Hobby or vocation?

by Mary W. Walters

Are you over-reacting to rejection letters because you’ve got a disproportionate sense of your own importance?

Are you letting your writing consume your life when you could be allocating your energies in better ways–maintaining a proper perspective on the universe as a whole, and your place in it?

Were you aware that you ought to take yourself seriously as a writer only after you have published at least one book?

Did you know that until you’ve established yourself, your writing is just a hobby?

Nathan Bransford tells it like it is (or how people might THINK it is, if they’ve never actually talked to a real writer.)

[Note on the a.m. of Wednesday, May 6: Mr. Bransford has subsequently edited his post to withdraw the word “hobby.” I am pleased to see that. However, underlying assumptions don’t change as easily as words are edited. Many many people think writing is (or should be) a hobby — or at least an avocation–but for many of us, from the first moment we picked up a pen or pencil, or set fingers to keyboards, it has never been peripheral to our lives.]

I think Nathan is trying to tell some of his correspondents to just “chill” — to remind them that it’s not that big a deal when he sends them a rejection letter. He’s probably trying also to tell people like me, who have had it up to here with being rejected for the wrong reasons, that we should chill, too: not take our obvious bitterness out on his profession in literate blog explosions.

The bitterness that is is specifically directed at his profession, as we’ve discussed here and on Litopia, has erupted for a host of reasons, and if Nathan doesn’t get why we feel the way we do and what is wrong with the entire system that is causing us to feel the way we do, and what it is about our own basic compulsions to write that cause us to feel the way we do, he’s in the wrong biz entirely. We are who we are. Some of us respond inappropriately at a rejection letter, but almost all of us hit by an axe over and over again for reasons that have nothing to do with our writing, are bound to blow a gasket eventually. Or drink ourselves to death. Or try to give up writing and get all withered and dried out, and eventually just blow away.


P.S. The award for perfect timing goes to Litopia! Don’t miss the third episode in my talk with Peter Cox of Litopia Daily, in which agents are denounced — in no uncertain terms — for their cavalier attitudes toward writers. The episode’s title? “Agents with attitude!” Enjoy! :)

14 responses

  1. Ms. Walters

    Didn’t you know that your life long dedication to the written word is just no more than a mere self indulgent hobby? It’s not like people dedicate hours, days, holidays, weeks, months, years of their lives orchestrating the perfect manuscript. After all it’s not like a book ever changed anything in the world at large. Didn’t you know that literature is just a fad, like collecting “Beanie Babies.” We all should follow the sage advice of blogs like this and paint our faces with clown make up while driving unicycles to our cultic writing conventions so that we can truly call ourselves, ‘writers.’ (*Because query letters weren’t ridiculous enough.*) After all we ought to be grateful that we have the opportunity to be rejected by members of society who majored in business, not English nor journalism nor even communications. It’s kind of like ‘applying’ to a temp agency. You’re applying to something that ‘might’ get you a job. (*Now the quality, pay, location and type of said job are completely random…*)

    Why does one want to represent people that aren’t passionate about their work, that aren’t driven to make that work the best it can be?

    I guess I don’t understand this crazed industry very well apparently, but my inkling was that the writers were the ones DELIVERING the material.

    To quote the rock band, “The Doors”- People are strange…



  2. Before a few weeks ago, I really didnt know who Nathan Bransford is, which I suppose is shocking since, before obtaining my wonderful agent last year, I had been querying for years. But anyway, after a few of Nathan’s early responses to your last blog post, Mary, I was honestly impressed with his responsiveness, if not in agreement with all his posts. But this blog of his, his point doesnt even make any sense. Do high school or college basketball players view themselves as basketball players before theyre paid as pros? Artists as artists before they sell a piece? Musicians as musicians… ? To me, it mostly just seems thrown together and ignorant. And mostly, I am blessed to have an agent who completely gets not only what the writing means to me, but how and why. And she wouldnt have it any other way. If I were one of Nathan’s writers, I would be deeply disillusioned at this blog to say the least.

