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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.

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6 thoughts on “Labels

  1. You had an essay published by a publication that you can hold in your hand and point to your name on the paper! You are a writer, Tina. Over and out. The business of being paid a regular wage or having a royalty check come your way every month or having a row of leather bound volumes in your bookcase with your name on the spine are all well and good and things for which we aspire, BUT the the definition of writer is so arbitrary and relative that I still fully believe in the bottom line. A writer is someone who writes on a regular basis towards a definable end: publication. That’s you.

    As you say, you”can’t not write.” That’s another great definition of a writer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Paul. I’ve always known that I’m a writer, but I often wonder if I’m “doing the right things” to succeed. Every now and then I just have to relax and go about it my own way. As long as words are being written, I’m doing okay! Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, whoops…:-/ Okay– on that score, “doing the right things” I often get that feeling as well. I know I don’t send my stories out as much as I should and every now and then I’ll read an essay or a blog and it’s one of those–DON’T DO THIS sort of thing and of course I’m doing it like crazy…. I agree that it’s probably the best thing to simply find your own speed and stick to it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this and for being so honest about how ‘successful’ your writing has been so far. This is so helpful to all the striving artists out there.

    There seems to be this trend in the creative industries that you’re either a hobbyist, dabbling away at unfinished projects for years, or a fantastic new talent bursting onto the scene with a finished masterpiece. The attention doesn’t tend to focus on the steps in between. We seem to think talent appears by magic when actually it takes hard work and dedication.

    It’s encouraging to hear that you are committed to your writing while still paying the bills with a day job. That doesn’t disqualify you as a writer at all. I think most writers/creatives have to make ends meet elsewhere before their creative endeavours start earning them a living. If you write then you’re a writer, published or not. Also, ideas come when you’re not thinking about writing so having another focus is healthy.

    I also understand the worry about labels. I’ve spent so much time feeling like I’m defined by what I do and judged for it which really isn’t helpful. We are whoever we think we are and I’ve finally shaken off worrying about how other people measure my ‘success’.

    I have a degree in games design yet I’m a recruiter for the construction sector.. go figure. Does that make me a failed games designer? Maybe to some but still dabble with projects and have fun doing it. I know I’ll put something out there. It might not set the world on fire but I have the will to create something in the first place and I’m happy with that.

    If I create something – a game, a story, a picture – and it inspires or makes others happy that that’s enough ‘success’ for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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