Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Praise of Avocational Writers

Most of us started off as avocational writers. Many of us remain such. “Avocation” refers to “a hobby or minor occupation.” At least that’s how one dictionary of note defines it (Oxford Dictionaries). Merriam-Webster puts a little more welly in their definition: “An activity that you do regularly for enjoyment rather than as a job.” They further define the term as “a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation.” In other words, a vocation is what you do to make a living; an avocation is what you do to make a life. The etymology of the word is interesting. In its Latin roots is the combination of “ab-” (from or away) and “vocare” (to call). “Vocation” means to call; “avocation” means to call away.

I, like many writers, harbored a dream of writing fulltime—to develop my avocation into a vocation. I’ve been writing books for publication since 1995. If one counts my forays into articles, reviews, and other short form work then I have to push the birth of serious writing back to the 1980s. In 2004, I stepped away from the pulpit to pursue my desire to be a fulltime writer. I had just turned fifty and told myself that if I was going to step up to the plate, I had better do it soon.

I’m not a bestseller so the journey has been an adventure. There have been times when I had more contracts than I could handle, and times when I had no contracts at all. I am what people in the industry call, a working writer, meaning I can’t rest on my laurels, as if I had laurels to rest on.

Something odd has happened in my years of fulltime writing. I began to envy writers with day jobs. No, I didn’t and don’t want a day job. I don’t play well with others. Still, I noticed that I had moved from writing whatever I pleased to writing things I could sell. My first book, By My Hands was a pure work of love. It came from an eye-opening visit to Children’s Hospital in San Diego that still dogs my steps. If it didn’t sell, I wouldn’t shed any tears. I was writing for me. Sure I wanted to publish, but most of all I just wanted to prove I could finish it. Once done, it sat on my shelf for five years. Why? Well, that’s a topic for another blog post should anyone want to hear it.

Ultimately, I placed the book with Victor Books (later absorbed by Cook Communications to become ChariotVictor). I did another book in the series and I was off on the road of writing. During the years that followed, I maintained a day job until my age reached the half-century mark. I have loved being a fulltime writer, but I occasionally miss the days when I wrote what I wanted and not what was expected of me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of all of my 45 books, novels and nonfiction. I wouldn’t hide any of them from the neighbors. Still, there is an emotional difference between writing purely for the joy of it instead of fulfilling a contract. (Just to keep the air clean, I’ve appreciated and enjoyed every contract I’ve had.)

That’s a long and perhaps overworked buildup to this point: we should never be ashamed of being an avocational writer. Avocational should not be confused with occasional. The avocational writers I know work just as hard at their craft as those of us who get to wear PJs and slippers to the office in our homes. They’re commitment to the art, the craft, the business runs just as deep, and the fire of creativity burns in their bosom as much as it does in we “professional writers.”

I make no distinctions avocational and fulltime, between nonfiction writers and novelists, between short form writers and those who pen books. A writer is a writer is a writer, and if that writer loves creating worlds and touching minds, then I don’t care if they have a day job or not.

The word enthusiasm comes from a combination of Greek words that translated means “God within” (en = in, theos = God). If one’s enthusiasm is for writing, then that’s all that matters.

So, I salute you avocational writers. Stand up and take a bow.

Alton Gansky writes stuff.