Is writing a hobby or a career? Maybe it should be both.
I'm a writer, I have been all my life. Many of my early childhood memories involve making up stories and writing them down. I remember the moment in my classroom when I realised for the first time, that I could write real words, and string them together into a meaningful sentence. I remember sitting with my parents in restaurants, waiting for the food to arrive (it always takes hours when you’re a kid). I would write stories in an exercise book. I'm sure that a love of writing is something that God wired into me.
Writing was definitely a hobby for me as a child. When I was in grade six I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up - a computer programmer. What a nerd! I had great fun writing that year, but I didn't choose author as my career path. It just never occurred to me that writing could be a job. Writing was what you did for fun. It wasn't work! If I’d seen things differently then I wonder if my life might have taken a different path - who knows?
I went on to study computing at university and achieved my career goal. Through all of this I never lost my love of writing. During my uni days I wrote lots of Star Trek fan fiction (who didn't?). As a young adult in my first job I turned my attention to novels. I was sure I could do it. My parents were always supportive. The idea of trying to get something published entered my mind and never really left.
As I've grown older I've come to realise something important. To succeed with this writing game, it has to be more than just a hobby. I have to treat it like a career - regardless of whether writing is my ‘day job’ or not. I have to develop a professional attitude to my writing. Here are a few ways that I am learning to do this.
1) Learn the Writing Craft.
As with any creative endeavour, you have to learn the craft. There are so many resources out there to help with this. I remember when I first came to understand the rules behind point-of-view - it was very eye-opening. I learned about story structure - this was a huge revelation to me that totally changed the way I view the creation of a novel. Learning about scene structure was the next logical step. At the end of this article I share a couple of books and free resources that helped me.
2) Stick at it
Completing a novel-length manuscript is a big job. Getting to the end requires dedication. Not just a little “writing when you feel like it”. Many people say you must write every day. Some even suggest word limit goals that every writer should aim for if they want to be taken seriously. We are all different and have unique life situations, so I think we should find a schedule that works for our situation. My current schedule is to spend an hour or two writing fiction (without distraction) every Saturday morning. I'm sticking to this quite well. I started a manuscript at the beginning of the year and I aim to have the first draft completed by year’s end. So far I'm ahead of schedule. Credit must go to my kids who are pretty good at leaving Daddy alone for his special writing time (amazing since they’re usually such a handful). This may not be an appropriate schedule later on, but as an unpublished writer, I have the luxury of setting my own deadlines right now.
As an amateur you have the freedom to make up everything. It doesn't matter if you get a fact wrong because you're just writing for fun right? While fiction (particularly sci-fi and fantasy) does give us some room for inventing things, there are times when you just need to do the hard yards and research something. While writing my novel I have learned about a fascinating range of subjects such as astronomy and galactic coordinate systems, particle weapons, people trafficking, Tasmanian aboriginal culture, early nineteenth century history, self-defence for women and bush tucker. Obviously I'm no expert on any of these things, but I've certainly expanded my mind somewhat.
4) The ‘E Word’
As a hobbyist, I have tended to finish a first draft, look lovingly at it and say "I'm finished". Now, what will I write next?” If I hope to become an author I know this isn't good enough. Editing is an important part of producing a book of publishable quality. This is a skill I'm going to have to develop. Of course there is only so much self-editing you can do. Just like with software development, eventually you have to hand the product on to someone else with a fresh perspective who can find the bugs that you will never see. I’ll need to get my work professionally edited.
5) Surround yourself with Role Models
I think it's helpful to learn from those further along the journey. I've had the privilege of meeting Mary Hawkins a couple of times, and she has been very supportive. Hanging out with everyone here at Christian Writers Downunder has also been fantastic. The community is very welcoming of a newbie like me. This brings to mind the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1.
So that’s my journey so far. I'm sure there are still more lessons for me to learn. In all of this, there is one thing I don’t want to lose - the passion that drove me to write as a hobby in the first place. Taking a story from idea to a publishable manuscript seems to me to require a huge amount of dedication, and love is a much greater motivator than duty (that’s a line from my novel)
So what about you? What ideas would you suggest to an aspiring author such as myself to help adopt the professional attitude?
Resources that have helped me:
- The Complete Guide to Writing and Selling the Christian Novel by Penelope Stokes. This book had some great thoughts about creating a story from a Christian perspective. It is also the first place I learned about point of view.
- Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. As a software developer, the idea of engineering a story really appealed to me. There are lots of great lessons here with a huge focus on story structure.
- K.M. Weiland has two brilliant series on story structure and scene structure. You can read the articles or listen to the podcasts.
- Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. This book showed me how to go from a passing grade on POV to an A+.
Adam Collings is a writer of speculative fiction. He is actively working toward becoming a published author, and is currently working on a space opera. He lives in Tasmania, Australia with his wife Linda and two monsters (oops I mean children). Adam works as a software developer for a consulting engineering company. You can find Adam on-line at collingszone.wordpress.com or his Google+ Profile