Writing Isn’t A Hobby

I was talking to some friends on Twitter today about a common issue shared by many serious writers, whether they’re just starting out or they’ve already begun making money off their writing. People who aren’t writers don’t seem to understand what writing is to those of us who devote serious time to it. Writing isn’t a hobby. It isn’t something to be done on your “spare time.” It isn’t something that can be rushed. And for a lot of writers, it isn’t something that can be done when you’re not in the write right state of mind.

Those of you who are writers probably already know what I’m talking about. We tend to encounter issues with friends, family, and others in our lives who don’t really understand what professional writing is. One of my Twitter friends said this lack of understanding probably stems from the fact that almost everyone grows up learning how to read and write, and oftentimes think they could write a book themselves if they ever felt like it. They don’t understand the difference between someone who hasn’t written anything since college essays versus someone who sits down every day like you’re clocking into a job and works hard at planning, outlining, writing, revising, editing, revising, revising, and revising a novel for two years straight before it’s finished.

Writing is hard. It takes a lot of practice. There will be times when you’re beating your head against the wall trying to come up with the solution to an issue in a chapter you’re working on, only to end up cutting that chapter entirely later on. There will be times when it wakes you up in the middle of the night with the insistent demand that you write now. Many writers I know complain about the constant distractions from their children, siblings, and others who just won’t give them some peace and quiet so they can work. And many of them probably have friends who ask, like one friend of mine did, “Why does it take so long?” and “Why do you need so many drafts?”

When my friend asked me how long it would be until Manifestation was finished, I explained it to him like this: I’m currently on an editing stage where I’m removing language that filters the scene through a character’s senses, and also removing superfluous adverbs, because both of these things weaken the text. Many writers agree with the “kill all the adverbs method of writing, but in case you’re not, here’s an example from Manifestation:

Before editing:

Another scream sounded from nearby, and someone in the crowd shouted, “Oh God!” Gabby saw someone nearby collapse to the ground, beside a man who was clutching his head in pain. The doctor turned to help, running over to the woman on the ground. As the others in the immediate vicinity cleared away, Gabby saw blood covering the woman and spreading across the ground. She looked up at the man standing over her, and saw more blood on his hands. He looked right at her, his face twisted in pain, his eyes lost. He looked down at his feet and the woman lying there, his face blank with shock. He seemed to only belatedly notice the blood on his hands. He stared at them, his hands shaking.

After editing:

Another scream sounded from nearby. Someone in the crowd shouted, “Oh God!” A woman collapsed to the ground, covered in blood. A man stood next to her, clutching his head in pain. The doctor ran over to the woman and knelt next to her, checking her vitals. The rest of the crowd cleared away, giving him room. Gabby stood back, watching the doctor work. Blood spread across the ground around the woman’s body. The man standing nearby lowered his hands. They were covered in blood.

He looked at Gabby. His face twisted in pain and his eyes lost focus. His hair stood out in bloody clumps where he’d been clutching his head. He looked down at the woman lying in a pool of her own blood. His face went pale and he wore a blank expression as he tried to absorb what had happened. He stared at his blood-soaked hands, shaking.

I’m not sure I’m entirely satisfied with that passage yet, but some of the key differences are how I removed the lines “Gabby saw…” and just described what was happening. I also removed the horrible phrase “He only belatedly,” a double-adverb sin that should never have been in the passage at all. “He stared at his blood-soaked hands, shaking.” is a much better line than “He seemed to only belatedly notice the blood on his hands. He stared at them, his hands shaking.”

Going through and making changes like these through a 100,000 word manuscript takes time. As an example of how long it takes, I recently removed 164 adverbial usages of the word “just.” I apparently have this bad habit of saying someone “just” did something. “She just nodded.” “She just didn’t know what to say.” “She just turned and left the room.” These word choices weaken the prose, and each of those sentences are just stronger without the superfluous “just.” But taking out 164 “justs,” if each one takes thirty seconds to find, read, and remove, adds up to almost an hour and a half of editing. And the “justs” are just one of about forty commonly-overused words I’m editing and removing right now. That’s a couple of weeks worth of work right there, just to polish the prose itself. That’s aside from any other work spent rearranging chapters, cutting scenes, and working on plot and characterization.

Writing is hard.

And there are entirely different issues while writing the first draft. A lot of people need to be in the right frame of mind in order to write. Some writers I know like to write with music on. Others need a quiet room. Many of us stare at a blank screen, trying to find inspiration. Though I like to follow Stephen King’s advice in his book, On Writing. He says that your Muse won’t show up when you want him to. He’ll get there when he’s damn good and ready. So the only way to proceed is to sit down and work hard, every day. That way, when your Muse is ready to show up, he’ll find you there, hard at work, waiting for his inspiration.

(Of course, my Muse is a woman with long dark hair, captivating eyes, and a toga. But to each their own.)

So next time someone tells you to write in your spare time, ask them what they do for a living and then ask them if they could just squeeze that into their “spare time.” If they don’t want their career treated like a hobby, they shouldn’t act that way about yours.

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30 thoughts on “Writing Isn’t A Hobby”

  1. I figure when my first book gets published it will help, some, with all of the above. Maybe, or maybe not. Still, all those blank stares I get when I talk about my writing and how much time it takes probably won’t stop, which is why writer friends are great. Thanks for the rant!

    1. It definitely helps to be surrounded by other writers who actually understand what it’s like. Sometimes I’m afraid to tell non-writers what I do because they just don’t get it.

  2. As someone who now has two unconventional jobs (writing, freelance makeup artist), I find that people don’t understand jobs that you don’t have to punch a clock, have anyone to answer to but yourself, or that you actually WANT to do. It goes against everything that our culture considers work. If you like it, it can’t possibly be work. Because I can work at home, and I’m forever on call for makeup (I get calls at the last minute for production work all the time), other people don’t think I actually WORK. And they get offended when I try to explain to them I do.

