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An expensive hobby

May 2, 2010

Is writing your hobby or your job?

Mull this question over in your mind for a few moments as I explain a few thoughts, then we’ll return to it.

Yesterday I was reading the literary supplement of a national newspaper and on turning the page was confronted with a full-page advert for The Faber Academy, writing programmes run by publisher Faber & Faber.

Very interesting. Very exciting. Very expensive! The course I want to go on (and I assure you, this is not a plea for donations) requires a deposit of £1000 followed by payment of a further £2500. So £3500 in total for a one year part-time course. Given that tuition fees for part-time academic courses in the UK are only c. £1600, and even full-time courses stop around £3300, that’s quite a price.

More than I can comfortably afford, or justify, especially in the current economy.

But it got me thinking. The price is obviously so high not simply because of the quality of the course and the tutors, but to dissuade those with only a passing interest from signing up. The Faber Academy only want serious applicants (and there is an application process, including interviews and a critique of your work). By the end of the 6 months, you will have a completed first draft novel. They expect participants to attend the weekly lessons, and the periodic weekend courses, and to spend most of their free time working on the course. High demand and high expectations.

A hobby is something that you do for enjoyment in your spare time. You may incur expenditure on it (club fees if you play sport, materials and equipment), and you may set aside time for it. But a hobby doesn’t eat into all your free time, and if the expense begins to overtake the enjoyment in return, then you start to question why you are doing it.

For instance, my hobby is drawing and painting. Artist materials vary in price and quality. I can buy a landscape sketchpad for £1, or I can buy one for £25. I can buy a tray of watercolour paints for £10, or the same number and colours for £60. It all depends on the quality versus the return.

I have a preference for Winsor & Newton paint. They sell two types of watercolour, Cotman and Artist. Cotman is the cheaper of the two, using less expensive pigments, with a trade-off in quality and range of shades. I get the same level of enjoyment from painting with Cotman watercolours as I do from Artist’s watercolours. For me, as a hobbyist, it makes sense to buy the Cotman type. Were I painting pictures to sell, or had been commissioned to paint something, it would be better to paint with the Artists range, and recoup the cost from the buyer.

If you treat something as your job however (whether or not it actually is) then you are more willing to incur expenditure, because there is an investment aspect to it. An expensive course, such as the Faber Academy course, is a skills investment; training for the long-term.

When writing is your job, a new computer can be justified as a necessary tool. When writing as a hobby, you can get by with the existing computer, or switch to pen and paper, because unless you need a new computer generally, then it doesn’t seem something you can justify for a few hours a week.

And so back to the starting question, and it isn’t a question about earnings, but about attitude. I took a look at the costs of the Faber course, and realised it wasn’t possible yet. I viewed it as expenditure rather than investment. For me, that is a sign that I’ve slipped back into viewing writing as my hobby, not my job.

How do you view your writing? Is it your hobby, or your job?

While opting not to sign up for the Faber course, Paul is signing up for an art certification course, so maybe for the time being his hobby and his job have switched places!
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6 Comments
  1. May 2, 2010 3:58 am

    I treat writing as my job and as such, I have a pretty comprehensive professional development schedule – which includes attending courses, talks, writers festivals and investing in other things such as watching movies and reading books.

    For someone like me (and like you) even treating writing as a job, an investment, the equivalent of around A$10,000 is a hefty sum. I understand the idea of investment and how you have to outlay money to make money, however without a taxable wage as writer, a course such as this is beyond my reach (and my ‘patron-of-the-arts’ partner) and would not be claimable back as a tax deduction for professional upskilling.

    Until I can afford something in this ballpark – I’m taking the opportunity to sit in on one day workshops and masterclasses where I can. Upskilling that way. My friend who has her debut novel released in June this year – maintain she learnt more through the one day Queensland Writers Centre courses than she did in her two year Masters in Creative Writing.

    Money should never be an excuse not to invest in your writing. There are many other cheaper and perhaps as effective avenues to make an investment in yourself.

  2. May 2, 2010 4:54 am

    I used to consider writing as a hobby; now I’m striving for it to become something more. Certainly, not a full-time job, not at the moment anyway, but perhaps a part-time one. And I can understand that this or any other course would be an investment. I did do a basic writer’s course with the UEA just over a year ago and profited from it a lot. But you have to be able to afford any investment you make, if it is to pay off. If you can’t, then maybe waiting is the best option or looking for other opportunities. I don’t think the fact that you do not or cannot invest in this at the moments detracts from your taking writing seriously.

  3. May 2, 2010 5:43 am

    Great question. And it’s important not to mix these things up, or you could end up spending a lot of money only to find that you’ve wasted it, and your time.

  4. May 2, 2010 8:57 am

    To be honest, I’m not yet sure if I treat my writing as a hobby or as a job. Probably something in between, as my full time job still gets the priority… I’m slowly working towards making my writing at least a part-time job, as I’m very serious about it.

  5. May 2, 2010 11:39 am

    This is a subject that has been near and dear to me for a while now. I’m a sucker for writing books–so naturally I buy lots of them. I love ebooks too–so I’m always buying them as well.

    I have seen courses that are thousands of dollars and retreats for writers or self-motivation or coaching or whatever that are simply too expensive for me to even really think about.

    BUT I can find so much stuff out there for free. AND I don’t read all of the writing books I buy.

    SO, my decision–and I just made it recently, mind you–is that I’m going to spend some time with what I have and implement some of the advice I can get for free that I like. And when/if money comes in, I’ll look again at those classes. At that point, they may or may not be needed.

  6. lostlibrarygirl permalink
    May 2, 2010 8:10 pm

    A valid question. I’ve just started writing again. At one point in my life, I was all set to begin working on a Master’s degree in Creative Writing. Like you’ve pointed out, I couldn’t justify the cost of a major university for what I’m not sure would turn out to be a job and not just a hobby. That was in 2004. Now, 6 years later, I’ve realized that I didn’t have to give up writing just because it couldn’t be my “job”. Now I have time and energy to pursue writing as a hobby. I’ve started on online journal (blog) and finally feel like my creative self again: http://www.rachelspillowbook.blogspot.com Thanks for making this important point to all the hopeful writers out there. Knowing it can be just a hobby, with the opportunity for a job in the future, makes writing seem more fulfilling.

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