Top Ten Ways to Know You're Dealing with a Dabbler

We've all met them. Anywhere you're introduced (sometimes unwillingly) as an author, eyes light up and mouths flap open, saying, "I've always wanted to write a book, too!" As the hopeful regale you with their grand plans, you subtly tune out within seconds, for you know in your heart that this is just another dabbler, a daydreamer who'll never put in the time and energy it takes.

How can you tell?

1. The Dabbler's going to do it someday. The Real Deal is working on it now.
2. The Dabbler's waiting for life to get less hectic. For the kiddos to get older, the sick parents to get well, the earth's orbit to grind to a complete stop (so distracting!). The Real Deal writes over, around, and through life's disruptions because they never end.
3. The Dabbler's attending workshops, networking with writers, and reading craft books to lay the groundwork for her dream. The Real Deal is actually writing, with or without doing the foregoing as well.
4. The Dabbler expends far more creativity embroidering her excuses than her plots.
5. The Dabbler frequently (and loudly) decries "that trash" that's getting published nowadays (by sell-outs). He knows he could do better -- and isn't shy about saying so. The Real Deal knows that writing anything commercial is much harder than it looks.
6. The Dabbler refuses to risk criticism/rejection by submitting work to critique groups, first-chapter contests, agents, or editors. The Real Deal knows she'll have to take her lumps, often for years.
7. If the Dabbler does risk and receive any sort of criticism/rejection, he rages against the a. stupidity, b. unfairness, c. potential jealousy of the party involved. The Real Deal feels the sting but realizes it's a subjective business and moves on.
8. The Dabbler is a true "artiste" and New York is just too blind or threatened to recognize her work. This often results in years-long bouts of writer's block requiring expensive therapy. The Real Deal digs in and works that much harder, always believing that the next project with be "the one."
9. The Dabbler is sure that the purchase of expensive equipment/software or travel to distant and costly workshops is "the" secret to success. The Real Deal will write on toilet paper if he has to.
10. The Dabbler's looking for a shortcut -- a favor from the established writer that fills said writer with the urge to run like hell. The Real Deal, on the other hand, knows there *are* no shortcuts and puts in enough sweat equity (without trumpeting it) that established writers feel moved to offer whatever assistance they can.

The good news is that a lot of us start off as dabblers. Heaven knows I did. I started to change when I stopped treating my goal of becoming an author as a daydream and began to treat it like a job.

So what about the rest of you? What took you from Dabbler to Real Deal -- or are you still working on the change? And if you're published, how to you respond to the Demanding Dabblers you meet everywhere? Have any good tips for extricating yourself without resorting to assault?


Rachel Hauck said…
Great post.

I listen to Dabblers because I babble a lot about my stories and it helps to talk it out.

However, if a Dabbler keeps at it, I stop them and say, "I don't want to hear another word until you have three chapters."

One guy made his wife write them. :)

I always tell Dabblers I'm proud of them and their ideas because "writing is really hard for me and I have to sit there and think, think, think before the story makes sense."

The only way to really write a book, is as you posted, Just Do It. Butt in chair. ;)
Jennifer Ashley said…
"The Dabbler is a true "artiste" and New York is just too blind or threatened to recognize her work."

I hear this one all the time! Even from people who should know better. It's so cliche, I'd think people wouldn't actually say it out loud, but they do. Same for the people whining about the "trash" written by "sell-outs" (that would be me and my books.)

I usually nod and smile vacantly when confronted with dabblers. If I sense they truly can use good advice, I send them to the library to look for Writer's Digest books and the Writer's Market.

I've gotten emails from people who say my connections can get their great ideas published--um, I'm not a ghost writer, and I barely have time to write down my own great ideas. I usually just ignore these suggestions.

No response is usually the best response. That's not to say I don't try to help true aspiring authors; I do. I've learned to tell the difference between dabblers and those who are truly working their butts off to get there.

Good topic.
TJ Bennett said…
I never dabbled. When I decided to write my first book, I sat down and wrote it. Didn't know one damn thing about writing a book, except that it took committment, and you had to finish the thing to actually call it a book. I had "practiced" for years, I suppose, writing poems and short stories, so I guess maybe that was dabbling. But I never called myself a writer until AFTER I'd written my first book.

So, I don't "get" dabblers. I meet them all the time, but I don't get them. You want to write? Write! Who cares if it stinks on ice? You'll fix it, it will be better (if not good), and if you really want to do that to yourself again, then you know you're a writer. A writer writes--some write slowly, some write faster, some write well, or badly--but they all write. If you can't, that's fine. Just don't pretend or fool yourself. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer, any more than everyone is cut out to play football for the NFL. A few games of touch football in the back yard does not a Jerry Rice make. Pass up the "I coulda been a contender speech," and focus your efforts on something else that makes you happy.

What I don't get is why people think they HAVE to be a writer, or SHOULD HAVE BEEN a writer, when what they really mean is they *admire* writers and, if they had been as talented and dedicated, that would have been a nice thing to become, but they decided to become a lawyer instead, or a nurse, or a mom, or a whatever, because that's where their talents lay.

Just be honest about it, yanno?

Kathy Bacus said…
Great topic, Colleen!

I'm with TJ here. It never occurred to me to 'dabble'. It was all or nothing from the get-go--despite the sacrifices, rejections, and frustration. I started out writing back in the late nineties with the objective of writing for publication and with the mind set that it was a business. Instead of a cash investment as start up capitol, time and work product represented my start-up capitol. I learned as I wrote. Often the hard way.

And I'm still learning.

Nothing like getting down and dirty in the trenches.

I do think there are nice dabblers, the type who play around in a lot of creative arts. They're usually sweet, supportive, and very well liked. But then there are the obnoxious "I could've been a contendah if I'd only been given all the breaks *you* were" types. Those are the ones who give me heartburn. And you're right, Jennifer, a lot of them do speak stereotype.

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