Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Writing as an Identity

One of the more unique aspects of writing is the way people associate themselves and their identities with their words on the page. People don't just spend time in the evening reflecting on the capricious vicissitudes of life and/or zombie killers from another planet. It somehow becomes more than that.

You can see this in the way people talk about writing: some people compare it to oxygen, i.e. something that they can't live without. They don't say, "I like to write, it's fun, I enjoy it." They say, unequivocally, "I am a writer. It's who I am."

I'm going to be honest here and say that while I don't judge people when they define themselves as writer, whatever their publication status, I find it a little unsettling when they make it an overly intrinsic part of their identity.

First of all, people just don't tend to define themselves by what they do in their spare time. You don't hear anyone shout to the rafters, "I AM STAMP COLLECTOR!" or "I AM A CONNOISSEUR OF REALITY TELEVISION!"

To be sure, there's something about writing that's a little different (to say the least) from stamp collecting. It's more personal, even when it's not a memoir or something that relates directly to someone's real life. Putting thoughts on the page, any thoughts, means taking one's inner life and putting it all out there for the world to see. Normally we're at great pains to keep our emotions hidden, whether that's concealing anger or love or nervousness. Writers do the opposite: they take their innermost thoughts and show them to the world. And there's something scary/thrilling about externalizing what is normally kept hidden.

But an identity?

Here's where that becomes problematic. Once someone makes the leap from writing as a fun, intense pursuit to something wrapped up in identity, it's a dangerous road to be walking on. As we all know, the path to material success in the writing world is ridden with obstacles and rejections. And when people begin to wrap up their identity with the publication process, the rejections become personal, and a judgment on a book becomes intertwined, in the writer's eye, with a judgment of self.

Sure, there's something unique and personal about writing, which is what so many people love about it. But I don't think the ideal is pursuing it in an all-consuming Randy "The Ram" fashion. The moment the writing or the publishing process becomes the defining part of someone's identity, when it becomes oxygen, that's a time when the writer is risking having that oxygen choked off by forces completely outside of their control.

I hear from these people all the time. They're the ones who start spamming agents, who write me angry e-mails, and who go on tirades about the publishing process. They've stopped enjoying the writing process, and because writing is so wrapped up in their self-conception, they can't bear the pain of rejection and instead look outward for blame.

What do you think? Is it realistic to think that something so time-intensive and personal can be placed in a more hermetically sealed mental box? Is there even an ideal approach?

UPDATE: I scrubbed this post of the word "hobby" because I think it was distracting from the intent of the post. For the record: I don't think a creative pursuit is the same thing as a hobby, I don't prejudge people who call themselves writers, and as I hope is already abundantly apparent, I admire anyone and everyone who takes the time to put word to page. I only meant "hobby" as in something that one does that is not one's career, not as something trivial.

As I mentioned in the comments section, this post could have been summed up: "Don't let the publishing process define you." But I didn't have time today for such a short post.


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Anonymous said...

Really? We take the identity too seriously? And that's a reason to think we're dimwits?

Perceptions is everything here, me thinks.

Ire is raised not because of your opinion, but because we perceive a constant stream of criticism from agents, in general.

Intended or not.

Karen said...

Nathan, thank you for this post. For a long time I have wondered if I was doing something wrong by not calling myself a writer. I tell people that I enjoy writing or that I'm "working" on a novel, but I have a hard time saying that I am a writer because I have yet to make a dime from it. Until I can call myself a writer on my 1040, I don't think I can call myself one in the other areas of my life.

Marilyn Peake said...

By the way, in my personal life, I rarely talk in public about my writing. When people specifically ask what kind of work I do, I just say, "I write" or, very briefly, "I'm a writer." I let the other person decide whether or not they think I'm a "writer". Frankly, I don't care one way or the other if they think of me as a "writer" or not ... I'm way too busy thinking about whatever current writing project I'm actually working on. When I’ve been invited to speak about my books in schools and other places, I’ve introduced myself as a "writer", since that’s why I was invited to speak in the first place.

Jo said...

Even though I'm published I've always felt like a horse's patootie saying I'm a writer unless I'm in the company of other writers who are friends. With them I can be as needy and pathetic as I want. The rejection process of writing should be the least of it. Even when it depresses me, I remind myself that it's my choice to put my work out there, and I write because I love it. I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to do this thing that makes me happy every day. As for publishers and agents, they're just doing their jobs and who can fault them for that?

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't understand how you could have gotten that reaction from my post, unless you were specifically trying to be offended.

Anonymous said...

Another label writers use to distinguish themselves is "published." As in,

Xyz, Published Author

or, I've even seen such grandiose phrasing as,

-xzy, Multipublished author


Eddie said...

I suspect that those who most strongly insist on their identity as a "writer" are those with the least amount of real talent. And frankly, I think talent is a necessary element in truly being a writer.

Since it's very difficult to objectively determine the quality of one's own writing, I'd be wary of such confident self-identifications. And when you call it your "calling" or your "life," you're only convincing yourself.

Writers focus on writing, not on being writers.

Anonymous said...

The identity of being a writer thing must be extraordinarily rough on the former pro's--those who did manage to make a living writing books for a period of years, but weren't able to sustain it after that and had to go back to working a job. Are those people still writers?

Yes, I'd say yes, they've earned it.

Anonymous said...

I just love this post. Nathan, you're awesome.

HWPetty said...

I completely disagree with almost everything you said in this blog, Nathan. (which is rare, but not unheard of. ahahaha)

Writing is not a "hobby" for many in the same way that painting is not a hobby and dance is not a hobby...etc.

The reason writing is so personal is because it is an art. And art is directly linked to our spiritual selves. (I'll refrain from going on and on about this. Promise.)

When people say they are writing because they have to, or are comparing it to oxygen, they are talking about writing... not publishing.

I write because I have to. I am a writer. Writing is my artistic expression.

I want to be published because I WANT to someday make a living doing something that I love. And writing is what I love.

It's a totally different thing.

If I am never published, I will still write. And being rejected by the publishing industry doesn't choke off my ability to write, nor does it destroy my connection to my art.

The people who are snide to you, who spam, and who write dissertations on the evils of the publishing industry are not doing so because they are writers. They're doing it because they're immature and vindictive.

They're acting like spoiled children on the playground.

But please don't associate those of use who define ourselves through our art with those who lack the maturity to deal with the business side of the industry.

kristin-briana said...

I think who I am is what makes me a writer - not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

I like to play Sonic the Hedgehog after a long day at work.

It's part of who I am. I also write stuff.

Jill Lynn said...

My two cents, Nathan:

It could be the all-consuming writers you are referring to think it's what you--a literary agent--want to hear. They may think if they don't appear serious, you won't take them or their writing seriously.

Also, as a literary agent, you come in contact with more writers than is the norm, so statistically speaking, you're bound to come across more extremists. This would be true of whatever profession you had chosen. Imagine for a minute you are Jeff Probst. I bet you'd hear "I am a connoisseur of reality television!" all the time. And, really, I doubt you (or Jeff, for that matter) would want to hear about a job in, oh, let's just use payroll as an example, shall we? Zzzzzz. You are a literary agent; writing is what writers are going to talk to you about.

On the other hand, when I read the responses to your “what have you given up for your writing?" post the other day, I grew concerned that I hadn’t sacrificed enough to be published in comparison to others. I haven’t given up my day job. My house is clean. I sleep 8-hours a night. Etc. My MS output is probably less than others, but if what I do write has merit, I feel better about being a “non-extremist” about my writing after reading your take on it. I can still be published someday even with my limited sacrifices—other than watching less television. Shh. Don’t tell Jeff!

Anonymous said...

"Sonic, the city is in ruins!"
"Dr. Eggman must have used his time machine to send us far into the future!"
"We have to find the hidden database. It's the only way back to our real time. Ready?"
"Let's go!"

Is that writing? Do the people who made that up consider themselves writers?

I hope so. for the love of God, I hope so.

Dawn Maria said...

I was taken to task in my writing group two years ago when I called myself an aspiring writer.

"No, no!" everyone screamed. "You're a writer- own it."

I was pretty pissed off because I had chosen the right description of where I was at as an artist at that time. I didn't need the fancy label, or the attention that can go with it.

These days I say emerging writer or writer. I'm beyond the hobby level and wouldn't appreciate that label, but I don't have an agent or publisher yet either. Admittedly, having those would make me feel more like a "real" writer (where's that damn Blue Fairy when I need her?).

All that said, I think what Nathan says about identity in relation to publishing is important. Another way to look at it is- do you need attention?
Do you need the kind of validation that only publishing can provide? Is publishing the only thing that can provide validation?

If the answer matters, you have your answer.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
"So for me, it's not about the fact that people call themselves writers, more about people who call themselves writers who shout it from the rafters and live and die by it."

Isn't that true in every profession? I've known lots and lots of people in all kinds of professions who talk about their work ALL the time in order to try to impress everyone around them, and who inflate the importance of the work they actually do. That kind of behavior is hardly unique to writers.

Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...

Please, I beg this community...

Who can call himself a wr*ter?Is it a community coronation? Or a a self-crowning, a grasping for the mantle?

I have an agent... a contract with a large CBA house ... but I can't even utter the word, "wr*ter."

It seems sacred.

This thing I do with a keyboard is something I'd never tell anybody outside of my immediate family. Why *is* that?

Is a wr*ter just someone who writes?

Or when you're paid for your words? What part of your income must derive from writing before you can claim the title?

When is wr*ter a designation of who you are and what you do?

Nathan... you've thoughtfully raised questions as to when perhaps we should speak of our identities as writers... can you then speak to: when do we?

A quiet reader, not at all reconciled to claiming community with real writers, who found this post so compelling she struggled to her feet and stammered out her heart....

All's grace,

CMyers said...

nathan, i've never posted on the blog before, but i've been reading it pretty regularly, and i just think that the bottom line is this: if you're an artist, whether a writer, musician, whatever, then you have a part of you in your biology that is a bit insane, or, for lack of a better word, different. I've been writing since i was in 2nd grade, and I never ever told any of the hundreds of friends I made throughout the battle of my teenage years that I was an aspiring writer. I would ditch my friends sometimes and skip out on parties so I could stay at home and write. It wasnt until 2007, as a junior in college, that I openly started talking about my writing with my close group of friends. I always think about writing, about stories, plots, characters, scenes I'm envisioning. Even at work, i start writing down edits to make, scenes to add, so in a way writing does consume a great deal of my mental energy. However, I know that it doesn't define me. I do other things. I have perspective, and I learned something valuable from Syd Field, who is a screenwriting guru, who said to keep your dreams and reality on a separate plane because they're different things. I've never felt comfortable just saying "I'm a writer." It's oversimplifying. It's too easy. Is that all I am? It can't be. I write every morning and that's that. I like writing, I like reading, and I'll continue to write, but it isn't everything.

Richard Lewis said...

I think we are born creative. We are all creative in different ways, but it's there in one way or another. Part of what it means to be human.

Even those who struggle to stay alive, in concentration camps and in slums, find ways to be creative even as they starve.

For me, even though I was always writing as a kid, I didn't start writing seriously until I was forty. That's when I realized I was most happy when unhappily writing.

But I'd rather be a mathematician. 10,000 yrs from now, when Shakespeare is lost to the slings and arrows of historical contingencies, the name of LEJ Brouwer will live on.

Who?The dude who proved the fixed point theorem. His name will last longer than any writer's.

Yvette Davis said...


Like the oft over-rated concept of "self," even "writing" you can't take with you.

If somebody clings to it that much, they're in for a sorry surprise at the end of the journey.

Polenth said...

I can understand someone defining themselves by one thing, as it does happen elsewhere. I've known people who define themselves by a sport, bird watching, dancing... and others. It's particularly true when someone is just coming to terms with being a certain thing.

What I don't understand is when people try to generalise to all writers ("if it's not like breathing for you, you're not a REAL writer"). The fact I write for fun, and don't have to write, makes me a target for this sort of thinking. Apparently writing every day doesn't make me a real writer, because I consider writing more like a doughnut than oxygen--tasty and entirely optional.

Bill Cameron said...

I'm a writer. Have been all my life. It's an important part of my identity. Anyone who has a problem with that can, well, mind their own business. I mean, seriously.

Be honest. Does it really to you MATTER if someone self-identifies as a writer? Or is it just something to tut-tut about?

Anonymous said...

"How someone can sit at home in their underwear, staring into a laptop and call it work is beyond me."

Rick Castle's Mom

Carradee said...

I am a writer. Period. When I don't write, I get stir crazy, and my mood swings get even worse than usual. (I have a hormone disorder.)

That said, I am a WRITER.

Writer ≠ author.

Being someone who needs to write to avoid insanity and depression (or is that insane depression?) does NOT necessarily make me someone who would, could, or should be published.

Now, I do believe I have the personality and ability to survive in the pro publishing world. I'm still debating that entire "should" element, though.

HWPetty said...

I would add a few things now that I've skimmed some of the other posts.

