Write for your life

The first of the month just passed, which meant it was time to make my monthly story list. I've been making lists of all the final and rough drafts I want to complete every month, to keep myself on track for my goal of sending 20 completed stories out to market by the new year.

These lists represent something that I've realized about writing this past year: writing is a job. Not a hobby. Not a bohemian art best pursued in a coldwater garret. It's a career like any other, except it's much harder and far more competitive than most careers.

It took me some time to realize this. For most of my life, I thought I could write during summers home from college or here and there for an hour or two after work. I didn't understand that if I wanted a career in this field, I needed to invest the time and resources that I would have invested in any other potential career. If I'd decided I wanted to be, say, a social worker, I would have quit my job as a journalist and gone back to school for social work. But for some reason I was dense about the time and commitment it takes to become a writer.

Unfortunately, society at large seems to have a tenuous grasp on this notion of writing-as-career. Writers who have "made it" enjoy tremendous cultural cache, but new writers often must face the fact that some of our acquaintances, friends and family simply don't care or understand what we do with our time. For example: I applied to the Odyssey Writing Workshop in winter 2013 to figure out if I actually wanted to pursue a career as a fiction writer. When I was accepted into the workshop, I began to make plans to leave my journalism job. I received a variety of responses from the people in my life. The majority were quite supportive, but a few implied that I was throwing away my journalism career and turning my back on my responsibilities. Others congratulated me in an odd way: they lauded me for leaving my job to go "be young," as I had started working right after college and never had the chance for a free-spirited phase. I think some of these well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning people thought that Odyssey was the equivalent of a six-week basket-weaving camp, not an intensive program that, to me, was the equivalent of going back to school for a career change.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what these naysayers think or how they perceive the choices writers must make to build fulfilling and productive careers. What's important is that you view writing as your career, and that you are willing to invest the necessary resources in it.

(A caveat: for some people, writing is a hobby, something they do when they're feeling inspired or want catharsis. That's absolutely fine. But if you want to write as a career, you cannot treat it as a hobby).

So if I could give advice to anyone who's where I was a year ago: spend time writing, revising and submitting. Self-identify as a writer. Apply to Odyssey, Clarion, or another intensive workshop. Ignore the people who accuse you of eschewing the responsibilities of adulthood to go pursue some hobby. Writing is a career. Invest in it.