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The Differences Between Hobby & Professional Writers

I spent the past weekend surrounded by over 600 writers at a conference. I’m sure if I asked any one of those writers whether they considered themselves a professional writer or a hobby writer, they’d have unanimously claimed the title of “professional.” In fact, not many writers I know would consider themselves hobby writers. And yet, are we, who don the title of “professional” distinguishing ourselves enough from hobby writers?

What are key differences between hobby and professional writers?

Here are a few of my thoughts on the differences. I’d love to hear yours—so make sure you let me know in the comments!

Motivation: Hobby writers may dream of publication, but their ambitions for it are less defined. Professional writers usually have the long term goal of making money from their writing.

Pleasure: Hobby writers put pen to paper for the pure pleasure of it. Professional writers hopefully enjoy the writing process, but they don’t let feelings alone dictate their process. They write even when every word must be wrenched from the brain.

Inspiration: Hobby writers are satisfied to open their notebooks whenever inspiration strikes. But career writers sit down in front of the keyboard even when they must drag the muse kicking and screaming back from vacation.

Work Time: Hobby writers are at liberty to let other life events or the busyness of activities step in the way of the story. They can stare out the window, sip tea, or surf the net instead of tapping away at the keyboard. Professionals, however, protect their work time, make it a priority, and devote concerted effort to it.

Standards: Hobby writers are working to please themselves. If the quality of the work suits them, then that’s what matters. Professional writers adhere to high standards, learn how the publishing industry works, and realize that books are for readers and not just for themselves.

Investment: Hobby writers don’t need to invest in taking their writing to the next level. But professionals look for ways to grow by putting time and money toward continuing education and even outside consultation.

Image: Hobby writers can wear bikinis on their blogs and belch out the alphabet on twitter. Professional writers intentionally work at creating an image and concern themselves with long term impressions.

Final thoughts on hobby and professional writers.

Sometimes even professional writers need breaks. From time to time we all need an extended vacation from our jobs—and that includes writing. I had a long writing hiatus during the years when I was busy having all my babies. If we need a break, we should give ourselves permission. And yet I urge us to all make sure those “breaks” are valid and not stemming from lack of diligence.

Not everyone who starts off as a professional writer will stay one. Let’s face it, not all of us pursuing a writing career are going to stick with it. That’s the same with any job choice we might make. Perhaps we learn that we don’t like writing for publication as much as we thought we would. Or maybe we find another pursuit more to our gifting and liking. However, I urge us to consider the motivation for quitting before we do. If discouragement is our main reason, then we need to remind ourselves that discouragement must give birth to perseverance before perseverance can give birth to publication.

When we act like professionals, others in the industry will take us more seriously. Agents and editors can usually tell when an author has done the work to grow and has learned about the industry. And they’ll be much more impressed by an author who’s written more than one book. As James Scott Bell says in The Art of War For Writers, “Publishers and agents invest in careers. They want to know that you can do this over and over again.”

Are there any other key differences between hobby and professional writers? Which are you? And if you’re a professional, are you acting like one? Do others see it?

P.S. Remember to answer this week's easy question about The Preacher's Bride to be entered into the drawing to win a copy! Trivia Question #3.

59 comments:

  1. I think you pretty much summed it up. I'm a professional writer - I'm writing with the end-goal of publication. I'd love to make money doing something I love, but only God knows if that will happen or when.

    Another important point is that it's OKAY to be a hobby writer. There's no shame in that. It's not like professional writers have a one-up on hobby writers. It's all about what God's called us to be.

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  2. Hmmmm, I consider myself fairly professional, but I don't know if others see me that way? Most people aren't aware of when I'm writing. Plus, I haven't done well lately in carving out writing time.
    But I'm saving all my receipts from queries for write-offs, so this is def. something I take seriously! LOL
    Good post!

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  3. I'm professional. I went to college for it. I eat, sleep, breathe it. But I stuck on a few points. I may never write for money. My motivation just isn't in that. Will God bless me in that way? Perhaps. But my ambition is in pleasing the Lord and reaching people to make a difference (sound familiar--little like what we heard this weekend?)

