I was thinking about writing recently, as I tend to do, and realising that it tends to be thought of in a very different way to most hobbies and art forms.
For writing, the goal always seems like it needs to be publication. If you’re not looking to be published, you’re not a real writer; if you don’t want it to be your job, you’re not serious about it. And I can understand that mindset, because there’s a difference between writing occasionally for fun and committing to writing professionally. But I don’t see why everyone would need to be professionals.
When people play a musical instrument, it’s not immediately expected that they’re going to make a career in music. I played classical violin for ten years and flute for eight, with no intention of making that my career; even when I thought I might do something with folk music when I was older, it was only as a sideline, and not something I wanted to dominate my life.
Likewise, when somebody takes dance classes, people don’t assume that they’re trying to get into the Royal Ballet or something. Dance can be a way of exercising or even just a social thing as well as an art form, as well as a hobby, as well as a career. I danced throughout my childhood; I resumed when I was a teenager. And okay, so maybe I harboured secret wishes to be a professional, but once I realised that wasn’t feasible, I didn’t think there was no point in dancing.
Because I enjoyed it, and it gave me a way to express myself that hopefully brought a little bit of joy to other people, and it was good for me.
My Twitter profile still says “Writer, student, vlogger, dancer, feminist, musician, archer and full time procrastinator”. Okay, so maybe ‘archer’ isn’t accurate any more, since I hurt my wrists and left my archery club. But I still call myself a dancer and a musician even though I’m not a professional, even though neither of them is more than a hobby to me.
Why? Because they’re still valid parts of who I am, how I express myself, and how I spend my time. If somebody wants to know what I’m doing when I’m not studying or writing, this list is a pretty good summary. I’ll be dancing. Playing music. Or procrastinating. Mostly the third one.
It’s because of this that I don’t understand the mindset that I’ve heard expressed in relation to fan fiction: “But if they can write so well, why are they just writing fan fiction instead of writing professionally?” I don’t understand why young writers feel like the only goal is publishing. I don’t understand why writing just for fun is seen as lesser than writing for a career. I don’t understand why there’s anything wrong with posting your writing online for free if that’s what you want to do —
— or rather, I do understand it, because it was a mindset that I only recently broke free from. I guess it’s because writing is seen as something everybody can do, even though constructing a sentence is completely different from constructing a plot and characters to direct it. It’s seen as a necessary part of life, so doing it other than that must be for a reason.
Unlike dance or music, which need to be taught, writing’s far more organic. And therefore it’s not seen as a skill in quite the same way, or a hobby. It’s just using something everybody can do, so it must be for some purpose, right? Why would you write just for the sake of writing? What’s the point of creating stories that no one else is going to read?
I’ve always been looking to publish my work, ever since I was very young. (We’re talking <10, because I was like that.) Writing has always been my end goal when it comes to careers and how I want to spend my life. But that’s not what it’s like for everyone. Some people use their skills and creativity to write fan fiction not as a stepping stone to so-called original fiction from which they hope eventually to earn money, but because it gives them an outlet for their creativity and emotions and allows them to express themselves. Knowing full well that they won’t earn from it, they do it anyway, for the sake of the act of creation and the friends and readers they can reach that way.
And that doesn’t make them any less of a writer than the person querying agents with their polished novel. They’re not a professional writer, but they’re still a writer. Just as I’m still a dancer, even though I’ll never be paid for it, and still a musician, even though I’ll probably never release an album (although I haven’t ruled it out), and I’m definitely still a procrastinator. Though it would be great if someone could pay me for that. I could totally be a professional procrastinator.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that your reasons for writing are valid whether or not they’re intended to make you a career. Because writing can be a hobby just like everything else, as well as a job. It can be a way of privately expressing yourself as well as a public declaration. And it can be a skill that you work at for your own satisfaction as well as something with external validation.
So keep writing, no matter what people say. If you write, you’re a writer, no matter where you want that writing to take you.