for your writing needs. Like your day job, you have a place that is yours, even if it's only your locker; in writing, you need a defined place designated for creating your written work. An office would be wonderful, but with technology today, a little alcove for you and your laptop would suffice, as long it's a place where you can concentrate and punch out words.

Of course, writing isn't much good if you don't have an idea and a goal to work on and toward. To be professional, you'll be typing words with a specific idea in mind (for some form of publication, paid or not) and you'll be working toward a daily goal of say four pages, a set number of hours of diligent writing, a short article, research findings, or whatever your specific goal of accomplishment is for that designated writing time.

Administratively, to be professional, you'll need to begin growing a contact list for the future marketing days ahead, and you'll need some type of filing system to keep all your writing needs organized. As well, a calendar for scheduling your WRITING TIME, writing commitments, project due dates, speaking engagements, research appointments, etc. is a tool every professional writer requires. Personally, I like to see a month at a glance for this and since I'm one of those people who keeps updating my calendar, I like to print mine out and use sticky notes on it that I can transfer from one version to another easily. You can check out for free online calendars.

Once you have your structure in place to be a professional writer, a vision is required. What's your vision? What do you hope to achieve via your writing? Short articles to sell to magazines? Non-fiction or fiction for publication in book form? What are you trying to write and what financial goal do you have in mind? How can you achieve your financial goal? How many articles will you need to sell this month to bring in that desired compensation? Be realistic. If you're lucky enough to not require income from your writing right now, what non-financial vision are you working for? A completed book to pitch at your next writer's conference? Ultimately, a vision is linked closely to your goals. Get them aligned and do what is necessary to achieve success.

Lastly, get a support system in place. Through the years I have discovered that writing is 10% first draft, and 90% revision/editing (With my earlier novels, it's more like 1% first draft, 99% revision/edits). So, if you are like me, you'll need critique buddies, readers, and mentors who support your writing vision. Once you get to a certain point you'll then need professional editors and agents to further guide your writing efforts. And, of course, you'll require your families support so that you have the time to write (guilt-free), and the emotional backing and encouragement required to push you over the tough hurdles and into the next valley.

So, what are you? A writer hobbyist, or a professional writer?

Surrendering to Him,



Tess said...

The goal is to make it a professional endeavor. I really appreciate the online calendar link..thanks!

Georgiana said...

I'd like to believe my commitment is beyond the hobby stage, but some days are harder than others. Great post!

Katie said...

I like to think I'm a professional writer... but like Georgiana said, some days just don't pan out that way. :)

Cindy said...

Those are great steps to follow working past making writing simply a hobby. I feel like I'm a professional writer, but like all new jobs, there's an adjustment period. I am working on finding the best schedule for me. And in making contacts and scheduling things I am also working toward being as professional as I can and as organized as that requires.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Hey, Ladies:

You know what I think of when I'm questioning if I'm a professional writer or not on those days that family or whatever else causes my writing to slide: Even when I worked as a systems analyst I needed to take family days, sick days, vacation days, and even then some days that I sat in the office seemed the most "bad" days.

sherrinda said...

Surely there is a good balance between the two. I say that because I heard once we can become too wrapped up in the publication process and forget that we need to be storytellers first and foremost. Not always an easy balance.

Warren Baldwin said...

That 10% and 90% figure got to me. I like to think when I've typed the last word the manuscript is done. Not so!

This was a very helpful post for self-evaluation, Eileen. Thank you! wb

Warren Baldwin said...

Do You mind if I link this article on the column of my blog?

Jeanette Levellie said...

Well... I thought I was a professional, since I've sold quite a few articles and have my own column in the newspaper for eight years, and am working on two books, but now I wonder...

Just joking! I think we have to make sure we are called, or we doubt our gift on a rough day. If we cement our calling in our own heart, we are contented, whether pro or hobbyist.

Great post, Eileen!

Jody Hedlund said...

I'm definitely in this for the professional aspect. If I was just doing this as a hobby, I wouldn't be nearly as devoted and determined! Even when I have slow days with my writing, I still have the burning committment to see this through wherever God leads me!

Jessica said...

Wow, what a good post!

I definitely would consider myself a professional, even though I don't always keep my schedule. :-)

Terri Tiffany said...

Wonderful information. Writing is more than writing--like you said--it takes a certain level of committment.

T. Anne said...

I strive to be a professional. Only God can control this fate for me however, I put forth the effort to achieve this everyday. I just pray this is His will for me. Or, perhaps this is some training ground for my eternal profession? Strange but I've thought that.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Sounds like we have some real hard workers here. May God continue to guide and direct us!

Warren, by all means you can link to it.

T. Anne, I hear you!To be a professional writer doesn't necessarily mean publication will come. At least it doesn't to me. It's more the comittment aspect that I look at. I believe God calls me now to treat my writing in a professional manner even without the promise of publication. So that's what I do. Write like I'm a professional, just missing that paycheque to go along with it.

Erica Vetsch said...

Eileen, sorry I'm late on this article, but wow! What a good way to size up your decision making when it comes to writing. Sometimes I think we jump in and say "I want to be a professional writer" or "I want to behave professionally" and yet, we don't have a clue what that might look like.

It sounds like you had a wonderful and thought provoking conference that will be paying dividends for a long time.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

It's never too late to join a blog party, Erica!

Thanks for stopping by and you're right. The dividends never really end when you attend a good writer's conference.

Jeannie Campbell said...

great post, eileen. i think of myself as a hobbyist right now...wanting to be professional. but God has to give me that go-ahead. full-time writing just isn't an option, but that doesn't mean i can be more professional-thinking about the time i DO have. thanks!

Susan said...

Thanks for sharing this, Eileen. Like a few of the other respondents, I have more success some days than others, but I definitely see myself as a professional writer and not a hobbyist. I am going to write out a vision statement, and keep working towards having a strict writing schedule. That'll be a challenge over the summer, but I do have some specific projects I'm working on. The support system is in place :)

Faith said...

How interesting, I went to a conference last week to (entirely different one, though, I assume) and found that I gained similar insights. I'd been considering myself a professional, but hadn't taken the right steps to be writing LIKE a professional. Since coming home from the conference, I've reorganized my schedule with realistic goals and deadlines, moved my office to a place where I can shut the door and be UNDISTURBED, and slotted in times when I work on particularly important projects. I feel more professional already! It's very encouraging. Thanks for the affirming post. :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Jeannie, it's all in God's timing--you're right. I'll pray for the time you do have to write to provide great results.

Susan, I know what you mean about summers with family home. Starting Monday I'm back to the old summer routine of 5:30 am wake-up time for Bible and devotion time and then start writing at 6:00 for a couple hours before the kidlets awaken. It's the only way I can get my needed writing time in in the summer schedule.

Faith, you sound like you're right on track. Congratulations! I'll pray for much efficiency in your time in your new writing space.

Thanks for stopping by all.

Susan said...

Faith, I think you were in the same conference. We may have been in the same continuing class. Do you bellydance? :)

Molly Noble Bull said...

Interesting ariticle.

kayin mcfarren said...

Loved your post, Eileen. Although I started out purely as a hobbyist, I got so involved with workshops, conferences, classes and writing groups that I truly found my passion. Now excitement is rising over my first book, FLAHERTY'S CROSSING, which will be published in February 2010. My second book has already won its first award and is only two-thirds complete. I consider myself truly blessed by being author - whether successful or not. :-)