A Hobbyist Turns Pro

As Joni and I were chattering over coffee the other day, my memory banks coughed up a nugget of advice given to me long ago by a pro writer friend, one that ended up as a turning point on my path to publication. For years, I'd been writing as a sideline/hobby (the dream job) while also professionally pursuing first a teaching career and then a masters degree in educational administration (the reality). I was starting to apply for positions as an assistant principal, yet still whining about wanting to write for a living someday. My friend (who'd heard this all before) stopped me cold and told me (with some exasperation) that I could be a published author. I had the talent, but what I lacked was the commitment.

I was pretty aggravated by that statement. What did she mean, I didn't have the commitment? In spite of the demands of marriage, child-rearing, a full-time teaching career, and grad school in my "spare" time, I was still cramming in hours of writing every day (except when I had a paper/project/test/grading/lesson plans due). I was submitting short stories to magazines (though I didn't have the time to actually read and research them) and duly filing an ever-increasing pile of rejection slips. I was really trying. Wasn't I?

Actually, I was, but not in the right way. Because a commitment to building a career in writing won't let you put it in second place. You have to want it so badly that you're investing more mental energy on it than the safety-net career. You have to stop thinking of it as a fantasy and put it in the realm of not some distant daydream but a very real career that you are working toward.

You can do all that and keep your day job. (A body's gotta eat...) But you have to treat the writing career as your next one and work at preparing for it as hard as -- no, even harder than -- you would at any trade school, college degree, or apprenticeship. You have to be willing to tell your loved ones this is what you intend to do and fence off a territory all your own (not necessarily an office but a territory consisting of time and space and family resources) in which to do it.

If you're apologetic or shy about your "little hobby," it's sure to remain one. If you allow "helpful" friends or relatives to diminish you over your career goals, you're contributing to your own failure. If you treat writing as an achievable goal, have at least some talent, and do it instead of yapping about it, you have a very, very real shot of making it reality.

Is that the same as a guarantee? Heck, no, but I couldn't guarantee that any given person would get through med school or succeed as a cabinetmaker or an electrician or a car salesperson, either. That doesn't mean that people don't make it or can't make it. It's an everyday occurrence.

Why shouldn't you make it in this business, too?


Elizabeth said…
Can I say I love you?

Your blurb here validates me.

*smiling with shoulders scrunched up*
So glad to hear it resonated! Keep fighting the good fight.

And I'll take all the love that I can get!
Keziah Fenton said…
Very timely reminder about attitude and priorities. Can you imagine a brain surgeon telling a patient to wait a sec while he got the fish sticks out of the oven? Thank you.
Allison Brennan said…
Very well said, Colleen, and very true. I remember the turning point very well in my life. I stopped bringing my work (day job) home with me and instead, focused on finishing and editing one of the many books I'd started but only played around with. At that point, I saw my last raise, and I knew by not going the extra mile at the Capitol that I wouldn't advance in that career. Knew and accepted it, because I wanted to make my career as a writer.
Glad you stopped by, Keziah, and you're welcome!

Nice to hear from you, Allison, and I'm glad your choice has worked out so well!

I never got that principalship either. Which may have had something to do with withdrawing my application. But I'm not a bit sorry. I would've been miserable in that job, and this one fits just right.

Thanks for stopping by! Loved your last jailbreak book! I'm looking forward to the next one.
TJ Bennett said…
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Lark said…
I really liked your topic and it got me thinking about my own situation.

I have worked in a job that pays well but I don't much like for almost 15 years to allow my husband to start and build his own company. Luckily, my pesky day job is not terribly demanding much of the time and it gives me time to write as well as lots of vacation time. Your comments made me realize that my good salary and relatively low key job has made it easy for me to drift along with a manuscript a year and a less than aggressive effort to market my work while I tell myself I'm pursuing publication. Sure, I'm pitching and querying, by not with the hardcore drive I had when I had a high-profile marketing career.

Although I still need this day job, you're dead on about the need to change perspective and priorites if writing is ever going to be a career. Let's face it, if I don't treat it like a career, how can I hope anyone else will?
Joni Rodgers said…
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TJ Bennett said…
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Joni Rodgers said…
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Bonnie Vanak said…
This is a very interesting topic for me because I have both the day job and the writing, with seven and, in November, eight published books under my belt. I can see both sides of the issue. The reality today, with rising gas and food prices, is that everyday living expenses are very expensive. I need the day job, and though I’m lucky I love my job, it’s still a economic necessity.

Last year I wrote three books for two different publishers while still working the day job. I even wrote an article for my chapter’s newsletter on balancing the day job with writing, whether you’re published or not. I took all the advice listed in my article, from pondering plot points in books while folding laundry, to tape recording thoughts about the WIP on the drive to work.

And this year, I realized how exhausted I am. And how something will have to be cut back because of it.

The day job is becoming more draining and I’m working harder than ever because of the nature of my job (I work for a charity), and it’s harder than ever to write when I come home at night because I’m so tired. Sometimes I just want to curl up on the couch with hubby. I’ve done the trick of taking the Alpha Smart to the beach to write while hubby combs the sands with his metal detector, just so we can spend time together. But I honestly think, be you a FT writer or one who has a day job, the key to it all is balance.

I don’t have kids, and I don’t know how women who work FT and write AND have kids do it. Likewise, I have lots of respect for women who write FT and race to complete their WIP. I know how hard writers work when you’re on deadline and have a contract to fulfill, no matter what demands are made on your time.

But balance is so freaking important, no matter what you do. Feed the kids Hot Pockets when you can, find time to write, but find time also to hug them and spend quality time with your family. I think we as women have more demands than ever placed on us, and we feel like we MUST do it all.

And we face more stress than ever because of it, trying to keep up!

What’s the answer? It’s up to the individual. I do advise that when you get run down and burnt out, to take a good, hard look at your life and your priorities. I love to write and I still have that thrill when I see a book cover with my name on it. But I also know how important family is, and I’m grateful I have a job that pays the bills every month when there are so many who are unemployed.

My mom, a very wise woman, always told me to strive for the middle of the road and never stray too far to the left or right. Only now do I realize how smart she was. You can still write what you love, and never lose that love of writing, but you don’t have to do it all. Even if your writing is on the back burner, you can keep it simmering. It just means it’s not the main course for now, but when it’s done, it can be a very tasty and wonderful treat, and maybe even better because you weren’t stressing so much over it.

Like this wonderful sign said, that I saw in the day spa when I went there for a birthday massage (which I highly recommend for ALL writers), “You were not born in this life to do EVERYTHING. You were born to do SOMETHING.”

Keep the dream, but remember to balance the dream with practicality.

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