A few weeks ago, we had an interesting debate on the Romantic Novelists' Association forum, about whether we consider our writing to be a hobby or a job. I've often discussed this topic with fellow writers and it seems to be something that some of us can get quite hot under the collar about, so I thought I'd throw it open to bloggers too!
For those who are really successful and earn their living from writing, I can quite see how they would be offended to have it called a hobby! In their case, there isn't any doubt in the matter – it’s their career, obviously.
But what about the rest (the majority) of us? Personally, before I was published, I thought of my writing as a hobby – simply because I had a full-time, stressful job, three children and everything else that had to be fitted in – how could I possibly think of my writing as another job? I’d have felt even more stressed. It was a hobby that I enjoyed whenever I could, it relaxed me and then brought me in a bit of extra money occasionally when I started getting short stories published. To be honest, at that stage I'd have also thought I was being a bit 'up myself' if I'd referred to it as anything other than a hobby - (but perhaps that just showed my lack of confidence as a writer!)
That certainly changed when I had my first novel published – but I still needed the day job, and with eight books behind me now, I still would need, at the very least, a part-time day-job, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve since acquired both my State and my NHS pensions. Anything I earn now from writing is the icing on my financial cake but it certainly isn’t a proper income – and never was. I know I’m not a best-seller, but nor are the majority of authors. The Society of Authors' figures bear this out: a pitiful few of us earn a living wage from our writing. We obviously all have some other means of support – whether that’s a day-job, a pension or a rich partner! So can this underpaid majority of us really call writing our job?
Don’t get me wrong – I love the kudos I get from telling people I’m an author, a writer, whatever - yes, I'm proud of it, because it's what I've wanted to 'be' ever since I was a small child, and I'm thrilled that I finally achieved it after years and years of trying. I love putting it down as my occupation on forms. But before I retired, I tended to put down 'medical secretary' even though I was a published author - because it was my day-job that actually kept me financially afloat, paid my Tesco's bills and helped to put my kids through university, not my writing. (Ironically, the only form where I needed to write down both of my occupations was my tax return!).
Yes, part of me does bristle if my husband sometimes refers to my writing as my hobby, as if it’s a bit of knitting. So, personally, ‘occupation’ best sums up the way I think of it now. To be honest, thinking of it as a ‘job’, for me anyway, would make it a lot less attractive! A job is something you have to do whether you like it or not. Something you only do because you need the money. I realise that for some successful authors who don't have (or need) any other form of income, and are contracted to write book after book, it must start to feel like a chore. In a way -although I would obviously dearly love to be that successful! - I think it must be quite sad to feel like that. Half the pleasure must be gone.
Of course I agree with those who say they want everything they write to be published. So do I, desperately! I'm sure it's the aim of nearly all writers. Sadly, it’s often unrealistic, but surely the whole point is that we keep on trying, and live in hope. But I DO advise would-be writers, whenever I give talks, to think of their writing FIRST as a hobby – in other words, do it first because you enjoy it, rather than having some wholly unrealistic plan of giving up the day-job and earning pots of money.
In a perfect world we’d all be paid pots of money for what we do, but I don’t want to be miserable about the thing I love doing the most! If I had to think of it as a job, I'd say the pay is abysmal, the prospects very limited, but the working conditions (hours completely flexible, come and go as you please, work with glass of wine on desk and cat on lap, or in garden on laptop, stop to read e-mails and look at Facebook whenever you like, etc etc etc!) - absolutely amazing!