Debut author lessons: Writing is no longer a hobby.

This is one of the hardest parts of the writing life. For a long time, writing probably was your hobby. Even if you didn’t approach the writing itself that way, it was still something that you had to fit in to the cracks in your life. You had to “make time” for it in the way you structured it into your life. You might have even felt selfish for it.

You are writers. If you want a career in this, then all of the advice in the world can boil down to “don’t treat writing like a hobby.”

If you have a full time job, in addition to being a writer, then you have to deal with balancing things in the same way that anyone else who works two jobs does. If you feel like you are still in the learning phase of your career, then it’s no different from someone who is going to school part time and working a full-time job. Either way, writing is not a hobby.

My husband and I use these coping strategies.

  1. I set boundaries and expectations. I have a tri-fold sign that says, “Writing,” “Other Work,” and “Goofing off” because I recognize that my husband cannot tell, when he walks up to me, if I’m at work. “Writing” means “do not speak.” “Other Work” means “approach with caution” and “Goofing off” is a green light.  It’s just like working at home, because that’s what I’m doing.
  2. I do not take my husband with me to cons just as I would not take him to a professional conference. We’ve tried. It splits my focus and I am there to work. Socialize and have fun? Sure, but I’m going to the conventions because it’s part of my career. I write him letters when I’m on the road at a convention. I call him. When I come home we go for a walk. But when I am at work, I’m working.
  3. We had serious talks about criticism and the creative process. As a result, I give him things to read, I flag it as such so that he knows if he should be reading it in his role of “supportive spouse” or in his role as “critic.” I only ask for the “critic” role when I know that I am in a receptive place to hear it. This is the same dynamic that I’ve had when I’ve worked with anyone else that I’ve had a relationship with. Marking the transition between work and personal makes it easier.
  4. We have strategic planning sessions. I recognize that my work has an impact on our life and we periodically have business planning sessions in which we’ll talk about convention travel, budget, and upcoming projects.
  5. We also have a marriage. When I am excited by something and just want to share that with my love, I also flag that, so he knows that it is not the time to think of it as business. Examples of conversations gone wrong– Me: “I’ve been invited to England!” Him: “How much will that cost?” So now I start off by saying, “I’m excited by this!” and then later we can have the business conversation.

The path you will follow will vary based on the pieces of your life, but the place you should start from is that writing is your job.

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16 Responses

  1. Claire Nail

    Dear Mary,
    Thank you!
    I needed this encouragement today. I recently read a health article that told me how bad it is for me to sit so much. I was almost going to use that as another excuse not to write today. Writing is my job, too. The health detriment will have to sit on a pile of rejection slips next to me. Also, I have spatulate fingers from typing so much.
    Ah well!
    I love this and I love you!
    Claire

      1. MichaelJennings

        Ergo is good, I know several people who have gone to standing desks at work and say it has helped them quite a bit. (adjustable cube farm) If you can try it it might help

  2. Bill Weinberger

    Thank you for that, Mary. I really should be thinking of my current level of writing as ‘going to school part-time and working full-time’. I think your little tri-fold sign would also help with personal time management. If I look up and it says ‘Writing’ and I’m not writing…

    I also love having you on ‘Writing Excuses’. Thanks again for giving so much to the writing community.

  3. Bones McKay

    I love reading about the dynamics of creative couples. Me and my girlfriend work together and it’s made treating comicing and writing like a job so much easier.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      You are correct, which is why I say that the path you will follow will vary based on the pieces of your life. That does not change my core premise that writing is not a hobby.

      There are a lot of people in the world who have to juggle two jobs and kids. That is no different from a writer who still has his or her day job. Children complicate things, absolutely, but once you’ve made a sale, particularly a novel, writing is no longer a hobby.

  4. Anne Lyle

    I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband, but I have to say “Yes!” to all of these.

    I’ve only once brought my husband to a convention, and that was because he’d never been to the US – it was a chance for a cheap trip (for him) since I’d already booked a double room anyway. He was happy to go off and do his own thing during the day, but it really didn’t work for me. After a hard day’s conventioneering, I need to be alone for a while to decompress, not be sociable with someone else (however beloved) instead!

    He’s also not part of the critique process – he reads my novels only after they’re published (his choice – he hates ereaders!), so that’s one less issue to deal with. As you say, we all have to fit the writing job around our own lives and relationships.

  5. Kate Julicher

    This is really fascinating. I made the “not a hobby” switch in my head about a year ago even though I have nothing but rejections so far. Treating writing like a second job gives me permission to spend the time, money, and thought on it that I need to spend.

    I collaborate intensely with my husband on plotting and editing, so I try to signal to him which activity I’m up for in a given session. If I need to chunk out a scene, I probably don’t want him telling me what he noted from the last chapter. But sometimes I have to compromise and do an activity that’s not my preferred one. It’s worth the sacrifice because what we come up with together is leagues better than what I can do alone. Different strokes for everyone, of course, but I’m glad we finally learned how to work together creatively.

  6. Mary Hameer

    What a pleasure to read a piece devoted to this problem, of keeping a loved one at arms’ length when necessary but keeping them happy and onside. I completely agree that conferences/spouses do not mix. You’ve made an important point too, in the sense that training for booth partners is needed. Sometimes we ned such specific responses of encouragement. Most of the time, really! Not fair on a husband if he doesn’t understand the scenario and is appalled to find the lady breaks down in tears or slams the door!

  7. Nami

    Why let your husband suffer through reading your stuff? If it’s your job why do you expect him to hold your hand? I dont take my husband along to work and I never give him written reports to read nor bore him with project details. If writing is your job, share your work with other writers.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      I don’t “let him suffer.” I “ask him to help.” It’s very different. And the reason I do is because he is smart and knowledgeable in my field, by which I mean that he is a reader. He is a reader I trust. If you think of it like clinical trials of a drug, what I’m doing with a story is trying to provoke a specific response in my readers. He’s very good at quantifying his reader reactions, and as an added bonus he has a background in film so can ask the right questions.

      When I worked in sales, I also did not trouble him with work questions because he did NOT work in a related field and couldn’t offer useful input.

      The difference is that as readers most spouses have relevant experience. Not all. Some don’t read fiction for pleasure. Some prefer different genres. But if your spouse has experience in your field, then asking them for input just seems like part of trusting marriage.

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