Writing: Career or Hobby?

Getting the contract for my first novel was like winning the lottery. Rather than the years-long, rejection-filled path traveled by most writers, I’d found success right out of the gate. Until Thanksgiving was going to make me rich!

My preconceived notions about publishing a novel were a tad off. Two years, two more novels and a short story later, my vast fortune has yet to materialize. Turns out, getting published is the easy part. With hundreds of new titles coming out every week, catching the attention of book-buying readers is a much bigger challenge.

Good thing I kept the day job.

I’ve loved to write for as long as I remember — at first mostly letters to friends and family, and later, in my journal. After determining ages ago that writing fiction was beyond my ability, the idea to write a novel never occurred to me again. In my defense, a quasi-academic career has kept me busy for more than a quarter century. (OUCH!)  If this is news and you want details, select “About” on the menu bar at the top of this page.

The Cliff’s Notes version is that I’ve worked with hundreds of academic professionals of various stripes over the years and have co-written a variety of “products” with a lot of different people a whole lot smarter than I am. We’ve produced curriculum for elementary school kids, educational materials for adults with low literacy skills, fact sheets and web sites for the general public, grant proposals, program reports, and peer-reviewed papers for academic journals and conference proceedings. Compared to fiction, the standards for this kind of writing are different — not better necessarily — just different.

The environment is very different too. For my academic publications, all the criticism comes pre-publication. Collaborators, coauthors, and attorneys for the collaborating organizations review drafts. Editors, in-house and elsewhere, require peer reviews, and authors must address any issues they identify. The comments usually boil down to something being too vague or imprecise. Once in a while, the reviewer will catch a typo, misspelled word, or punctuation error, but they’re experts in a chosen field, not line editors.

Despite the differences, practice is practice. My writing has improved dramatically over the last thirty years. Good grammar is still good grammar. The ability to write clearly, precisely, and concisely comes in handy, no matter the purpose or content.

But after 25 years in the academy, I had a lot to learn about writing a novel. I’m grateful to my friends in the Athens Writers Workshop for igniting my passion for writing fiction, and teaching me about conflict, stakes and tension, showing rather than telling, writing dialogue, and more. I’m forever in their debt and will always <3 them.

If I could, I’d focus all my energy on my writing career. But I can’t — not now, anyway. The truth is, I’m fortunate. Anything can happen, and I hate to tempt fate, but if all goes well, I can retire in less than six years.

I’ll admit to having harbored some resentment toward the day job for keeping me from my stories. Not anymore. My unrealistic expectations have been tempered by reality. The last six years flew by. I expect the same will be true for the years to retirement.

Until then, no more pissing and moaning about having no time to work on novels. Writing, until I retire, is a hobby. I’ll write when I can, and be grateful for the opportunity.