Is this my hobby or not? Some navel-gazing

About a year and a half ago, I was chatting with a friend. This person had been mostly supportive of my writing in the past. During the conversation, however, he dismissively referred to writing as my hobby.

Flash forward to January of 2019, when I realized that he might have been, at least in some ways, right.

At the time that I had that conversation, hearing that anyone who had read my work and knew how much time and effort I put it into it called it a “hobby” was shattering. I was cut to the quick. I put so much work into my writing, sacrificing immense amounts of personal time to make new things, sometimes at the expense of my mental and physical health. All of these things are still true. And yet, despite all of that, I have historically been very bad at all of the business aspects of self-publishing, which is where my work is predominantly featured.

This is largely driven by the face that my primary occupation is not writing and is pretty intensive and I also like to have a social life. Still, if you’re going to do something you should do it well. I want to consider my output to be professional in nature.

So I began a long journey of introspection, one during which I worked to define what would make my writing “professional” for me, where the boundaries were, and what my goals were longterm. I’ve more to say about where I ended up with that, but for today I wanted to recommend Kim Headlee’s book The Business of Writing. Specifically, I want to recommend this checklist (helpfully provided by the IRS and recommended by Headlee, with some variations) for anyone considering a creative career as a side hustle. These questions are specifically designed to help with your taxes, but I think they have been very helpful in determining the answer to may original question: Is my writing a hobby, or not?

  • Whether you carry on the activity in a businesslike manner and maintain complete and accurate books and records.

  • Whether the time and effort you put into the activity indicate you intend to make it profitable.

  • Whether you depend on income from the activity for your livelihood.

  • Whether your losses are due to circumstances beyond your control (or are normal in the startup phase of your type of business).

  • Whether you change your methods of operation in an attempt to improve profitability.

  • Whether you or your advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business.

  • Whether you were successful in making a profit in similar activities in the past.

  • Whether the activity makes a profit in some years and how much profit it makes.

  • Whether you can expect to make a future profit from the appreciation of the assets used in the activity.

Check out Headlee’s book, and I’ll be checking back in soon with more about my journey.


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