1. The fact that you live day in and day out on the business side of the writing world probably taints your view about the writing process. Sausage = Ew.

2. Just because I tell people I'm a writer, and answer their cliche next question of "Are you published?" with a "Not yet," (well, not in book form) doesn't mean it's the only way I define myself.

But I'm not ashamed to call myself a writer. Maybe it's because I grew up in an artists' household where all the arts were respected and held above corporate "success" or something.

I was raised by hippies and musicians... what can I say?

3. One of the more interesting discussions I've ever had was with a group of writers at the end of a crit group, when someone asked: "If there was never a chance that you'd be published. Would you still write?"

It jarred a lot of people.

Maybe that's the real line between.

While I try not to make judgments about people and how they define themselves, I still claim that it's immaturity, not self-definition that is causing the negative backlash against the business side.

And even best-selling authors can be immature and ridiculous.

Amy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think most of us published novelists will agree:

We identify ourselves by our Amazon bookrank #'s.

Bill Cameron said...

Anonymous 4:33pm's comment is made of win.

allegory19 said...

Nathan -

You have a personal life? Seriously? How do you honestly manage it all - I am impressed.

Jen C said...

Hi Nathan,

When I started reading today's post I thought it was going to be another thing about how I should feel guilty for writing not being my entire life, and how that means I am not actually a serious writer.

How happy I was to read further and agree 1,000,000,000 % with what you said. Life needs to be balanced. Eggs, baskets, etc....

Marjory Bancroft said...


For many, writing is a vocation.

Writers who get up at 3:30 a.m. to write are not doing it as a hobby.

Writers who have full-time jobs and spent 20 to 25 hours a week on writing activities (this is HARD) are not hobbying.

Please allow a distinction between vocation-based identity and people doing it "for fun," for the attention, for money, etc. We need all kinds.

Also, many of us who know we are born to do this don't publicly identify ourselves as writers--we call ourselves writers only in the privacy of our own minds or to close friends.

allegory19 said...

It's crazy how touchy (and off topic) some people have taken this topic. Call yourself a writer - go ahead - but that's not the point of this post.

For me personally, I can't relate to someone who says they "have to write" because for me, I don't HAVE to, I LIKE to. And LIKE is putting it mildly seeing most of the time I have to force myself to do it.

Troy Bierkortte said...

I like Laurel's comparison to running. A runner is one who runs. With a pistol to my head I could not name a person who makes a living from running - though many probably do quite well endorsing shoes or vitamins or jock-itch remedies. They run because they are passionate about running.
By passion or by some unknown device, they summon the will to finish a footrace that is longer than some care to drive by car. They run. They are runners. They do not all need to be runners. They run because they choose to run.
I write because I choose to write, but I do not think of myself as a writer. I can go days - months even - without writing, and often feel better until the guilt of not writing forces me back to it.
Still, I don't write anything that anyone would care to read. If I could do that, maybe it would become my hobby. If I could do it well, it might have been my profession.
Whether I write well or badly, I choose to write. So, in the literal sense of the word, I am a writer - just as are most people who have completed the second grade in school. But in the common sense of the word "writer" I am not.
Oh, yeah. Now I remember. Nathan was making an observation on the tendency of some writers to think of themselves as writers to such an extreme that it consumes them. Nothing, with the possible exception of love for your children, should have that much power over a person's life.
I'm a husband, father, friend, employee, employer, fisherman, cigar smoker, reader, coffee lover, dreamer, camper, christian, baseball fan, web surfer, and bourbon drinker. I hope I can get those in the right order some day, and some of those things are much more important to me than some of the others. At any given moment, if asked, I will answer to any of the above descriptions. I just don't believe that it is right to be any one thing so much that it is what you call yourself always.
In case there is any confusion about what to call me, call me Troy. (Ishmael was already taken.)

Alex Green said...

Yeah, Nathan, you must really be trying to stick it to us writers. You must really like to hurt us and you show us by continually answering the same attack, over and over, with patience. And you must be attacking us by suffering through 240+ comments and actually reading them. Jerk.

Kellska said...

I think if the responses come off touchier than usual it's because the post is more provocative than usual -- provocative enough to nudge me out of lurking. It's not surprising, really, when the subject is identity, though usually, Nathan, you're better at teasing out the subtleties:

It's one thing to strongly identify as a writer, however someone arrives at this self-description (lack of writing won't harm me as quickly or profoundly as lack of oxygen, but I do know that uncomfortable things start happening in my head when I haven't produced any writing in a while -- I know this is a little weird and I'm OK with that, and I try not to make it anyone's problem but mine).

It's another thing to identify so strongly with one's work that criticism of the work feels like criticism of self (that will just make a person miserable, although criticism of the work can feel like devaluation of the effort that went into the work, and I think that can be allowed to sting a little).

It's yet another thing to feel that success in publishing = success at life, and the converse (that way lies madness, though there are a lot of things you can put on the left side of that equation that are equally common and equally unsettling, and needless to say it's not ever OK to lash out at someone for not playing their proper part in your success).

None of the above things are necessarily related to each other, or to the quality of a person's writing.

But it's tricky, not only because writers pour a part of themselves into their writing, which can blur the lines between those things, but also because, if you aspire to be published, you have to be a little crazy. You have to believe you see things a little differently from other people, or else why bother sharing it with anyone? You have to think that thousands of people will (or should!) encounter your work and be affected by it. You need a little hubris, or you'd never even start, and you certainly won't finish. To borrow a cliche, you've got to fake it before you make it -- as long as you don't get carried away by the fake part, and concentrate on creating something real.

Anonymous said...

The word you're missing here is "vocation," which is something distinct from job or hobby.

Anonymous said...

The word you're missing here is "vocation," which is distinct from job or hobby.

AndrewDugas said...

I call myself a writer. But never very loudly and then only around other writers. We know each other, we recognize each other the way vampires or aliens or ex-pats recognize each other. We look at people and life and events in ways that the other people in our lives don't, and we discuss them in a manner of speech that is almost a foreign language.

When I was about eight or nine years old, the word "writer" shot out of the ether and struck my brain like a lightning bolt, and I knew who I was and what my work was to be.

I was not one of those awkward kids who fell in love with books early on and read voraciously while the other kids were outside playing. No, I was outside playing. And dreaming and imagining. Games of army were Normandy and Iwo Jima. The trees we climbed led to the Giant's castle and Tarzan's hideaway. Every game of "kill the quarterback" was the Super Bowl.

Later in life I hitchhiked and bought a motorcycle and got hurt and fell in love and got hurt and lived in weird places and worked strange jobs. Somewhere along the line I married and had a son, and even that was all part of the Big Adventure. I did it all as a writer thirsting for life and experience, not only of the mind but of flesh and raw bone and the human heart. This insane thing called the Human Condition.

Sure, I've published some stories and poems along the way, more now that I've settled down a bit. I get invited to read and I'm shopping around a novel, feeling my way into the next. I’m not making a living at it and don’t really expect to, because it’s not, never has been, never will be about the money.

Hobby? Profession? Vocation? Identity?

When there's no question, there's no need for asking.

Anonymous said...

"Writers who get up at 3:30 a.m. to write are not doing it as a hobby."

Really? Fishermen get up that early, and it's a hobby for them. It's a hobbyif you don't make a living at it. No other way to put it.

Anonymous said...


Been reading and enjoying your blog for a few months. Thanks so much for a great daily read. This is my first ever comment.

I appreciate what you’re saying about writing becoming too tied up in one's identity and then sucking all the life force out of you when the writing isn't going well or getting published, etc. However, as you yourself said, I think there is a HUGE distinction between people who have hobbies and artists of any kind. No, you may not hear people say "I am stamp collector." But you often hear people say I am an artist, actor, painter, sculptor, gardner, musician, chef, and writer (regardless of whether they do these things professionally). I think when our hobbies are generated from within (rather than say from the external world, such as sports), it *is* a part of our identity. And I think it's always been that way and will continue to be so. It's our way of saying we own what we work on and that it's important. Unlike almost anything else where if you work hard enough you succeed, art is a world where you can work hard and bare your soul and still not be successful. As you've said, you can even be good and still not be successful. So being able to say "I'm a writer" is a way of claiming the significance of what you do regardless of the outside world's response to it. People go overboard for sure. Saying “I’m a writer” undoubtedly means more intense, all-consuming things for some people than for others. But I think the act of creating will always be part of a creator's identity. Doesn’t mean those people have the right to send you nasty email, tho!


abc said...

(before I read the 200 plus comments)


And I think I'm pretty damn balanced (in my unpublished life). Except for the pastry thing.

When people say stuff like "writing is like breathing to me" or whatever, I flinch. FLINCH.

(P.S. I'm reading Jeff Abbott's Collision and people do a lot of non flinching).

xoxo. ABC (president of the grammatically challenged writer's club)

Cheryl said...

This is exactly why I DON'T tell people I'm a writer--because it really is a big part of my identity, because I do recognize the spiritual and artistic side of it--and most people don't get that.

I can see what you mean, Nathan, about being on the sausage-making side of it. I can see why you view it as only a process and a craft. Until you're on the other side of it, you just won't get what it means to be a writer. No offense--I assume this business approach to writing is an important element of being an agent.

Alyssa said...

I think one problem with the idea that self-identifying as a writer too much is a bad thing is that the downsides listed here are only really a bad thing for unsuccessful writers. I've yet to hear a writer I admire say anything that hasn't been a version of the same declaration. Frankly, I think I'd be disappointed to learn some writer whose books I passionately loved dismissed their writing so casually as a "hobby".

I think for some it is a healthy declaration of commitment. The problem only comes when you internalize rejection of your work as a referendum on your identity. Plenty of people don't do that. I think you can say, "I am a writer!" but not see rejection as agents/publishers saying, "No you're not."

I mean, I understand the instinct behind this post. Ceding your identity to others is a horrible idea. It's the surest path to self-destruction. Plus people need to be flexible, they need to be able to change the way they think about themselves as they themselves change. Because no one can go through life without changing. I always thought I'd grow up to be a writer.. until college, when suddenly I discovered science. Now I self-identify as a scientist. I sometimes worry about what will happen if or when I don't work in science professionally anymore. But at this point, I make peace with myself by acknowledging that I may not always be employed as one, but the parts of me that lead me to pursue it in the first place will still exist. So I'll always be a scientist, even when I'm something else. Just as the parts of me that lead me to want to write remain, even if they're being put to use writing protocols and not prose. ;) And they'll be there when or if I want to go back to them again. Who knows, maybe I'll be a writer like I always thought I would.

Actually, I did for a brief period want to be an editor, because at 12 I was aware enough to know that being a writer might be out of my reach, and I'd need a fallback career.. but naive enough to think all editors did was read books all day and what job could be more fun than that? ;)

Lucinda said...

Nathan, another great blog...

Hobby: (n) an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.

If an interest is pursued beyond that of relaxation with intent of making it a main occupation, would it still be called a hobby?

Hobbies rarely give us any identity unless they become an obsession. Then it is no longer a hobby, but an obsession.

Rejection is a healthy learning tool. If someone wants to write badly enough, they will learn from rejection. Rejection refines the writer, but should not define them.

Rejection is in everyday life. How we handle it is a reflection of our maturity. The more we learn from rejection, the more we mature our writing.

Anonymous said...

Nathan said:
And until you're making a living at it, writing is a hobby. It's something you do in your spare time. (Right?I politely disagree.

I suppose we should consult J.K.Rowling?

Sure some mad scientists are mad scientists.

And other garage businesses turn into Microsoft.

So, maybe there is something brewing in the middle too?

Amy A. W. Bonaccorso said...

I think it is true that people need to be careful about regarding publication as oxygen, however, I do think there is something to being a "writer" and claiming that as a part of an identity. People are described as actors, models, and writers all of the time. I come from an artistic family and have come to recognize a sort of "artistic temperment" that comes with it's own set of talents and needs. Also, for me, writing is spiritually fulfilling - it is something I know I am meant to do - whether I get rich off of it or not.

I think some writers get frustrated with agents because let's face it, the publishing industry is cut throat...and from my perspective, somewhat unprofessional. Seriously, I could never get away with not answering emails at my job because I was "overwhelmed with the volume" - but agents and publishers do this all of the time. They may give many guidelines for submissions and be condescending towards the slightest deviation, but forget about the writer's time and life plans. In light of that, writers who are trying to get published can feel like doormats and disrespected.

Also, agents and publishers are known to miss big hits, and jump on a bandwagon just because someone has a big name. Since writers know this all too well, it can make the whole publishing experience feel like it's all about "luck" and "personal connections" and "fame" rather than the quality of their writing. How is that not annoying to a person who takes their writing seriously?

Damyanti said...

Yes, I do say I'm a writer, cos I make my living writing articles.

I'm also writing fiction for some time now, but I find that the trick to striking a balance does not lie in identifying yourself as an author.

It is about letting go of your work once it is out for querying, of detaching yourself from it till the time it is time for you to work on it again.

