In its earliest meaning, amateur meant having a marked fondness, liking or taste for some activity. If we’re talking about writing, an amateur is someone who loves to write . . . or perhaps more accurately, writes for love.
It’s a marvelous concept, a life-affirming concept, doing something—anything—for the pure love of doing it.
As someone who earns her living with words, I admire—let’s face it, sometimes I even envy—amateur writers.
I work with such writers often, and usually they come to me because they want, they need to publish. A need I understand. I know well the joy of holding my own book in my hands.
Nonetheless, I often want to say to these passionate people, “Even if you never publish, maybe especially if you never publish, you still have the best part. You have the writing itself.”
For the amateur, the act of writing can be its own justification, the standards to be met wholly the writer’s own. There is freedom in that, real freedom. And even joy.
An analogy. I love to cook. I’m a pretty darned good cook. My meals are varied and interesting and healthful. But I am strictly an amateur. No restaurant would ever hire me, and more to the point, I would hate cooking if I had to make my living doing it.
I wouldn’t want to wake every morning knowing I must cook whether I felt like cooking that day or not. Nor would I want to cook day after day to please strangers, people whose tastes I can’t predict.
As an amateur, I don’t have to compete with other cooks or meet a standard someone else has set. I simply prepare food with pleasure and enjoy both eating and sharing my meals. And that is all the satisfaction I require.
Some days I can even announce, “We’ll be eating out of the refrigerator today.” Or “How about take out?”
That is freedom.
When it comes to writing, though, such freedom is long gone.
Each manuscript I produce must please, not just myself and those other few in the world who love me, but my agent, an editor, reviewers, librarians, teachers. And my readers, of course. The ones who stand on the other side of every page I produce.
Needing to please all those strangers alters my relationship with my work.
Don’t mistake me. I have never been asked to diminish my work to meet an editor’s demands. Every editor I have ever known wants the same thing I do, the best possible book.
(The only exception was a toy company executive I encountered years ago when I was writing booklets to accompany toys. Under a pseudonym, I’m glad to say. Every time she touched a piece she made it worse, and I grew so discouraged—and finally so exhausted—that I gave in.)
But toy companies aside, every editor I have ever worked with has asked more of my work, not less. Still, responding to an editor’s eye is very different from writing for myself and a few close friends.
Moreover, when I finish one project and sell it (if I’m lucky), I still wake the next morning knowing I must do it all over again. That I must come up with an idea that will have a reasonable chance of finding a place in the market and start writing again. Immediately!
I am grateful beyond words to be able to support myself with this good work, but you amateurs out there, you folks who can write purely for love . . . well, I know it doesn’t always feel that way, but you really do have the best part.
Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have some lovely steel-head trout waiting in the kitchen. And a recipe for mustard-dill sauce!
As to writing in order to buy that trout? It’s a privilege to sell my work, of course. It is also satisfying. Fulfilling. And wildly unpredictable. Occasionally so unpredictable as to be terrifying.
And every single day, it is good, hard work.
But writing for love?
Ah . . . I remember it well. It was the purest kind of fun!