Justine: The Shift from Hobby to Career

woman with six armsThis past Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting held by my local RWA chapter, Desert Rose. The main event of the evening was a Q&A with five published authors. The topic? How to make a living as a writer. For me, it was very pertinent. Over the last few months, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make the psychological adjustment, both for myself and within my family, of being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) second and a writer first.

Over the last six years, I’ve been very, very fortunate to be a full-time SAHM, raising two boys who are only 14 months apart. They’re old enough now where they’re in school most of the day, or they can occupy themselves when they’re not, and I don’t like being idle, but the idea of doing more loads of laundry, making bread from scratch, baking cookies, or whatever other domestic challenges might await me just isn’t satisfying.

At the same time, extra money would be nice, but I’d like to avoid going back to an office job if I can. I like being at home when my boys are through with school, I like that I’m the “Mom on the Street” in my neighborhood, keeping tabs on everyone else’s kids when necessary. I like that I can still do a lot of the domestic stuff during the day and spend my evenings doing things I want to do, rather than things I have to do.

This is why I started writing fiction. For me, it’s a job. Unlike many of you, I didn’t grow up knowing I’d be a writer. I didn’t have seven journals filled with short stories by the time I was fourteen, and I don’t hear voices in my head. What I have always loved, though, is reading, particularly historical romance.

In a dose of irony, I did end up becoming a writer after college, but it was technical…user manuals and the like. Until I started the McDaniel Romance Writing program, I wouldn’t have known about something like conflict if it had hit me upside the head.

And then it did.

In the past year and a half, I’ve spent a lot of time writing, learning, rewriting, editing, researching, and of course cursing and swearing (yes, I believe every writer does that, and if they say they don’t, I think they’re lying). However, a fundamental challenge remains: how to get my family to understand that THIS is my job now. It should be treated no differently than an office job. Yet I think they see this as lark, or something I won’t stick with, or that I shouldn’t be taken seriously until I’ve sold something. In other words, it’s a HOBBY (gasp!). What’s worse is that I still feel that taking care of the household is my first job. Since I started writing, if I had to choose between doing laundry and writing, I’d typically choose laundry (guilty conscience, “this is your first job,” etc.). So not only do I have to help everyone in the family adjust their perspective, I have to adjust my own.

My husband, who is an entrepreneur, told me a few weeks ago that he’d take my writing seriously when I sold something. His comment resulted in the following (paraphrased) conversation:

ME: So my writing is only “real,” only a priority, if I’ve sold something. Well, let me ask you, then…when you started your latest company, did you have clients right away? Did you have income right away?

HIM: Well, no, but I’m the breadwinner, so we both know that my work comes first…that it has to be taken seriously.

ME: Yes, I understand that. I’m not questioning whether you’re the breadwinner…I know you are. What I’m questioning is your perspective. You’re creating a double-standard. Until you regard my writing as a job, as a career, then it will always be a hobby to you. Unlike a desk job, I don’t get paid the second I start writing. I’m just as entrepreneurial as you…I’m working hard to garner clients (readers, agents, editors), but I’ll never get there if I’m not given the respect (in the form of dedicated time to write, shared workload around the house, shared childcare, etc.) necessary to get it done.

(Before you decide to seek out my husband and throw rotten fruit at him, you should know that he’s a wonderful man, funny and kind, who works his backside off so that we may live comfortably and I may stay at home. He’s been incredibly supportive of my writing, but with the small caveat that taking care of the household is still my primary responsibility.)

Fortunately, after our conversation, he saw where I was coming from — that in order to have a finished product that I can sell and make money from (and to do more of the same), I need buy-in from him that what I’m doing is just as important (psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, if not financially) as what he’s doing. He loves his job, he loves running companies, he loves being an entrepreneur. And I love writing just as much.

