Last week literary agent Nathan Bransford blogged about writers who get too tied up with writing being their identity. I don't really understand the purpose of his original post (it has since been edited to say 'don't let the publishing process define you') apart from the fact that it is unpleasant when writers spam you, send you angry emails and phone calls and generally demonise agents and the publishing industry. However, he did bring up a couple of points that I found interesting and, immediately upon reading them, offensive.
1. Is writing a hobby? While he has retracted this somewhat, in his original post he likens writing to a hobby such as stamp collecting. I am sure that loads of people write as a past time but just because you do something in your spare time doesn't mean it is a hobby. Writing demands a lot of time and input, even when you are not sitting in front of the computer typing out words, and to improve your writing you have to put in a lot of hours. If you want to get your work published - and change your writing status from 'hobby' to professional - you have to work hard at honing your craft, editing your work and sending it out, which all takes time and effort. At one time all authors were in the hobby category. I wonder if they had thought of it as such would they have ever got published?
2. The second point that caught my interest was his distrust of people who claim that 'writing is more important than oxygen.' Now, I don't know if I've ever used that phrase, but I know that I need to write. Whether anyone reads what I write or not, whether I get paid for my work or not, it doesn't matter. I have to write. The same way I have to draw and act. I need a creative outlet. If I don't, then it bottles up inside me and I don't feel right. From talking to other creative people, I know they feel the same way. It doesn't make me special, it isn't a virtue, it is just the way I am. I'm sure other people have to sing to keep an even keel or play sports. Does it make me sound over dramatic when I say I have to write? Is it something I would put in a query letter? No, because when you are contacting an agent it is for a business relationship and I don't think it has a place in a business letter. Do I expect my agent to understand my need to write? Most definitely. I would expect anyone who deals with creative people to understand their need to create and, at times their pretension about it. Understand and accept and help keep grounded in a business sense, not request that it be placed in a hermetically sealed metal box.
My point is, writing is a creative art. It requires part of your soul. It is part of your identity (part, not whole) and it is personal. However, it doesn't mean you can't distance yourself from your work, put your business hat on when needed, take criticism and behave professionally. Every creative profession is the same. I don't believe if you could separate it from you and put it away neatly that any great works of art would ever have been produced.
What do you think? What makes up your identity? Can you separate parts of your life that mean a lot to you and keep them strictly professional, be they job, relationships or hobby? Do we need to contact Mr Spock for some Vulcan advice on how to suppress our emotions?