Recently, I’ve been going through one of my soul-searching writer phases. It’s something that happens every now and then when I find myself going, “Am I really a writer? What does that mean? Do I really love to do this? Wouldn’t I do it more if I really loved it?” You know, the normal questions artists have every now and then.
I keep coming across a phrase that I’d really like to just…wipe away. Plug into a Cerebro machine and remove it from everyone’s list of negative-nancy-isms.
“If you can’t make a living off it, it’s a hobby. Not a career.”
I feel like I just bit into an ice cube. I think this is one of the belittling, deprecating things to say. Obviously, we’re not talking taxes here, so just…don’t say it.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
American Heritage defines a career as “a chosen pursuit; a profession or occupation.” A hobby, meanwhile, is “an activity or interest pursued outside one’s regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure.” Okay, so now we have this common word. Let’s go even further. An occupation is “an activity that serves as one’s regular source of livelihood; a vocation.”
Notice I made that second word bold, because I want it to stand out.
So let’s translate this and you’ll see how this phrase feels to writers, artists and other people whose success and happiness you like to judge:
“If you’re not making money from this, it is not your calling. It is a past time. It’s something you do for fun.”
Honey. This isn’t fun. Fun is going for a drive. Fun is watching Netflix in my underpants. Fun is reading kids books and petting puppies. Fun is the beach or the airport or a platypus.
If you aren’t a writer or an artist, you will never understand how it feels to move through the day and try to ignore the burning urge to create. It’s like having to pee, but, see, you have time to stop and pop a squat. You can tell your day job, “I need to run to the restroom real quick.” I can’t tell my boss, “I really need to get this story out of my head.”
You will never get how much guilt there is when you don’t sit down and write something. It feels like going without food, like your soul is dehydrating.
Lucky you, that you have a day job where at the end of the day, you’re getting a paycheck. You aren’t showing your work to someone and having them a) ignore you, b) tell you it’s “not for them” or c) tell you outright that it’s garbage. Every time we write something and put it out into the world, it’s like we’re putting out our hand for one of those horrible bar games where someone tries to jam a knife between your fingers as fast as possible. It’s not a question of will you get hurt but when and how badly.
And don’t get me started on the blank page and the writer’s block and the stress and depression and the manic episodes and the insomnia and the Google searches for ways to die and…
It’s not fun.
Is it rewarding? Yes. Would I give it up? No.
Can I give it up?
Conclusion: I don’t care what your measure of success may be, but don’t try to tell me that what I wake up every day thinking about doing, failing to do, doing over and over and over and then starting it all over again is not my life’s work.
Because I am greater than the sum of all your paychecks, and my power has nothing to do with you.