  3. At the risk of being branded the Gatekeepers’ Apologist:

    I understand Bransford’s point, to a point. I took his post to mean that people should be careful about where they seek validation for their identity. Meaning a) just because you call yourself a writer don’t expect everyone to accept that identity as valid, and b) don’t depend on the supposed authorities to “make” you a writer, that’s something you do yourself.

    And it is true that some people drive themselves crazy chasing whatever “gold standard” of approval they think they need. To continue the basketball analogy. A player that stakes their whole identity on making the NBA is probably going to be an unhappy failure. Players that MAKE the NBA and it’s all they have in their lives are pretty unhappy people. A player never loses the joy of playing basketball has something no one can ever take away from them. I think Nathan is saying many people fail to make that distinction. Don’t pin all your hopes on one thing.

    Anyway, all that said, I was surprised at the clumsiness of the post. And it is a blog post, not an essay in the New Yorker. Perhaps now we know why he’s an agent and not an author.

  4. The only organization in the United States that has the authority to question whether my writing is a professional job or a hobby is the I.R.S. I’m busting my keyboards with two dozen short stories (only two published so far for a magnificent sum of $3.02 USD plus copies), a short story collection, and my first novel to prove that I’m a serious writer under the tax code. Everyone else can take a hike.

    Doesn’t hurt to have a 150+ rejection slips for the wallpaper collection. ;)

  5. Yes, Bill. Presuming that IS what Nathan meant, you have said it much more eloquently… im not sure that it is. But then again, youre the writer having had a book published. Luckily, under his definition, Mary is too, and thus the point of his post wouldn’t seem to apply to her, although I’m guessing it was intended to? ;)

    Im not. Although my agent is kind enough to view me as one (ok, f*** it, YES I am). And by the way, I’m also a mother, a wife, an attorney -mediator, and a swimmer, all things that help define me, although I only get paid for two of those things…

    I am typing this with a fever, so if it’s not as eloquent as I hoped, please dont use it to further strip me of my title. :)

  6. see, fever clarification: i orginally wrote lawyer and divorce mediator, hence referencing getting paid for two of those things… although, i guess some could argue that my compensation for the wife thing is getting to do my paid work only part time so I can spend more time parenting my two beautiful kids.

  7. Sorry, me again. I would just like to note that Nathan has now edited his original blog post, to remove the claim — and, indeed, affirmatively state that he is not intending to say — that you are not a writer if you’re not published. He has every right to do so, and, in fact, I’m glad he has, but those reading Mary’s post and the comments that follow should know that the version you see now of Nathan’s post IS NOT how it originally read.

  8. Thanks for the link, Richard.

    I think it’s clear from that post who it is that has an expanded view of his own importance. Dear god, where does he think all the manuscripts that appear in his office come from? A bunch of “hobbyists”? I’d like to indulge in a little character assassination, but I’ll refrain (with a very sour expression).

  9. Nathan’s biggest mistake was calling writing a hobby. Many of us dedicate all our waking, non working ours to our craft. We spend hours writing, researching, querying, tracking perfecting, and to have it called a mere hobby is insulting.

    I understand his point on those who cannot handle rejection and follow up with nasty e-mails, but you will always find loose cannons in life, no matter where you are.

    He thinks we should not let our writing define us. That we should not take rejection personally. How can we not? When I write, I put every ounce of energy and emotion I can muster into it. It is part of who I am. To have someone tell me it’s not good enough is disheartening to say the least.

    I am a writer, I define my writing, it defines me.

  10. Unfortunately, many – if not a majority – of manuscripts do come from hobbyists. People who have done creative writing courses who enjoy writing in their spare time; parents who have told their offspring bedtime stories and who mistakenly believe they have created Harry Potter II; and retirees who are whiling away their golden years writing their memoirs.

  11. The masses are FOOLS! That is the only principal you need to know to understand why business people make the choices they do.

    Sometimes artists are great and everyone can relate to it, sometimes they are great and only a few people can relate to it.

    Everyone knows that people playing music on the streets are sometimes the most heartfelt musicians. Hobbyists in many cases are the most pure artists there are. That’s why a lot of good bands never good signed, because they are unique. Those bands don’t just whine and post blogs about why the music industry sucks. Everyone already knows it does. You just have to keep playing your music.

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