Are You Really A Writer Or Just A Hobbyist?


Over the past few weeks and months I’ve been putting together some research in my spare time, taking a look at the disparity between a Real Writer and a Hobby Writer. This particular blog post takes a close look at the differences between the two and is written to help you determine which category you fit into, as well as give you some tips on how to upgrade your status from Hobbyist into a Real Writer. While this post has been brewing for some time, I finally decided it was time to write it after being inspired by a recent rant from Adam Carolla, during which he talks about the curse of the Instant Gratification Generation who think that anyone experiencing success beyond their own is somehow inherently evil. It’s a real problem in the United States right now, and the true reason behind the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement; millions of members from the Instant Gratification Generation who are upset with anyone who makes more money than them, has more things than them, and generally succeeds in life compared to them as they scrape along the bottom of the barrel, barely eking out an existence. Gone are the days of having idols to look up to; now, anyone who is more successful than you are is inherently a bad person.

But before I really get into the whole Hobby Writer and the Instant Gratification Generation, let’s take a look at some of the core differences between a RW and a HW.

A Real Writer:

  • Makes a livable wage, based upon where they live.
  • Can support themselves or their family with their income and has extra money to burn every month.
  • Writes every day, for profit, and never concerns themselves with what another writer in another part of the world is making, because they have clients who pay their rates regardless. They understand that there is no such thing as failure and they understand that there are 7 billion people in the world, all of whom need their services in one form or another.
  • There is no such thing as a client who isn’t willing to pay the rates you want. There is only someone you haven’t won over yet.
  • Doesn’t believe in free samples, and never writes for free.
  • Understands marketing basics and how to use them for their business. Everyone needs your services, and your daily job is to sell those services.
  • There is no such thing as failure. There is only the ABCs of business: Always Be Closing.
  • Understands that the clients need them, not the other way around.
  • Studies the market flows and ebbs, on a global basis.
  • Spends at least 2 hours a day marketing their services on a global basis and lands at least 2-4 out of every 10 proposals/queries.
  • Has at least 3 months of work already booked in advance and is always looking ahead.
  • Has enough money in the bank to provide for themselves or their family for a full year even if they didn’t work a day.
  • Keeps an updated resume and professional website.
  • Understands social media and utilizes it to help make more money and expand their network of clients and customers.
  • Subscribes to at least half a dozen professional newsletters and can afford to spend between $100 and $1,000 per month (minimum) on various products to help them keep at the top of their game.
  • Works their ass off to be Number 1 and doesn’t settle for anything but 1st place.
  • Doesn’t cry over spilled milk, but instead continually self-evaluates and finds new ways to adapt and overcome to fluctuations in the market.
  • There is no such thing as feast or famine for the Real Writer. They make a continual, steady paycheck, regardless if they are freelance.

A Hobby Writer, on the other hand:

  • Submits free samples to anyone who asks, desperately hoping to land a gig. As such, does not value their own worth and believes that the only way to succeed is to bend over backwards to impress a client. Doesn’t understand that part of impressing a client is showing strength of character and proving that the client can’t live a day without their services.
  • Blames their current financial state on the market. Can’t afford to pay the rent, and doesn’t make anything close to a livable wage.
  • Blames their lack of income on the fact that other writers in India, the Philippines or other parts of the world are working for pennies and are thus the reason they can’t land any jobs for “professional” rates.
  • Sends out 100 queries and doesn’t land a single job, then blames it on the market rather than looking in the mirror and wondering if maybe it’s their resume or their cover letter that needs work.
  • Doesn’t have a professional website, instead relying on a free Blogspot or WordPress blog.
  • Doesn’t understand anything about marketing. Never attempts to close, believing that passive strategy works best. Doesn’t understand basic marketing skills. Thinks that being a writer means simply sitting at the desk and putting words on paper.
  • Hasn’t ever researched beyond what they can find for free on Google in the first 5 pages.
  • Doesn’t subscribe to any newsletters and can’t afford to spend $50 on a product that will help their business, much less $100 to $1,000, because they believe that anyone selling a product is out to “scam” them.
  • Spends most of their time on writers’ forums crying about how they never have any money, can’t find gigs, never hear back from query letters when they should instead be researching, reading products and finding new ways to profit.
  • Doesn’t believe that they need improvement, or that spending money on consultations, resume services, cover letter services, mentoring, products or otherwise is a necessary expense, because they think that free information is the only information they should be looking for on the Internet.
  • Blames their lack of success on everyone else but themselves.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else”. 