This can sometimes go as far as when a published author is not affected by the reviews of their book, because they have let it go, and are busy writing something else now.

Madison said...

I am a writer. But that is not all I am. I am also an ice skater, a singer, a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a youth leader, an encourager, a friend, a young adult, a dreamer, just to name a few. Writing is only a part of my identity, not the whole.

Anonymous said...

Widgets off a line, baby, widgets off a line...

Marilyn Peake said...

Interesting quote from Stephen King in the introductory pages of a book published by Penguin, Selected Horror Stories of Stephen King:
"Writing is necessary for my sanity. As a writer I can externalize my fears and insecurities and night terrors on paper. . . . And in the process, I'm able to write myself sane."

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

A Question Poem

Without obsession
And identification,
Would Moby Dick
Have been written?

Melanie K said...

I think the point Nathan was trying—and keeps trying—to make is that you need to be careful that writing and the title “writer” don’t become all that you are.

I’ve worked as a copywriter for more than 10 years and am still told that this isn’t real writing. I used to think that, too. I still hesitate to use the words “I’m a writer” when asked what I do.

But, in general, people don’t ask *who* you are, they ask what you do. And it’s so much simpler to just say "I'm a writer" than it is to say “I’m a writer and a mom and a friend and keeper of a sock-eating dog and a wine and cheese and coffee and chocolate and movie enthusiast.”

I am all of those things (and a few more), but people like the shorthand.

Stef Kramer said...

First of all, thanks, Nathan, for reminding us to come back to reality once in awhile. I've been working crazy hours at work, writing every spare moment I get and not being a very attentive Mom and wife. I think I'll shut down the laptop and critique Idol with the rest of my family now.

Claire0803 said...

I've only begun to write in hopes of making a living at it someday. I'm definitely a greenhorn.
I don't see my occupation as that of "Writer" yet - I like "Incipient Writer" for now. ;) I won't feel like one until I start to make a living at it.

As for being wrapped up in one's profession, I firmly believe you need to have more in your life than the way you earn a living. If you are a writer, you need to have experiences other than scripting so you have something to write about. Then from that can garner the meat of your pursuits. If you are wrapped up in your writing, you won't have nearly enough substance from life to put into words on paper.

Lurker said...

My family and I have just been talking about Vincent Van Gogh. Now there was a guy who did not know how to lighten up. He also only ever sold one painting in his lifetime. It's quite likely if he had settled down, married, and taken up tulip-farming he'd've been a happier (and better fed) man.

Whether you can be reasonable about art and still be good at it-- I don't know. But surely you must see the essential difference between writing and stamp collecting is that there is no self-expression in owning a Penny Black, and hence no need to delve deep inside yourself to produce the best one you can, and therefore no pain in having it rejected.


Jen C said...

I don't think Nathan meant that writing can't be PART of your identity. The point was that if writing, or any other one thing, becomes your ENTIRE identity, that is not necessarily healthy.

For the record, I consider myself to be a writer. I wrote my first short story in grade 1, was published in grade 2 (yes, I consider that primary school newsletter publishing! ahahahaha!) wrote my first novel when I was 14, and have written gazillions of words since.

Writing comes naturally to me and it's something I imagine I will always do. I am serious about my current project and it is my aim to have it published.

I just don't think you need to be completely wrapped up in it, living and dying by it, in order to be a writer.

The only thing that is oxygen to me is oxygen. Well, perhaps LOST, but that is a whole other thing.... I fear I will cease to exist next year when the show ends. OMG....

Anonymous said...

"[Van Gogh] also only ever sold one painting in his lifetime."

But that 1 made him a pro, didn't it? He made money at it. While he was alive. How many other painters during his time did not? Plenty.

Anonymous said...

There's writing and then there's writing. I've been a Tech Writer for 20 years. Millions of my publications have been read. I don't consider that's not what I mean when I talk about "writing". I assumed that would be understood by the context of this discussion.

And re the fisherman comment: Let me know when they get up at 3:30 EVERY DAY and then spend 10 hours a day on the weekend cutting bait.

Lurker said...

Anonymous said: "It's a hobby if you don't make a living at it. No other way to put it."Mm. By that definition, raising children is a hobby.

Anonymous said...

I think of myself more as a businesspserson, because I sell what I write.

I spend more time marketing what I've written than I ever spent writing it, and from what I hear, that's not unusual. Too many people here place an undue amount of emphasis on the writing, and not enough on the selling.

Writing is fun--a hobby. Selling what you've written is much more difficult--a business--real work.

I think that's why some writers don't sell--they just don't want to work that hard. they just want to play, putting words on a page. But that don't bring home the bacon. I think back to my pre-pubbed days and how much time I had to write...geeez. Now I spend 1/10 of that writing and the rest out promoting ad naseuam. Fun? Not exactly. But I sell books. Glamorous? Hardly. It's actually pretty tedious. But readers don't buy what they haven't heard of.

Anonymous said...

"By that definition, raising children is a hobby."

No, because kids grow up to have incomes and oftentimes end up supporting their parents later in life. So they are a form of investment, both financially and genetically.

Anonymous said...

Guess you never heard of royalties. ;)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps "investment" is the proper way to look at up-and-coming writers who haven't yet been contracted for what they've written. By developing their craft they are investing in their own future, the same way that stock market investments will hopefully pay off some time in the future.

Anonymous said...

...of course wel all know that not all investments pay off.

Lurker said...

Anonymous, I don't know if Van Gogh felt like a pro when he sold that painting. He probably hoped it was the beginning of great things. And it was, but he didn't live to see them.

Sometimes there's a problem of never being satisfied with your successes. (Sure, I got good reviews, but I didn't get any starred reviews. Etc.)

That bothers me about myself. It bothers me less when I'm dissatisfied with what I've actually produced, as opposed to how it's received, because the former at least is within my control.

Zen of Writing said...

Does it really surprise you that writers are ego maniacs just like other kinds of artists?

Then again, plenty of my computer clients are neurotic pains in the ass.

That said, I wouldn't want your job.


Heather Zenzen said...

I disagree. Just because a stay-at-home mother isn't paid, does that make her work any less valuable? Does she somehow lose the credibility to identify herself by her career simply because there isn't a monetary exchange going on?

I'm a writer. I'm not published, I haven't made money at being a writer in a long time, but I'm still a writer. And I will always be a writer. I've been a writer since childhood. It's something I need to do to stay sane, to make sense of my world, to ease my brain. It's WHO I AM, almost as much so as that damn mothering thing.

Incidentally, it was the mothering thing that led me to break from writing for a few years. The result? Mind-numbing depression and unhappiness. Now that I'm writing again, and on my second book, I'm back to the happy person I was before my lovely children took over my life.

Just as I will always be a mother, I will always be a writer. No matter who rejects me, no matter how many books I write without being published, I will always write. Because sanity is important to me.

Marilyn Peake said...

I love the topic of whether or not something's a hobby until it makes money. I've been reading science books on theories about possible time travel, as background for the science fiction novel I'm writing. Discovered some fascinating information. Einstein developed some of the world’s most important scientific theories while he was a patent clerk. Scientists at first resisted his work because he wasn’t yet a real (paid) scientist, but his theories were impossible to refute. Many scientists who have completely revolutionized our world were completely obsessed with their work, often neglecting their personal lives. Some were insane. Nikola Tesla who discovered AC electricity was extremely eccentric … I read about some of his experiments last night, and – wow! – that was a fascinating read!

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes there's a problem of never being satisfied with your successes."

Quite true. I see somany writers saying things to the effect of, "but it'll all have been worth it when I'm published" and I just cringe. Publication is not the magic barrier so omany make it out tobe. It's just the beginning. it marks the point at which you have LESS time to write because now you ahve to promote what you've written while simultaneously writing new material on a deadline.

And then you'll be upset that your advance wasn't as big as you'd hoped, your amazon rank is't as high as the next guy's writing the same kind of stuff, that your reviews aren't quite as good or as many as you'd hoped, and that your royalty check are too small and far between. There will ALWAYS be something to complan about.

Anonymous said...

It should also be noted that Einstein was 26 when he was working in the patent office, an age that most students today haven't even earned their PhD's (hence are not yet professional scientists).

Anonymous said...

So einstein basically became a professional scientist at the age of 26 by getting his theories published. He took a different route, but was sstill only 26 by the time he was pro. So I wouldn't use him as an example.

Anonymous said...

Nathan represents the business side of publishing.

I suspect that when Nathan looks for an author, he is looking for a creative partner. He is not looking to collaborate with someone who cannot breathe if the masses do not receive their work exactly as they envisioned.

No agent wants to partner with someone whose sanity or emotinal wellbeing depends on their writing. How can an agent approach such a person about making his or her writing/work more marketable?

Writers who define their self-identity through their writing should stay out of publishing. They should write for themselves – they should stay in the art and stay out of the business.

Van Gogh was mentally unstable – who, in their right mind, would partner with him? Now, his estate I would have taken.

Sarah said...

Great question!

I'm one of those folks who didn't mention writing for years. Years and years.

I didn't breathe the word 'writer' until I joined a critique group, the Slushbusters. It didn't seem right to call myself a writer until I had a group of people pointing out how much I needed to improve. It implied some sort of commitment, I guess.

All that to say, writing's part of who I am, but not all of it.

I agree that crazy-touchiness comes from making something your identity. However, in my experience, singers, pilots, servers, students and even teachers do a fine job of freaking out as well.

Maxwell Cynn said...

I must totally disagree with you here. To compare writing to stamp collecting and call it a hobby is hard to believe coming from an agent. Well, maybe not.

I have written a couple of conciliatory blogs on the whole writers v/s agents flap, but your comments here embody the disrespect and disdain some serious writers feel they are receiving from some agents.

Literature is an art form. To agents, manuscripts may be a commodity to buy and sell, but to writers it is our art. Writing is not something someone can just pick up as a hobby. Not everyone can write a simple essay, even fewer a novel, and even fewer still can do either well.

As a writer, I am insulted by your comparison. I assume you consider painting, music, acting, singing, et al to be hobbies. They are not.

Though anyone can attempt, and possibly enjoy, artistic expression, each is a gift. I can sing, but I am not a singer. I am a writer, and I love what I do. Artist do tend to live their art, in any field. Yes it defines us.

I am saddened that an agent doesn't understand that - even more that you ridicule it.


Anonymous said...

It's not so much an identity- It's just the way people are. Some people are good carpenters, some are good at communicating a universal feeling. Most can't make a living out of it- some can, but for most that's just not the case.

My opinion- If you 'aren't' passionate about your work don't bother. You're then just a bad liar. If you're in this just to impress your buddies, then you're in this for the wrong reasons.

It's not about being seen Mr. Bransford- It's about being heard.

Insincerity is the greatest blasphemy no matter your beliefs.

Nathan Bransford said...


Here's what I said (again): "Sure, there's something about writing that's a little different (to say the least) from stamp collecting. It's more personal, even when it's not a memoir or something that relates directly to someone's real life. Putting thoughts on the page, any thoughts, means taking one's inner life and putting it all out there for the world to see."

Honestly, I am more than a little mystified that people are getting from this post that I'm equating writing and stamp collecting, or that I'm somehow disparaging writers.

Anonymous said...

As a longtime stamp collector, I'm offended that so many here see my hobby as trivial. I'm a historian!

R.M.D said...

The practical, realistic part of my brain (which happens to be a plump british man), just rose a glass of--whatever brits drink--to you.
But...the rest of me believes that true writers have a gift. Sure, "anyone" can "technically" "write", but for the true writer, it's not a choice. It really is a need; the story is in your head and it's not leaving you alone until you put it on paper, even if no one will ever read it.

Personally, I am a very realistic person. I write on my time off, when I can. Eventhough I would LOVE to actually finish any one of the novels that are buzzing in my head, I cannot, in good conscious, quit my job and devout myself to being a writer.

Anonymous said...

Come on, people!

Nathan was very clear... and several of you other Anons are proving his point.

You are excessively ‘touchy’ – heck, you cannot even read objectively. As soon as your ‘art’ is mentioned, your unmentionables get in a knot.

Yikes, you guys would be a barrel of fun to work with.

Get over yourselves!

BTW: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Every person who reads our work will decide for himself or herself whether they consider us a writer or a hack.

If you don’t like it, too bad.

Welcome to publishing.

Mira said...

Wow. Look at all the people.

You should write posts like this more often, Nathan. Something really juicy and controversial - this is fun.

Although I hope you're doing okay. I think you accidentally, with the best of intentions, hit a few sore spots.

One sore spot - so few of us will ever be published. But we still want to feel as though our efforts are valuable (which they are.)

But - I was happy to see your post. I found last week's 'sacrifice' post alarming. People are giving up so much!! Family, love, relationships, health. We don't live to write, people.

We write to live.

So, Nathan, I support you in your stance to get a sense of balance!

PurpleClover said...

Wow, what post are these people reading?

I leave to go eat and come back and suddenly the direction has done a 180!

Nathan - Are you having a bad Tuesday? ;)

Nathan Bransford said...


