Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? Is It A Hobby? Or Is It A Job?

Do you think of your writing as a hobby or a job? This is a question I have wrestled with a lot over the course of my writing life, although probably if I’d spent less time pondering which category to fit writing into and more time actually doing it, I might not need to be posing the question in the first place.

It’s taken me quite a long time to realise this, but I do seem to be someone who functions better when I have “compartments” for different areas of my life and I have recently “re-compartmentalised” (if there is such a word) my writing back into being a hobby again which is where it first started.

I need to compartmentalise my life

There were three reasons for this. First of all, I turned 60 last January and had a great desire to “retire” from something. Although I officially retired from teaching and received a small occupational pension on the day before my 60th birthday, I actually stopped teaching about thirty years ago, so that didn’t really seem to count. I had no desire to retire from my career as a creative designer as I only started that about four years ago and am still determined to make a success of what will probably be my final career, so that didn’t seem like an option either.

So that just left writing and crafting to choose from and this brings me to the second reason. Both of those activities had begun as hobbies but for all sorts of reasons, had become my job. I was happy with that decision most of the time but one big disadvantage of doing something you used to do for pleasure and are now doing to try and earn money, is that it can easily take all the pleasure out of it. Also, when most of your hobbies have become your job, as had happened with me, there isn’t a lot of enjoyable stuff left to do on your days off!

It took me a while to make the decision but at the beginning of April, I announced to myself, and anyone else who would listen, that I was now officially “retired” from writing and crafting and was concentrating solely on my (relatively) new career as a designer. In order to cement the decision, as I felt I could hardly throw myself a retirement party or present myself with a gold watch, I adjusted my Facebook bio, put Post-It-Notes into my account ledgers for writing and crafting to say that they were now officially closed, and moved everything off my desk that was writing or crafting related.

I could hardly present myself with  a gold watch

I also told myself, that rather like a footballer or cricketer who hangs up their boots at the age of 33 and then gets a very unexpected call to play for England when they are 35, I could come out of retirement at any time I liked, especially if someone suddenly offered me a lucrative publishing deal!

Although that may all sound rather bizarre (and possible a little bit OCD) it did help, and for the last three months or so, I have taken to retirement like a rather arthritic duck to water. What is interesting however, at least to me, is how much more productive I've been as a writer and, just as importantly, how much more I have enjoyed writing, since making that decision.

In her excellent book Stop Worrying; Start Writing (which I hope to review on this blog shortly), Sarah Painter talks about some of the mind games she plays to help get her writing work done. One of them is thinking of writing as “fun” and telling herself that she is fortunate to “get” to write every day, rather than thinking she “must” do it.

Sarah believes, as I do, that when you first start out as a writer, it’s important to think of writing as “work” and not just a hobby. However, as time goes on, (25 years in my case), writing, like any other job, can become such a drudge and a pressure that you get to the point, as I think I probably had, that you will do almost anything to avoid doing it.

So if you are getting to the stage where writing is becoming a bit like digging a never-ending ditch or giving birth without painkillers, maybe it's time to rethink your categories. After all, if it worked for Superman, it could work for you!

If it worked for Superman it could work for you

STOP PRESS: September 2019. It's back to being a job again!