Whenever I hear someone say, “I love writing!” I know that I am not talking to a professional writer. Professional writers do love writing, of course, but they mostly love it in the way that doctors love making people well. There are many, many days that doctors fail to make people well. There are days when the patient is improved. There are days when the patient is worse. The doctors just have to keep plugging, hoping that they don’t kill anybody.
Personally (and I think this is true for many professional writers), I love the idea of writing more than I love actually writing. I always want my work to feel more like happy scribbling in a notebook than like sitting down at my computer for the 378th day to struggle with the same manuscript in the hopes that it will finally be “well” enough to pay my mortgage.
The word amateur comes from the French (which comes from Latin), and means “lover of.” Amateur writers write because they love it. For the past two years, I have been an amateur writer. I enrolled in a Master’s program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I worked with some of the best writers in the business. I didn’t worry about making money or impressing anyone, which freed me up to write humorous poetry, silly scenes, flash fiction, and crazy characters. I worked on a bunch of stuff that went nowhere. I did the best writing of my life, and that’s because the stakes were so low–if something didn’t work, I threw it out and started something new. I was surrounded by writers who were in the same boat and we supported each other because we were all in this thing for love.
But now I’m back to being a professional. I have to comb out the knots in the first draft of my current work-in-progress by the end of the week and send it off to my editor. And, while I’m still enjoying the work, it isn’t fun in the way that eating an ice cream cone is fun. It’s fun in the way that reaching a goal is fun. It’s fun because it’s challenging.
Look, I’m not a big fan of “writing is so hard!” kind of posts. I realize that I am very, very blessed to do the work that I do. Lots of people have jobs that are way harder than mine. Armed forces, social workers, police officers, firefighters, ER staff–the list is endless. Honestly, the only job that sounds better than mine (to me) is movie star. I’m not complaining about writing, I’m just pointing out that sometimes doing something for money takes the fun, the spontaneity, out of it. In our culture, any time someone is good at something, we are quick to suggest they turn it into a career. “Live Your Bliss” articles and Etsy imply that hobbies that make us happy are only legitimized by money. That, friends, is a lie. The fact that you enjoy something and are good at it does not mean that it has to be your career. Personally, I always encourage people to write. I do not, however, always encourage people to become professional writers. There are some things that are best done for ourselves, or simply for love.