My husband is trying to embrace this new reality, translating that into shifted responsibilities around the house, but it’s a work in progress. No doubt it’s a major adjustment to go from a life where I took care of most everything to life where I hand over a load of laundry to fold, but I believe very strongly that I have to put my foot down and enforce this new reality, or my writing will forever end up being regarded as a hobby.

I’m curious how other writers have managed the shift, both for themselves and within their families, from “hobby” to “career.” Please share your thoughts/advice/comments, as I think this is an experience that many people find themselves having.

18 thoughts on “Justine: The Shift from Hobby to Career

  1. It’s really difficult, and I agree with you that “selling a story” isn’t the point where you are legitimate — it takes years to sell a story, and then as soon as you do, does that mean you have to churn out a story every year (every six months, OMG, every three months???) in order to still be legitimate? It’s madness, and there’s got to be a better definition of “professional writer”.

    I’ve been wrestling with this myself — is this my hobby, or is this my “side-hustle”? If it’s my hobby, I feel guilty for spending so much on the classes. If it’s my part-time job and path to retirement savings, then I feel guilty for not doing as much as I should . . . and in addition, I wonder if the monetary aspects sucks some of the fun out of it. There’s a whole can of worms caught up in there.

    Maybe what you need is a three-year-plan to show your husband. It’ll be at least a year and a half until your youngest is in school full-time, if I am calculating things right. So, you’ve already done half of your three-year plan (-:. We did the marketing/writing plan in the last module of the Certificate program, so I think you’ve got some of it down on paper already. How much time do you need to spend writing, blogging, tweeting, keeping up with computer stuff, and generally administrating your career? Put it on a sheet. How much time do you need for your SAHM gig? What’s the minimum standard of cleanliness and nutrition? And how much time do you need to accomplish that? Don’t forget research into time-saving methods for housework, because this can save you a lot of time in the end.

    I think you are very lucky in a way, because writing can work great with housework. I can put in a load of laundry, write for 45 minutes or until my brain explodes, whichever comes first, then get up and take care of the laundry. I kill three birds with one stone: writing (on a good day, I’d get about 1000 words done in that time), laundry, and getting up away from my computer and moving my body. (Like most Japanese homes, I don’t have a dryer, so I’d have to hang the stuff up outside, which gives me about five minutes of sunshine and vitamin D, so that’s four birds.)

    The trick, of course, is disciplining myself to do this on Sunday, my one day at home in the morning.

    In theory, I should be able to do the same thing every evening. One hour, my load of laundry AND a respectable amount of writing would be done. But, I’m blocked again, and so tired. So I watch Stephen Fry on YouTube and let my brain coast for a little while until it’s bedtime.

    I have got to start treating my side-hustle like a real job. Sounds like you do, which is a huge hurdle to have overcome! Good for you, and I hope you can convince your family that this is important, too.

    • Micki, I think most people need some downtime. When every minute of our day is scheduled out with tasks, we can sustain that for a while but then eventually we crash in one form or another. I don’t think you should feel bad about watching YouTube in the evenings after a long day. Writing may be fun, but it is certainly not downtime.

      Have you tried intentionally putting downtime into your schedule? Maybe you would find it easier to stick to the times you plan to write if you have a plan for downtime, too. I bet you’re now saying to yourself that if you had room in your schedule for downtime, you’d have room for writing. 🙂 Been there, done that. I don’t remember who said it, but I love the quote, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” Perhaps you could take something out of your schedule. If there’s nothing that can be removed, consider removing something that can’t be removed. Make everyone wash their own clothes. Or cook for themselves. Or scrub the floors. Gasp!

      • (-: I’m embarrassed to admit that I do schedule downtime, but I’m not good at boundaries. I feel I should have time to write an hour in the evening, and watch videos or read (ah, reading. I remember when I used to read!) for an hour, and then I’d still have two or three hours left before bedtime in which to cook, clean, take care of kid and family and housework. But I get really “in the moment” and whatever I do takes over two or three hours, and then I feel guilty about something. Boundary work is probably what I should concentrate on. Turning things on and off.

