Friday, August 19, 2016

When Hobby becomes Profession

Some of my early ceramics efforts. I'm better now. It's still a hobby.

When I started writing my first novel, it was August of 2004. I owned my own physical therapy practice and was parenting two school-aged children. Between the 25-30 hour a week practice, and the all-the-other-hours of being a mom, I was busy. Writing was my hobby. A passionate hobby, to be sure, but a hobby. It was something I fit into the rest of my life because it was something I enjoyed and it was fun to be able to say I was working on writing a novel.

I didn't have a schedule or a daily writing quota, but I did prioritize working on the story anytime I had some free moments.

But it was a hobby. And if I missed a day or three, or stopped writing altogether, it wasn't a big deal. I wrote for myself, primarily, though, sure, I dreamed about having my book published and all the lovely fantasies that go with it.

Sometime between finishing that manuscript in 2005 and starting what would become my first published novel several years later, the writing had started to shift away from pure hobby. I was still working as a physical therapist, but the writing had become more and more of a priority. I learned how to work faster and complete a first draft in under a year. I started writing more regularly.

When I retired from active PT practice several years after that, I started to see myself as a full-time writer and my my writing time turned into my job. My schedule included a goal of 1,000 words a day or an average of 5,000 words a week. I learned how to complete a first draft in under 6 months.

Now, 11 manuscripts and 6 published novels later, it is my job. I have deadlines and responsibilities that span from the daydreamy kind of creativity I used to imagine was the lot of the writer, to the grinding pressure of needing to write 30 blogposts over the course of a few weeks to support the release of one novel, while reviewing the audiofiles of another, while picking my way through the draft of something new.

There used to be a time when I waited for inspiration to strike so I could write. And what flowed from my hand was - of course - perfect the way it was because it was driven by the muse. (Go ahead, laugh. I certainly do.)

Now I go to work. My commute is far shorter than it was when I was a physical therapist, but my walk across the living room to my office is, in fact, heading to work. Even on days I don't feel the magic happening, I go to work. Even when it takes me six hours to write 1,000 words and most of them will be revised away, or I sketch out ideas for scenes that end up not working in the final analysis.
Today was such a day. And I sat down at the computer to work, regardless of a serious case of the 'donwannas'. I have a planned release date for this novel - July of 2017. That means getting it drafted, revised, to beta readers, revised again, and to my editor, all on a fairly tight schedule. My editing slot is for April. If I miss that opening in my editor's schedule, it means I will miss the publication date.

I do have another creative outlet. I am a ceramics artist. And I'm quite content for it to be my hobby. I've gotten fairly good at it and make things that people have actually chosen to buy. But it remains a hobby.

I don't want to be a production potter. There are several production potters at the studio where I work and I am awed by the sheer amount of ware they create, consistently, uniformly. That's not what I want. That would take the joy out of what I use as a break from my other responsibilities. There are weeks when I head to the studio every day. Because I feel like it. There are other times when I don't get there in several weeks. I don't have to go and play with clay when I'm feeling uninspired. I really enjoy it, but have very little pressure to produce.

There is nothing wrong with being a hobby potter. There is nothing wrong with being a hobby writer. It's all about what your goals are for the work.

To pursue a living through creativity, we have to safeguard our imaginations. This becomes even more essential as the writing moves from hobby to profession. Words don't roll out on a conveyor belt. Artists are not machines.*
A few final thoughts - this isn't about insisting that my process is the right process or that you can't be a professional writer if you don't write full time, or if you have a day job. Nor am I saying if you don't write every day you're not a 'serious enough' writer - whatever that means.

For any artist of any kind, the fallow time, the time to recharge is also an essential part of the work. The important distinction in my mind is to know why you are not writing. Is it avoidance? (Perhaps your subconscious is trying to tell you something.) Are you ill? (Take care of your meatsuit!) Is something wrong in the story? (Give yourself permission to make needed changes.) Are you at risk of burnout? (Take a break.)

After all, we take sick days from work, right? We plan vacations and play on the weekends. If writing is a job, all those things need to be part of the equation, too.

Just know there is a kind of pressure in looking at any creative endeavor as a job. There is the risk that it can rob the joy out of the process.

If you let it.

It doesn't have to, but it will also not always be rainbows and unicorns. For me, the writing needs to come full circle and be read to feel complete. That means not only finishing a project, but creating one that is saleable. Writing for the sake of writing, while satisfying in some ways, isn't enough for me now. It used to be.

It makes me glad to have my ceramics for the pure playtime it provides.

(*Though someday, machines may be artists. . . I do write Science Fiction, after all. . . )



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