The Reality of Business

First off, if you can’t afford to spend $50 on a product, service or mentor to help improve your business…you don’t have a business. What you have is a hobby. One that apparently can’t even pay for itself, because you don’t make enough money to cover your rent, let alone pay for an ebook, a consultation, someone to revamp your resume or some other service to improve your business.

Secondly, if you are sending out 100 queries and you haven’t heard back from a single client, have you ever stopped to consider that it’s not the market? Maybe it’s the fact that your cover letter needs a serious overhaul, or that your resume isn’t written in a professional enough manner. Maybe it’s the fact that you need a consultation to help you on your way.

Look at it from this point of view. Would you really want someone fixing a cavity in your mouth if they learned how to perform dentistry from the Wikipedia? Or would you rather have a qualified dentist who paid money in a school to learn how to become a dentist working in your mouth? The same rule applies. College classes cost money because you are learning skills that are necessary for that particular trade. And if a client is looking at your resume and sees that you don’t have the relevant skills to even put together a professional cover letter, let alone a resume, why would they want to hire you when they can get someone who actually has the relevant skills and has a professional cover letter and resume?

Writing isn’t about just writing. It’s about marketing. It’s about social media management. It’s about selling your services to someone who is receiving 100 or 500 or 1,000 other competitive offers from other writers. You have to stand out from the pack. You need to be willing to critique yourself and accept professional help from people who are actually succeeding in this career. The ones who actually make a livable wage, who have professional websites and resumes (the equivalent of digital six-pack abs), who have videos, ebooks, courses, training classes and more to help the struggling writer get the help they need to get ahead in this career. After all, if they are making that kind of money, they must be doing something right. Don’t you think it’s worth your time to find out what methods they are using so that you can use them in your own business?

There’s an old saying in business that holds true in any industry. You have to spend money to make money. For example, if you want to become a dentist you have to be willing to spend the money on a college education so you can earn the credentials to practice. And if you want to be a successful writer you have to be willing to spend money on products, consultations, courses, advice from the pros and beyond, the same way you would pay for a college degree. And while it is true that not everyone needs the help or advice of a pro, many people do…and it is these Hobby Writers who need to wake up and realize that it isn’t the market that is the root cause of their issues. It is the fact that they lack the relevant skills to be writers. They need to find someone teach them how to become a Real Writer of the 21st century.

Another thing to think about is to look at your writing career like getting into physical shape. You don’t get six-pack abs by sitting around talking about how badly you want to lose weight and how it’s not your fault you are fat because you have a gene problem while you continue stuffing your face with packaged foods, sugary drinks and potato chips. You get six-pack abs by establishing a diet routine, by establishing a fitness regimen, by eating healthy foods in smaller quantities, by doing a series of crunch routines on top of cardio and weight training and by actually doing what it is that you want to accomplish. In short, you stop being an overweight loser who blames their weight on everyone and everything but themselves, you take control, you lose the weight and you sculpt your body into what you want it to look like in the first place through hard work and perseverance. You hire a personal trainer, a nutritionist, someone with professional experience who can help you achieve the goals you want. You don’t merely think or dream or read about getting in shape…you actually DO IT!