    Also, I've researched like crazy. I know what's expected of me, but I hold myself to a high standard as well. I'm not doing this to impress people, but to be true to my voice.

    Just some thoughts you inspired.

    ~ Wendy

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  4. I'd say I'm transitioning from hobbyist to professional right now. Now that I know I can get my fiction published on a pretty regular basis I am more aware of how I "look" online.

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  5. Jody, Great discussion. Lawrence Block talks more about this in his great book, Telling Lies For Fun And Profit, where he gives encouragement to what he calls the "Sunday writer." I'm pretty sure that's where I was until I neared publication. Now it appears I've moved from the field from which I retired (medicine) into a brave, new world of writing.
    Thanks for the post. And it was good to see you at the ACFW meeting.

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  6. You've spelled out the business portion required of a professional here, which anyone seeking publication needs to embrace. I'm not there yet, but hopefully some day.

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  7. What a lot of non-writers don't understand is that you can be a professional and still not be published. For many well-meaning people, it's a cute hobby until you sell.

    Your book arrived yesterday!

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  8. This is a fantastic post, Jody... just found the link on Twitter and shall retweet at once!

    Having been published for seven years, but now experiencing several years of being unpublished (and therefore unpaid), I have been struggling with whether I can still call myself a professional author. But I think I still am, because I am still I am doing all the "professional" things you list above, in fact maybe more professionally now than before... Thank you, I feel much better!

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  9. Great post.

    I have to wonder - do professional writers let fear, or feelings of being overwhelmed get in the way? Probably not.

    I think, at this point, I really don't know where I stand with regard to my writing. I've been in a valley with life in general for some time now, and it's flowed over into my writing. I still have all the desires, etc. of writing and being published, but I can't make myself write - it's like there is an invisible brick wall standing in the way and I can't get over or around it. Maybe the Lord is giving me a "time out" to figure things out (with regard to my situation - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual), resulting in a "break" from writing.

    So, it almost seems like, at the moment, I'm vascillating between hobbiest and professional - if that's even possible.

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  10. Good points in this post, Jody. I think one of the most important and rewarding parts about being professional and doing your homework is that agents/editors really do notice and it really does make a difference. If you're really and truly longing for publication it's worth it to start professional, grow, and continue that way throughout your journey.

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  11. If I had to classify myself between your two categories right now, I'd fall into the hobby writer part simply because I'm unable to write full time and support myself and participate in life in general. But I don't think I'm any less serious of a writer just because I'm a hobby writer at this point. I do care about my image, I do wrench thoughts from my mind even when I don't feel like it, and I do care what my readers think. Having said that, the rest of my life right now dictates that I may not be able to publication-write every day. And I'm okay with all of that!

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  12. I'm with Janel, transitioning between hobby and profession with my writing, because like Bekah, I have a busy full-time job. It would be a kick to turn writing into my profession but for now I'll squeeze it in when I can!

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  13. Hi Everyone!
    I don't think we have to work full time at writing to be considered professional. Many of us, myself included, must squeeze writing around our other life responsibilities. Quality time trumps quantity. We can still treat our writing time professionally, no matter how little we have.

    And as Katie, mentioned, it's OKAY to be a hobby writer! Some writers are perfectly fine with hobby writing! But for those of us seeking publication and payment, we need to remember that if we want to be treated like a professional by others in the industry, then we have to start by making the professional effort first.

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  14. Wonderful thoughts! I got a great laugh from the hobby writer "Image" in bikini and belching on Twitter! Too funny.

    I am in pursuit of being a professional writer. I guess you could say I've been on hiatus, what with my job and current health issues. But my manuscript is sitting on my desk, patiently waiting my return, and I do find myself itching to get back into it.

    Jen :D

    PS: I can't remember if I told you or not but I LOVE your header picture! You look fabulous :)

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  15. This is so clear and well-written. You make many great points, I don't know where to start!

    I do think there are many hobby writers who have the potential to be professionals if they could just get the courage to take it one step at a time. The process can be overwhelming.

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  16. I run a novel writing workshop on top of my writing. I want to help others by shortening the learning curve. I can usually spot the Hobby Writers in that they are there for ego and are not teachable.

