Long Live the Serious Hobby Writer

Hobbies get a bad rap, especially if one’s hobby happens to be writing.

Wait a minute, you might be thinking. Are you saying that I should think of my writing as just a hobby?

Writing Is My Hobby, by Charles J Danoff
Writing Is My Hobby, by Charles J Danoff (CC BY 2.0)

Not everyone will want to approach their writing this way, of course, but I am convinced that, for many people, writing can be an immensely satisfying hobby that can bring joy for decades.

Think about it: We can start writing without any special equipment. We learn the basic skills in childhood. We can continue to learn and to get better for our entire lives. We can pursue our hobby any place, any time, in nearly any circumstances.

For the serious hobby writer, professional status is not at all the point. And for many people who do get paid for at least some of their writing—yours truly included—writing doesn’t feel like a job. Psychologist Joyce E. A. Russell reminds us that hobbies are things we do because we want to rather than because we have to. She explains why hobbies are important:

“Research has shown that people who have hobbies are generally healthier, and have a lower risk of depression and dementia. Many executives that I have coached say a sport or physical fitness routine as a hobby keeps their blood pressure down, enables them to manage their anger and daily frustrations, and puts them in a much better frame of mind. Consequently, this impacts their quality of life, work and family time. Michael Brickey, author of ‘Defy Aging,’ says that an ideal hobby would be one that serves three purposes: a diversion (escape from daily life), a passion (engage in something you love) and a creation of a sense of purpose.” Read more

If the joy of writing eludes you—if you aren’t writing as much as you would like to, if goals fall by the wayside, if you no longer enjoy an activity that at one time brought you pleasure—try reframing your writing as an intense hobby rather than something you feel you should do. If your writing is a lifelong, serious hobby, there is less pressure to be perfect today or to fulfill imagined expectations, and more room to experiment and get better and discover your own voice. In time, serious hobby writing can develop into an occupation, but even if it doesn’t, we will not have spent our time in vain.

Hobbies are their own reward, and therein lies their power.

We invest ourselves, time, and resources into our hobbies on a regular basis not for outside approval or financial gain (even if it comes) but for what they give back to us. Hobbies can sustain us and give us a reason to look forward to the day when the rest of life falls flat. There is no “just” about it.

Do you think of your writing as a hobby… or something else?

Get Serious About Your Writing: Blog Series Catch-up Day

It’s time for another blog series catch-up day! Below are the posts in this series so far. Please let me know what else you would like to see covered in the remaining 12 days.

Sometimes We Have To Make a Choice

“[W]hen you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ~ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho
PaulocoelhoABL“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, driving from my family’s farm in south-central South Dakota to the Sioux Falls airport, I turned on the car radio and  found myself listening to Brazilian author Paulo Coelho being interviewed by Krista Tippett on NPR’s “On Being” program.

Coelho was describing the circuitous journey he took to realizing his writing life. His parents disapproved of his talk of being a writer (and even institutionalized him), as did his teachers, leading Coelho to enroll in (then drop out of) law school, international travel, songwriting, being arrested for subversion, and the theater before finally coming back to what he always wanted to do in the first place: Write.

He describes a turning point when he embarked on a pilgrimage on the famed Santiago de Compostela or Way of St. James (on a related note, if you haven’t yet seen the movie The Way, which helps to explain the pilgrimage through the story of a father and son—played by real life father and son Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez—I highly recommend it):

“When I arrived at Santiago de Compostela, I understood, finally that I had to make a choice in my life. And the choice would be, I have to fulfill my dream, or I have to forget my dream forever. My dream was to be a writer. I was 40 years old, probably too old to change my path. But I said, ‘No. I’m going to change. I’m going to leave everything behind. I’m going to burn my bridges. I’m going to follow my heart from now on, even if I have a price to pay.’ Of course, I was supported by my family, my wife. She said, ‘Yes, let’s do it. Even if everybody tells us that nobody can make a living out of writing. But let’s take this risk, because otherwise you can have everything, but you’ll be unhappy.’ And so I started by writing my first book, that is The Pilgrimage.” ~ Paulo Coelho [emphases added]

The interview is thought-provoking for anyone who feels eluded by a life-long dream, regardless of whether we ever want to quit our day jobs. After The Pilgrimage, Coelho went on to write The Alchemist, which was dropped by its first publisher after a print run of 900 copies and sold only about 10,000 copies in its first three years. He says of his choice to seek another publisher rather than give up, “I had no choice. Either I move forward or I die. I die. I die. Not physically probably, but spiritually, I would die.”