Instant Gratification Generation

These are the Hobby Writers of the modern era, the ones who were raised with a continual stream of “you are special!” shoved down their throats through television, No Child Left Behind programs in school, millions of blogs and media advertising that streams “you can do it!” 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is the generation of people who think that mediocrity is to be celebrated, that they should have an award just for being “one of the team”, and that they don’t really need to strive above and beyond to achieve. They think that everything should be handed to them “just because”.

These are the Hobby Writers who look at a Real Writer and rather than look up to them as mentors and idols instead view them with disdain, thinking to themselves, “They must be lying about their success. After all, I can find that information for free on Google. I don’t need to buy their product, because it’s just a scam. They don’t deserve to be successful, because all they are doing is manipulating newbie writers and trying to get them to spend money on a product that doesn’t contain anything other than what I can find for free on the Internet.”

First and foremost, if this type of information was readily available for free on the Internet, if these strategies were supposedly out there for anyone to find and utilize, than why in the world do Hobby Writers exist? The reality is that Hobby Writers want things handed to them on a silver platter without having to put forth any real effort. They don’t believe in anything other than “free” because they have been brainwashed into thinking that everything out there should be free in the first place, automatically given to them because that’s how they’ve been treated their whole life, and that anything that costs money must naturally be a scam. “I don’t need a resume mentor, because I can learn how to write a resume for free on the Internet,” they tell themselves. “Why would I pay someone for a consultation when they are just going to tell me what I can find for free doing a Google search?”

If all of this information is supposedly free and readily available…why aren’t you making as much money as a Real Writer, Hobby Writer? Why don’t you have enough money to pay the rent? Why can’t you land jobs? Why aren’t your queries getting responses? Is it really the market? Is it really the foreign writers? Maybe it’s the fact that you aren’t a Real Writer in the first place and you need the guidance of a professional to turn you into one. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn.” Are you merely ignorant (as all of us are at some point or another, such as when we are children before we understand that fire is hot and can burn us), or are you unwilling to learn how to become a professional?

In the old days (as Adam mentions in that audio clip) if you were walking down the street and you saw someone drive by in a nice car, your dad would turn to you and say, “Look there. That’s Mr. Smith. Look at his nice car. He worked hard to achieve success. If you work hard, you can have the same success in your life.” You would use Mr. Smith as an example of what you wanted to achieve and you would mirror your own advancements after his, using him as an example for your own success.

The problem is that now the Instant Gratification Generation of Hobby Writers look at other writer’s success and the first thought that comes to mind isn’t “Wow, I want to be just like them,” but rather, “They can’t possibly be telling the truth with their products. It’s all just a scam. There’s no way they are making that kind of money, because I’m not making that kind of money. No one in their right mind would ever pay that kind of money when they can find the information for free on the Internet!” They throw bricks in the form of derogatory blog posts, and they keep on complaining that their lack of success isn’t their own fault, but rather the fault of the market, or the foreign writers, or the rates, or the lack of jobs or the global economy or any other excuse they can find.

They want everything handed to them on a silver platter and they don’t want to actually have to do any work to achieve success. They think that the road to success is paved with free advice and anything that isn’t free or doesn’t allow them to be number 1 along with everyone else isn’t real and shouldn’t be allowed. They want 1st place without actually having to do anything to get there. They want it simply because they know in their hearts they are “special”, that they “deserve” it, because it isn’t fair for someone else to be more successful.

Mediocrity Isn’t Worth Celebrating

You don’t earn a trophy for simply participating. You don’t pay your rent by submitting free samples of your work. You don’t get to practice dentistry without first going to school, paying for a teacher to train you and learning the relevant skills. You don’t become a best-selling author by lamenting how much money the other writers are making. You don’t land jobs by having a mediocre resume and cover letter. You don’t lose weight and get Brad Pitt abs without researching and paying a nutritionist and a personal trainer to show you how to do it the right way so you don’t injure your body or starve yourself by simply trying to not eat as a means to lose weight. And you don’t become a Real Writer without learning the craft and shooting for the moon.