Nope, pretty good Tuesday actually, just busy!

Barb said...

I hope you have a really large field somewhere. You got a lot of goats with this blog.

Mira said...

So, tomorrow's post.

Let's see.

How about: The only 'real' writing is literature.

Or maybe: The publishing industry should function as a gatekeeper for our own good.

Oh! I got it: Stephen King's book "On writing" is a travesty. (God, I hate that book with a red hot poker of passionate hate. Bad book! Bad book!)

Oh, or maybe: Writing is not your only identity.

....oh wait. We did that one.

Aileen Leijten said...

Is it me, or do people seem to have strong feelings about this topic?

Way to start a discussion Natan!

Beth Terrell said...

I've never fired off an angry letter to an agent, and I try to learn (graciously) from criticism of my manuscripts, but I have always thought of both writing and teaching as integral facets of my personality, because that is how I see the world. I see stories everywhere, and helping others learn is as natural to me as breathing.

I taught special education for twelve years, and though I have a different day job now, one that pays the bills and fills my time, it in no way defines me. My soul is still that of a writer and a teacher.

Writing is not a hobby to me. Canine freestyle, playing a little guitar, sculpting original dolls, and doing the occasional theatre production...for me, those are hobbies, because I do them strictly for fun and relaxation. But writing? I may not make my living from it yet, but it is much, much more than a hobby.

Sea Hayes said...

I think people are put off by the fact that you are a gatekeeper for writers on the path to publication. Most of your posts are both informative and encouraging, and the tone of this post is a little edgier. For better or worse, your opinions matter more to some people because of what you do. If the number of comments you receive daily hasn't clued you in, maybe this will.

Maxwell Cynn said...

Maybe it's the idea that writing is just a hobby until it is commercial and someone can make money off of it. Many painters die broke and starving, as do poets - possibly some of the best. Tolkien's greatest work, IMHO, was not published until after his death.

Writing, like any art form, is a gift. Not something that can be learned or ever mastered. I may never have a best seller, but that is not why I write. Not that I wouldn't love that, but probably not for the reason some might think. I would like a best seller because that would mean more people have read my work. I write for the same reason a painter paints, or a singer sings.

It is someting that comes from inside and demands to be expressed. I'm sorry if you find that "a little unsettling". It has been described, clasically, as a muse. I write to express, not impress, and I seek to be published so that I can share my gift with others.

Hilabeans said...

About writing as an identity, I can see how one's self esteem can be decimated by rejections, but for me, writing is something that I've always done and will always do. An agent turning down the stellar opportunity to work with me (like that switch-a-roo?), isn't going to make stop. Does that mean that Hilary is only a writer? No. Absolutely not. (3rd person is fun - you should try it)

However, reading this post did send me on a guilt trip. Cruising through now. Maybe a day job isn't a bad idea after all. ;)

Hilabeans said...

The editor is alive and well within me. The sentence in my previous post should read:

An agent turning down the stellar opportunity to work with me (like that switch-a-roo?), isn't going to make ME stop.


Linda said...

I am writer, mother, wife, sister, lover, reader, gardener, poet, potter, sculptor, jeweler, daughter, photographer, lampworker, mentor, professor.

The order changes every day, sometime every hour, but the top 3 usually take top priority, And while I have been paid for my writing, it is the professor role that pays the bills.

I 'work' to live, not live to 'work'.

Peace, Linda

Jill Lynn said...

Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime? Several years ago I sold two landscapes I painted. OMG! I outsold Van Gogh. I'm not a writer, after all. I'm a painter! :-)

Nathan, I often wonder when responders on your blog get a tad disrespectful, what you get out of this? You offer writers a community and an insider's view, but what do we do for you? Might make a nice little blog topic someday. My guess is you enjoy the company of writers, although I'm sure some would never see it that way.

lisanneharris said...

Spamming agents? Or spamming an agent? There's a big difference between the two imho. Sending queries to X number of agents in search of one who will fall in love with my story doesn't make me a spammer.

Is writing my hobby? No. It's what I do. I write non-fiction articles (for pay), proposals, estimates, invoices, receipts, checks, etc. I also write historical romance stories I hope to one day see published in book form from a major publisher. It's not a game to me.

I have the time and the inclination to approach my writing as a career and a business. I spend 10 or more hours a day--almost every day--toiling away toward my writing career.

Reading, beach combing, playing video games (and a host of others) are my hobbies. If someone asks what I do, I wouldn't say I'm a reader or a beach comber. I'm a writer.

Thank you for allowing me this space to voice my opinion. I find great value in most of your topics, but this one struck a nerve. I guess that's what makes your writing stand out, Nathan. The things you think and say have the ability to get an emotional response from your readers. :)


Walter said...

In addition to all that, calling myself a writer and claiming it to be a part of my identity almost makes me feel guilty. I feel undeserving of the title. I run a lot, but I don' really feel right calling myself a runner until I've won the Boston Marathon. And maybe not then either.

Anahita said...

I like the idea of writing as a hobby. By the way, I know this discussion is not the place but still I’d like to say this: I just finished reading the book STORY by Robert McKee. It is a great book. I learned a lot. I practiced its techniques and enjoy the results. Thanks Nathan for writing about it a while ago.

Nathan Bransford said...


Again. I didn't call writing "just a hobby." Nor did I say that it becomes more than that when money is involved.

This post is about not letting writing be an all-consuming identity because the path to publication is so inherently uncertain. I feel like you may be willfully misreading it at this point.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

Hmm. Seems to me that the problem is semantics.

When people say writing is their oxygen, they're missing the point. The creative process is their oxygen. Writing is just the medium they happen to use. By putting so much emphasis on the simple act of putting words together, yeah, I can see how that would throw things out of perspective. I wrote a sentence! I bled and sweated over it and it's serious business! That's when the sense of entitlement starts setting in.

I bristled when I first read this entry, but after some thought, I do see the point. Fixation is unhealthy. True. But Nathan, if the entry made a clearer distinction, I don't think people would be getting so huffy at you. The entry seems to suggest that calling oneself a writer, getting serious about writing, and being mentally unbalanced are pretty much all the same. That's how it came off to me, anyway. And that's an awful lot of blame to put on one word!

Nathan Bransford said...

(ok, I called it a hobby, but then I built caveats on that thought and said that it's more.)

Marilyn Peake said...

Anon @ 6:08 P.M. said:
"So einstein basically became a professional scientist at the age of 26 by getting his theories published. He took a different route, but was sstill only 26 by the time he was pro. So I wouldn't use him as an example."

I mentioned Einstein in this conversation because the science book I've been reading specifically mentioned how hard the scientific community fought to disprove his initial theories. Scientists didn’t consider him a "real" scientist because he developed his early theories before he had the usual academic credentials or a paid job as a scientist. The scientific community only changed their minds when the science of his theories proved irrefutable. Since that time, Einstein’s early theories have been used as the basis for many other groundbreaking discoveries. Kinda interesting. I just happen to think it’s a mistake to conflate "good" or "real" with "money-making". Just my personal opinion.

On an off-topic positive note, I’d like to say that the books I’m reading are fascinating! This week, I read about the scientific discovery in which scientists discovered that light can be slowed down and stopped within something called a Bose-Einstein Condensate. This is huge, since it was believed that speed of light is always 186,000 miles per second, and time – or at least our perception of time – is very closely related to light. I’m having the most fun doing research for fiction-writing than I’ve had in a very long time!

Anonymous said...

I do think of myself as a writer not only because I'm a published magazine writer/journalist but because I write as a full-time occupation. Yes, I do identify myself as a writer but I don't tell many poeple because they assume I only write novels or for newspapers. Still, I think it's a lot more interesting conversation starter than being, say, a dentist! (Sorry, dentists)

If I become a published novelist, I hope I can author to my list. We should feel proud to call ourselves writers, not embarassed or insecure.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
"(ok, I called it a hobby, but then I built caveats on that thought and said that it's more.)"

This is a really interesting discussion, Nathan! It's fun to explore the nature of art in an in-depth discussion, kind of like being in a classroom discussion on the Internet. :)

Michelle Sagara said...

What do you think? Is it realistic to think that something so time-intensive and personal can be placed in a more hermetically sealed mental box?I think, judging from the number of posts on this topic, the answer is: No. It's not realistic. I think people are feeling defensive in the same way as agents felt defensive when #agentfail started, because frankly, I read most of 250 posts, and I thought they were all rather tame; the agents seemed to feel they were hugely vitriolic.

Writing as hobby is not writing for publication. Writing for publication takes -- as I'm sure you know -- a different kind of dedication; it's the same trouble any artist has when they attempt to make a business out of a creative process.

You can separate the business aspects of the writing from the writing itself -- but how people view the act of writing is, and should be, considered separately from that. What you can say is that people who publicly, intensively, identify with something so personal to the exclusion of all else is not healthy -- but that's the TMI factor.

And it seems likely to me that were those people talking to someone else -- i.e. not an agent, not a writer -- they would, in fact, be talking about something else.

Just my two cents.

Maxwell Cynn said...

I for one am not "willfully misreading" what you posted. Your comments seem to present a lack of sensitivity and even dismissal of the art of writing. I take you at your word that this was not your intention. Yet not realizing that your comments would have suc an effect might tell you that perhaps you do need to be more thoughtful.

You have a very good blog here. I follow it and will continue to do so. As I pointed out earlier, however, this sort of perceived attitude is what causes bad feelings between writers and agents.

I am sure we writers are guilty as well - of over sensitivity to our own plight and lack there of toward the plight of agents.

enjoy your evening,


Anonymous said...

Holy smokes Batman, I finally have it!

Nathan, some people who read your blog... think you are specifically talking directly to them... and about every instance... that explains the defensiveness.

If someone earns a living writing and he/she works at it all day, then, obviously, writing is a career for them and not a hobby.

However, if a writer thinks he would die if he were to step away from the writing.... If he thinks his life would be over... then he needs to step away, just step away... and he’ll discover that there is air and life after writing.

Holy sweet potato, people! Most of us have been here with Nathan for sometime... and we should know him well enough to give him the benefit of the doubt concerning his sincerity toward us - writers -.

Nathan, whether any of them appreciate it or not, I apologize on behalf of those of us who know you well enough to get the meaning behind the message! (You know what I mean ;=))

Jen C said...

First, Hilary, Jen thinks we should all post exclusively in third person from now on.

Marilyn Peake said...

I’m having the most fun doing research for fiction-writing than I’ve had in a very long time!

Research is the most fun part, isn't it? BTW, why don't you have your own blog??? I keep thinking "oh that's interesting, I'll go over to your blog and comment further..." but then remember that you don't have one!

Nathan, I am always amazed at your patience when answering (oft repetitive) blog comments. You'll have to teach me that trick sometime...

Anonymous said...

I would imagine that identifying with only a single thing and clinging to it for a sense of self is a very lonely place eventually.

Anonymous said...

And until you're making a living at it, writing is a hobby. It's something you do in your spare time. (Right?) from a blog I found:


"Hobby writer is certainly pejorative. “She’ll never be anything but a hobby writer,” another writer says cattily over lunch. “Maybe you should try just being a hobby writer,” members of a critique group suggest gently. There is a certain segment of the mystery community who would, if it could, lump all authors of light, funny, fluffy mysteries into the category of hobby writers. Fortunately, it’s a very small segment, and can be mostly avoided.

So where’s the line? Does a writer go to bed one night a hobby writer and wake up the next morning as a professional writer. Or vice versa? The demarcation certainly is not in the quality of writing. I’ve read spectacular pieces by people who openly call themselves hobby writers and have no desire to turn pro. Nor is the line crossed if an author occasionally makes money on writing or is published. Contrary to urban myths, the Internal Revenue Service does not have a hard and fast rule about what makes writing a hobby versus a legitimate tax deduction.

It’s not even attitude. Many hobby writers say they write professionally, but are not professional writers. To write professionally means to keep learning the craft and try to turn out each piece a little better than the one before, which is what I try to do in my quilts.

I think the difference between the hobby writer and the professional writer has to do with two things. The first is reflected in a quote I collected a few years ago from another mystery writer. I didn’t write down who said it, so I’ll give it to you unattributed. If you have a clue who might have said this, please let me know so I can credit them. The quote is “The business of writing has to be as much fun as the writing. The difference between an amateur and a professional is how much time they devote to business.”

Ah, the business. Agent searches. Query letters. Knowing the market. Filing taxes. Keeping up with the publishing world. Doing an inventory of what’s in your home office and your storage closet. Making and sticking to a budget. Writing business goals. Having a professional portrait taken. Doing book signings and classes. Marketing, marketing, and more marketing. Getting your name out there even before you have a book to sell and keeping your name out there in front of readers.

The second difference is that the hobby writer allows herself the luxury of not writing. I don’t mean those occasional spells of taking a few days, or in some cases, a few weeks off. Everyone has those, but no matter what’s going on in the background of the rest of her life, the professional writer eventually puts her bottom in the chair and her hands on the keyboard or around the gel pen and knocks out the 5,000 words for the short-story or the 90,000 words for the novel. She may have to write around children, or family illness, or a broken furnace, or the pressures of a day job, but write she will. As well as she can, and perhaps just squeaking in under the deadline by minutes, but she gets there.

