Monday, April 4, 2011

Indulge your hobbies

In his book, The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell (also one of my favorite mentors) encourages writers to chase interests outside of writing.

“Indulge your hobbies,” he writes. “Feed your curiosity. Life isn’t just about meeting deadlines and seeing another one of your books on the stands; life is about doing and learning cool stuff.”

As a full-time editor for a hobby magazine, deadlines are a daily reality for me. On top of that are my personal writing goals. The pressure of meeting them is often daunting. I can’t begin to count the number of nights I’ve come home to an empty apartment and just stared at the wall; unable to think, unable to write, unable to move.

Last Christmas, I spent forever looking for the perfect gift for my mom — something unique to her and far from anything on her list. A comic book. My mom loves virtually all things Superman. She collected DC Comics as a kid, but gave them up when she got married and started a family. After looking around a bit, the clerk at Barnes & Noble told me I had to check out the newest series. Unfortunately they only had a copy of the first installment.

That’s when I remembered the little comic book shop across the street from a coffee shop I frequent. I’d been meaning to go in there forever, but kept putting it off, largely because I was, I have to admit, intimidated. People generally think of guys as the comic book readers; girls like my mom and me read them in the closet. Or so I thought.

Fortunately for me, my best friend is a bit of nerd and had recently reignited his interest in comics, so I had the perfect cover. The moment we stepped through the front door of Iguana Comics I knew it wouldn’t be for the last time. I didn’t just find my mom’s Christmas gift that day. I found a niche of my own.

I’ve since joined the shop’s graphic novel club where we meet and discuss a new graphic novel each month. I have met some amazingly talented individuals with backgrounds as broad and colorful as the adventures we read. I’ve encountered stories told in an art form that could never be given justice in plain black and white text. And I’ve become a part of a community where it’s okay to let my hair down and where I can tap into a source of inspiration that comes from being a part of a group who shares similar, yet infinitely diverse interests than mine.

Feeding outside interests is essential to writing well. If you’re not experiencing life, how can you convey it to your readers? If you’re starving and dehydrated, how can you feed and rehydrate others?

What is something you secretly enjoy doing? Find a community to engage in who shares that interest. It can be something simple like building Legos with kids (or adults!) or something on a bigger scale like contributing to a community garden. Whatever it is, get out there! Chase other interests.

I think Thoreau said it best: “How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.”


  1. So true, so true, Jen. We cannot write in a vacuum. Writing must come out of a life lived, not just imagined. I can come to all sorts of conclusions about truth by spinning wise thoughts around in my mind and seeing how they fit together, but unless I've seen how those thoughts play out in real life -- mine or someone else's -- I have no authority to write them.
    Getting out there in some way brings new ideas, new perspectives, new inspiration for what and to whom we should be writing.
    Terry M.

  2. Very true, Terry. I'm most productive when I'm living life rather than being a hermit. The imagination is a wonderful thing, but it can only get you so far. Good luck with your writing. I look forward to hearing more about your latest project!