Writing by Hobby, Habit, and Happenstance

I am blessed to have many writer friends, who sit at many spots on the publishing journey.

Some are New York Times Bestsellers. Some have never sold a story. Some have written twenty books, while others are still hard at work on the first. Some preferred the traditional route, while others picked self-publishing; yet others have pursued hybrid careers.

More interesting, though is the manner in which these people approach their writing, and the correlation between that approach and success.

In my experience, writers fall into one of three general categories: they write as a hobby, they write by habit, or they write by happenstance. Not surprisingly, that has a lot to do with a writer’s success.

Those who write by habit tend to sit at the top of the publishing tree, in terms of productivity and also in terms of sales.

Those who write by habit write every day, or almost every day, on a regular schedule. If you ask them “how many hours a week do you write,” they can tell you–and most of the time, they can also tell you roughly the time of day and the place where they do it.

Authors who work on a deadline must become habitual writers, because they have to produce a finished work by the date a publisher sets. A year may seem like a lot of time, but editing and revision can suck the months from a calendar faster than a Dyson takes out a dust bunny.

Those who write by hobby may finish a novel, and even publish, but they tend to have less success than habitual writers.

A good friend of mine once described her early writing days as “playing with [her] imaginary friends” instead of really writing. Not all hobbyist writers fall into that category – some want to be serious writers, but lack the time for habitual writing. Some truly see writing as a hobby instead of a career, and treat it as such. Absolutely no problem with that.

The problem lies in the hobbyist who thinks that a writer can have a career–by which I mean a family-supporting, mortgage-paying, put-the-kids-through-college writing career–without putting in any more effort than a typical hobby requires. It may have happened, once or twice, but that isn’t the way the publishing industry works.

It’s fine to treat your writing as a hobby, to finish a book that way, to publish it, and to enjoy the success your book may bring. But if you’re aiming for a career, for a lifetime, the odds are best if you focus on turning that hobby into a habit.

Those who write by happenstance tend to fail.

That’s a difficult truth, and stated more bluntly than I usually go in for in public. Unfortunately, it’s also true.

People who write by happenstance are the ones who have a great idea, and want to write, but somehow never really seem to find the time. They put a few words on the page here and there, but life and other interests intervene. It takes them many years to finish a manuscript (if they ever do–and many don’t) and they’re often convinced that bestseller status is only as far away as “the end” of the project that never seems to.

Writing is a discipline as well as an art. It takes not only talent, but desire and dedication to succeed.

There’s nothing wrong with writing by hobby or happenstance, if it makes you happy and fulfills your needs.

However, those who want a career should work toward making writing a habit. You cannot pitch for the major leagues without throwing thousands of pitches. You cannot play for the NFL without thousands of hours on the field. A writer gains strength, and skill, in the hours spent at the keys and nothing–not even talent–is a substitute for time in the trench.

Is there something in your life that you’re working to change from “hobby” to “habit? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Writing by Hobby, Habit, and Happenstance

  • May 17, 2014 at 7:54 am

    I love this post. I’m not a writer but a photographer. I don’t know what I want to do with it when I grow up but I’m trying to learn a lot now. I am taking a picture a day even if it’s of my cats (lots of cat pictures) just so I’m doing something every day. Practicing. Sometimes I’ll try playing with the flash, or action shots (jump higher Kali) but often it’s just getting that picture in for the day.

    I took a class and the instructor said it wasn’t until he became serious that he started to improve. He gave up his TV time and read photography books and the camera manual. Got up early, sat in his suit and tie and his location waiting for the sunrise for the best shooting, and then went into work.

    I am still a hobbyist and borderline habitist (ha, I created a word).

    • May 19, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      I love the photo a day (at least) idea – and cats are actually great subjects. Animals are hard to photograph, so using them as test subjects is a fabulous idea. That’s one reason I love taking photos of my aquarium – I love photography, and it’s a fun way to combine the things I love!

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