Nuts and bolts

Level Thinking: Hobby Writer

I’m a quilter. I’ve made over 50 quilts and wall hangings, ranging in size from a queen-size bed quilt that I designed and made to celebrate my first book being published, to a 3” miniature, which one of my stuffed bears uses as his security blanket.

One of  my quilts, titled Turtles All the Way Down

One of my quilts, titled Turtles All the Way Down

I’ve quilted pillows, book bags, cosmetic cases, coin purses, tea cozies, vests, beaded bags, and miniature treasure bags, just big enough to hold a trinket and 2 pieces of designer chocolate. I’ve even been paid three times for commissioned work.

I remain a hobby quilter. I quilt for my own amusement, to make gifts, or simply to relieve stress. I have no desire to be a quilting teacher, or write a quilting book, or take my quilts on the road in a trunk show. For all I know, “hobby quilter” is a applied to me pejoratively behind my back by the more haute couture quilters of my acquaintance.

Hobby writer is certainly pejorative. “She’ll never be anything but a hobby writer,” a woman says cattily over lunch.

“Maybe you should try being a hobby writer,” members of a critique group suggest gently.

In both cases, there’s an implication that a hobby writer, is, somehow, less talented, less dedicated, or not quite up to scratch. Frankly, my dear,  not one of us.

So where’s the line? Does a writer go to bed one night a hobby writer and wake up the next morning as a professional writer? Or vice versa? The demarcation certainly is not in writing quality. I’ve read spectacular pieces by people who openly call themselves hobby writers and have no desire to turn pro. I’ve read published books that, in my personal opinion, should not have been published without extensive editing.

Nor is the line crossed if an author occasionally publishes or makes money, in the same way that my three forays into quilting on commission didn’t turn me into a professional quilter. Contrary to urban myths, the Internal Revenue Service does not have hard and fast rule about what makes writing a hobby versus a legitimate tax deduction.

It’s not even attitude. Many hobby writers say they write professionally, but are not professional writers. To write professionally means to keep learning the craft and try to make each piece a little better than the one before, which is what I try to do both in my writing and in my quilts.

With my personal opinion hat firmly in place, I think the difference between a hobby writer and a professional writer is how much time the professional writer devotes to business.

Ah, the business. Submissions. Query letters. Knowing the market. Filing taxes. Keeping up with the publishing world. Doing an inventory of what’s in our home office and our storage closet. Making and sticking to a business budget. Writing a business plan. Marketing, marketing, and more marketing. Getting our name out there even before we have a book to sell and keeping our name out there in front of readers. If we’re doing that stuff, even if we don’t like doing that stuff, we’ve turned pro.

I think hobby writer is a term we can do without. Writers are, for the most part, generous people. There’s lots of room in our hearts, and in our community, for people who get sheer joy and pleasure out of writing without caring one whit about turning what they do into a business. Everyone is welcome here.