Not all writers wish to turn pro. It's time we stamp out this arbitrary dividing line and treat one another simply as writers."
It seems like the term "hobby" is most often used as a put down, so it has that sting like a put down and it shocked or insulted not a few readers here.

And, re: Van Gogh: He was certainly not a hobby painter even if he was not commercially successful.

Nathan Bransford said...


Again, I think people are bringing their own anxieties about "hobby writing" to the table. I was at pains in my post to talk about the ways writing is different.

And honestly -- what does it matter what I think about it? The post is about not letting writing alone define you. Part of that is not letting people in the publishing industry define you. Including me!

Gwen said...

Psychologically speaking (you knew that was coming), identity is generally NOT wound up in one thing. Identity develops mostly during adolescence, but continues to change over time. Most people identify themselves in part by what they believe ("I am a Christian" or "I am a Buddhist"), where they're from ("I grew up on the ghetto"), if they're an open person or a private person, etc etc, and to some degree by what they do. Writing is something you sort of live and breathe, even if you have another job. I'm a full time student, and even when I was a full time student + a techie + president of my fraternity + VP of Japanese club, I still thought of myself as a writer at heart. A writer who is also a Christian, loves Japan, has dogs, is a daughter, is a friend, etc etc. I think maybe if writing is the only way by which you define yourself it might be a problem--but that could be true about anything. We're meant to be more than one thing, and so I don't think there's anything magical about writing that makes people only a writer or makes people get that ego-bruised intensity you mentioned. The people who have no other identity are probably the people that have some other problem to begin with, and that's just a symptom of it. That's my two cents, anyway.

Theophagous Monkey said...

Theo suggests that Nathan try writing a story. Fiction. Made up from nothing but the dust and amorphous gunk on the soles his shoes after a day in the city, perhaps. Make it sing, make it explore the most profound uncertainties of the human experience. Make it claw at my heart and own it for those few moments. And, by the way, keep it under four thousand words.
We write because there are stories to be told and there are only so many people who can sit still long enough to tell them well. And by 'story' Theo intends a specific definition (look it up). When we run out of stories, we, the humans, run out of humanity. At that point we are nothing but monkeys doing time in the high branches of the trees on all of the moonless nights ever to come. So, Nathan, write us a story. Theo is betting that you can do it. You've parsed the minds of writers so much, you must have internalized something of the angst that eventually leaks out into stories told. Theo says, Go for it.



Anonymous said...

I do think you made a very excellent point about not letting getting published define you or getting overly identified.
However, I think it is very rare for you, the Most Polite Agent Ever, to miss that the term hobby offended some people.

Laura D said...

David Morrell has a great book on writing. When he taught writing, he always asked his students why they want to right. He would dismiss answers regarding income, prestige, stardom (in his opinion, who wants it?) and see if they came up with anything else.
The answer: Writers write because they need to. It's like an angry squirrel gnawing at your stomach. And that squirrel becomes your voice distinct from any other writer. So yeah, writing defines the writer, but their experience (the squirrel, the place they write from) is what defines them as a writer and some of those places are very dark and have other personality repercussions. Let's be compassionate to the sensitive artist for it is certain they have suffered.

akisdad said...

Very interesting question. I am a writer in the same way that I am a reader. I love reading books and I do lots of it. I've only written one book, but I've written it over and over again (the version with the toad that talks like Ian Drury is so much better than the last one). It's part of what I am.
In thinking about my work - I'm an English teacher. Unless I can convince someone in the publishing industry that talking toads are the way to go, then it is going to keep on paying the bills. If someone asks me what I do I wouldn't immediately go for 'I'm a reader of Nathan Bransford's blogspot.' even though that's true. But it's in there if they ask me what I am and want the detail.

Laura D said...

By the way, my post about David Morrell is a tad tongue in cheek since he wrote Assumed Identity, which is about a guy who has an identity crisis due to letting others define who he was at any given moment!-lol

T. Anne said...

Nathan sometimes I'm not sure you get writers. You get books and you know how to hammer out a great blog, please don't take offense but I'm not sure you get what it means to be a writer. To most of us this is a soul endeavor, a passion that ignites us without reason. It just is. Honestly, it is about as wonderful as breathing. Deep, clear lungfuls. Sure I won't die a natural death without it but a little part of me would. It doesn't rule me, but it doesn't mean I wouldn't love for it to. Let's just say it messes with the endorphins in a good way.

Marilyn Peake said...

JenC said:
Marilyn Peake said...
I’m having the most fun doing research for fiction-writing than I’ve had in a very long time!

Research is the most fun part, isn't it? BTW, why don't you have your own blog??? I keep thinking "oh that's interesting, I'll go over to your blog and comment further..." but then remember that you don't have one!

Wow, thank you, Jen! You just made my day! I’m amazed someone actually enjoys reading my comments. :) I’ve thought about starting a blog, but writing takes up so much of my free time, I can’t imagine keeping balance in my life if I added a blog to my schedule. I publish a newsletter, and used to publish articles by writers in it, but found that even that took up too much time. I had the great fortune of having those articles accepted for publication in two separate books, but found that I had to give up writing fiction during the time I was editing those books. I recently joined Twitter because it takes so little time to post comments in 140 characters or less. :)

Jen C said...

Marilyn, what is your Twitter username? I'll catch up with you there!

Although I'm not sure how far I can get in a discussion about time travel in 140characters!

Marilyn Peake said...

Oh, cool, Jen! My Twitter username is one word: marilynpeake

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting, a good conversation. Thanks for sparking it, Nathan.

Whether or not I'm making a living at it, I approach the world with a writing perspective. A writer's perspective, a writer's intention. I earned my living writing for several years but my job title was something else, in another profession. Even within another professional community, I am a writer, I'm one who writes about it, to it, for it.

Writing is the approach I take, have always taken, to the world. I'm grateful to earn money doing it but that's not what makes me a writer. I am a writer because of the sense of vocation I have, the responsibility and privilege I have, the talents and skills I've got and been given, to interact with the world. It is an art. It is a craft. It is a pleasure. It feels like the greatest gift in the world to me, to get to do this. And if I never earn another dime at it, that's okay with me, too.

I'm really sorry that the product has become so all important, not that anyone who communicates is content without getting their messagae to somebody.

Thanks again for this stimulating conversation, Nathan! I'm glad being an agent isn't all you do.
But I'm glad you do it. You're good.

Marilyn Peake said...


I sincerely hope my comments didn’t come across as anything other than part of a really interesting discussion. I love your blog because it always feels like a place where real academic discussion can take place, rather than a place where people just post a continuous stream of lame comments such as, "Cool!" or "Agree!" or "No way!" or "LOL!" or "ROFLOL!"

I think your comment, "And until you're making a living at it, writing is a hobby" might have instigated so much discussion because right now the economy is on everyone’s mind. All I could think of is whether or not some of the most highly-paid financial "experts" were really "experts". I love academic, philosophical discussions ... and I think of your blog as one of the best places on the Internet for that kind of discussion. I don’t think that most of the discussion was personally aimed at you, and some of it was probably more about our larger political and economic world than about writing.

By the way, during the past few weeks of intensive writing, I think I’m no longer a "writer". I think I’ve somehow morphed into a "consumer of too many mocha lattes". Seriously. I need to have business cards made to reflect it.

Laura D said...

I've never posted this much before. It must be an interesting topic. Anyway, since I'm pretty much annonymous on here, I can divulge the trauma that made me a writer. I both appreciate and loathe my childhood experience of sexual abuse. I do wish it had never happened. Let me say that clearly. However, my reaction was to live in fantasies I created to escape from my horrible reality. And therefore, I wrote. Therein this the crux of my opinions on this discussion. Who I am led me to write and how I write. Every protagonist of mine is coloured with innocence lost, a jaded view of the world and self-preservation defense mechanisms, even though I do not write about my actual experience.
It seems to me that writing is a coping mechanism that I developed as my personality/identity was being developed and that's why it is such a sensitive topic for me. I'll say it again-I write because it's who I am. It's my solace, my way of going through the world and my personal diary.
And yeah, it keeps me sane.
Thanks for listening blog world!

Laurel said...

I posit that hobbies are not bad. Some of us should get one.

That being said, writing doesn't seem hobby-ish to me, except perhaps in diary form. Hobbies, in my estimation, are things we do to occupy our hands while our minds remain free. Upholstery, woodworking, gardening, etc. When I engage in "hobby" activity, I am usually writing in my head. The writing doesn't cease when I'm away from the computer. I write when I'm cooking, driving, in the shower, working out, whatever.

Maybe that's why everyone is so hot and bothered with the term.

Word verification: ansess- an excess of anxiety when monster literary agent inadvertently implies that one's ambition is the product of an overactive pastime.

Beth Terrell said...

Nathan, one thing that struck me about today's post was the description of problem exemplified by those people who send nasty emails or become angry and defensive when their work is rejected. You interpreted this as having too much of one's identity bound up in being a writer.

That may be true, but I wonder if those people wouldn't be equally angry and defensive at ANY criticism. You get reactions that are related to writing because of your profession, but don't you think those folks might be equally touchy about other things as well? I wonder if it might be less about identifying too strongly with being a writer and more about having such fragile self-esteem that criticism in any context is seen as an unjustified attack. Their greatness must be recognized in order to protect their brittle egos.

Tracy said...

I think tomorrow's post should explore the similarities between writing and sausage-making. It was an astute comparison. After all, nobody really knows what goes into sausage, just as nobody really knows which elements from a person's life will contribute to their writing. Perhaps now we'll hear more people shouting "I make sausage!" from the rooftops.

Come to think of it, that might make more people laugh, which in turn will release endorphins and make them happy. The world could be a better place if writers just proclaimed to make sausage. Genius!

Mechelle Avey said...

I love the responses. Especially The Responsive Anonymous Poster... Despite the clarifications that you've made, Nathan, I think writers have a right to be touchy especially when the sausage vendor tells the sausage maker to not be defensive. Jeez, it's only sausage, right? The sausage analogy doesn't go far, so I'm going to abandon it. Let me just say that I believe people have a right to see themselves in whatever way they want to see themselves. Challenge that, and you get challenged. Your blog identifies you as Nathan Bransford -- Literary Agent. With that label emblazoned across your chest, you can reject any story submitted to you; and you can do it for any reason. Yet, you know books aren't written in a day. A really good story may take up to a year or more to write. After sale, there's even more work. Writers put out a heck of a lot more than they get back. If they want to wear a tiara and a banner with the word: writer, so what? I think, correct me if I'm wrong, that rudeness displayed by a rejected author is the source of your pique. Well, okay. If a writer crosses the line, block them, ignore them, but don't sneer at them. Not until you've written a novel and had it rejected. Repeatedly. We writers know that rejection is part of the process. We're told to get over it. Most of us do. We pick ourselves up and go out to slay another dragon. That's the writing profession, the business side. Several years ago, I read a statistic quoted by author Marion Chesney, aka, M.C. Beaton. She said that only 4% of writers can support themselves professionally. And those writers have to wait six months to a year for the check from the publisher. Heck, give me a banner and a tiara, it's quicker. Writing is a profession where zombies, vampires, and half-blood teen gods are bestsellers. Can any of us afford to look down our noses at one who pursues creativity in whatever fashion and with whatever level of passion they choose? I'm sorry that a writer was rude to you. People are rude to me sometimes because of the color of my skin. It always hurts. And you think bad thoughts about the particular individual, but you do not paint the brush strokes of anger over every person. Your post seemed to contain a remnant of your frustration. Maybe I'm wrong about that. All I know is that I haven't sent you any mean e-mails.

Bill Loehfelm said...

Okay, I think I get it. Maybe.

For me, accepting my identity as a writer was essential. Once I accepted, "This is who I am," failure (not writing) was no longer an option. Living a life structured around and devoted to writing, the thing I love most, became for me the measure of success. Trying to make a living at it became an almost separate endeavor. Once I became comfortable with what I am (a writer), it didn't matter to me what I called myself or what other people called me. I had no problem answering, "Bartender" when people asked what I was.

I think the heart of Nathan's point is this: It's dangerous to depend on validation of your identity from others. No agent, editor, publisher, or publicist can make you into a writer. Don't ask them to. Don't hate them when they don't. It's not their job.

If you're honest with yourself, the mirror and your desk will tell you all you need to know. Watch out for falling in love with being called "a writer" when you should be in love with writing.

Anonymous said...

Marilyn, lol. Business cards. Mine would read, cappuccino consumer and chair sitter. The bookstore where I write -- and read -- all the time said they'd have to lay off a clerk if I ever stop showing up and stop drinking.

Marilyn Peake said...

Anon @ 9:46 PM -

LOL! That's funny. I think I might have personally kept Starbucks in business this past month. :)

Mark said...

