When does writing move from being a hobby to being a job? Is it when you receive that first check? Does it truly take until you get that check in your hands to consider what you do every single day a job? Think about it. When you put down your job on the 1040 form – do you list your job as writer? Or do many of you still list your day job because that's where you get your income from? And think about it – for many writers, the number of hours they pour into this "hobby" is often times equal or more than the hours they put into their day job. And yet many of us do not get paid for it. So I ask again, is it a job or is it a hobby?
Let's dissect this "hobby" of yours. You wake up every morning and, before you leave for your day job, you log on to your computer and work on your WIP (that's work in progress for any newbies out there). You head off to your job. If you ride public transportation, you bring your WIP along with you. You pour over the pages either on your computer or printed out versions and edit during the commute to your paying job. Sometimes you even do some actual writing during the journey. Then you tuck the pages away while you are at the paying job and wait until you have a break at work, whether it's a lunch break or it's a brief break, and you hurriedly pull out your WIP and polish it a bit more. You have to because while you were doing your paying job, the voices of your characters were frantically whispering in your ear to do something. Unable to ignore them any longer, you make any necessary changes or jot down notes so you don't forget them. Then you make a note to work on those points later on. The clock strikes five (or whatever time you finish your paying job) and you leave to go home, your head filled with tons of revisions.
On the way home, you do a bit more polishing, note-taking, or actual writing. For those of you who must drive to and from work every day, your brain is working on what to do when you get there. I know, because I am one of you. I drive to and from work every day and cannot help but think about my book during my journey. I miss those days when I could ride on the train and scribble notes on my legal pad while I commuted. But, I transgress. At last you make it home.
If you have children, you are doing the mom/dad thing – taking them to practices, recitals, games, etc. With your trusty computer or notebook by your side, you are working on your book. You have to – you are a writer!!!! Ah, see, how it fits into your life. You look up periodically while your child is playing and watch them. You cannot in good conscience not pay attention to your child, no matter how much your book and its characters are shouting for attention. After all – your real children need you. The book can wait until later. But we forget that our books are like our children too – demanding attention at the most inopportune times. They must be fed. They must be played with. They must be listened to. If you ignore them, they drive you crazy with their voices.
So now you have finished doing the mom/dad thing. You are finally home. The children are fed, maybe doing homework or watching tv and you have some quiet time. But it's not really quiet time. Remember those voices? They are still there, only now they are more insistent and begging for attention. What do you do? You do what any good self-respecting author would do – you pull out the computer or notebook and begin to work on that WIP. Children are tucked into bed, spouse is busy watching tv or snoozing next to you and you have your laptop on your lap and you are writing. Why? Because you are a writer!!! Doing what everyone else calls your "hobby". You work until your eyes can no longer stay open. You work until something else in your life interrupts.
You finish your WIP. What do you do now? You are a writer. This is not just a hobby to you. Oh, you don't get paid for it. Not in money. At least not yet. But you will. The question remains – how do you get that beautiful finished manuscript into the hands of people who understand your pain? Time for submissions. So, you spend money on mailings, contest entries, paper, ink, stamps, computer programs, and internet. You pay for a website. You purchase books on publishing and writing. You join writers' groups and attend workshops. How do you do this if you are not getting paid by this "hobby"? Of course, like the rest of us suffering writers, you use the money from your day job to pay for all of this. Why? Because it's your job? Because it's just a hobby? There are plenty of hobbies out there that cost money. If you drove race cars for a hobby, just imagine the cost! This is cheap compared to that. If you were into scrap-booking, it would cost you a fortune too. I've been to the craft stores – that stuff is expensive when it adds up. No more than what we do. Trust me!
You do it because it's not just a hobby. You write because you are a writer. You toil over those pages because it is something you love far more than the day job. Unfortunately, it doesn't pay very much when you are starting out. It's like opening your own business. There is a lot of start-up cost, and if you are lucky, it will take off, but in the meantime, be prepared to dump a lot of your income from your other job into it until you can make a profit. Of course making a profit means you have sold a book. Not just one book – but many books. Ask any published author and they will tell you it took them a long time to break even. To even be able to leave the day job before they could rely mainly on the income from selling their books as a living.
Next time someone tells you "it's just a hobby", laugh. You know the truth. They just do not understand the special relationship writers have with their WIPs. Continue to find other writers to hang out with, to talk to about your writing. Attend workshops and critique meetings. Do all those things that bring joy into your life because you are a writer, and like other writers I know, you need to be around people like you. You need to remember you are not in this alone. We all suffer from the misunderstandings of people in the rest of the world you do not hear these voices. Enjoy this "hobby", because one day, when the checks do start coming in, you will be the one laughing – all the way to the bank – because for them – their hobbies won't bring them a paycheck.