        • You should try a timer! I saw a writer friend recently and noticed she now carries a timer with her. She has one with a tiny white board attached where she can jot down her plan for the day, then she sets the timer for the allotted time per item. (I didn’t ask if she makes allowances for going over on her writing time if the words are flowing.)

          I have a pretty good sense of time and when I need to move to the next task -my problem tends to be too many tasks to get through in a given chunk if time – but still, a timer beeping gives a very concrete end point. I might try it.

        • I should. My problem is that when I’m in the flow (even the flow of YouTube cat videos), I can ignore practically anything. But, there’s Jenny’s ding-dong Zen timer thingy . . . perhaps with the right gentle reminder, I can remember to move on to the next thing.

          Justine, this post really helped me get moving Friday, though. Thanks! I finished the first, rough, nasty draft of the scene I’m working on, after hemming and hawing for . . . a whole month? Three weeks, at least.

  2. Michaeline, I think a business plan is a great idea. Someone suggested (somewhere…here? Another blog? I can’t remember) to keep track of not only how many words you write a day, but how much time you spend writing. Basically track everything. How much time do I spend on blog posts, on revising, on writing new stuff, brainstorming, etc….all the things you suggested. Right now, I don’t know how long I need to do X, Y, and Z (well, the blog posts are usually 2 hours start to finish).

    I need to use the “side-hustle” terminology with my husband. We saw “American Hustle” recently and enjoyed it…he’d get a kick out of that.

    I think another thing I have to do is establish a more regimented schedule. I go into every day with the assumption that “these are my writing hours,” but I don’t always stick to them. Perhaps M, W, F I write my book from 9:00 to 2:00, no exceptions. Tu/Th, I spend the morning on the book (unless I have something more pressing, like a blog post), the afternoon (after tae kwon do at noon) on other things…and nights for the “other things” that I don’t finish during the day. Laundry and such can be done while the boys are home and on the weekends. And if something exceptional comes up (like the Desert Dreams conference in April where I’m coordinating a contest and semi-coordinating the raffle), I may just have to steal some writing time for that.

    We’ll give it a try at least!

    Good luck converting your side-hustle to a real job!

    • I like your plan, Justine. It’s a big change for your family so it’s bound to take a little time for them to get used to it. I think setting a regimented schedule and sticking to it will help a lot – it gives everyone a clear signal about how important this is to you. If the schedule doesn’t work, then re-think it and set a new one, but regard it as a commitment. Eventually (fingers crossed) it will become the new normal for the whole family and a positive role model for your boys, too.

  3. I’m reading this and thinking yes, yes, yes, and then I remember I have a full time job and as much as I’d love to blow it off, quit and write full time, I can’t. It’s not feasible for me UNTIL I can truly get my writing career going (as opposed to my writing). So, I’m with you: I don’t simply want people to take my writing seriously now, I’m demanding it from those around me, but meanwhile, I can’t let my day job go to hell. It is my first priority, but I make damn sure my writing is a close second by scheduling off hours for it and then closing the door. I’m fortunate (as you are) to live with someone who respects that because it’s what I need right now.

    I think some people around us (Friends, family, etc.) will have a hard time believing we are “truly” writers until we publish. I can’t tell you how many people still ask me “so, are you published yet?” in a way that feels demeaning (like if I’m not, well that just reinforces what they already knew–I’m not a writer). Most of us aren’t pitching yet, we don’t have a finished, polished manuscript so maybe it’s premature to expect (some) people to “believe” we can make this a viable, self-supporting career. What I think is important at this stage is that we believe it and continue to push on.

    At this point what I do is let some things go (I don’t dust anymore) while making sure the house still runs (because, yes, that falls to me for the most part despite sharing a home with someone). So I focus in on the important stuff at home (prioritize) and leave some of it go. It’s tough, but when you’re passionate about something as we are, you have to make sacrifices to achieve it (as will the people around us).

    We will be published and we will have worked hard to achieve it and that’s what makes this so great.

