Saturday, July 28, 2007

Helpful Hobbies

I had such a good time reading the entries for the Fruit, Strange & Otherwise giveaway. I'll never look at billboards, tabloid headlines or geese the same way again.

We put the magic hat to work, and the giveaway winners are:




Winners, please send your full name and ship-to info to, and I'll get these books out to you. My thanks to everyone who joined in.

Writing is regarded by many outsiders as a hobby, not a career. This doesn't change when you turn pro. You can work twice as many hours as your spouse, and slog your way to the top of the industry, but not having an office, 9 to 5 hours or weekly paycheck somehow invalidates your labor as "a real job."

Some writers do view their work as a hobby, and there's nothing wrong with that. One of the great things about writing is that you can do it however and whenever you like.

As for me, people in my family stopped calling my work "Lynn's little hobby" when my books started showing up in airports and grocery stores. The only thing about my writing that ever genuinely impressed my teenager was finding Night Lost being sold at Wal-Mart. Evidently when you make it to Wal-Mart's shelves, you're the real deal.

Writers do a lot of things besides write, and we get as much pleasure out of our hobbies as anyone else. I've noticed two things about writer's real hobbies over the years: 1) there's almost always a creative aspect involved and 2) in some significant way they help with writing.

I think the most common hobby is some form of art. Whether a writer collects it or creates their own, art stimulates the imagination, provokes emotion and thoughts, and contributes to a creative environment, both inside and outside the writer's head. I'm very visual, and painting and sketching have helped me flesh out and nail down characters, settings and scenes. I put together sketches or digital art composites of character models to show my editors what I think a certain character looks like (very helpful during cover art conferences.)

Book binding is an interesting hobby as well as a labor of love, but it's also educational and an art form all on its own. I took one class in Japanese book binding and became so fascinated with the process that I've made most of my journals, private editions and gift books ever since. Being able to make my own books got me in touch with my work in a very different way, too. It's nice to be able to bypass the publishing process and do everything myself.

Many writers become serious book collectors. Collections range from rare editions to covers, authors or genres (I like to collect my favorite authors' complete works.) A few years ago I joined LibraryThing and began cataloguing my personal library online, and have since met some terrific collectors, swapped books with them and found some great new resources for rare editions. Being able to collect all the works by one author has given me a lot of insight into how writers change and grow over the course of a career.

There are probably as many types of crafts out there as there are writers. Whether you're a quilter, knitter, jewelry-maker or potter, your chosen craft allows you to express yourself in the same way a traditional artist does while still making something useful. Crafts are also an excellent way to work off writing- or life-related frustration. I often try crafts that I've chosen to be my characters' hobbies to get a more hands-on experience of what they do.

Do you guys have any hobbies that help you in some way with writing? Tell us about them in comments.


  1. Aside from the usual stress-busters for me (cross-stitching, gardening, reading), I game. Role-playing games. Been running games for years, so long that we are WAAAYYYY beyond the cliche D&D. We find a system that fits our idea for the game and then I craft the entire game myself.

    Along the way, I've learned that crafting a game is very much like plotting a book, with about as much control over my PC's as I have over my characters. Need action, need goals, need conflict and need several strong secondary characters (NPCs) as fully realized as the player characters. I've learned which way my players will jump most of the time, just like my characters, but they still never cease to surprise me, just like my characters.

    Another fun thing about role-playing is that I can explore worlds and characters in gaming that I never would in writing, because I don't spend time writing fanfic, but I do run a Hogwarts game and a DC Universe superhero game. It's fun to trot Snape or Lex Luthor out in the game and see what I can do with them while the players figure out whether they are in over their heads (they usually are).

  2. Congrats to the winners!

    That bookbinding link is just evil. I don't need another hobby.

    For me, sewing gives me quiet time. I feel terribly guilty when I'm not doing something 'constructive,' be it reading/writing etc, but sewing is 'constructive.' I've tried knitting, but it doesn't truly appeal to me.

    The conclusion you'll probably draw from this is that I'm mad, but that's okay. :)

  3. Anonymous12:16 PM

    I'm a belly dancer, have been at it for five years now, and I love it. When I'm blocked and nothing's coming to mind, I sometimes get up, put in a CD, and dance until I'm breathless. That usually does the trick.

