There is nothing wrong with treating writing as a hobby. There is nothing wrong with treating it as your full-time job either, even when it technically isn’t.
However, how you treat your writing time — how “serious” of an approach you apply to your writing sessions and schedules — can have a direct impact on how many of your writing goals you are able to achieve, and how efficiently (or not) you are able to achieve them.
What happens when you put as much work into your writing as you do your ‘real’ job — even when it isn’t?
The biggest mistake writers make is treating writing like any other hobby. There is NOTHING wrong with taking a more casual approach to writing. Some people just like to or have to write things to get through the day, and don’t necessarily want to make it a full-time thing. Hobbies are good. Hobbies breed happiness.
What’s the point of treating writing like work if you just want to sit back and enjoy it? That really depends on what exactly you hope to get out of your experience. There are many aspiring writers out there who still dream of getting their work published even if it isn’t their main career goal at the moment, or never has been.
Writing success means something different for every individual writer, which is why most “how to succeed in writing” type articles aren’t as easy to write (or helpful) as you might think. Not everyone wants to make money. Not everyone wants to publish a bestselling novel. Some people just want their words to reach and help people. Some people really do want that sweet name recognition that can help springboard them to other steep ambitions.
Regardless of how you want to use writing to your benefit, if you want to go somewhere with it, the casual approach just isn’t going to be enough.
You don’t have to make writing your job, but success does still require effort. Whenever a writer mentions to someone they’re a writer, the immediate assumption is almost always that they want to make it a job or somehow gain a profit from their craft. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. But when we’re talking about writing as work, many fail to grasp the idea that if you want to succeed, you have to work hard.
There are many elements that go into your chances of getting published, for example — luck, connections, how good you are at telling a captivating story from start to finish. But I deeply despise the argument that “hard work doesn’t get you anywhere.” I don’t know where that assumption comes from, but even if hard work is only a piece of the equation, it’s still an essential piece. You can’t just stumble your way into a meeting with a publisher having put in zero effort and expect good results … most of the time, I guess?
“Hard work” doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy what you’re doing, or that you have to give up everything you love and care about in order to succeed. It does mean, however, that you have to CONSISTENTLY put in the time, refuse your excuses, plow through your fears, and stop letting your doubts and insecurities block your path.
Having an end goal can help you make writing more of a priority. Not all writers want writing to be their full or even their part-time job — and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you find yourself distraught because your writing isn’t “going anywhere,” it might help to check in with yourself. Remind yourself what that “anywhere” actually looks like.
Don’t know what your end goal as a writer might be? This is the perfect time to figure that out. You should block out time to ask yourself questions like:
- Who do I want my words to reach? Knowing your intended audience is one of the first things you learned about writing in school, whether you remember this clearly or not. When setting an end goal for your writing overall, it helps to know who you’re trying to help, inform, entertain — whatever it is you want to provide for a select group of people.
- Which format/type of writing can I best reach that audience through? Some writers spend years convinced they “have to” have a novel published in order to be successful. But not every writer will ever be a skilled or successful novelist. There are dozens of other ways to reach people with your words. People have even launched entire careers just by consistently writing really captivating tweets. Not “technically” writing, most will say, but hey, you never know.
- What “one thing” has to happen before I can call myself a successful writer? Do you have to be able to support yourself/your entire family just off of your writing income? Do you have to see your name on that bestseller list? Give a talk about writing? Win an award? Succeeding doesn’t require that you have to write 24/7, but you do have to be honest with yourself about where you’re headed and how much work it’s going to take to get to that point.
Every writer wants something different, and everyone pretty much finds their own method to getting there. What works for one person might not work for another — that doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily “right” or “wrong.”
But one thing’s for sure: Treat your writing too casually, and you might find yourself stuck in the same place for a long time. That’s not good for motivation, and it’s not great for your mental health either.
No matter what you want your writing to accomplish, know what you want, how you’re going to get there, and be willing to put in as much work as it takes to earn the success you deserve.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.