When Does Your Writing Become More Than a Hobby?

Recently my wife’s friend referred to my writing as hobby. Initially I was taken aback and slightly annoyed.

A hobby?

Really?

Does she know how many hours I put into my first novel?

Does she know how much time I dedicate weekly in pursuit of my writing career?

Does she know how much money I’ve invested in getting this career going?

Does she realize how hard it was for me to land a literary agent?

Of course the answer to all these questions is no.

But it got me thinking: when do you graduate from being a hobbyist to being a professional writer. Maybe my wife’s friend is correct. Maybe my writing is just a hobby?

I honestly can’t even pinpoint the nunber of hours I put into my first novel, Paws on the Ground. It has to be in the thousands though. I wrote the first draft in six months while in Afghanistan. I lived and breathed that book. I thought about it constantly, maybe even a little too much–there were way too many subplot. But I digress.

In February of 2011 my brother Brendan was diagnosed with lung cancer which spread to his brain. I had over 85,000 words written in my book at the time. I was still in Afghanistan when I had an epiphany. I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power to get my book published. Life is too short not to try.

When I returned from Afghanistan in May 2011, I took my first steps into the scary and intimidating world of publishing. I found myself a wonderful writing coach and editor, the delightful Ginger Moran. This was a huge step for me.

Sure, there is a financial commitment when hiring professional help. But more importantly I was putting my money where my mouth was. Something registered in my brain that said, “Now this is serious. There is no turning back.”

I actually think this is a much harder step for writers than most people think. The publishing world is complex and uninviting. I put myself out there. I was exposed to criticism. I was both terrified and excited.

From May to October 2011, this writing “thing” of mine was only known among a handful of family, very close friends, and literary agents that requested a submission. I don’t believe any of my family or friends took my writing “thing” seriously at this time. So I felt like I was straddling a fence between doing this completely and pulling back to the safety of the military world. Yes, I know the military world seems foreign and dangerous to most, but it’s what I know.

This changed when I attended the James River Writers conference in Richmond. I was surrounded by writers for the first time. Before the conference I was nervous that I didn’t belong. I was nervous that a bunch of writing intellectuals would look down upon me. Again, I was entering a new and unknown world.

Here is what I learned at the conference:

  1. I do belong in this publishing world.
  2. There are many writers just like me–some in more advanced stages, some less.
  3. Like anything, succeeding in the publishing world isn’t only about talent. Your drive and determination can carry you far.
  4. I needed a writer’s platform.

Wait a minute. A platform? You mean I need to expose myself to the whole world?

Yes!

But if I do that I can never turn back. I could fail in front of everyone!

Sure could!

What are you going to do, pal?

I went home and opened a twitter page and started an author’s Facebook page the night the conference ended. But I knew that wasn’t enough. I needed a website.

Now I knew there was no turning back on this writing “thing” I was doing.

But was this still a hobby? I was throwing myself out there. No more straddling the fence. My intentions were clear—in writing on Facebook!

I spent a ton of time learning to build a website. I had no clue what I was doing. I did it anyway. The site looked like I had built it. It was clunky, ugly, but functional. It wasn’t what I wanted.

I knew that everything on that site would represent me. It needed to be polished. It wasn’t.

Lucky for me my writing coach and mentor, Ginger Moran’s, brother is a web designer and branding expert.  I handed my clunky website over to Chuck Moran at Bald Guy Studios and he and his team went to work. They built this beautiful site you are on now.

During this time I also hired an experienced and seasoned independent editor to guide me through a second revision of the book. Yes, all the literary agents who requested submissions rejected me.

Tax time came. For the first time I hired an accountant to do my taxes. We wrote off all my writing expenses as business expenditures.

Now I’m a professional right? I mean the IRS recognizes me as such!

Maybe. Maybe not.

Exactly 13 months after I queried my first agent I finally landed a literary agent, the wonderful Victoria Skurnick at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. Hopefully we will be taking my first novel to the publishers soon!

So to summarize:

  1. I have a product (my novel) & am nearly complete with the first draft of my second novel.
  2. I have expenditures.
  3. I have a website and hundreds of subscribers to the blog.
  4. I have professional representation.
  5. I haven’t made a cent from my writing.

Am I a professional writer or a hobbyist? Honestly, I’m not sure.

I’d like to think this is more than a hobby (I am up at 5:00 AM on a Sunday writing this post). But is it?

When do you become a professional?

Do you have to attain Nelson Demille status to be a professional?

If you write, what would you consider yourself?