    I think that Professional Writers are always actively searching for ways to grow and get better at the craft. We don't assume we know everything there is to know about writing. When someone offers additional tools, suggestions and resources, we take it as a blessing, not a slight and an insult.

    Hobby Writers can usually be spotted at conferences piling into every agent class/discussion and forgoing all craft classes, because they "already know how to write."

    I find it frustrating, especially when these writers possess talent. But I can plainly see their pride and unwillingness to take correction and learn will likely render them perpetual hobbyists.

    Just my two cents. Want to be a professional? READ, READ READ and learn/study everything you can so that you are always growing.

    Kristen Lamb

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  17. I think the more I learn, the more I want to be a professional writer.

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  18. "Hobby writers put pen to paper for the pure pleasure of it. Professional writers hopefully enjoy the writing process, but they don’t let feelings alone dictate their process. They write even when every word must be wrenched from the brain."

    Well said. I love writing as a whole, but, sometimes, I look at my manuscripts and can think of a few things I'd rather be doing. It takes discipline, kicking, and screaming to make myself continue forward. It's work. True work.

    But worth it when the dreams become the reality. When the ball hits the net.

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  19. Like Janel, I'm also straddling the line between the two -- and hoping to jump ship onto the professional side soon. I try to make writing a routine, and am aware of online impressions. But I don't intend on (perhaps ever) making writing a full-time job, and with college and medical school applications, it isn't the most important thing in my life.

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  20. I am tending to lean towards hobby writer at this time. Good break down for me to look at. :O)

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  21. I think it is a bit of a shame that the idea of the amateur has fallen out of use, as that does seem to help with some of the labelling of people issues that this piece points out. An amateur, strictly speaking, is someone who does a thing for the sheer love of it - and it used not to be a derogatory term. When work was something gentlemen and gentlewomen did not wish to be seen to do, being an amateur allowed them to take their hobbies seriously, and perform to what we would call a professional standard. This was common in sport in the UK in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially in cricket. I think hobby is a rather dismissive little word, and that those who do not pursue writing for money, would do well to reclaim the notion of the amateur as something valuable in our society. (Imagine if we said 'I am a volunteer writer' for example).

    I suspect that love of writing, of the process, almost to the point of addiction is what defines a true writer, whether they make money from not. You know you have had the feeling when you haven't written for some time, and you are itching to get to back to it again. Professionals who drag themselves to the keyboard still feel this love. It's the one thing that keeps them going because there is no certainty about the money. Perhaps we should all call ourselves amateurs.

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  22. Well, I've had a few short stories and poems published. I write every day, even when I don't like it. I pursue more education in the form of writing books at this point, and may eventually take a class again.
    However, having said all that, I have figuratively belched on my blog before . . . and I strongly dislike categories that separate writers into hobbiests and professionals, especially since I've met so-called hobbiests who have been published, and met so-called professionals who never publish.
    My life does distract me from my writing, and . . . I'm glad of that. If I didn't have a life, my writing would be dull, flat and lifeless. Writing can be done anywhere - just ask J.K. Rowling who scribbled out her first Harry Potter book on napkins.
    Usually I love your posts, but I have to say, please, please don't categorize writers into hobbiests and professionals.

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  23. I believe this is a helpful post for people to shift out of the "grays" of are they attempting a career of this or not. Making a more black and white decision is going to be a critical part of reaching the goal.

    That being said, the drive for professionalism has to be measured with the need to make a living for the family. Writing shouldn't be a reckless spin on a roulette wheel.

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  24. I happen to look great in a bathing suit.

    I am SO just kidding! I wear more than a one piece. After five babies people are lucky I let them see my neck.

    I agree with you on all points, but... I really need to see personality from authors as well. I don't like the why-so-serious-syndrome that can take over. We need to connect with people with our personalities or we become dry cardboard cutouts that people tend to avoid. And BTW, I would love to meet you someday. Just hang out and blech out the alphabet over coffee! ;) I heart you Jody.

