by Sophie Perinot
If you read this blog chances are you have a dream. A dream that the writing you are already doing in spare moments (and possibly without telling anyone about it) will someday be published making it possible for you to write “author” on the “profession” line on forms (even as you hang onto another professional incarnation as well for the purposes of keeping bread on the table).
The journey from hobbyist to professional is different for every successful writer (and for the purpose of this post I am—rather arbitrarily—defining successful as someone who has a book out, in whatever format, available for purchase), but I’d like to posit that one step is essential. You have to OWN your ambition. That’s right, ADMIT that you want your writing to be more than a hobby. The sooner the better.
On the face that sounds simple. I can tell you from personal experience it’s not (and, given the amount of heads I see nodding in the virtual audience I am not alone). Here is why I think this step feels more like a leap—off a cliff:
1) When you write as a hobby you don’t really have to put yourself on the line. Nobody has to know you are writing. You cannot fail at something nobody knows you are doing. Even if you choose to share your completed stories with friends or family there isn’t much risk. If your mother (or a friend) doesn’t like your book she is going to be too polite to say so. Besides, chances are any home-grown audience will love what you’ve written because they love you. When we evaluate something created by a person we care about, we are likely to see it with kind and enthusiastic eyes.
2) Hobbies are low pressure. Hobbies are something we fit into our free time as the mood strikes us. There is not a lot of accountability involved. If you plan to finish knitting a scarf for your husband today and don’t—unless you’ve promised it to him for a special occasion—nothing happens. If you say you are going to write a thousand words a day nobody is going to hold your feet to the fire until you get done (particularly if you haven’t even told friends you are writing).
3) Going public with your dream of publication opens the door to a whole lot of hurt. There is no use lying about that. The big fear of course is public failure. If you proclaim that you intend to write and publish a book and then don’t . . . ouch. Or you could have a book published and it could belly flop into oblivion. But even before you get to the edge of that particular precipice, the road to publication involves finding an agent and a publisher—steps that require you to show your manuscript to industry professionals. Handing over your manuscript to strangers brings with it the inevitable sting of rejection when someone (and doubtless more than one someone too) tells you your baby isn't good enough or isn't marketable.
Why then am I urging you to give up your amateur status? Because if there was ever a “no guts no glory” situation this is it. Every one of the “upsides” to writing as a hobby that I’ve listed above has major career-foiling-downsides
Like your anonymity? It’s going to be fleeting anyway. To be a published author you need to let strangers see your work. To start with you will need some critical editorial eyes. Later, you can hardly expect to get an agent or a publisher without showing somebody your manuscript. And while a catch-as-catch can approach to writing time may keep your stress low it is likely to keep your page count low as well. By thinking of writing as your business you up the ante and increase the chance that you will behave professionally—developing a serious writing schedule and sticking to it; learning about the business end of publishing.
Coming out of your hobbyist hole also puts you in a position to mingle with and learn from other serious writers—whether at a writers’ conference or in an on-line writing community. I mean you can hardly join a critique group if you can’t admit you are writing a novel right? And it is pretty hard to sit in on a conference panel with a bag over your head to mask your identity. Finally in an industry where branding is increasingly important admitting you intend to be an author lets you get started on developing your personal brand, stretching your writerly toe into the realm of social media or maybe even setting up a writing related website or blog.
So, what are you waiting for? Stop quietly working on manuscripts and just storing them on your hard drive—take a giant step along the road to realizing your goal of being a published writer by admitting precisely which road you are on. Start small, by telling someone who will hold you to your goal. Get an “I am a Writer” tee-shirt. Find a supportive writers community. Lurk in the back for a while if you need to but then—boom—one day I’ll expect to see you standing on your chair and shouting “my name is X and I want to be a published writer.” Mine will be the voice answering back, “Hello and welcome!”
Sophie Perinot is currently holed up in a corner of the 16th century working to finish her next novel. Her first novel, THE SISTER QUEENS, was published by NAL/Penguin in 2012 and is on sale in bookstores (brick and mortar and virtual) everywhere. Learn more about TSQ here.