What do you think?

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40 thoughts on “When Does Your Writing Become More Than a Hobby?

  1. Kenneth Reynolds

    I try to read everything you post and thankful for your permission to reprint it on the Patch Media a local news and information platform owned by the AOL corporation. As of May 2012, Patch operates some 850 local and hyperlocal news websites in 23 states in the United States. And while I have yet to reach all 850 websites, I do reach 385 of them on a regular basis.

    As for a hobby…posting and reprinting on Patch has a more of a therapeutic effect on me than anything and making the public aware of the Military Working Dogs and being an advocate for K-9 Veterans’ Day March 13th is what has drawn me to your site because you are up on the current status of our Quiet Americans…Thank you for all that you do and please keep doing it…I am not in it for the money…I am in it for those who have served and deserve to be remembered.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Ken. I certainly appreciate your support and all the advocating you do for your veterans- two and four legged! I’m honored that you asked to share my content on your site!

      I definitely think you are on to something…..writing is my therapy…something just drives every morning me to get up and write….. maybe I need to?

      Reply
  2. Steve S. Grant

    Very nice post. The definition of professional writer, for a lot of people, I think, is when one actually makes money from their written work. I’m in a very similar situation, having self-published my first novel last week. The amount of hours we put in a novel is ridiculous, but I guess it compares to serious hobbyists in other fields. I have an uncle who spends all his free time building and flying small airplanes. It’s his passion.

    Reply
    1. Robert Brown

      Until you are actually receiving money for your writing, having the the IRS recognize your writing related deductions is a big step towards calling yourself a professional writer.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

        Congratulations of publishing your novel Steve! I just found it on Smashwords!

        http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/259480

        I use that same argument with my wife….. I am not out at the bars, I am not golfing, I am not out cycling 70 miles Like I used to when training for triathlons… Though I’m still doing what I enjoy!

        Reply
  3. Carole M. Di Tosti (@mercedeskat45)

    I was writing long before I was published online. It was a part of my teaching career. It was never really a hobby. I couldn’t teach without teaching about writing and or writing. Now, I am on a different writing journey, but I call myself a writer and my intention is as a writer and my experience is as a writer. It may not be the standard best seller experience yet which the unofficiated, and non writers/authors expect all writers to be. Nevertheless, I am a writer.

    . With your blog you are also a teacher teaching about your writing. This is not a hobby, especially in that you are doing this with the intent of making money off your writing. That will take time, perhaps, but it is your intention. An intention IS A FACT as you work toward it. I am working on my intentions and they already are FACT that will manifest as I continue to publish. Remember that you are already published and people are reading your writing. So the next steps will follow.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks for your words of wisdom Carole!

      I look at this as a business just starting out…… I am certainly in the black in money and time but I am building something. That takes time. One can’t expect to jump right into something and have instant success.

      I too believe that I am published…maybe it is just in my blog right now….o wait, I wrote an article on The Tactical Explosive Detector Dog Program for the Army Center of Lessons Learned….I would love to post it on the site but it is classified. Maybe someday I can have it declassified.

      Reply
  4. kristen shaw

    Hi Kevin:

    This post is informative and helpful. I am very thankful for Ms Ginger Moran and know how how amazing she is.

    This is timely cause I flopped so badly at Pitchapalooza last night in Huntington, NY, it was one for the record. But if I thoroughly enjoy writing my blog and am going to try and get through my book (which according to the BookDoctors) which has been written multiple times – and in other words, you are not that compelling –yet, then that is all that matters, is to be present in the moments when we are developing our products and being inspired by our writing.
    The BookDoctors wanted to love me, they really did!

    Thank you for the dedication to your craft, but mostly your story!

    Sincerely,
    Kristen Shaw

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Kristen. Another Ginger fan- awesome!

      Sorry to hear about Pitchapalooza. You tried though….I think that shows something about your character. There were many folks sitting there silent who might have even won….but they were too scared to take the plunge. Everyone needs to feel the pain of rejection….it makes our successes so much sweeter.

      I’m sure they did love you…..now you know what you need to do…..revise your story so it stands out!