  4. Working with computers all of my career, I still have them at home as a hobby too. Now am trying to learn to play guitar and piano. I played a little guitar over 30 years ago, but I have forgotten most of what I used to know.

    That's about it for my hobbies.

  5. For me it's photographing. It's a visual art that ties into the writing.

  6. Anonymous4:31 PM

    I sculpt character-figures from my books, and also compose on the guitar now and then. I need this kind of stuff in my down time between books to remain creative but also not be at my desk, specifically.

    I'm guessing my pursuit of the perfect enchilada in New England (a difficult quest) is not quite a hobby, even though it feels like one.



  7. May, you're not crazy. I like to do a little sewing as well. I usually do it when I've been "treasure hunting"--hunting through thrift stores for something I can turn into something fun to wear, usually for the munchkin. A dress I saw at the Salvation Army thrift store ended up in Rules for Life. (And yes I even had the character buy it in a thrift store.)

  8. My family wishes I would pick a hobby and stick with it. I love to drag them into what ever I am doing. Last month it was sewing and I made all kinds of crap for their rooms . Before that it was the garden and flowers. It would be ok if I kept up with it but I can look out my door now and see I need to weed and water the plants. My son is also complaining about all the pillows I made for his bed. The pillows look good when they are on it. This does not help my writing but it drives my teenagers nuts and that’s a good thing.


  9. I'm a photographer. I find that taking pictures makes you more aware of your environment--you're always looking to see what's good to photograph. It also provides a massive source of inspiration. Page through your photos and you'll find an expression or an action or a place that can help you with a difficult scene, or help you visualise something.

    My husband is also a photographer and we share ideas and expertise. One of my fun games when we're out is to try to guess what he's photographing at any given moment. Usually a seagull!

    At the moment, I'm really into photographing reflections and it's amazing how many you find once you start looking for them. You can see a few of my photos in my xanga, which I started recently. Only five "reflections" so far, but I'll be adding to them. "Car on car" is my favourite.

  10. Anonymous6:47 PM

    Scrapbooking led to collages. I sketch when I can't see the exact shape of my character's nose or paint a background idea.

    I do just about any type of crafting you can think of. Bookbinding is fascinating. I'll have to try that since I love journals.

    I sew when my current gives me a puzzle to solve. It usually reflects (in color) the action/feeling of the story. I never really thought about making them into full quilts though.

    Fantastic post, thank you!

  11. I take photos. As well as being a creative outlet, I'm building up a collection of useful photos e.g. every time I've been on a tall ship, I've photographed every bit from every angle; but I also go for trains, stables, town streets, architectural details, any potentially useful

    Similarly, I've started collecting old postcards of street scenes & buildings that are different in style to the ones around me. Also, those racks of brochures intended for toursts, can provide some interesting material (histories of towns, photos of interesting buildings). Any ones relevant to a current project get stuck on the wall/cork board near computer

    History is useful too. Lots of raw material or inspiration for characters, settings, events, as well as different attitudes & perspectives on the world.

    My longest running hobby is collecting medicinal herbs, which probably explains why I always have a doctor/healer character.

    Now I'm wondering how I find time to write.

  12. Congrats to the lucky winners!

    I've got so many hobbies I don't know where to start. :) The main thing I do is read - a lot. Other than that, I also love drawing and painting, although I'm not sure if it's the art that helps the writing or vice versa. I also make scrapbooks of magazine and newspaper cuttings that catch my eye - whether it's a picture or an article - and I find these are really good for giving my muse a kickstart. Unfortunately, the piles of paper littering my room drives my mum crazy!

  13. I am a knitter. :) I am also a project-finisher with an obsessive personality, so my knitting interferes with writing as much as it helps.

    Helpful: Colors instead of words, visual and textile stimulation instead of mental, are nice changes of pace. The rhythm of stockinette stitch, the physical shape of a sock coming together, help shake loose the creative clogs.

    Hurtful: Once I start a sock, I want to finish it as soon as possible! Knitting sometimes means a week break from writing.

