In the beginning, I think most writing starts out as a hobby. Some folks are content to stay there, while others become interested in pursuing writing on a more professional level. While both hobbyists and professionals have their places - and both are perfectly respectable, I’ve found that many writers reside somewhere in the middle. That middle part is where I think one wants to avoid getting caught.
When a writer first submerges him or herself into the world of writing, the hobbyists are the first people he or she will most likely meet. While many established writers look down on the hobbyists, it isn’t fair to dismiss them entirely. “Laymen” and hobbyists often offer the best advice, as they represent the general audience and offer insights that editors, agents and publishers sometimes can not.
There is one potential danger though. Many hobbyists are very quick to offer advice, which is fine, so long as a new writer realizes that this is coming from someone who doesn’t write professionally. Many of these people have never dealt with agents, publishers, editors and the like. Many of them have not acquired the education to offer sound advice. Also, the rules of writing and the writing business itself is in a constant state of evolution, so someone who dealt with a publisher or acquired an education ten or even five years ago, isn’t really in the loop anymore.
If you treat your own writing like a hobby, so will everyone else. If writing is something you want to do professionally, then you have to be a professional long before you ever make your first dollar. For me, I have the best of both worlds. As a hobby, I write poetry, which I post on Facebook and very much enjoy sharing. Then there are my books, which I agonized over and am far more possessive with. I don’t want unprofessional advice on my novels. Of course, I have my select group of trusted readers (some writers, some not) whose advice I ask for and welcome, but I don’t share this work with just anyone.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my poetry as well, and am quite serious about it. I have written it my entire life and imagine I always will. But the truth is, there is very little space in the writing business for poetry, so I have never treated it the same as my stories. I’m not interested in being a professional poet, but for me, it’s wonderful to have the best of both worlds. I need to keep writing poetry as a hobby because I tend to get very serious about my other writing, and if I get too intense about it, it just stops being fun.
There is an entire sea of people out there who write. This is wonderful, but it’s important to know what kind of writer you are. If you want to be a professional, you need to act like one. You must do your homework and keep up on the ever-changing business of writing. You must always present yourself as a professional, treat agents and publishers as the professionals they are, and follow each agents’ submission guidelines without deviation. And above all, know whose footsteps you want to follow and be very careful whose advice you take.