      Next year you can go back and re-pitch. I saw someone do this and she did quite well. She didn’t win but received a submission request from an agent! There is hope because you are willing to put yourself out there! :-)

      Reply
  5. Sylvia Gravrock

    Kevin, this post sure hits home…especially the phrase “this writing ‘thing’.” Admitting to yourself (much less “the world”) that you’re taking your writing seriously enough to elevate it from hobby to career is a tad frightening. As with anything in life, it’s amazing what our mental attitude can either do to, or for us. Thanks for being brave enough to share!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Sylvia. Thanks for your encouragement. Who knows…I could still fall flat on my face …… but in twenty years I wlil never ask myself- What if I had just tried? I don’t want to live like that. :-)

      Reply
  6. Claudia

    To me you ARE a professional! You have put all of yourself into your writing; it is your passion. That is a sign of being a professional. You have given me new hope for my own writing career!

    Reply
  7. Toni Kenyon

    Kevin,
    I’ve been calling myself a professional writer for years – I figured if I couldn’t take myself seriously, who would!
    I’m thrilled to have published my first book this year and I’m almost ready to publish my second. Nothing’s changed for me – but everything has changed for people around me. Suddenly, because I’m prepared to market a ‘product’ and stand up in public, now I’m a writer.
    I’ve been that all along ;)
    For me too, writing is therapy – it’s what helps me sort out my living problems and I’m thrilled to be able to entertain other people along the way.
    We’ve got a great life :)
    Toni

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks Liz. Transitioning is hard as well. I still put on that uniform and go to work every day. I love being a Soldier. I love the Army Institution and the Soldiers that serve!

      Reply
  8. aj Melnick

    Kevin,
    You have to do what you have to do because it is a passion. Without that fire, you would not succeed and you will succeed! What others who are not actively involved say is really immaterial. Try not to take their comments seriously. I got a photography book with memoir texts published. The book was turned down numerous times, but I kept plugging. Also, fyi, I had a difficult time calling myself a photographer. Just keep saying to yourself and to the world, that you are a professional writer! Ten times each day. (smile) I eagerly await the publication of your first novel.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thanks AJ. Recently I’ve actually told a few people I don’t know that I am a writer as well as a Soldier. It certainly is freeing!

      It is funny you mention that because we had an aspiring photographer come to the house to take photos of the baby, I could see the trepidation in her as we discussed her aspiration to become a professional photographer.

      I told my wife we need to keep hiring her just to support her aspirations. I’m a huge believer in Karma! :-)

      Reply
  9. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    I like it Toni…..Your state of Mind. I’m not quite there yet…..though I am coming around quickly. A publishing deal would seal it for me!

    There is definitely something to that whole perception by others. It is like they aren’t certain but you are…..it takes an actual pubication of your book for them to get the ah ha moment.

    I receive a lot of satisfaction hearing from folks though…. knowing they enjoy my stories and such.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Thank you Colleen! Interlacing the threads of a novel is really quite artistic. I actually enjoy the editing process (Now that I have a better idea what I am doing after working with an editor)!

      Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      I gotta agree with you on that one Russ. I wife always asks me what I am doing when the alarm goes off at 0400. Often she urges me to come back to bed. That rarely ever happens. My computer calls!

      Reply
      1. Jani Muhlestein

        That poor woman. Not only does she not get her Kevin snuggles, but you WAKE HER UP AT AT 4:00 AM? This woman is a mother, Kevin. (banging head, now)… It’s a good thing she thinks you’re pretty.

        Reply
  10. Michael K. Eidson (@eposic)

    I have been writing for most of my life. I’ve had some short stories and articles published. I am currently writing my debut fantasy novel. I consider myself a writer, but not a professional. Not yet. But I don’t consider my writing a hobby either. It goes beyond that, because I have an intention to make money from my writing, and have made some, even if the income hasn’t exceeded my writing-related expenses any year so far.

    At one time I had decided to deduct expenses for writing as a business. I discovered that I could only do that for so many years before I had to start showing a profit from my writing. The IRS would let me deduct expenses as an effort to start a business, but I couldn’t remain in that “start-up” category forever. I forget if it was two or three years I was allowed to deduct expenses without showing a profit. Ask your accountant about this.

    2012 was the first year I came close to earning more from my writing than what I paid for writing-related expenses. The year that my income exceeds my expenses, then I’ll consider myself a professional. Until then, the desire to be what I deem a professional writer is my motivation for trying even harder. This writing “thing” is not easy, especially if you’re working full time at another job. But as long as you have the goal of making money from your writing, and you are constantly striving towards that goal, it’s got to be considered more than just a hobby.

    Reply
    1. Allison Bruce

      We should recognize a category between professional and hobbyist: the apprentice writer. This is the serious writer who is still learning their craft.

      I’ve been a writer most of my life. I’ve been a professional writer and editor for over 20 years now. But I’ve only been a published author for three years – and only a published novelist for two years. Nevertheless, I have never considered writing a hobby.

