Friday, June 14, 2013

Hobby or Career?

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.

3) Research

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:

Adam CollingsAdam 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 or his Google+ Profile


  1. Great post! Your story parallels mine, as I am learning the same things that you've identified. Also, thanks for the resources, I'll check them out. I'd also like to learn more about your novel and when it will be published.
    Barry Knox

    1. Hi Barry. Thanks for dropping by. Glad you found the resources helpful. Here is the two-sentence version of my novel:
      "Alana Hamptinh is a young businesswoman from the backwater planet of Kanis. When she receives the surprise revelation that she is the hidden heir to the Coalition of Planets, she heads for the Capital. But when her flight is hijacked by slavers, she is thrust into a desparate struggle to survive, and a journey that will not only bring the fulfilment of a five-thousand year-old prophecy, but show Alana an even greater destiny than the one she was born into."

      I don't have a date for it to be published. The first draft will be finished by the end of this year. After that I'll be seeking feedback and editing (no idea how long that will take). Then I will start seeking publication. I intend to try pursuing traditional publishing. Failing that I may consider self-publishing.

  2. Good thoughtful post, Adam.

    I too thought of my writing as a hobby for many years but after reading Steven Pressfield's "The War of Art", I realised that to have a better chance of success I needed to regard writing as a profession. Don't worry about the fact we may have a full time job.

    What's different when you call yourself a professional writer is you turn up everyday, just like you do with your paid profession. I found I was always putting off writing or only doing it when I felt like - that's what we do with hobbies.

    Professionals do all the things you mentioned.

    1. Thanks Ian. I think that's really import - professionals show up when they don't feel like it.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more on every single point, Adam!
    I guess you'd call my "day job" as scripting radio programs. All have to be timed to a couple of seconds under 5 minutes. So...I l-o-v-e writing scads the way you can with fiction. And isn't the way we can research everything on the web great? As for your computer background that is a big plus for you. Hardly anyone does the longhand in an exercise book anymore(though that's the way I began.)
    Looking forward to reading your first book.

    Keep up all the above till it's finished

    1. Thanks Rita. I imagine you've learned a great deal from your job that would help with writing. Learning how to say something in a concise way would be a great skill.

  4. Great post. Thanks Adam. I'm familiar with some of the resources you mention but can see a couple I will seek out. All the best with your work in progress.

    1. Thanks Jenny. I hope you find them as useful as I have.

  5. Thanks for the well written post Adam. Definitely a hobby. And definitely a career. I think we writers are blessed because we have a career that is also a much loved hobby. :)

    1. Yeah, it doesn't get much better than that does it. Thanks for the encouragement Anusha.

  6. Great advice Adam. At my age I'm happy to be able to say that everything I love to do is a hobby.

  7. Hi Adam,

    I agree when you say "We are all different and have unique life situations, so I think we should find a schedule that works for our situation." As long as we are consistent with the time we have there is progress. I began writing mainly to express myself but noticed it was always something for someone else (to be shared). I too never expected it to be a career path.

    Keep up the passion.

  8. So good to read your journey, Adam. I think it's so important to have balance and I can picture your children itching to bang on your office door while you write. I admire you, taking time on Saturdays. I started out only writing at night, after a busy day. Yep, craft needs to be studied continually. My first rejection letter said I had some craft issues. Ha ha, didn't know about POV back then.

  9. Good post Adam. Amazing how much we learn as we go along. All the best with your writing journey.

  10. A great post Adam. I think it's a learning curve no matter where you are in the writing journey. I've had lots of short pieces published, but am editing my debut novel at the moment. It's another whole level. What you say about having that professional attitude and sticking with it is so true.

    I'm doing an historical novel and there's been a heap of research with that from big things (What was it like for orphans who were transported to Canada in the 1880s? or What's involved in a shipwreck?) to the everyday (What would be on the menu in a Halifax restaurant in 1881?). I still have a heap to do, but each little step is progress.

    In terms of writing craft, I've tried to read as much as I can. 'The Writer' magazine and 'Writer's Digest' magazine are excellent. I've also tried to do as many writing courses and workshops as I can afford. There's always something new to learn.

    Good on you for your commitment to your current WIP. I'll look forward to reading it :)