I am a writer. It's who I am."
Gatz Hjortsberg said this during a review of his long writing life at a presentation I covered as a reporter. "For some people they discover writing is who they are," he said. And so after being rejected after playing out a Stegner fellowship novel and with a top agent, he gave up and wrote for fun after drinking at night. The book, Alp, got published and he's never had a real job since.

Beware of who you call a hobbyist. They could be the client you won't have.

Mechelle Avey said...

I know my previous post was ridiculously long. Sorry. Just one other thing. I've got this little list of authors and their professions. Funny, we remember these people as writers because they wrote. Some were not even well-published. Mid-listing, amazon listing, and best-seller statusing writers is a worthless pursuit. Let historians do that. They are the writers who classify.

W.H. Auden, reporter
Anne Bronte, governess
Aphra Behn, spy
Samuel Butler, sheep breeder
Jack London, longshoreman
Thomas Hardy, architect
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, teacher
Alex Haley, coast guardsman
Eudora Welty, photographer

I've got more, but I'll stop here.

Lisa said...

As an editor (general fiction), I’ve come to a hardnosed, but realistic, conclusion: there should be a Simon Cowell for writers. Yep, I can hear the booing from here. But, for goodness' sake, not all writing is meant for mass publishing. There are a lot of clever stories floating around in slush piles; but, it’s often difficult to distill the stories from the awkward writing. That said, and Hegelian Dialectics aside, unless a person is making a living as a writer, I don’t think writer=identity is sensible or even accurate for casual use.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, that's what I was going for. I probably could have saved a lot of angst by just writing, "Don't let the publishing process define you," but it was a busy day and I didn't have the time to write such a short post.

Laurel said...


Good point. However:

I am bilingual but I don't work as a translator. Does this mean I don't speak Spanish?

I don't get paid for running. Or hiking or camping. But I am a runner, a hiker, and a camper.

I am positive that there is a lot of crap in slushpiles. I read some of the things people proudly post as ready for prime time on creative writing websites and it makes me shudder. I don't want to do your job, or Nathan's. But to maintain that someone is not a writer if it's not how they make their living seems downright silly.

Many writers may need to face the fact that it will never pay their mortgage but it doesn't make them NOT a writer. Maybe not a good writer, or maybe not good at business, or maybe just not a marketable writer.

Back to Nathan's point: if it is the pith of your self image then you will get ground up at some point in the business process.

Nathan Bransford said...

Update: I scrubbed this post of the word "hobby" because I think it was distracting from the intent of the post. Thanks for everyone who chimed in on this point -- it certainly wasn't my intent to demean writing of any type.

NickerNotes said...

Last night, I went to an SCBWI meeting. Topic: Self Publishing. I came home and dreamed that I was at my daughter's school fighting Komodo dragons with a toilet plunger. That notwithstanding, I write because I can't not do it.

A few years ago, I had an essay called "The Day the Sky Fell In" published in my local (horse related) newsletter. It was about my horse dying. The next time I went to a show, a complete stranger came up to me and hugged me. She had just lost a horse. She told me she read the article and it made her feel better. This is why I write.

Laurel said...


I just read the spamming link and totally get where you're coming from on this. Delusional and unhinged, that one.

Anonymous said...

I'm an advertising writer. So for me, I do define myself as a writer since that's what pays the grocery bills, puts food in my belly and supplies my rear with True Religion Brand Jeans. In terms of fiction writing, or non-fiction writing, I'm still figuring it out. I haven't sent an agent my work, or anything like that. For now, I'm just enjoying the process of storytelling. Should something come of my ramblings, great. If not, I've got something I'm pretty darn proud of to pass to friends and family.

I'm a writer. Now granted, I'm in the business of making you want things you never thought you always wanted. And it's true, I'm the person who sometimes fills your mail box with postcards advertising the world's most advanced carrot scrapper, but it's what I do. And I love it. It's challenging to have to write in different voices to fit a sixty-year-old man who is the target for a new hair growth treatment, or a twenty-year-old video gamer who's the target audience for a new video game called Alien Camels vs. Zombie Turtles.

So, as I do think you have a point ---I mea, there is a certain undeniable FUN in writing for yourself---there are those who actually "write" for a living. Even if it's not the great American novel. ;0)

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
Update: I scrubbed this post of the word "hobby" because I think it was distracting from the intent of the post. Thanks for everyone who chimed in on this point -- it certainly wasn't my intent to demean writing of any type.

Is this the best blog on the Internet, or what? That does seem to change the theme of the entire post ... although I think we had a really fascinating discussion earlier. I love this blog! Thanks for all you do, Nathan!

Now, I could write tomes on the importance of keeping a balanced life, but I think I probably used up my daily quota of blog posts.

Speaking of other interests besides writing, a Harvard professor has invented inhalable chocolate.

Anonymous said...

Poor Nathan.

I think a lot of people totally missed your point and got offended by you calling writing a hobby.

I agree completely with you.

It is never healthy to identify yourself with a single aspect of your life, whether that is your job, your family, or your passionate interests. People need to be well rounded.

My mother was a fantastic mother. If they gave a noble prize for mothers, mine would have one at least once. But being a mother was her sole identity. When the last child left the house, she had an identity crisis. It took some time for her to reinvent herself.

I think when we are really passionate about one thing, we have a tendency to let that one thing completely define us. This is very unhealthy. Even if you are a best selling award winning novelist, if being a writer is ALL of what you are, than you are emotionally unstable.

We need balance in our lives.

Kaotic said...

LOL @ the May 5, 2009, 1.26PM comment by NB - LA....
"But notice how touchy people get about it! Why should it matter what I or anyone else thinks about how you define yourself?"

Lisa said...

Laurel @ 10:11
Point taken. But, are you a runner or do you run? Rather, if you were a can of frozen concentrated something, would your label be runner? And, if so, then your running would probably be up for criticism. And, that’s where I understand Nathan’s point. If writer is an all-encompassing identity, then rejection can begin to poke holes in identity. If you’re a published writer, then criticism is just part of the ballgame. But, if you’re writing for the love of writing, than separating identity from reviews of your writing is just a smart way to live; unless, of course, they’re fabulous reviews. Then it’s all you! ha ha

Laurel said...


You're right of course. I am a runner. If I'm not running regularly it bothers me...a lot. The running analogy captured my fancy because it is so similar. There are people who trash their bodies running and have to give it up altogether in the end. It dominates their lives to the point of being self destructive. I am pretty sure this form of compulsion is what Nathan's cautionary spammer tale is warning against.

I don't hurt myself running. But I am still a runner.

Jen C said...

Marilyn Peake said...
Speaking of other interests besides writing, a Harvard professor has invented inhalable chocolate.

Oh. My. God. Surely this is a gift from the heavens themselves?

Laurel said...


Ooh! If I were a can of frozen concentrated something it would be "runner beans". (colloquialism for green beans in these parts)

Get it?

Louise Kuskovski said...

This post really spoke to me. Thank you.

I started writing as a means to keep my mind active. So when my husband is out of town and my son is asleep, I enjoy opening the lid to my computer and typing my way into a story. It soothes me.

I'm in a situation where I don't work outside of my home. But before my son was born, I was a speaker and a leader. I miss having a voice. I miss being a professional who wears suits and answers questions. I need something to do that is communicative, something that is transient enough to fit in with the needs of my family. Writing is a great hobby for me. If I can turn it into a profession, that would be fantastic. But for now it gives me something to do, which adds to my day--without taking anything away.

I wasn't sure if my enjoyment counted among the ranks of writers who like me sit in home offices reading blogs and joining critique groups...because I haven't given up anything. I'm not an artist. The urge to write doesn't course through my veins like liquid fire. For me, it is a reasonable means to an end. One that I enjoy very much.

Thanks for helping me admit that this can be enough.


Anonymous said...

I think scrubbing the word "hobby" from your original post completely changes the entire conversation and makes the first 300 or so comments seem out of place. I sent the link to some various artist friends to get their feedback because it was such an interesting discussion - but now the original post has been changed. The truth is you *did* compare unpublished writing to a hobby and to stamp collecting and watching reality TV. And you *did* insinuate that people who don't make their living through writing shouldn't really be calling themselves writers. Although I don't think your original post is without merit (of course no one should solely identify themselves as only *one* thing!) - the tone was dismissive of what writers or any artists do in the process of making their art and claiming art as part of their identities. And I think the number of comments on this post proves that regardless of the way you intended it, the main point was not communicated clearly. I agree whole-heartedly with your clarified main point. I was disturbed by the way you first described the "hobby" of writing. But then again, I guess we should all cut you a break since blogging is just your "hobby."

Writer from Hell said...

Your words weigh in gold. Awesome post. I agree, whether you are a writer, a musician, a singer, painter, artist, a mother, stamp collector or a janitor, it is a part of you.

The sum that is you should be greater than its parts!

Maya said...

I know there are already a ridiculous number of comments and so this probably won't be seen, but thanks for posting this.

At some level, I think there is pressure-- kind of like a peeing contest-- for us to define ourselves more intensely as writers. After all, great authors have famously told us that if you don't HAVE to be a writer, do something else. So there is the sense that if we don't at least claim to be completely helpless without writing, we shouldn't be writing at all.

So I found your post refreshing. I love to write, but I know it's also a discipline and a art I can learn, not merely the singing of a muse. And I know that I can do other things, and (most of the time!) find great reward in my day job, in cooking, in exploring Israel, watching reality TV... at any rate, it's nice to hear that a laid-back attitude towards writing is ok, that I don't need to feel crazily consumed by it to be successful.

On the other hand, I do really, really want to compose a book I love. If I didn't have that hunger, I wouldn't be writing.

Hmm. And I'm not writing now...

Word verification: clowd (I think you can find that one in some of my earliest writing :)

Anonymous said...

Not to be a snob but I've worked as a writer/editor, have a degree, etc and consider myself a (paid and published) professional.

I've gone to lectures, workshops and conferences and talked to wannabes who like the cachet of being a writer, but have never actually written anything. One woman told me she writes "in her diary." That's great but writing is hard work, it's not just a fun hobby or a way to pass the time.

Perhaps it's therapy or an escape for some, but for serious writers, it's about craft and yes, publication.

Maya said...

ouch, there is a little bit of irony in my phrase "a art I can learn." I done write good, really! ;)

Btw, just to play devil's advocate, I sometimes think I WOULD feel more committed if I told people I was a writer. When I ran my first marathon, my training book told me to tell people "I am a marathoner" even when the longest distance I'd ever run was a 5K. But I was on an 18 week training plan that would take me to 26.2 miles, and by telling people I was already a marathoner, you'd better bet I was going to follow through. It also helped me believe I could complete such a scary distance. On the other hand, I certainly didn't invest my whole sense of identity in being a marathoner, and I didn't feel that (because I was a marathoner) I deserved to be GIVEN a marathon completion. So I think it might be ok to call ourselves writers so long as it pushes us through the hard work towards our writing goals and helps us take our writing seriously, but not if it convinces us that we've already arrived and that others are obligated to give us the honor we think we deserve.

Bill Loehfelm said...


Yeah, that's what I was going for. I probably could have saved a lot of angst by just writing, "Don't let the publishing process define you," but it was a busy day and I didn't have the time to write such a short post."

Nathan -

No problem. I'm here to help.


Whirlochre said...

While I'm broadly in agreement with the notion that people are bigger than their professions and may risk limiting their potential by defining themselves thus, on the flip side, there is a simple question: what do you wish to do with your time?

Could be stamp collecting. Could be dancing naked. For me, it's writing.

That said, it would be unwise of me to imagine that this preference of mine singles me out for any special treatment or that I am better in some way than the stamp collectors and the naked dancers of this world. My problem is that while there are few rewards for stamp collecting beyond the doing of the deed itself (and I'm going to ditch the naked dancing here because, apparently, you can meet tons of exciting people and make a mint), writing attaches itself to a broad spectrum of future possibilities, most of which are based loosely on starving to death in an abandoned attic, but a tiny proportion of which feature huge cash rewards, fame, and servants. And this can be a terrible lure for some people, especially when the bulk of their time is spent doing a job they hate to pay the bills their writing currently doesn't (and probably never will).

You see the same thing all of the time in talent shows hosted by Simon Cowell, where endless dropped octaves of singers warble their way through excrutiating renditions of Whitney Houston songs because "it's my dream to be a singer. I'd love to walk out on stage night after night. Anything, anything but working in that lo-cost store where I'm treated as a nobody..."

Sad to say, but the side effect of having writing as one of your choice time fillers is that the temptation to become frustrated and delusional is so great, it's all easy to become a public nuisance (or, conversely, a hollow spectre). Worse still, in the end, this can only corrupt your writing.

So, we have to be passionate about writing, otherwise there's no point. We have to recognise we have talents and abilities that may one day bear fruit. And we may, if we wish, call ourselves writers at any stage of the process. What we mustn't do is gad about the place like a bunch of petulant wankers.

Another top post from The Brans...

