Definitely Not Dabbling

I was thinking, this morning (it has be known to happen!), about the importance of my writing to me, and the still, as yet, undefined portion of my life I give to it.

Selfishly, I looked forward to September all summer and the less complicated period of time I have (in theory) between 9am and 2pm, Mondays to Thursdays. It is still unpredictable and disrupted but, in general, I should have a nice chunk of creative time on 4 school-day mornings.

Because of this feeling of freedom and relative safety from distraction on school days, most of my ideas happen just after the children have gone to school and college, and most of my best flow and speediest word tapping-out happens between 10am and 1pm on a weekday in term-time.
But in times of stress or a head filled with other responsibilities or when there’s a chance I may be disturbed, this creative time and flow is well and truly stoppered.

I felt an urge to write about this problem and the time-management skills needed to do something that – if it doesn’t involve payment or other people – surely must be viewed as entirely self-indulgent…?
When I hear the term ‘hobby writer’ it insults me and I hope that no one sees me that way. But, if I’m not making enough time for writing, not being paid for it, what else can I be?
Then, within the same few minutes as having these thoughts, I heard the sentence, ‘…he dabbled in the arts,’ on Radio 4.

‘Rachel dabbled in writing’? Yuck.

I absolutely do not want to be a dabbler-writer. I dabble in cookery. I dabble in photography on Blipfoto And I dabble in gardening.
How do I make sure I am not perceived as only dabbling in writing – a ‘superficial’ or ‘casual’ writer; one who merely paddles in the shallows?
How do I spend time concentrating on perfecting my art when I don’t have the status of publication or payment and be allowed to take myself seriously?
I can’t phone my children for a chat in school hours, and I don’t interrupt anyone else’s paid employment because that time is officially defined. And yet, what I want to do – what I think should be my work – is so tenuous in its status that it can be interrupted at any time by anyone and almost any thing.

All I can do, I have told myself this morning, is make up my mind to give myself control, give myself tasks, deadlines, allotted times, say ‘no’ to other things because I have work to finish (or even start!).
It’s difficult. Really difficult.
To get out of this mindset of appearing to merely dabble, I have to prove myself. To prove myself I have to do something that earns no money, pays no bills, washes no dishes and cooks no meals, answers no phones and is good for no one else but me until I have completed something. And when I have completed it, it still may be good for no one but me!

What a curse to have the writing bug and a need to be taken seriously; to feel I have bricks and grand plans and yet no guarantee that I will build anything worthwhile, and if I am right – or selfish – to take the time to construct something.

14 thoughts on “Definitely Not Dabbling

  1. This is right on the button, Rachel. I gave up full-time paid work in order to write full-time. I have earned a pittance from it and have not yet found a mainstream publisher for my novel. If you were to ask my friends and family what I do, they would describe me as ‘retired’. Other blogs on this tell us we validate ourselves as writers simply by doing it but if others can ask you to stop what you’re doing because it’s not a proper job and they have better plans for your time -where does it leave you?


    • Thanks for your comment Rob. I guess we all agree that it is a constant struggle and stick our heads up now and then, complain, and get back on with it again. And thank twitter for making it possible for us to find like-minded people 🙂

      (Luckily I spotted I’d typed ‘like-winded’ before I clicked Submit Comment!)


  2. I can relate to your post so well. I’ll tell you something as well, being published won’t neccesarily change all of how you feel above. Although I am only speaking from my own experience.

    We don’t have the sense of “going to work” so even as I type this the washing machine is whirring away next to me and the tumble dryer is going in another room, plus I have stripped the beds before allowing myself the pleasure of a read of your blog.

    If I want to really get “in the zone” I do so more effectively in one of my favourite writing places outside of the house.

    (In the time it took me to write this comment, my husband saw fit to place a brochure in front of me on the desk and described his new plumbing task. Aaaaaagh!!!)


    • Thanks Rebecca – and sorry I took so long to reply.
      I think having a place or places to write is a good way of defining the getting on with writing. It worked well when I did NaNoWriMo last year. It’s still so hard not to always feel available for anything when there is a lack of a clocking-on process and at least some sort of division by space marks that other person we try to become when to everyone else we look the same! 🙂


  3. Rachel….stop thinking so much! (such a pertinent ‘post’ – thanks for sharing)

    Leonardo da Vinci was a ‘dabler’, just check his profile on google.
    Look what happened when they found his dables; they uncovered a genius.

    Maybe this is your time to dable.

    So, if you’re going to dable, do it like it was a JOB, do it professionally. Do it to the best of your ability.

    ‘People ask you what you do, say it with pride: I DABLE, let them work it out
    iPod, iPad, iDable….it might even conjugate!

    Stay with it, it’s you.


  4. There’s nothing wrong with dabbling. It’s only by dabbling that you find out whether you enjoy something enough to want to devote MORE time to it. I’ve had lots of discussions on the topic of giving yourself permission to write. People who paint don’t feel the same way. This, I’m sure, is because onlookers can SEE something in progress. WORK is being done. With writing you can’t see the creative process happening. There’s nothing to show for it. And even when something is finished, writers feel they have to run the gauntlet of agents or editors to try to get the thing published…. or else they think it’s not ‘properly finished’. Artists don’t have to do this. Their work can be hung on a wall for all to see that it’s finished and available to share OR sell. With writing, people have to invest TIME in reading your work, and really, that’s asking too much. So we shut ourselves away telling ourselves that we’re WORKING, even though others may think we’re just sitting at a computer doing…. what? Well, what do they know.


    • You’re so right, Christine. I totally agree about the process and the end result and the comparisons with other forms of art.
      And, no, there is nothing wrong with dabbling. I feel now, though, that I have done the dabbling and am in deeper now, and the dictionary definition of what it is to dabble doesn’t suit my commitment anymore.


  5. If writing is work, it’s OK to call it that, even if different people call it different things. I’ve persuaded my hub that my initial efforts in fiction are an ‘unpaid internship’ of sorts — an investment for my future career (and as such quite modest compared, for example, to a full time degree). But, despite having written for a living for twenty years, my mum still calls ALL my work “playing on the computer”!

    Right, so… I’m off for a little play, now. :))


    • My mum wouldn’t dare call my writing ‘Playing on the computer.’ Not more than once, anyway 😉 I like ‘unpaid internship’ and shall be trying it out for size. 🙂 Now you’ve got me using loads of smileys, Martha…


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