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  25. To me, the odd part that matters more is getting my wife to stop using the "hobby" word. When that happens, I'll have made it as a professional

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  26. I think I’m a halfie, mostly due to life at this time. I think when I get the courage to query I’ll have made the leap to whole pro.

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  27. You made excellent distinctions here. I consider myself a professional for all of those reasons. Especially writing when I don't feel like it--but I have a plan and intend to meet them. Glad you had an awesome time there! Someday I'll meet you:)

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  28. Hmmmm...I always assumed that getting paid for something qualified one as a professional. But, if I'm going by your list, I fall into the "hobby" category at this season of my life.

    I just ran into someone at the grocery store who asked if I was still writing. I felt like I had to almost apologize for not being published so my answer was, "Yes, I am, but mostly for my own enjoyment."

    Received your book a few days ago and promptly shoved another book to the side to begin reading! Am really loving it! I've been busy with a sick child and jury duty---I will email you soon about the promo on my blog!

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  29. At one time my definition of a professional was someone getting paid for what they did. When I started receiving payment for magazine articles I had to re-evaluate because my haphazard schedule of submissions didn't make me feel like a professional writer. But from your list I'd have to say I am one now. I especially agree with your point about inspiration. When I need to write I sit down and write. Waiting for the muse is a waste of precious time.

    P.S. I love your reminder that "books are for readers and not just for [our]selves." :)

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  30. I think I'm somewhere in between right now, pushing toward professional. Going professional is a big commitment that will take its toll on my family, but I think I'm ready for it (I hope).

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  31. Each day I take a new step towards the professional writing angle. I believe that God is preparing me for this work, and I love knowing that He has good plans for me:)

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  32. After a decade of trying to get published, I received another rejection from an agent. In that dark moment, I realized my literary dreams may never materialize, my creative talents may never be noticed, and I might end up one of those sad old folks still talking about the latest book they're sure will be "the one" that brings success. I was convinced the time had come to give up. The fact that I didn't only meant one thing: for better or worse, I am a professional writer.

    The happy ending? I got an agent a month later!

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  33. Jody please change the color of your font on your blog page, I can't seem to read black fonts on a navy background. Thanks

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  34. I love this! I'm a professional writer. Thanks for sharing this.

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  35. To the anonymous commenter complaining about the display on Jody's site:

    Please include your name and a way we can contact you, so we can determine what's causing this problem for you and look for a way to solve it.

    Thank You!
    Kelli Standish
    PulsePoint Design
    http://www.pulsepointdesign.com

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  36. Thanks for the post, Jody!
    I loved it.
    It felt like a refreshing post.
    Thanks!

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  37. Nice points. I do think it's important to give ourselves permission to A) be a professional writer and B) take time off from the job.

    I think those are two things that I struggled with the most. But I don't struggle to tell people I'm a professional teacher and I never hesitate to take time off that job.

    So why is writing different? Once I made that leap, I really started thinking of my writing as more than a hobby.

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  38. As I transition from one category of writer to the other, I find that I'm looking at the act of writing differently. It's still what I love to do, but now it has greater purpose.

    Thank you for another great post.

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  39. Anonymous,

    Would you please contact me via my contact page so that I can find out what is happening? You should be getting a light blue background on top of the navy. The type is dark on top of the light blue. If you're getting navy, my web designer thinks that for some reason your web server isn't loading the page properly. I would love to talk to you further about the issue so that we can figure out the problem. I definitely want to make my site as accessible as possible! Thank you for bringing up your concern!

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  40. You cut to the chase, Jody! Great points.

    With deadlines looming, it sure feels professional. But with the Holy Spirit whispering into my ear, it feels like bliss!

    Nice to wave at you a couple of times at the conference! LOL.
    Patti

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  41. Hi Jody..you summed up everything very well. I would love to be taken seriously...writing is certainly not a hobby. I am trying to get as professional as possible.

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  42. Jody,

    As a self-proclaimed NON-writer, I have to wonder why, in a world where there's already too much segregation, it is even necessary to define hobby vs. professional anything. Can’t one just be a writer?