Eva Ulian said...

To my mind, writing without publication is like a marriage without children- it doesn't make void the marriage, but to some it can leave them unfulfilled.

When people say (unpublished) writers rant about the way publishing is set up, I see nothing wrong or derogoratory in exploring a system that in part defrauds civilization of its literary heritage, because at the end of the day publishing is set up primarily to gain as much money as possible at the expense of...

Jada said...

I started reading the comments but there were too many for me to read them all - I have writing to do :-)

I think that wrapping your identity up solely in one pursuit is unhealthy no matter what the object. If you derive your sense of identity from your relationship, what happens when it breaks up? If your identity comes from your job, how do you cope if you're made redundant? etc etc. So I guess the people who spam you and write angry emails are those who have invested too much of their identity in writing. I'm sure even a mega-bestseller like JK Rowling derives some of her identity from other things, like being a mother, wife, friend.

And it's not just failed writers who write angry emails. When relationships break down, some people start stalking their exes. I'm guessing it's a similar thing to your angry writers - too much of their identity was contained in one thing, even though they may seem normal on the outside.

Deidra said...

I agree with Margaret Yang. The crazies are just crazy. For normal people (as normal as us creative types can be) there is nothing wrong with saying "I am a writer." We certainly have to understand that there is a difference between "I am a writer" and "I am a world-famous, filthy rich writer".

Ok. So you say you're a writer. If you knew right now that there would never be any hope of publishing your work, of earning real money as a writer, would you still write? If the answer is 'yes', then you ARE a writer. If the answer is 'no', then you should find something else to do.

Ellen said...

I've just read all 354 comments. Where do I collect my prize, Nathan?

One point that I think is worth making, although it's only tangentially related to Nathan's post, is the impact that identifying solely as a writer and building your entire sense of self on that can have on the act of writing itself.

I've written since I was a kid - I actually can't remember when I started. And when I was in my early twenties, I had a major crisis of confidence. I'd spent my whole life hoping to be a professional writer someday, but this ambition dated from when I was seven, and not known for my ability to make major life decisions.

I started asking myself did I *really* want to be a writer, or was I just in the habit of wanting to be a writer because it was what I'd been telling myself all this time. This, in turn, meant I was putting myself under so much pressure - I must write! I must be successful! Otherwise I have failed at life! - that I couldn't write. Every time I sat down, all I could think was 'This isn't good enough. This isn't going to get me there.' Much self-examination ensued.

It turns out I really want to be a professional writer, which I realised after lots of thought. But creatively, it was important to give myself the space to not want to be a writer. Even now, when I hit obstacles in the project I'm working on, I say to myself 'You don't have to do this. You can abandon this stupid book and go shopping. Switch off the computer and watch TV.' I'm still working on the novel. But it's vital to me as a writer as well as a person to have the space to quit anytime I want. I tried living with writing as my only goal in life, and not only did it have an impact on my other professional life (such as it is), it ironically almost destroyed my writing!

jan said...

Having given this more thought, I still believe the problem that leads to bad behavior is less identification as a writer (even if it's all you identify with) as much as it is identification with what you have written.

A person who overly identifies as a writer might make himself/herself miserable because writing is HARD and not the physically healthiest way to spend every waking hour but it's only when you identify with what you have written that you feel the pull to lash out at agents.

I suspect a healthy writer needs to be a bit like a shark -- you have to keep moving to live. You write and then you move on. And by moving on, you get enough distance from what you have written to (1) improve it because you're less blinded by seeing it as YOU and (2) you recognize that rejecting it does not mean rejecting YOU. A rejection doesn't nullify who you are unless all you are is that product.

If you are the product, then you'll do ANYTHING to sell it because only by the acceptance of the product do you feel validated. You'll even email every agent on the planet once a week hoping that you'll wear them down into seeing the value of that'll do whatever you have to do when the product is you.

When something I have written is rejected, I'm unhappy. I was hoping to trade that slice of life, time and talent for the means to help support my family -- but I'm not destroyed because by the time I'm rejected, I've moved on and my writing passion is in a new product and I'm believing most in that one.

Stephen Moegling said...

I don't consider my writing novels to be a hobby, even though I haven't been paid for it yet.

I equate hobbies with relaxation. Writing can definitely be a form of meditation and release, but it ain't relaxing for me.

I don't believe most who spam agents or are surly call themselves writers. They're too focused on wanting to sell their books for millions of dollars, or approval or any other external form of gratification.

Writers write. How to avoid the mental traps associated with the craft? Allow yourself to be present with your writing. The rest is out of your hands.

Ben Dutton said...

I think that writing has to become your life, especially when you are working on something as bulky as a novel. You need to maintain mastery over your material, and if you don't work at it for a day you find its power dissipating, and it can take a while to get it back. When I was younger I failed to work everyday and as a consequence I have so many half-finished novels.

I define myself as a writer. It is my way of life. HOWEVER, I do not take rejection personally. The writing I do for myself, if I can sell it, make money from it, or even just have someone read it and enjoy it, then it's a bonus. What I think you have to do is create two personas. The writer and the writer-for-publication. Seperate the emotion from the work once it is complete. Once your work is seeking publication it is no longer your own. It is your, to use a horrible cliche of this industry, your child grown up, seeking thier own fortune. You just have to let go.

BJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BJ said...

It took many years and trials for me to realize I *was* a writer, and I *had to be* a writer. It wasn't just something I could squeeze into my spare time--it was the only thing I could do and still be happy.

So, did I go out and immediately try to get published? No. A writer is a writer whether one is published or not.

First: I started writing for myself, instead of writing what I felt the industry wanted.

Then I actively sought a job where writing was the main activity. I've only been able to find temporary jobs writing, but I've done well enough the last few years. I've worked as a technical writer, mostly, and am now in communications.

You see, there is a difference between being a writer and being a published author. I can't help but write - it's a talent connected to my soul. Being published is a dream, but it's not why I'm a writer.

An artist is an artist whether their work appears in galleries or ads. A pilot is a pilot whether they fly jumbo jets or prop planes. A writer is a writer whether they are published or not. And whether it's what defines them or not is a matter of passion.

Now, the folks you are talking about are unrealistic and unprepared. You find folks like these in every profession: they want to be great without paying their dues. They don't usually last long in the profession or get very far. They are the actors who move to L.A. in the hopes of being 'discovered' without learning to act. They are the B.Admins who can't be bothered networking but complain they can't get an 'in'. They want it all without working for it.

Please don't confuse these people with writers. They're wannabes, only, until such a time as they start working for it instead of complaining about it.

Jason Crawford said...

Nathan, I with you 100%. Writing is an activity...a and rewarding rewarding, but still just an activity. I think when you look at great writers, they never take themselves too seriously.

It's like Auburn's football coach used to say...when you realize football is just a game, you'll play it better than you ever have.

All the pressure people put on themselves stifles creativity. The books that I start and put down are not the light, fun ones, but the ones who seem to take themselves too seriously.

Slumdog is a great example of tacking some pretty serious topics in a light and fun sort of way.

Jason Crawford said...

OK...let me try that first paragraph again...this time in English

Nathan, I'm with you 100%. Writing is an activity...a rewarding one, yes, but still just an activity. I think when you look at great writers, they never take themselves too seriously...

Sorry, but I take myself too seriously to let that one slip... :)

AravisGirl said...

Thanks for the reminder.

I think of myself as a writer simply because I love creating stories so much.

But neither do I want to end up a fruit basket.

I guess emotionally separating yourself from your novel would be a good idea before you send it out into the world.

Keep the Positive Energy Flowing said...

Wow, there are a lot of comments here. I'll just throw my hat in the ring.

I try not to identify myself with what I do, but rather who I am. If I'm at a party or function and someone asks me what I do, I say I am writing a book. Or I'll say I'm an aspiring author. But it's not who I am.

My book happens to be a very personal and therapeutic project for me. I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer last year and sought to find other survivors who were in the same boat but beat the odds. It helps me to interview these people and write about them.

I want it to be published so others can benefit from reading their stories. If I have to, I'll self-publish it. I'm not going to let rejections stop me from my higher purpose.

Gail Goetz said...

I think this is a crazy question. One day we wake up and realize that writing is no longer a hobby. We're working and playing with these fascinating words and doing a damn fine job of it. Doesn't matter what other people call us. We're writers now, plain and simple.

Justus M. Bowman said...


If anything, the madness in these comments proves just how obsessed people can become with writing (and hobbies in general). Someone said writing isn't a hobby because it's real tough and time consuming. I would believe that except I've put huge amounts of time and effort into video games. Is it my job now? My calling? Pfft. What about chess, for which I pulled all-nighters, entered tournaments, read chess books, watched computer tutorials, joined clubs, etc.? No longer a hobby? I could expand this list. Trust me. But it wouldn't make us unpublished writers any more published.

Matilda McCloud said...

I was one of the posters who got huffy about the word hobby....okay, now I take a deep breath and really read the post...I used to throw around the word "writer" a lot to define myself, perhaps to make myself sound more impressive, but I don't anymore. And no, I try to keep my life very full, so that publishing/writing process doesn't define me...which is where those hobbies come in (I'm sure glad I have them), not to mention family, travel, reading blogs,(: and oh, and working a full-time job. I highly recommend having other things in your life that give you joy and satisfaction. Even if you get published (which I have been), it brings in a new set of problems (how come no one is buying my book etc).

Maripat said...

You know what I found fascinating about reading the post and all the comments? The way many people seem to have a different view on writing, AND what it takes to be considered a professional in this business.

I interpret the world through writing and reading. I love to do both, and I do feel like something’s missing if I don’t get the time to do one or the other every day. It’s like some folks who love to paint or run. So, yes, I see myself as a writer. (My tax returns says homemaker. And many folks give me a stuffy raised eyebrow over that.) But I understand this is only my opinion because a lot of people use the words writers, authors and novelists interchangeably.

I do understand what you mean about people who become very aggressive over being a writer. I help moderate a large writing site, and I see the different personalities and definitions played out there. It’s a tricky minefield at times because some folks refuse to respect another’s opinion. I think it comes down to those who see writing as their only lifeline to the world. They feel they have to succeed and get angry/combative with those that do land a contract, hit the NYT bestseller lists or get a three book deal that they felt they deserved. It’s everything to them. Some feel they have to suffer. I’ve heard writers say they don’t enjoy the process anymore. The suffering part is what gets me. I suppose the question I have to them is, why write? Life is too short to put yourself though this if you don’t enjoy it.

Anywaaaay...I’m babbling. Thanks for the interesting discussion.

WhiteSkye said...

I think you’ve nailed it when you advise against allowing the “publishing process” rather than “writing” to become definitive. Founding too much of your identity in something over which you have limited control is terribly dangerous, and I suspect many of the Randy-type folks you're talking about have just such an invisible modifier. What they mean when they say "writer" is "published writer." And that’s where the spam and madness starts – in this desperate attempt to achieve an aspirational identity. To them, rejection feels like denial of who they must become in order to exist. To a writer with an unmodified identity, publication may still be a goal, but it isn't *the* goal. Writing is the goal.
I have a good friend who's an artist and has never tried to sell a painting. I don't think she could part with a single one. They decorate her apartment, stack in her closet, and document her past and dreams. Their creation defines and reflects her. So she’s an artist who teaches school -- defined by what she does, not for money, but for love – which no industry can deny or sanction.

Lady Glamis said...

I think, as with most things, it comes down to balance and priorities. Assigning your identity to any ONE thing is pretty excessive in my opinion. Writing is part of my identity, not its sole existence.

Lisa R said...


I agree with everything you said. For me personally, if I can't write I feel like I'm not getting enough air but I will not call myself a writer until I am getting paid to do it. That feeling of not getting enough air will be there whether I get published or not. Whether I ever get published or not I will continue to write because I love it but in my life I wear a lot of hats and as much as I love writing I think any single label is too narrow to define a person. But for me personally I do not have a desperate need to be able to CALL myself a writer. I just want to write.

PurpleClover said...

For the record (why do I keep saying that like I'm an attorney?) - I just want to say I don't think it is agents calling writers hobbyists that is the problem. It's actually the other writers that want to demean writers that are doing it as a hobby. I do view my writing as a hobby in all honesty. But the word drips with condescension when writers that are published or doing it as a career throw it around as if hobby writers are the bain of their existence preventing them from having a respected title because now "everyone can be a writer if they just say so." (put very sarcastically)

I didn't get the impression that you were being negative towards those that write as a hobby. I personally just went off on a mini-vent because I've been thinking about it for a while (and have recently run into those that have an issue with hobby writers).

I am a writer. I do write as a hobby. People who write poorly and never plan on letting anyone read their work are still writers. But because of other writers that feel there needs to be a classfication system, I call myself an "aspiring" writer.

The whole world is always trying to fit titles into a classification system (there is even a "professional" list where it places professions in order of importance floating around the internet somewhere - that's just sad).