There’s more to writing than simply putting words on a page. Today, writing is about being an excellent social media manager, an excellent marketer and an excellent writer, all wrapped into one. It’s about researching the continual changes of the market, subscribing to and being a part of networks of other writers, researching and purchasing products and courses that train you and teach you how to utilize the latest strategies to make the most amount of money for the least amount of effort. It’s about running a business. It’s about spending money to make money. It’s about putting in the time, the hours and the hard work so that you can be Number One with actual proof behind the title rather than being Peon Number 27 who comes to work and gets a special “You’re A Winner!” button that they can put up on their board simply because they showed up.

It’s about being a Real Writer. A professional. A business specialist. Someone who excels at what they do. Someone who not only makes enough money to pay their bills but also sticks money aside in the savings every month. Someone who sells their products every time. Someone who lives the lifestyle they’ve always dreamed about. Someone who doesn’t send out 100 resumes only to hear the echo of the wind in return. Someone who hits home runs every time they step up to the plate, rather than only punting a grounder that turns into a sacrifice which lets someone else get to touch home base first.

Do you want to be successful? Stop thinking that everything in life should be given to you for free. Stop accepting mediocrity. Stop celebrating $50 writing gigs and start celebrating $500 or $5,000 writing gigs. Don’t settle for anything less than 1st place. Remember those No Fear shirts from the 90s? There’s no 2nd place…there’s only losers. This should be your motto. Don’t send in free writing samples, because it only signals that you are a weak, inferior writer, part of the 99%. Be willing to accept the fact that if you are sending out 100 queries without a single reply that it’s not the market that sucks, but your resume and cover letter. Hire a professional to give you a consultation. Revamp your resume. Talk with the professionals in your field who are making 100k or more a year. Find out what they are doing and apply that to your own work. Don’t think that you can’t afford to spend money on a product. Instead, think of it it this way: you can’t afford to not spend money on that product, because it has proven success behind it.

Don’t look at other writers and their success and think how it isn’t fair that they have so much money, that they don’t need their 500,000 dollar mansion or their fancy car. Instead, look up to successful writers and ask yourself, “What are they doing right that I’m doing wrong? How can I achieve that level of success? How can I become part of the 1%?”

Want to be more than the 99%? Get out there and start working for it. Hire someone to help coach you. Find a mentor who speaks to your style. Take a class, a course, buy a book and find a way to mirror the success your mentors have. If they offer a product or a subscription service, go for it. The reason they are successful is because they are Winners. They are Real Writers. They aren’t the ones complaining about how they can’t pay rent or can’t afford to pay $50 on something that will guarantee them success. There are dozens of different gurus on the Internet, and all of them have something unique to say. Find the ones who speak to your heart and use their strategies and methods to become a winner, not a loser. I personally am a huge fan of the Smart Passive Income blog, as well as the 4 Hour Work Week, both of which have helped me in my success. I also loved Life After the Cubicle, and the Location Independent programs. These are just examples; you can find your own mentor or service that speaks to your heart.

If you can’t afford to spend money to make money, you don’t have a business and you aren’t a Real Writer. You have a hobby and are nothing more than a Hobby Writer. Want to get those six-pack abs that show off what a badass you are in the work place? Want to make thousands per month instead of a mere $50 now and again? What are you willing to do to change your status and become Number 1 in your writing niche? What are you doing to do to achieve 1st place so that you can be a winner, not a loser?

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” – Ben Franklin

T.W. Anderson is the founder of Complete Writing Solutions, and is a freelance writer specializing in travel writing, website content, interior design and home improvement, green-related topics, as well as anything else potential clients need him to be.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101, Freelance Writing Tips Tagged with: , , , , ,
8 comments on “Are You Really A Writer Or Just A Hobbyist?
  1. Alan says:

    Real writers check their facts before making declarative statements.

    Fact: The 99% understand that education and hard work no longer guarantee even an opportunity to achieve success in today’s American culture.

    Fact: The 99% only want the same opportunity to find a job and through hard work and ongoing training move up the ladder.

