Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing for WhiteFire Publishing, designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels and novellas. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to make their way into her novels…to offset her real life, which is blessedly boring. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and through her website.
A couple years ago, I was in Kansas City for a writing retreat with Stephanie, and whenever we had to drive somewhere, she played the audio of a class by the wise and amazingly talented Susan Meissner. The topic was on what kind of writer you are, or why you write. And though I often leave classes unsure what I've really taken away, this one has stuck with me. Because it asks a question I think every writer needs to answer.
Why do we write?
Ms. Meissner began her class with the proposition that there are 3 basic kinds of writers.
- The Hobby Writer
- The Career Writer
- The Calling Writer
Now, the rest of her class focused on writing as a career, which is where I'll depart from her set-up--I'd like to explore all the options here with you guys. Because as you try to write and go to school, or choose your college major, or start out in the world of jobs and paying your own bills, this is something you're going to have to define. And possible redefine. And maybe then define yet again.
Let me say from the get-go that there's no right or wrong here. I will never say that in order to be a "real" writer, you have to be one or the other of these types. But if you understand the type you are, it'll help you prioritize and even understand the decisions you make a little better, so that you can make those decisions with confidence.
Writer Type #1 ~ The Hobby Writer
A hobby writer is someone who writes just for the fun of it. Oh, not to say it's always fun--it's still work, and you strive for excellence. But it's something you do in your spare time. If you don't have the time for a day or week or month or year, you don't really sweat it. You might be eager to get back to it, you'll find ways to put aside the time to do it, but you're not motivated by the effect your writing has on anyone else. You write for you. Because you enjoy it, and because it adds something to your life.
There are plenty of hobby writers who end up published. Sometimes that will gradually edge them into calling themselves a different type of writer, but not always. There will always be those who do it just for fun, but who end up pretty successful at it. Still, some will say that if it stops being fun, they'll just stop doing it.
If you're a hobby writer, you might take a few creative writing classes along the way and get a kick out of it. Or you might pursue that other thing you're interested in mostly, and just spend some time writing when you can. Chances are, you're not going to make life decisions based on your love of writing, just like I don't make life decisions based on my new interest in knitting. It's fun, I might have seasons where I spend a lot of time on it, I might even utilize it for gifts or what have you. I'd miss it if I gave it up. But when someone asks me what I do, I never reply, "I'm a knitter." If you're a hobby writer, you'd never answer this question with, "I'm a novelist." That doesn't mean you don't take it seriously or want to learn all you can about it. I know some hobby writers who pursue writing with a desire for excellence and who have achieved it.
Writer Type #2 ~ The Career Writer
A career writer intends to make a living at writing. You handle your education and job searches accordingly. Whether you publish independently or through a traditional publisher, as a career writer you tend to weigh the time you put into a book against the return on that investment. Most career writers I know figure out how much they've made per hour put into a book and use that to determine (a) what they need to do to increase the ROI (return on investment) or (b) whether it's time to either supplement their income with some other job, or even leave writing to make more money elsewhere.
Now, a career writer can also take the form of something like journalism. I know quite a few career writers who have a day job at a newspaper or magazine or even, these days, blogging, and who write novels in addition to that. So how much time they spend on their novel writing [once they've achieved publication] will be largely determined by the percentage of their income it represents.
If you are, or intend to be, a career writer, you will make life decisions based on your writing goals, and your writing goals will in turn be determined by the practical side of things: money, time, advancement, awards, etc. Obviously you know you'll have to put some time in before you start earning money, like you do in any job training. But those end goals are always in your mind.
Now, there are some fortunate career writers out their who have the luxury of not needing a full-time job. So while they won't give up writing, most likely, because of a lack of money made from it, they may indeed make decisions about what they write based on what sells the best. I have a friend who weighed the money made from books sold to XYZ publisher against the money she made off a series she did independently in a different genre, and made her decision on which to pursue next based totally on that. If that sounds like something you'd do, you're most likely a career writer.
Writer Type #3 ~ The Calling Writer
Susan Meissner actually called this Writing as Ministry, which is the way I usually say it; but that does imply a faith-based motive, which can be, but is not always, the case with this type of writer, so I decided to go with "calling" here.
A calling writer might want to make a career of it, but they will continue pursuing it whether it actually ever earns money or not. If you write because of a calling, your decisions are based NOT on any return on investment or whether it's a sound career choice, but because you feel they must. If faith-based, it's because they feel God wants them to write a particular story or genre. If not faith-based, it's because they feel they have a message that the populace needs. A writer who claims writing is their calling might pursue it with the same single-mindedness that a career writer uses, but they will make their decisions based more on their readers than themselves.
I'm firmly in this category, so I can speak more knowledgeably about it than the others--that by no means indicates I think it's the "right" way or only way to be. It's simply how I am. I will write whether anyone will publish me or not. I will write the stories I feel weighing on my heart whether that genre is selling or not. I will give it the time it takes whether I have more pressing concerns in my life or not.
Those who write as a calling don't measure success the same way a career writer does, so their decision making isn't handled the same way either. Both groups will make life decisions based on their writing goals, but calling writers aren't usually as "practical" about it--it's about the reader more than it's about them.
There can definitely be some cross-over in these writer types; people who, for instance, feel a definite calling to writing, but who also weigh return on investment. Or perhaps people who just write for the fun of it, but who have discovered that they can write a particular genre, publish it, and make a nice supplemental income too, so it's an added bonus that determines what they write.
What's interesting, however, is how those writers who fall firmly into one category are often baffled by writers who fall firmly into another, and go so far as to say that, "Well any writer's who's doing it right will..." I've heard more than one discussion that started with that premise and soon dissolved into heated arguments with feelings hurt on both sides. Writers who view it as a calling sometimes can't comprehend why people make money-based decisions, and deem their motivations all wrong. Career writers sometimes think that if you're starting from a ministry or calling motivation, then you're trying to manipulate your readers and not delivering a good story because it's all about agenda. Judging another writer's motivation is a trap that will do nothing but harm your friendships with other writers. Any type of writer can achieve the same thing--minimizing someone else's motivations will only hurt you both.
On the flip side, different types of writers can learn so much from each other! My career writing friends often share the insights they've learned through their attention to business details which I do indeed take into account when marketing my stories--because the message I want to get out there won't get out there without some attention to that, right? And my perspective on using my stories to give rather than gain can often provide the emotional nourishment that they, in turn, need when sales aren't quite what they hoped.
So what type of writer do you tend toward being? Do you combine any of them? Does understanding your motivation help you at all when it comes to making decisions about your future?