Why do you write? Is it something that you want to do, something you have to do, or something you enjoy doing? Everyone has a different reason for diving into creative writing, even the mighty Mr Stephen King, who in his book On Writing said “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
This week, I gave some thought to why people write, and the benefits and negatives to each approach.
Do you get paid for writing? Are you making a living off it? If so, you’re a professional writer.
Professional writers are living the dream, according to the people I know who aren’t professional writers. After a lot of hard work they have managed to get into a profession that many people dream about but never achieve. Their work reaches a wide audience and they pick up fans and followers without having to do anything outside of their normal working day. They have contacts within the industry – heck, they are a contact within the industry.
In short, it’s a career! They also write a huge amount. Part-time or hobbyist writers complain that they don’t write enough, especially when they think about it almost every second of every day. Professional writers don’t have to worry about that – they will literally write something every day and their portfolio will keep growing.
However, there are some downsides of being a full-time writer. For most people, writing isn’t a particularly well paid job. Even for steady columns or well visited blogs, their income can vary tremendously and quickly. Freelance writers can also find it difficult to find paying jobs all the time. Some jobs can pay extremely well, while some can be a little cheaper but still mean a lot of work. This constant search for jobs, without a guaranteed income, can be really stressful for some people. Others thrive on that sort of stuff though – if you’re one of these people then good luck to you!
Do you sit down at the keyboard (or notebook) and turn out hundreds of pages at a time? Are you the kind of artist who gets totally immersed in their writing and doesn’t come up for air until it’s done? You’re writing, sure, but you’re also creating art that becomes your entire life and consumes everything around you. Writing isn’t just a hobby or a job for you, it is your passion.
The positives of having a true passion for writing are quite easy to guess. You will likely be prolific, creating pages upon pages of writing and putting even career writers to shame. It took you until three in the morning to get it done, but what does it matter? The tapestry of words is complete and you are the creator. You’ll work until you pass out, but that means that when you wake up you’ll be surrounded by pages upon pages of work.
Being a passion writer also means that the writing you’ll be doing will likely be really involved. You’re more likely to turn out something really different or something really genre busting. You’ll be in the zone more often, and your mind will reward you by opening up to new possibilities and new options.
There’s a downside to being a passion writer though. First off, it’s exhausting. To be immersed in a story for so long can really drain you, and leave you feeling really tired. Passion writers find it difficult to take time off to recover, because they truly believe that whatever they are writing is the next big thing (TNBT), and will shake up the world. Why would they rest, they figure, when such potential rests at the end of their fingertips?
Passion writers can also be extremely insular. You rarely venture outside, especially when in the middle of TNBT. Jobs, relationships and the real world can often take a back seat when you’re writing, and that can have a long term impact on your mental health. Also you can’t get much nutrition when all you have in the house to eat is your latest creative project. Pizza Hut isn’t practical when you have no money because all you do is work on TNBT.
Writing always used to be a hobby, until the modern publishing industry turned it into something else. Until internet booksellers turned it into a get rich quick scheme. Writing used to be a place where people could just sit, write and tell a story, as much to themselves as to anyone else. Yet a lot of people still seem reluctant to declare their writing as a hobby.
Hobbyists write for the love of writing, but not quite as heavily as passion writers. They will spend a few minutes here and there (or maybe even an hour or two when they get the time away from other commitments) scribbling down ideas or character sketches. You will not, however, get lost in your writing so much that you forget to eat, or forget to pick the kids up from school. You let the passion writers deal with the drama that creates.
There’s something wholesome about writing for the love of it. Writing becomes something to be looked forward too, and something that you enjoy when you get the chance. The less time you spend in front of your work in progress, the more relaxed you feel about writing when you’re away from it. Being less stressed about writing is a major plus.
The lack of agent, following or mailing list to pressure you for a new book, script or poem, means that there is very little pressure on you. This again leads to you enjoying your writing – not stressing about it. Hobbyists feel a little guilty when they’re not writing, but not because their family depends on it to put food on the table. Guilt there probably means they’re just missing writing.
There are drawbacks to being so relaxed about writing though. There’s always going to be a link between the amount of time you spend in front of your story and how much of it gets done. So hobbyists need to manage their personal expectations of what is achievable with a less strenuous timetable. You can plan for it by creating routines and removing distractions, but their output is always going to be less than career or passion writers. Remember though, not to fear the day job.
The other, perhaps more important negative, for hobby writers is that they don’t attract as many readers. After a while they will get some true fans, but as they don’t create lots of books or lots of art, they will find it difficult to build up that following in the short term. This might not seem like a massive issue – after all, hobbyists do it for the love just as much as passion writers – but if at any point you want to become a career writer, you’ll need a following at some point.
Which one am I?
As I said in my stereotypes post, you shouldn’t feel that you have to be one of the above writers. You can take different traits of the above to suit your lifestyle. For me, I have traits of both career and hobby writers. I’m too constrained by the day job (boring) to be a passion writer.
But every now and then I’ll have moments of being a passion writer. Near the end of a book, perhaps, or when there’s a particular chapter that I have to finish. When the mood grabs me I can write for hours, and the word count keeps getting higher. In fact, this blog post is a good example of that.
Write with Phil is how I am laying the groundwork for an eventual career writing. I don’t know when it will happen (it might have to wait until I retire) but eventually there were will come a time when I spend most of my time writing. By then, I’ll have a portfolio of work to show any clients. I will also have a following who like my writing, and will continue to read it.
Which one are you?
You’ve probably already decided which of the three options above best describes you. If you don’t think they describe you well, do you recognise any traits that you exhibit? Like me, you won’t be a perfect fit – but being aware of which one you want to be is just as important when you want to figure out your continuing approach to creative writing.
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