WRITING: Vocation or Avocation?

Vocation: a career, a calling, a purpose in life

Avocation: a hobby, pleasurable pursuit

Several years ago on a temp job, one of the people I worked for told me that writing was not a vocation but an avocation.  In her opinion, writing could never be a vocation and she thought I needed to stop deluding myself and accept a job with her company.  It was a good job, and if she had not disrespected my writing and writing in general, I might have considered the offer.

American society tends to view writing, in general, as an avocation — everyone can write if they want to (frequently, “everyone” tries without understanding what’s involved) — in part, I think, because reading is an avocation.  Unless the reader is a book reviewer or literary agent or editor at a publishing house, then reading is part of the job.  Exceptions ruin generalities…. 

Writing is a business and other jobs depend on writers to write, e.g. publishers and their staffs including editors, book designers, and the marketing and sales staffs, booksellers, book distributors, paper manufacturers, illustrators, literary agents, book publicists, MFA programs, movie producers, movie directors and their actors and crews, TV producers and directors, actors and crews, staffs at newspapers and magazines, and so on.  

Writing is a vocation.  Like other arts, it is difficult to gain attention and establish oneself, i.e. publish.  Hordes of people in the country inundate literary agents and publishers with manuscripts every year, and the agents and editors plow through them with an eye to their publishability and salability.  They try to predict what the market (readers) will want based on past successful books and their subjective perceptions of the market…and whether or not they can get behind the book for the long haul (up to 18 months and beyond).  A standard and scientific process that guarantees their choices will prove right?  No, purely subjective.

I write.  I write as a fulltime job.  I see this job as having two distinct parts: writing/writing-related activities and marketing/sales/publicity.  Without the writing side, however, there’s no marketing/sales/publicity side.  A friction exists between these two sides.  If I am working on the marketing/sales/publicity side, I am NOT writing.  If I’m not working on marketing, I’m not submitting my writing for publication.  I need lots of uninterrupted time to write and complete stories or essays so that I have something to market.  Researching markets, writing and sending queries consumes a lot of time when done right.  There’s never enough time for writing….

At present, writers who choose to self-publish their books tend not to be regarded in the writing/publishing industry as “serious” writers.  After all, anyone with the necessary money can self-publish now…and do.  They publish family history, favorite recipes of a grandmother or a personal journal of a special trip, or family stories and print-on-demand publishers give them the opportunity (for a price).  These books often are not subjected to a rigorous editing process.   Sometimes, though, a serious writer chooses to publish through print-on-demand, sell the books out of his/her car, and sometimes these writers generate enough interest and sales to gain the attention of a publishing house.  This is a rare thing and costly in money and time to the writer.  I don’t recommend it unless you’ve got the money to burn or you’re exceptionally stubborn and extroverted (for sales).

Working in the arts — writing, music, painting, sculpture, movies, theater, etc. — is the only vocation I know that often requires the writer or musician or actor to also have another job (or be homeless and starve), fulltime or not, in order to live and continue their work in their chosen art.  Could you imagine a doctor needing to do that?  The CEO of a large corporation?  An advertising executive?  Or a lawyer?  A society suffers when it stops its encouragement and support of developing and nurturing the imagination which serves society most in the process of problem-solving and empathy.  Is the imagination too much fun in our work-productivity-oriented society?  Too introspective?  Tapping too much into our emotions, psychology and humanity?

For me, writing is a vocation and always will be, whether or not I’m working a second job.  Writing is hard, exacting work if one strives for excellence.  I love it.  And I would like my writing to be published for others to read and enjoy (I hope).


7 responses to “WRITING: Vocation or Avocation?

  1. I sit, pondering. What is my vocation?

    There are many things I enjoy doing, including my profession. There are things I’m good at (tonight, my profession isn’t one of them).

    I can’t think of anything that I care about so passionately that I couldn’t ‘not do it’.

    Sleep~! that’s it! oh, I guess not. ‘Cause I ain’t gonna get any of it in the near future.

    Back to pondering ….

  2. Most people don’t think about it — they don’t even wonder about it. I’ve observed that a lot of people who are passionate about what they do also don’t really think about it, they just continue with it. I think it’s important to enjoy work, be challenged by it and not bored, and feel what one does makes some sort of contribution, even in a small way.

    I’ve met at least one person who was so driven and focused on what he did that he wanted no distractions in his life, including people. That’s taking it a bit far, and for a writer, it’s unproductive. Stories are about life, writing is about life, and cutting all the elements of life out of one’s day does nothing for the writing. As frustrating, annoying, joyful and crazy as life is, and intrusive at times on a writer’s work, it’s still the raw material of stories, poems, movies, plays, and nonfiction.



    • What are the main reasons people should accept any activity as a vocation or job? People who write and treat it as a job act like they are at a job: they keep regular working hours (at the best time for them for writing), they produce product (books, short stories, essays, screenplays, plays, a nonfiction book); they market the product (to publishers, magazines, or producers): who then package the product and distribute/sell it to the general public. One could eliminate the middlemen and be the packager and producer oneself through self-publishing, either as a hard copy book or e-book. In the end, sales should generate income that accrues to the writer and the middlemen, or only the writer. Please also see my blogpost “Job Description: Creative Writer” posted on February 26, 2011.

      People who pursue writing as an avocation may follow the same process but do it only once, maybe twice, and perhaps not for the general public but for a small group such as family. They are not approaching the activity as a job and their expectation for sales and generated income are low to zero.

      I hope this responds to your comment! Thanks.

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