Do you consider writing a hobby or a profession? This is a legitimate question for any author nowadays. Most likely, no two authors will ever answer this question in the same way. What I want to do is share my answer with you:
The hobby or profession dichotomy asks a writer to consider their profession in terms of whether or not they are able to make a living at it. My conservative guess is that fewer than ten percent (10%) of writers are able to make a living only by writing.
However, history gives us multiple examples of great writers who never earned a dime in their lives. Only after their death did the world “discover” their wonderful literary works. Let me name a few people:
William Blake (considered mad by his contemporaries), Soren Kierkegaard, Henry David Thoreau, Du Fu (Chinese poet), John Keats (his contemporaries hated his work), Emily Dickinson (poet), Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick), John Kennedy Toole (1981 Pulitzer Prize winner, he committed suicide 12 years BEFORE he won the prize)…
I rest my case.
To sum up, I am a professional writer not by my ability to earn a living at my “profession”, but by the dedication with which I pour all of my talent, skill, and ability into telling the best story I possibly can, while always seeking to grow as a writer. I think that is a definition of a professional writer (me) as opposed to a successful, commercial writer (which I am not).
I would like to finish by taking a closer look at one of these, “Famous-After-Death” writers, namely, Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1866).
This thoroughly original poet was born into a prominent family in Amherst, Massachusetts. She studied at Amherst Academy for seven years, and then attended courses at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. After that, very little is known of Dickinson’s life. She seems to have settled for a reclusive lifestyle tending the family home. Dickinson never married. It is said she never left her bedroom.
Although Emily Dickinson sent a few of her poems out for publication in local newspapers, they were either rejected or heavily edited. Her penchant for “slants,” unusual capitalizations, and short lines were a radical break from the conventions of 19th century poetry.
As she grew older, Dickinson would sometimes shut herself in her room for extended periods of time. All of her poems numbered, and many of which deal with the themes of nature and death.
Emily told her sister Lavinia to burn all her correspondences after her death, which Lavinia did. While we don’t know what went on in Emily’s letters, thankfully Lavinia didn’t destroy the 1,800 poems she discovered in one of her sister’s drawers.
Emily Dickinson died in 1886 due to Bright’s disease. Although unknown during her lifetime, Dickinson has become known one of America’s finest poets.
Finally, we must ask the question: Hobby or profession? Even beyond that question is an even more intriguing question: Does it matter?
— Thomas Jerome Baker (@profesortbaker) June 23, 2018