      A vocation. Maybe an obsession. But not a hobby.

      Reply
  11. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    Hi Michael. By your standards I think I am a tweener…straddling between being a hobbyist and a professional. I’ll take it!
    I think once I receive my first publishing contract (not if …when) I will consider myself a professional writer. Right now I consider myself to be aspiring but on my way….. I hope!
    There is some really great info out there on tax related expenses for writers. It is very easy to find. I actually hired an accountant last year for the first time. If there are mistakes then it is on him and not me! He is just another write off!

    Best of luck with your fantasy novel!

    Reply
  12. Virginia

    Thank you for sharing your passion. I am on my second go-round. In the 80′s I was able to take a hiatus from the work world thanks to my ex-husband’s belief in my writing. But things were a lot different for us “hobbyists” – a lot more isolated since there was not yet an internet. I became discouraged.
    Like you I received the call to live life fully when my brother was diagnosed with lymphoma that spread to his brain. I’ve been writing for five years now. I’m not sure where it’s going but it gives me a sense of purpose.
    In January I started a blog and although I only a few followers, they love my posts and I’m happy to be a writer in the eyes of those 33.

    Reply
  13. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    WOW Virginia! That is amazing that would have such a connection based on tragedy. I launched by site last February. It takes time to build a subscriber list. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
    Congrats of moving forward with your dreams. I wish you the very best. Here is a little shout out for you blog!

    Go check out Virginia’s blog if you have a spare minute! 
    http://thehouseofmars.wordpress.com/

    Reply
  14. Kate Hill

    Hi, Kevin. To me writing is more than a hobby or a profession. It’s a way of life. If being a professional writer is your goal in life and you’re working toward that goal, it’s not a hobby. It’s training. It took years for me to earn enough from my writing to depend on it as part of my income. During those years the time and effort I put into it wasn’t hobby time. Also not everyone has the same goals for their writing. Money isn’t the only reason people write and it’s not the most important reason. Your blog is educational and inspirational. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Kate. Thanks for leaving your thoughts! I keep telling my wife that this whole “writing thing” takes time to develop. You can’t walk right into it and be an instant success. Someday though……I will pay the bills with this passion of mine!

      Reply
  15. Nadezhda (aka Nadya) Seiler

    Hello, Kevin,
    As a fledgling writer and dog lover, I enjoy reading your blog. I find your entry about being a professional writer vs a hobbyist fascinating (thank you!) because I don’t know how to “label” myself. I just self-published three novels, one after another, and am busy writing a sequel to my third one, spending at the computer for 6-8 hours daily, plus thinking about my characters and plot the rest of the day, and still, I call it a hobby. Partly, because I’m too shy (for lack of a better word) to call myself a writer. And frankly, I’m not sure if I ever will be able to proudly say, “I’m a writer,” even after I have, say, ten novels to my name. Maybe I lack confidence because I SELF-published my work, instead of traditionally through an agent.

    Reply
  16. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    Hi Nadya. Thanks so much! I would definitely classify you as a writer! It sounds like this is your full time job….congrats by the way about publishing your books.

    You bring up a great point….. do you have to attain the level on Nelson DeMille before you can consider yourself a writer? How many books do you have to publish/ sell? Do you need commercial success or is it all about a state of mind?

    What defines success in the writing world? I guess that is for each of us to decide. But it certainly sounds like you are on your way!

    Reply
  17. Lucia Migrditchian

    It’s definitely not a hobby. You are a writer. You know that. My dad once told me a similar thing about the issue of money. Theres always going to be someone with more,and someone with less. Just keep doing what you’re doing. It comes from the right place and that’s what is important in the end!

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Eileen, great to meet you! The IRS allows me to write my expenses off so does that count? :-) This year I am also earning a little money so I can keep this site running.

      Reply
  18. Rhapsodie for Ava D Dohn

    You’ve explained how the heart of the author gets tied into the words in the writing. The words are part of the heart and soul of all authors. But the marketing is the hard part when the words should be shared with the world.

    Your information has inspired me to add a link to my blog, if you don’t want it on there please email me to remove it.

    Sincerely,
    RM4avaddohn

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi thank you very much. I think you should be able to feel the heart and soul of an author when you read their novel because a little piece of you needs to be left in that book. :-)

      Reply
  19. Connie

    When are you a professional writer and not a hobbyist? It’s simple, when your words touch the ears of someone else and you both grow.

    Reply

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