    For the person who said maybe people would understand after their book comes out…I’m working on book seven. People still ask me about my “book” as if there never be another one.

    Kristen

    1. I try to explain it to people as being like opening your own small business. Self-employment is as much work as any other full-time job, if not more, since you’re doing so much by yourself. But even then, I’d rather be doing this than stay in restaurant work my whole life simply because I’m doing what I love.

      1. It is EXACTLY a small business, and you are the CEO, especially if you go indie. I make every decision and everything goes through me. I also pay for everything, but I get the $$ back when the time comes. It takes a certain kind of person to open a small business, but if you are that person, you won’t be happy doing anything else.

  3. I frequently describe it as freelancing, which a lot of people in my life get. The other terms I use to describe it are career-transition terms. When a professional wants to stop doing one thing and start doing this other thing, they have to practice and build up skills to do that. Given my age and profession, many people in my life also appreciate that explanation. The third explanation that I give is that of an artist or a musician – I need to practice.

    1. Freelancing is another good way to describe it, though to me freelancing is a different sort of writing. That’s writing I do for someone else based on criteria they assign. My novel writing is something I control, from drafting to revision to publication. Though from a career point of view, it’s the same difference: writing as work. Especially since sometimes it’s not fun. It’s challenging.

      1. Ah, but people “get it” metaphorically, at least. That’s what I’m talking about — using analogues to get the point across — even if they don’t get-it get-it. Get it?

    1. From all the responses this is getting I can definitely tell a lot of people can relate. It seems like we all have people in our lives who don’t look at our writing the same way we do.

  4. I think the few beginning paragraphs should be altered to say “Professional Writing is not a hobby”. If only because the act of writing CAN be a hobby. I wrote as a hobby, in my spare time, for almost ten years before I decided I wanted to do it for a living. (Because it was fun, and for no other reason) The same can be said for many careers revolving around art. Some people will never make it a career, but they still enjoy doing it.

    I’ll also point out that your double adverb example was a bad example for your purposes, if you ask me. (Though it illustrates my main point on the subject rather well) Having two may have weakened the sentence, but the word “belatedly” gives the reader information that was lost in your reworking. (That his hands didn’t shake until he realized they were covered in blood) Perhaps you decided that wasn’t important information (understandable), but an entire chunk of information WAS lost there. Adverbs aren’t inherently bad; overuse of them (as with any Part of Speech) is the bad thing. And let’s face it: Whether words are overused or not is a highly subjective decision on the part of the person reading it. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to subjective decisions, despite what King worshipers would have you believe. You have to form an opinion and go with your instincts. It’s up to the individual readers to decide if they agree with your opinion in the end.

    1. Writing certainly can be a hobby for some people. The friend I mentioned in the blog post above, the one who asked why the novel is taking so long, writes purely for fun on collaborative writing and roleplaying sites. But there’s some really big differences in the way he writes versus the way I write. He writes a scene to continue the roleplaying game, and moves on, never revising it or giving thought to overall story structure. He also often goes weeks at a time in between the things he writes, because he has no deadline or specific goal he’s trying to achieve. For him, writing truly is something he just does in his spare time. And based on the conversations he and I have had, I know he doesn’t truly understand the schedule I set for myself, the amount of work I put into my writing, or the reasons behind a lot of what I do.

      But he’s also told me he considers me a professional writer, a label he wouldn’t apply to himself.

  5. My Muse is a skirt-chasing, liquor-guzzling chain-smoker named Clarence. I don’t know why. I only know that he drags his carcass off the bar stool and into my living room whenever I sit down long enough to write. For a total sleeze, he’s awfully dependable. 😉

    1. P.S. I know there are those amongst my friends and family who thought I’d give up this little writing thing once I had a kid. I published my fifth novel when kid was three months old. Haven’t heard much on the “writing’s just a hobby” front since. Sometimes, the best way to answer the naysayers is to go ahead and quietly do one’s thing. 🙂

  6. One thing I’d add to your list is that some people think writing is embarrassing. I’ve learned not to mention it because people think you’re trying to strongarm them into reading your work (hey, they’re the one who asked me what I was up to lay weekend). Or else they think it’s all about them. The first time I had a story published, I brought the magazine issue into my day job office to show off, and the director immediately asked if it was set at work. No, it was set on a farm in the early 1920s and was a ghost story, but I had to lend him the magazine so he could read it and check I wasn’t giving away any trade secrets.

    The whole idea that they might know someone who can a) make stuff up and b) produce work of sufficient quality to be accepted really freaks some people out.

    1. Which brings up whole other issues if something IS about people you know, even indirectly. People can get angry over s character that is based on them doing things they don’t approve of. I’ve heard of families getting quite mad if a writer wrote about family drama.

      I tend not to tell people I know in real life that I’m a writer. I wonder if that’ll ever change.

  7. That’s pretty much how my family is, except for like my mom. And she doesn’t really care if I write or not.

    I find I have to turn off the internet, and take a few minutes to think about my own thoughts, before booting up FocusWriter and pounding away at the keys.

    Then other interuptions, like singing at the top of their lungs when I’m trying to jot down pre-notes for a story.

    That’s rude, writer or not.

    1. Distractions are definitely not conducive to the writing process. Which is probably why most writers I know do most of their writing in isolation. Which in turn brings up a whole other set of issues than can arise from loneliness and such.

      1. Thats one reason I found a writing group for my picture books. Of course if I’ll be leaving in an ecodome out in the everglades, maybe it won’t be so bad.

        I might end up building my own shack like what Rohl Dahl ended up doing.

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