    Fact: The success of an individual in today’s culture is in very little way related to skill, education or innate genius.

    Fact: Your post is nothing more that a Newt Gingrich attempt to separate beginning writers from the few dollars they might have.

    I am retired. I am now a professional writer. I write content and seo for the Internet. I make several hundred dollars per week. I do not market often. Jobs are rarely booked more than a few days in advance.

    Where do you get the stones do determine if someone is a serious or hobby writer?

  2. This looks like a sound strategy: Do something, or do something else. That’s basically what I interpret out of this article. It’s very clear and good advice. Lately, I’ve also been ramping up on marketing, and next year I’ll be investing in national association memberships for writers.

    I’m totally thinking of getting serious about this like I never did. I have to start somewhere, right? Well, I’m already working for a few folks that have nice deep pockets, but I’m sure I can do better. If not for profit, why be in business? 😛

  3. Thanks for your opinion and comment, Alan.

    Firstly, education and hard work guarantee opportunities…as long as you look on a global scale. You can’t be relegated to the U.S. only if you want to be truly successful. If you want to be part of the 1%, you have to look at global opportunities, not just regional. That’s a problem with many freelancers; they aren’t looking outside of the U.S. for work, and as a result they are starving. The world has 7 billion people on it, and hundreds of countries. All of those countries are full of potential clients who need writing services.

    Secondly, as long as people work hard and look for work on a global scale, the opportunities are there to move up the ladder. If people want to get out of the 99%, they need to be willing to look outside of the box they’ve been stuck in. If a person isn’t making money only looking inside the box for work, then that person needs to wise up and look outside of the box for solutions.

    Thirdly, success of an individual is still related to skill, education and/or innate genius. If you are a skilled person who knows how to market yourself, how to write well and how to network with other writers, and you know when to use mentors and other products to your benefit (much like paying for a college course to help you get a leg up in a specific career, such as dentistry), there is a global pool of opportunities to be had. If not, said person needs to look to their mentors, their idols, for solutions, just like in the days of yesteryear when it was considered worthwhile to have an idol to look up to.

    Beginner writers have multiple mentors to look for on the Internet, not just myself. I actually list several of my favorites here in the post, several of whom offer free newsletters and booklets as promotional material. Writers who choose to ignore those helpful tips do so based on their own choice. There are hundreds of Internet gurus around the world who can help a writer get their career moving in the right direction; I’m not championing one above the other, merely stating that if a writer has been struggling for the past six months or two years and still hasn’t managed to find steady work, it’s not the environment or the economy. It’s their cover letter, resume and approach. That’s what mentors, classes, courses, newsletters and consultations are for. If a writer doesn’t have the money to pay for classes, they don’t have a business. They have a hobby. One that doesn’t pay for itself. It’s simple mathematical fact. A business pays for itself by its very nature. A hobby can, but only if it’s a serious hobby. If writers want to become more than just hobbyists, they have to take their career seriously and treat it as such, which means spending money to make money, just like a dentist needs to spend money to learn the skills necessary to become a dentist.

    As long as you are making a healthy living according to your cost of living, good on you. I personally think that only looking a few days in advance for work is career suicide, but that’s just my opinion. I prefer to keep things booked out 3-4 months in advance, or more if I can manage it. Again, my opinion only. You are free to agree or disagree.

    Thanks again for your comments, and I look forward to reading more from you in the future! Cheers :)

  4. Yep, Miguel.

    I personally pay between $200 and $500 a month for various services, ranging from press release packages for the various products to subscriptions to services I use for my niche sites. Not all people need the same services; this is just an example, but the reality is that if you want to make money you have to be willing to invest in your business. If you don’t want to invest, you can’t expect to reap any returns.

    A real writer doesn’t do it for the art; they do it for the money. If it were only for art, the work would never move beyond a personal journal or work space. The only reason people submit their work into the public arena is to earn a nut, which they can either squirrel away for a rainy day or use to feed themselves tonight. At the end of the day the thing which separates the professionals from the non is the paycheck; successful writers make a healthy living.