But being a writer doesn't identify me as a person only. It is one piece of me. I think that was the point you were getting at. That when your only identity is "writer" that is when it gets dangerous since there is no balance. Everything is personal and everything is internalized when their writing is who they are and ONLY that. Nobody wants to be told that who they are, isn't what society wants. So when that is their only identity and only defining piece of their life it can be tragic.

I think that is where it gets hard for agents. They have to deal with those people that put it all on black. But when it lands on red, the agent has to deal with the consequences.

Someone else rambled off their identities and I really liked the way it was put. It is something I've seen a lot of people doing on their blog profiles (including myself).

By the way...


Justus M. Bowman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ryan field said...

Wow 373 comments. I'm late, but this is probably one of the most important posts I think I've ever read about writing.

And the most important line is at the end...don't let your work "define" you.

Heather said...

Wow, Nathan. I check in once a day to your post, and typically, I check to see how many comments you've received. (I don't know. What can I say? As a CPA, I'm a numbers person.) I knew right away, you either struck a nerve or one of the people who commented did. When I read the post, my first reaction moved to "one of the commenters must have."

Anyway, I got the point of your blog and agreed with it. I also read some of your later comments and am glad to know that you still had a good Tuesday. I bet that's because you don't live and die by this blog. It's just something you do.

By the way, I appreciate you for your blog and your insight into the publishing industry, which is why I check once on most days.

Dorothy said...

Identity is a far ranging journey. If I defined myself as a writer--then what would I have to write about? None of us can stop there with one "I am". We all explore our many faces in a book or poem, even in non-fiction. Even in life.

ElanaJ said...

Whoa. Wait. I can't shout to the rafters that I'm a connoisseur of reality TV? Crap! ;)

Great post, as always.

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

I think this is true of anyone who feels they have a career and not just a job.

Once the career consumes you, you are it and it is you.

Society doesn't help because we're so often defined by our work. You meet someone and they ask "So what do you do?" and they make assumptions based on the classic American standard of occupation-as-self.

David said...

Reading this post and the comments reminded me of one of Nathan's old posts, in which he wrote something to the effect that he wouldn't care if a prospective client submitting a query actually *hated* writing, he'd still represent the person if the story was good enough.
I think this is an important point to consider in light of this post, especially since Nathan didn't seem to be just talking about what it means, in a vacuum, to be a "writer". As I understood it, he was talking about tying your idea of self-worth to the publication process, or to the business of writing.
So, if, in the end, the quality and marketability of the story and the writing is all that matters, then maybe we'd all be better off if we just wrote (whether you like to or simply have to) and didn't worry about labels.

Penny said...

I am a theater person. It started as an interest and an extracurricular project. It became my minor at school. It has become an addiction.

How many times have I tried to quit theater and find a real job? I spend hours upon hours working on this show or that show for no pay, while still trying to hold down a real job, and the result is that I am always exhausted. Now I'm considering giving everything up to pursue opening a children's program that I could run full-time. But whether or not I am working in theater at the moment, I will always be a theater person, because that is the context in which I frame my life. I accept jobs based on whether or not rehearsal nights are available.

When I call myself a writer, it's a similar connection. I may not be published or working on a project at the moment, but I will be. Either situation could become a healthy pursuit of one's goals or a crippling addiction. It's the writing addicts you have to watch out for.

Anonymous said...


Now you know how difficult it is to choose the exact right word for the exact right place. I think that is why it means more to us than it should. We spend hours deliberating over one word in a sentence. Words & plots fill almost every free moment of our time. Writing does define a large part of most of our lives.

The writers that are psycho, are just part of larger group of psychos that exist in every occupation, and every walk of life. Sorry your any more special than the rest of us when it comes to dealing with lunitics, and no matter what you do or say you will change that. Although if you keep reminding the ones of us that are on the edge, you may prevent another from falling over.

David said...

Put more simply:
With every submission, you're either good enough and lucky enough to get published, or you're not.
With every subsequent submission, your "goodness" and "luckiness" may vary.
For me, that's enough to worry about.

PurpleClover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PurpleClover said...

Let me try that again.

I meant "bane" not "bain"...sigh.

And yes, I do that a lot.

Anonymous said...

I believe, to each his own. We should define ourselves the way we want to define ourselves. If you want to define yourself as a writer, football player, Internet hacker, or whatever. Do your thing!

The insanity of getting wrapped up in one's own identity makes some people aspire to genius as much as it crushes the spirit of others. That's how Academy Awards, Nobel Peace Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes, and the like are won.

Does your journey make you any less "your identity" than you are once you arrive at your destination - wherever that may be? I don't think so. The journey is what gives you the experience and skills you need to get where you're going and to stay there once you've arrived.

So, I'm a writer on a journey. I'm soaking up life's hard lessons and the publishing industry's hard lessons on the way to success. I'm becoming a better (stronger) author so that once I'm published, I'll have some staying power.

But at the end of the day, I'm a writer. I was a writer in my yesterdays and today, I'll be a writer tomorrow and always. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Cheryl Scheir said...

I'm reminded of this Alex Reigerism from Season 1 of Taxi; he's in the cab depot, speaking to a new hire about his fellow cabbies: "You see that guy over there? Now, he's an actor. The guy on the phone, he's a prizefighter. This lady over here, she's a beautician. The man behind her, he's a writer. Me, I'm a cab driver. I'm the only cab driver in this place."

Me, I'm a writer, but a sumbitting writer--sort of like an auditioning actor. I've been a working writer and want to be so again. What I don't want to be is a "writer" who writes 17 never-published novels. In my book, that'd just make me a chump.

PurpleClover said...

Cheryl said, "What I don't want to be is a "writer" who writes 17 never-published novels. In my book, that'd just make me a chump."

Wow. Really?

Chuck H. said...

I came really late to the party so I hope I'm not repeating something someone else has already said.

The great Robert Heinlein said, "There's nothing wrong with making a living by writing as long as you do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."

I concur.

WitLiz Today said...

Inherent in this particularly enlightening blog post, (despite the mild protestation by Mr. Bransford that he's not making a judgment), is a prejudgment.

Who really knows what a writer is thinking if/when they make declarative statements such as, 'writing is who I am.' I certainly don't. And far be it for me to take the liberty of assuming that of which I do not know, because it will, without question, be an offensive and an incendiary issue if I brought it up like Mr. Bransford did. Nobody likes to be psychoanalyzed, even when they pay to be.

None of which is to say, however, that Mr. Bransford was wrong to posit the question, since we don't really learn unless we opine and question things. Out of rabble can come a lot of wisdom.

For instance, how many of us really know whereof we speak, when we constantly label a misguided writer a whack job or a crazy, simply because they seem to walk the path of self-destruction by their negative reactions to rejection or something of that ilk?

And its ever so much easier, imho, to label and judge, rather than to silently contemplate with compassion aforethought, writers or authors driven to self-immolation.

Mr. Bransford had a legitimate and empathetic concern for writers who continually do this, since he probably sees this on a daily basis. It's to his credit, really, and other agents like him who earnestly strive to understand what makes so many of these talented writers and authors tick.

This is why I think the issue raised in this post was an important one.

Michael Pickett said...

What keeps me writing and submitting despite seemingly endless rejections is thinking of myself as a craftsman. Yes, what I do as a writer is art and I have to put some of myself into it, but I also have to consider it my job (or that it will be my job some day). When I'm telling myself that I need to get my butt in front of my computer and write every day, I'm treating it as a job, something I have to report to every day. When I'm writing, it's art. When I'm submitting, it's business again. So, I can't get mad at an agent or editor who rejects me because it's all business. Not personal. Considering myself a craftsman, rather than purely an artist, has helped me treat all the aspects of writing and publishing as I should.

Robin of My Two Blessings said...

Hi Nathan,

Just one voice among many and generally a lurker but I had to say something. I enjoyed your post and agreed with you. Some people get very passionate about what they do and defend it wholeheartedly. I think what they didn't understand and I sure many will most likely try to correct me is that: Writing may be what you do, but it isn't who you are. My question to all is: Take away the writing and who are you.

Hi,I'm Robin. Nice to meet you.

Plain and simple. I'm me. No labels.

I'll be posting about this a bit later on my blog.

Anjali said...

I get what you mean. But here's my perspective.

I wrote and published for years and never called myself a "writer" because I was embarrassed I hadn't been more successful.

But really, it's an inextricable part of my identity. I can't imagine a life where I'm not writing. I'm a writer just as I am a mother. When my kids are all grown up and living with their own families on the other side of the world, I will still be a mother. It's just who I am.

Lisa said...

So, instead of addressing slush piles, here’s what I really meant: the publishing industry is a business. This isn’t any great epiphany, and probably a snooze to read, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. A pub house has to show a profit to stay afloat; they have budgets and financial goals, which seem a distant cousin to a writer’s passion. So, often great literary prose is rejected in lieu of a work that has mass appeal. I’ve received gift baskets that are so generous and elaborate they made my head spin and my heart race (due to large offering of Kona coffee, the good stuff). They were from people that had their manuscripts rejected and thought some pricey treats would sweeten me up. I’m already sweet, but that’s not the point. If I would have accepted a manuscript that I knew wouldn’t sell, I would have been out of a job; albeit, walking out with a six months’ supply of Vosges chocolate. So, if you want to call yourself a writer, then fine. But, keep in mind that the business that deals in writing is all business. One of the posts analogized writing as a relationship. If that’s the case, then you may want to think of the publishing industry as a womanizer. And, if that’s the case, tread carefully with your heart (and your identity).

Larry Muse said...

You must have hit a nerve with this one.
I must be one of the ones that you have concerns about. I am a retired manufacturing manager and now think of myself as a writer.
When I was a working person I wrote short stories and articles for a news letter at the company where I worked. Now I work every day at making novels. I have one finished and two or three under construction. I have always been a reader and think that my stuff is better then most, but worse then some, of the things I read.
In conclusion I have come to identify myself as a writer. There is no need for concern as I am still at a point where I think that the reason I have not sold a book lies with in.

Anonymous said...

Nathan has a good point. Writing can be all-consuming. A writer needs to be able to laugh at himself and not take everything so seriously all the time. Rejections should be taken with a grain of salt. If one agent does like your work, another may rave about it.
It’s just part of life.

Anonymous said...


Briefly delurking to say that I thought it was a great post. I have a few die hearts/literary elitists in my writing group and they drive me a little crazy. They spend a ridiculous amount of time bashing authors and calling EVERYTHING a cliche to the point that I wonder if they would ever be satisfied with anything they or others write. Usually I find this blog a bit of a relief with it's more lighthearted tone and was saddened to see that a lot of that angst made it over here.

I personally think of writing as a fun hobby/activity. The moment it becomes unfun (yes, it's a word, look it up) it's usually a sign that I am doing something wrong and need to take a break.Yes, I would like to be published someday, but very few things in this world should be taken THAT seriously.


ju-ju said...

Usually a lurker, this post hit a raw nerve. After four years of writing almost non-stop, I suddenly feel lost, or more accurately as if I have recovered from a delusional illness. Why on earth did I think, 1) I had something worth saying, and, 2) that I could say it better than anybody else?

Could I have avoided tying up my identity with writing? After all, I am successful in so many areas of my life and THIS is just a HOBBY. On reflection, I don’t think even if I’d been warned repeatedly and forcefully, I could’ve avoided this entanglement. But that leaves me with a difficult question. Is this crippling self-doubt the hallmark of an obsessive literary talent stepping up to the bar, or is it a justifiable reaction to facing up to the truth that I just ‘aint that special?

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking a lot about why this post upset so many people. And I think it has very little to do with writing, per se. I think people - all people - become upset when others try to judge or sway how they define themselves. And Nathan, I know it wasn't your intent. I get that your intent was actually really good advice about living a balanced life and not letting the publishing world make or break your self-worth. But the original post communicated a hint of "this is how you should or shouldn't define yourself." People react strongly to that. How can any person tell another person how they should or shouldn't define their identities? People come to me as a therapist for this very kind of advice and I *still* don't tell people who they are or are not – it’s not my place and to do so is considered an abuse of my power as their therapist. I think people got so touchy because it appeared as if you were saying who should or shouldn't call themselves a writer, or if it makes sense or not to feel deeply passionate or personal about your art when you're not a professional artist. And why do all of us care about what you say? Because you're a gatekeeper to this profession – and a well-known one at that. It would be the same as if a famous doctor commented on your health or an architect on the structure of your house, etc. You would take what they said into consideration and perhaps feel upset if it didn't fit your own view. Anywho, I still really enjoy your blog. Even if it ruffled feathers, you managed to get 400 of us to really think about our identities as writers and even as people. Kudos.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I think everyone understood Nathan's blog and got clarification early on if they initially misunderstood. He's a busy guy who is doing all of us a favor by blogging, offering his professional knowledge and opinions. He's reaching out to the writing community, sharing his time and energy. He's providing a forum for all of us to meet in and exchange ideas. This is huge--agents are sooo busy. Appreciate it, lighten up, and BE NICE.

DV, President of the Nathan Bransford Protection Agency

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