    • I’m glad you can reprioritize things around the house. I honestly don’t know how folks with a full-time job can do this and remain sane…particularly those with little children. What I like to hear, though, is that it’s something we all go through at one point or another. That camraderie (damn! can’t spell that word!) is comforting.

      • Well, I’ve got the job, but I don’t have children for one thing, which means I don’t have the time and energy demands that raising children requires (I don’t know how you do all that, frankly). After that, it’s a balancing act that requires compromise. How much time and effort do you need to carve out for your writing and what needs to go to make that happen?

        In your case, maybe it means buying cookies instead of baking them, or changing your cleaning schedule so that you’re cleaning every other week instead of every week. I also like Michaeline’s advice on creating a plan (I should do that too!) as well as figuring out “…the minimum standard of cleanliness and nutrition…” you can live with. Maybe you get hubby involved so you can prioritze what’s most important in the operation of the home to him (and he understands your POV).

        Lastly, I’d suggest (if you’re not already doing this), that you begin treating your writing as a job, right now.

  4. That’s one of the things I like about coming here to our online writing community and spending time in person with my ‘writer girls’ – we all get it. The thing we know (or quickly learn) about this fiction-writing gig is that publishing is its own animal. It doesn’t legitimize the writing, and in some cases can actually hurt it. I have given up trying to explain to well-meaning non-writer relatives, friends, neighbors, etc. that I walked away from publishing options that didn’t work for me to focus on the goals of a) becoming the best damn writer I can be and b) hopefully having publishing options that work better for me personally in the future. Now when they ask when the next book is coming out, I smile, tell them ‘I’m working on multiple things, thanks for asking’, and change the subject.

    It sounds like your husband is coming around, Justine. Just keep working with him, because I have learned that the good ones (like yours and mine :-)) might need to be reminded now and then, but eventually they get the importance of the writing regardless of the publishing status. And I hope you can institute your writing schedule – it sounds awesome! Let us know how it works for you.

    • I like your response to those who ask about your writing. When folks ask me, I tell them I’ve finished my first draft and am editing…pointedly telling them that no book ever comes out perfect the first time around. They seem satisfied with that.

      Great husbands make all the difference. So glad we share that!

  5. If JK Rowling had been a SAHM, what do you think her husband would have said about the fact that she was spending all day every day sitting in coffee shops, baby in a carrier, writing a story about a boy wizard? What would he have said when she got her first rejection letter? When she got her twelfth?

      • (-: She could have divorced him then.

        IDK, you can make a good case for taking the baby to the coffee shop. Walkies to the coffee shop (if you are lucky enough to have one in the neighborhood), fresh air puts baby to sleep for a great nap, mom gets to see something besides the four walls, costs less than a babysitter, baby gets some stimulus, and IF YOU THINK YOU CAN DO IT BETTER, YOU TRY IT FOR A WEEK, BOZO.

        Ahem.

        Thank goodness Rowling did it. Not only did she produce some really good books, but she’s a role model for all of us. If she can do it, surely we can figure out how to carve a little time out to do what’s important.

  6. I think one reason people ask writers about publication is because that’s a writing goal they understand; they don’t really understand how difficult the process of writing is. It’s hard at the neighborhood barbecue when somebody asks you about your writing and you say, “I’m working on my secondary character’s story arc; he isn’t coming together as the antagonist.” The best most people could say in response to that is, “huh.” But with publication, they can ask about what publisher it is and when the book is coming out, with a promise that they’ll check it out of the library. 🙂 That’s why communities of writers are so great—other writers get that the writing is a struggle and how it’s a struggle. And then the road to publication is a different struggle.

    The money angle is trickier, though, because most writers will never earn very much money. So if the value of a person’s time is measured by how much they earn as a writer, convincing people of the value of writing will always be an uphill struggle.

    • That’s why I like this community and the one I’m becoming a part of in my local chapter. Someone finally understands what I’m talking about when I tell them what I’m doing!

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