    If people want to move out of the 1% they need to get off their bums, stop complaining about how “unfair” things are, stop acting with a sense of entitlement and get out there and do something to change their reality. The world isn’t national or regional anymore. You know this, because you live in Romania. The world is a great big wide open space of opportunities and people can either sit around and cry about how they don’t make any money…or they can wise up, put their nose to the grindstone, work with other professionals who can help guide them, and get out there and make a difference in their lives.

  5. Haley says:

    How bizarre that you would equate business with being a writer. While it might be best to have some business savvy to be a writer, one is a writer if they write. The fact that writers do not know how to market themselves does not negate his/her abilities. After all, writers and others have been known to hire people to help them in those areas so that they can be what they are: writers.

    By the way, being desperate is not synonymous with the title “Hobbyist”; it might be a lack of self-esteem rather than talent or ability.

    You sound like the kind of person who has it all figured out in a bloodless, joyless way and are very happy to force-feed it to those whom you feel should be just like you; an elitist snob.

    How magnanimous. And boring.

  6. Thanks for your time and comment, Haley.

    The funny thing about agents and marketing companies who focus on doing the publicity for a writer is that they want their cut of the pie. In other words, a writer still needs to pay them to render services. So while you are absolutely true that it’s possible to hire someone else to handle the business side of things, that means forking over money, or paying for professional services (the same thing this article suggests is necessary; paying someone to help you make your business successful)…and a hobby writer needs to first have the relevant skills to prove their writing is worth being marketed, which often means learning how to write in the first place. Or, at the very least, having the money to pay for the agency. In which case they aren’t a starving, hobby writer, but rather someone who is a real writer by the very fact their writing is providing them with the money to pay for other services that are part of the business side of writing. Which, ironically, is what this whole article was about; hobby writers who don’t have the money to treat their writing as a business versus real writers who understand that they are running a business, and therefore are spending money to make money.

    It’s unfortunate you feel that way about my personal stance on things, but you are certainly welcome to your opinion, just as much as I am in the writing of it. I wish you nothing but the best in your future ventures, and I’m very glad you understood the core of this piece: real writers treat their writing as a business. You either pay a professional to teach you the basics of business so you can run your business by yourself, or you pay someone else to do it for you. In either case you still have to spend money to make money and there’s still a difference between writing for a living and writing as a hobby. Cheers, and I look forward to hearing from you again in the future!

  7. Felicia says:

    Very interesting post. I guess I’m a professional hobbyist.

    I tend to shy away from labels and categories. I like to write and I earn money from it. 100% of my income is residual and comes from my online properties. I am my only client (never really liked the demands of writing for other folks).

    I don’t make enough to support my family (my 6’3” son could eat my earnings at one meal) but I’m very close ($3.52 shy) to making $100 a day every day in residual earnings from my writing.

    As probably the only online dinosaur that doesn’t use social media (or have a firm grasp on internet marketing), I think I’m doing ok.

    I love what I do and used to do it for free. So, I guess you can call me a professional hobbyist. :)

  8. Hola, Felica. Thanks for your comment and your time!

    Sounds to me like you are almost there :) If you were to take the steps to bump up your social media and business aspects a couple of notches, you would easily be able to become the sole provider. But as long as you enjoy what you are doing, that’s what matters most.

    This post was mostly intended for those who aren’t happy with what they are doing and continually blaming their lack of success on everyone but themselves. Sometimes we all need to take a step back and re-evaluate what we are doing and how we can do it better. It sounds to me like you have all the fixin’s of a professional writer, but are comfortable with your hobby paying for itself and giving you a little extra. If that’s all you want out of it, than good for you :)

    Everyone has their own level of comfort when it comes to their personal success. As long as you are happy with your status in the great scheme of things, I say keep on rocking it to your own tune!

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