Kait’s opening post this Round contained a quote from John Wooden as quoted by James Scott Bell. In part, Wooden said, Don’t worry about trying to be better than someone else. . . . You have no control over that. Instead try, and try very hard, to be the best you can be. That you have control over.
Ever since I joined ROW80 8 Rounds ago, I have struggled with comparing myself to others, so Wooden’s advice seemed targeted at me and my green-eyed monster. So many in the group have published, write very well, work diligently at the craft, and in many ways have the fire in the belly that denotes dedication. Me? The fire doesn’t burn in the same way.
About a year ago, I accepted a more complicated day job; it offered good pay, excellent benefits and life in an interesting part of the country. More immediately, I wasn’t in a place to strike out as a writer. After several months of juggling the two lives, I was bemoaning my difficulties to an instructor in WANA International, who replied with, “It’s okay to be a hobbyist.”
Her words entered my brain like liquid nitrogen, freezing the speech center, while I sputtered to myself, “I’m not a hobbyist, I’m a writer.” After some thought, I realized that writing is an avocation for me, done for the love of writing. I am proud to be counted with many writers who held day jobs while practicing their avocation.
Although William Carlos Williams is better known as a poet, he was a pediatrician; Peter Mark Roget of thesaurus fame was also a physician. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive. Geoffrey Chaucer had an active career as a bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat until his death. The Renaissance poet Veronica Franco was a cortigiana onesta, an intellectual courtesan. Not all writers had demanding day jobs. Brian Jacques was a milkman, and I can well imagine that he treasured the freedom to think about his novels.
So how do I become the best hobbyist writer I can be? Perhaps not surprisingly, in the same way I would become the best professional writer I can be, with a few differences. I cannot be lazy because writing is “only” my avocation. It is an avocation that requires hard work, honing the craft, writing and editing and rewriting. I write because I want to make people think, recognize the human struggles I am describing, and think some more. None of this sounds very different from what I hear from many of you.
There are differences, to be sure, but they seem to be in terms of time and product. It takes me a long time to write. I try to write before work, but sometimes all that comes out is dreck. I also edit while I write. It makes sense to do that in the day job, so I live with the difficulty of turning it off with my avocational writing. It does mean that I would set myself up for frustration if I joined NaNo or Fast Draft, or any of the other quick-writing tactics that many in this group have found helpful.
Another difference is that my product can be anything I want to write, and not a means to put bread on my table. It is freeing not to worry what an agent, the market, or my freelance client will think of my work. I don’t always get to write what I want in the academic arena, so it is freeing to be able to play in the sandbox with my fiction/creative non-fiction. It means I can be experimental and write, say, steampunk, or my horror piece about sentient boxes.
As Wooden said, all we can control in life is to be the best we can be. What “best” entails is up to the individual; only you know if you have done your best. I used to wince when my sons’ teachers would write something about doing their “personal best” on their papers, but I now understand the philosophy behind it. Many of us in ROW80 have advocated finding the habits and goals that work for you. I will now add finding who you are; find what place writing has in your life; what place you are able and willing to give it; and own that place, whether it be best-selling author or hobbyist. No matter which you are, you are in good company. I can only speak for myself, but I am proud to embrace my amateur status.