The Alchemist has since become one of the best selling and most translated titles of all time, with sales of 65 million copies.

What price are we willing to pay to follow our heart?

How Interesting! Gaining Distance from Difficult Thoughts and Emotions

I want to explain the “How interesting!” technique I referred to in yesterday’s post:

“Things I learned from my horse trainers #42: practice saying, ‘Hmmmm… how interesting.’ Say it when you’re frustrated. Say it when you’re mad. Most importantly, say it before you say or do anything else (including hit the “send” or “post” button). It should be the first thing out of your mouth when things go wrong–or don’t meet your expectations…” ~ Kathy Sierra

Lisa on Horse
Lisa on a big horse (1 year old)

This tiny bit of wisdom from the world of horse training can be applied to all sorts of challenging situations and can be used to avoid impulsive reactions that we later regret. Parents can use it when they open the bathroom door to see their toddler has stuffed half a roll of toilet paper down the toilet, or when teens do or say something that pushes our buttons. We can say it to ourselves when we feel the “itch” that we don’t want to scratch, such as polishing off the rest of the ice-cream, or reaching for the cigarette or other temptation we are trying to give up. We can keep it in mind when someone says something “mean” or unthinking that would usually send us directly into a spiral of negative thoughts.

“With horses, the main goal of the ‘how interesting’ technique is to keep you from losing patience and blaming the horse. If you say ‘how interesting,’ it helps you explore reasons, including what your own role in this might be. It makes problems feel more like puzzles.” ~ Kathy Sierra

The next time you feel self-doubt or panic or fear or any other difficult emotion regarding your writing, take a mental step back and say to yourself (or even aloud) “How interesting!” It really does work wonders to gain some perspective and to avoid losing patience with ourselves.

Handle Yourself With Care

“[W]hen we apply the instruction to be soft and non-judgmental to whatever we see at this very moment, the embarrassing reflection in the mirror becomes our friend. We soften further and lighten up more, because we know it’s the only way we can continue to work with others and be of any benefit in the world. This is the beginning of growing up.” ~ Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty (pp. 123-24)

Photo by Gary Scott
Photo by Gary Scott (www.garyslens.ca)

I am convinced that one way we can begin to write more and with more joy is to begin to pay attention to the extent to which we are hard and judgmental toward ourselves, to how often we cringe from or lash out at the “embarrassing reflection in the mirror.”

I stayed in bed too long after the alarm went off. I feel like skipping my writing time today—I’m so lazy. I should have listened to my children more yesterday rather than be so wrapped up in myself. I need to relax. I’m a bad friend. I can’t believe I’ve let myself go. I’ve failed yet again. I am so stupid…

Even if we don’t consciously think the words, the cloud of judgment often follows us from morning until night.

If we try to change those ingrained, habitual thoughts through sheer will power, we probably will feel even worse and will be right back where we started: not writing. A better first step is simply to attend to—to notice—the thoughts without judging ourselves yet again or making the thoughts “sticky.”

We don’t even have to label them as negative. We can adopt an attitude of curiosity about ourselves, a non-judgmental “how interesting!” response. We can observe ourselves as a new friend we are just beginning to know, with affection and with the certainty that the friendship will endure.

Assignment for this weekend: Watch the “Handle with Care” video by the Traveling Wilburys, below. Listen to the words, and imagine that the person you are handling with care and learning to lean on is yourself. How does doing so change your relationship with your writing?

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