    Additionally, by going on a discourse of that sort AND by indirectly labeling yourself as one over the other (with clear overtones that being a hobby writer is a sub-class of writer), you come across as a bit arrogant and quite a bit snobbish. NOT at all the humble servant of Christ you are called to be--even above being an author.

    That being said, your commentary is typical of one who has gone to a conference and has chosen to adopt the mentality of a presenter without real thought or research.

    Professionalism is a mindset that takes on different forms for different people. To look at a writer's blog and see her in a bikini, and then immediately classify her as a hobby writer is supremely judgmental. Just because you wouldn't do such a thing doesn't mean that a person who does should be labeled unprofessional.

    I like to think that the authors I read are humans who take vacations and wear bathing suits on the beach. If my favorite author chooses to share that part of his or her life on a blog for the world to see, then that just makes them more accessible - not less professional.

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  43. Hi Kristen,

    I'm sorry to have offended you with my post! I certainly did not intend to offend. Nor did I intend to come across sounding snobby or judgemental.

    My intent with this post was to spur those of us who are serious about publication to look at how we're viewing the process. In any other professional career, workers approach their jobs with intentionality and professionalism. We as writers would do well to model such an approach to our work if we hope to be taken seriously in the industry.

    The post is in no way a put down for those who choose to write for fun (without the end goal of publication).

    I'd hoped to encourage those who are striving toward publication to take their work to the next level. And I think many who've read this post have taken my words as intended.

    Thanks for chiming in! I appreciate hearing both sides!

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  44. In thinking about my writing future, I've almost thrown in the towel because of the things agents have proclaimed writers must be and do. I'm not sure I fit the mold. I have questioned whether I have "the right stuff."

    But God is infinitely creative, isn't he? In the end, he will do what he plans to do, and use all kinds of people to do his work.

    In the midst of all of this, I was struck by Steve Job's advice:

    “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

    Slowly I'm finding my way. It doesn't quite match anyone else's description. My work ethic is twofold:

    1. I show up on the page every day. Whatever happens, happens.

    2. I make sure I'm living well, so that I have a life to write from.

    Beyond this, I do have specific goals and projects, and yes I am being paid for my writing now. But at the core of it all is the place I live on the inside and the way my pen touches the paper in front of me this particular morning.

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  45. I think professional writers are the whole package: ability, application, persistence. They submit their work, they take editorial advice, they meet deadlines and they prioritise writing - even if they have to give up TV! They study the market and continually educate themselves as to its needs.

    And do I consider myself a professional? Yup! :-)

    www.suemoorcroft.com

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  46. I think sometimes the difference between the two types is more of a confidence issue than anything else. I've spoken to a lot of people at conferences who downplay things because they are afraid to stand up and say "I'm a writer." I've gotten a lot of "Oh, well I'm just starting and it's silly really and I don't know if it will turn into anything" etc. I've been one of those people as well.

    So I think it takes a conscious decision for someone to say "Hey, I want to do this. I can do this" And once they make that decision, I think a lot of your points are the things those people start doing (the professional things.)

    Great post!

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  47. Yeah, not really fond of the term "hobby" writer myself. I write every day, whether I choose to share it or not. I don't have any ambition or drive to make a living as a writer. When I post something to my website, I ask myself if it fits one or more of the following criteria:

    - Does it encourage?
    - Does it make people think?
    - Does it make people laugh?
    - Is it helpful?

    As someone who considers themself to be an encourager of writers and others, that's what I feel called to do. Not for money (although I do have a professional relationship with 1 author), but because writing can be such a lonely, discouraging endeavor. I am of the opinion that writers write because they can't not write without the risk of losing part of themselves. Whether professional or otherwise, I think a writer knows if they're a writer or not.

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  48. Hi Jody,

    What struck me most about his post were the behavioral examples used to distinguish "hobby" from "professional," e.g., "staring out windows and sipping tea; wearing bikinis on blogs and belching out words on Twitter." I think these statements are extremely generalized, and--whether it was your intention or not--it reads as an unfair judgement.

    Even if someone publishes, for example, a blog that is purely a personal project/for their own enjoyment, she devotes time and effort to it. Thought, energy, and spirit go into creating a blog post. And drinking tea can be a way to spur creativity, if done mindfully.

