michelle law wonders if writers should have a life outside of writing…
Last week, someone asked me what my hobbies were and I found my responses depressingly limited. “Swimming?” I suggested, weakly, thinking of how the last time I was did laps regularly was over six months ago. “Eating. Um. Reading?” I offered, aware that this was a bit of a cop out as a writer and bookseller – both professions that require a lot of reading. As I rattled off the very limited list of extracurricular activities in my life, I feared that I was a boring person. Didn’t interesting people go hang-gliding, or play recreational sports, or cross-stitch in their spare time? That was ‘their thing’, their point of interest, and I couldn’t identify one of those in my own life.
In the hours following this conversation, I found myself feeling increasingly guilty about my lack of hobbies. What we choose to do in our spare time defines us, right? It gives us a clear indication of what we actually love to do.
But for me, that’s writing.
It’s all I do. My life is comprised of deadlines, reading, pitching articles and ideas, more writing, editing, and at the end of it all, more and more writing. When I finally file a piece or complete a large project, all I have the energy to do is stare at the ceiling, watch trashy television, and drink. It’s a bit like being at university, but for the rest of your life.
Writing is all consuming, and that’s not something I say in a “holier-than-thou-my-plight-as-a-writer-is-great-and-terrible”way, but simply a fact. Writing consumes, and making a career out of it takes endless stores of energy and time. So as a freelance writer who spends almost all of her time dedicated to writing and literature, including those jobs that supplement my income (tutoring writing at university and working as a bookseller at Australia’s best indie bookshop) any spare time I have to myself is a precious opportunity to do absolutely nothing. Because reading and writing require such an intense level of emotional and mental energy, when I have time to myself, having a hobby feels like a chore.
There are a ton of writing books out there on why writers write, but one I’ve particularly loved reading is Why We Write edited by Meredith Maran. In it, 20 renowned writers – including Susan Orlean, Ann Patchett, and Meg Wolitzer – talk very candidly about the equal exhilaration and heartbreak of writing, and what they love and hate about it. (The back pain is the worst.) A lot of the writers in it echo my own feelings towards writing as a profession and vocation.
Some days, when I feel the lure of stability, when I think of my dad’s suggestions for me – fresh out of high school – to become a doctor, or lawyer, or more bafflingly, an anchor-woman, I imagine it would be nice to have a job where you can depend on a salary. It would be nice to have clear cut weekends and holidays. I would be nice to have hobbies. But as I’m learning, through my own practice, and from chatting to other writers about their own careers and life situations, I’m realising that I’m not alone in being hobbyless. Personally, being hobbyless means that I can remain focused, and I don’t feel guilty in the slightest about that.