  14. Anonymous9:45 PM

    Wow! You just gave me a link for a book on the back-burner, the art link. Thanks!
    For my current WIP I started working with glass -- beginning with glass fusing and moving up from there. I had great Christmas gifts because of it and loved the feeling of snapping glass spaghetti between my fingers. It's really a fascinating medium. I haven't done much with it for a few months now and am getting excited again just thinking about it.
    I worked as a reporter for several years and was always sort of surprised at how much I liked the visual aspects of the story, whether it was editing tape in broadcasting, or laying out a page in print. But as I meet more writers I know I'm not alone. But the first art I loved was drama, so I guess that makes sense.

  15. Anonymous12:26 AM


    Once upon a time, I had a brown belt but then I got pregnant and by the time I was past morning sickness, the instructor and my OB had serious misgivings about me rejoining until the baby was born. The OB, I would have worked with, but the instructor wouldn't let me back. And I just never got back into it until two years ago. I'm slowly working my way back up but it's amazing how simply participating in a few one on one actual sparring sessions can help with action scenes. Some combinations? They just don't work and I snicker whenever I read them. ;p

    And I love to take pictures. love it.

  16. Congrats to the winners!

    I'm also a roleplayer but I've actually noticed that being the gamemaster can hinder my writing. As a GM I design the setting, the non-player characters, and the starting point of the adventure. The players will take care of the "plotting" by deciding what their characters will do, so I don't have to plot any adventures.

    I used to go horseback riding and I used to own a dog, and both are experiences that I can use in writing.

  17. Anonymous10:41 AM

    Quilting. I'm a certified fabric junkie, especially batik, and nothing relaxes me quicker than cutting up fabric. Several people have commented I make quilts the same way I write - a bit of this, a lot of that, and some other random stuff that surely won't work... yet it does.

    I used to do other things, draw, crochet, embroider... but I've been a serious quilter for about 17 years now.

  18. I'm an obsessive hobby starter. I can't do anything a little. I have to buy every book about it, go to every website. Fill myself all the way to the top, then it's nothing until the next obsession. It doesn't seem to matter what the obsession is, as long as it can be done to extremes. :)

    Unfortunately, I do this with research, too, which means I've always got way the hell too much info on the most obscure topics, and 99% of it isn't necessary for the book.

    It does, however, make me really good at Trivial Pursuit.

  19. Anonymous5:06 PM

    I find knitting helps me free up my thoughts. Not so much with complex stitches, but simple, rote knitting allows my hands to work while my mind concocts situations. Usually dialog will come almost unbidden that way.

  20. I think all of us incorporates some small measure of what we learn or enjoy into some aspect of our writing.

    I enjoy working across various mediums, including acrylics, charcoal & oils.

    I sculpt in clay, wood and stone. I don't like welding so no sculpting in metal but I do use a variety of metals in my jewelery making.

    I first started bookbinding as a way to see how my work would actual look as a book. It's also great for creating a swatch book for fabric swatches, and or fiber and yarn swatches.

    Another medium I work in is fiber. I spin my own yarn for projects I weave, knit, or crochet. I love getting raw fiver, silk, alpaca, cottons, even various grades of wool and creating my own unique yarn, then incorporating the yarn into a handwoven piece for the home, or something I wear. It's the same with knitting. Nothing is better than creating a knit garment f your own design out of yarn you spun.

    My technique in creating tapestries and rugs follows more Native American and Middle Eastern traditions creating a piece which is reversible instead of the European style of leaving threads out the back (wrong side of the piece).

    I've never thought of my art as a hobby. But among my hobbies I count computers, researching science, technology and ancient history.

  21. I'm trying to learn how to draw, sketch, paint, and improve my digital art. I want to be able to create my own "covers" for my free e-books (coming soon to a blog near you! ha!).

    I also scrapbook. It's made me a better photographer. I really pay attention to composition and light. Yet, the truth is scrapbooking for me is all about the story. Scrapbook pages without journaling are pretty to look at but they leave too much unsaid and unknown for my taste.

    Of course, reading is more of an obsession than a hobby, but there it is.

  22. No one's probably reading this anymore, but personally, I ride horses. Dressage forces my mind to focus, but now that I think about it, it's just as creatively structured as playing music or painting on a canvas.


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