    Finally, I'm uncomfortable labeling any person's writing activities. Is that teenager who writes in the cafeteria about zombies, but who actually plans to be doctor, or lawyer, any less professional that the English major who dreams of the bestseller list? Writing is a gift. It's a freedom many people would like to have--in some places, people lack the freedom of expression we sometimes take for granted. So no matter what a writer's motivation, her work should be heard (if she wants to share it) and encouraged, not labeled.

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  49. I am particularly fond of belching in a bikini and if it lands on Twitter all the better. ;) I've been a hobby writer since I was 17 and personally am not at all offended. And if Jody pictures me in a bikini - all the better - I just hope I'm airbrushed 'cause I definitely need air brushing. Have you seen the stretch marks that come from lifting my tea cup. Although, that is where I harshly disagree with you, Jody, because in my world, it's coffee.

    Strappin' on my itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini ...

    Either way, I'm a writer. :) Great Post, Jody! Way to be a pot stirrer. I love it! :) LOL

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  50. I consider myself a professional writer, but seriously need to work on the "carving out time" aspect. I feel like I'm still in the learning curve and getting organized. I did, however, finally send out my first ms a couple weeks ago. My husband does NOT see me as a professional anything, because I am not bringing home any income. Well, one day, I will. Because I'm a professional.

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  51. In pharmacy school, I learned to become a pharmacist - not just meds & diseases & distribution systems, but professional image. I wore a white lab coat. Was it cute? Did it go with my outfits? Nope. But it conveyed the image that I was a professional to be trusted, so I embraced it. As a professional pharmacist, I keep my education current, work hard on the job, dress properly for work, and I don't badmouth my hospital.

    When I first started writing, I was a true hobby writer (which is wonderful, and a great place to camp for many writers). But when I seriously pursued publication, I adopted the same professional attitude. I keep my education current, work scheduled hours, dress properly for conferences and signings, and I don't badmouth anyone in the industry. When my publisher offered me a contract, they linked their name with mine. I don't want them ever to regret that.

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  52. Great comparison between the two. I think the main thing is perseverence. It's too easy to give up because it's so hard.

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  53. Hi Jody -

    Professional - with room for improvement. I think we build momentum as we stay on track. Most of my friends consider me a focused writer.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  54. I think that the examples used where slightly tongue in cheek and not to be taken literally. As a humor writer, I giggled, so thank you Jody!

    You will NOT see me in a bikini on my blog, and I'm good to belch to letter C much less the whole alphabet, but I thought them funny:-)

    I think we are all called to a certain level of "professionalism" and are accountable to ourselves and God only. For me, I write funny, that is part of my brand, so I try to keep my blog and my social/public interactions (minus my Annabelle updates of course) on the humorous side. So, yeah, you might see a photoshopped picture of my head on a bikini clad model, but that's about it:-)

    Great post, by the way, Jody! I view myself as a professional writer on a current hiatus that is trying to put my toe back in the water. I was a hobby writer for years and years though, and I don't think that is substandard at all. It's, in fact, quite a bit less stressful to be honest!!

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  55. Excellant blog, I am sure as others have written, some see me as a hobby writer but I am trying with help to view myself as professional. Maybe it will get easier when I finally upload my ebook for publishing.
    It is not the writing I struggle with its the webpages ( not techincal) the blogs and social media so neccessary to promote ourselves but can eat your writing time!

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  56. My current problem is that I have an excess of things I love. I love writing. I also love music. And I really love science. So, for now I am a hobby writer because I'm spending my time and energy on pursuing a career in science. Maybe that will eventually change. In the meantime I love the interaction I get to have with professional writers, published or otherwise. You are each an inspiration and an invaluable source of help.

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  57. Missed this post back in September -- just popped over now from the link on my mom's blog ("careann"). :)

    Because I hope to be a "professional writer" one fine day, I try to act as professionally as possible. I admit, though, that I still often treat work time as a "hobby writer". I figure, enjoy the freedom while I've got it, lol, because one day (hopefully) I'll have deadlines to meet!

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