So I’ve been doing this writing thing for many years, beginning in my early twenties when I feverishly wrote in my journals, discovered Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and decided to make it my practice, and penned fantasy stories about kings and priestesses, war and magic. It was, and continues to be, my “thing”.
I spent most of those years writing in private (I was a “closet writer” for a long time), and then later only showed my sister my work, or posted as an anonymous writer on Fanstory. It’s only been in the last 8 years or so (since my daughter was born) that I decided to become a “real” writer: write everyday if I can (even if I don’t feel like it-just show up); revise my work; and submit it to magazines and contests. I wanted to take myself seriously as a writer and try to sell my work. I even began telling other people that I was a writer (that was big). I started the blog over a year ago as a signal of my serious intention, to share work and meet other writers and bloggers.
During that time, I had one short story place in a fairly important contest (The Memory of Oranges, in the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition in 2013), and an essay published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book in 2015. I’ve earned a total of $225 for my writing, and a little bit of personal glory (and much-needed validation) for those two successes. I’ve had over a half dozen other stories rejected countless times. That’s okay-it shows I’m trying.
But something’s been bugging me for awhile now. Just what kind of writer am I? Am I a hobbyist or a “professional” writer? From certain sources, it seems you’re either one or the other. Either your writing is simply a hobby because you only write when you feel like it, or don’t approach it like a “real” 9-5 job; or you’re a professional because you are making a living off of your writing. Well. I certainly don’t make a living off of my writing, and I’m not a copywriter or journalist or even a writing teacher. I’m a cashier.
On the other hand, I bristle when others suggest writing is my “hobby”. It’s not like knitting, or stamp collecting, or gardening. It’s not something I do in my free time; it’s something I make time for. There are plenty of days I’d rather be sitting on my couch eating ice cream and watching Netflix, but I don’t. I’m getting out the notebook or firing up the computer to get something down. I finish stories, and I send them out. I’m very slow at this, because sometimes I can’t write everyday. But I do it, and will continue to do it indefinitely.
In another life I worked as a tax preparer for an accountant. We had lots of clients who filed a Schedule C for their small businesses. If the business recorded a loss for three years in a row, in the eyes of the IRS, that wasn’t a business. It was a “hobby”. I don’t consider my writing a business because I’m not making any money with it, so I suppose in the eyes of the law my writing is a hobby.
And yet, it’s not. It’s more than that. It’s not my job, but it’s my work. It’s my practice, my discipline, my lifeline to meaning. And yes, someday I’d like to be published, and I’d certainly love to make money off of it. That’s definitely a goal. But I’d still do it even I didn’t accomplish that. I can’t not write.
So where does that leave me? A professional hobbyist? An aspiring professional? Do we even need these labels? I write, therefore I am a writer. That’s the only label I need.