Friday, December 19, 2008

The Economics of Hobbies

Writing, I have always maintained, is a great hobby for unambitious skinflints. It's idiot-simple and dirt cheap; pick up a notepad at the £1 store, 'borrow' a pen from someone, and Bob's your uncle. Even if you're a bit more technically motivated, a PC, or even a laptop, is not going to set you back too much. And once kitted out, you can practice your hobby most anywhere you like: on the bus, in the coffee shop, during your gemological exam, etc.

Compare this with other hobbies, even something as innocuous as arts and crafts; talk about a constant money drain, and you really can't whip out an easel and pastels on the 451 Flight from Heathrow to Newark. And when you consider how much SCUBA diving, parasailing, wine collecting or joining a Dungeons and Dragons Cult can cost, writing, as a pastime, begins to look very attractive.

If you decide to go pro, your expenses will surely rise, but that will only include postage, office supplies and the occasional fee for a short story contest. Again, not a huge drain on your budget and, unless you become irrationally obsessed, your partner will appreciate that you're not funneling money into the local pub, or traipsing around the countryside dressed as Gildor the Green searching for Prince Bartog and his army of Gnomes.

The main problem with going pro is that you are unlikely to make much, if any, money. Never mind the success stories you hear about on the news; they are news because they so rarely happen; I hear about people winning the Lottery all the time, but it doesn't make me want to go out and buy a ticket.

Even so, after a lifetime of happily dabbling in writing, I decided to go 'pro' six years ago. This brought about many changes. If you're going to treat something seriously, you need to start tracking production, output, markets and all that boring stuff. Plus, if you're a geek like me, you set up a spreadsheet charting how much time you spend on each individual project.

I didn't mind watching the hourly totals rise (in fact, that was the point) or the budget deficit grow (that's just to be expected) but after a time, I felt I should be bringing something to the "Income" column. My goal was to make some money by the end of year four, which was purely an arbitrary decision based on an article that said if you haven't made any money after four years of trying, you probably should take up another hobby.

So year four arrived, but not any money. On New Year's Eve of that year I received an E-Mail from a webzine accepting one of my articles. For $5. With just hours to go on my self-imposed deadline, I became a professional writer. Since then, I've made a bit more. But not much.

It is because of my obsession with record keeping that I can reveal these numbers. They are not pretty, but I suspect they are remarkable only because they are so optimistic; I'm sure many others have fared worse.

Since I resolved to "take my writing seriously" back in 2003, I have clocked a total of 1,713 hours. My expenses have been just over £2,400 (that may sound high, but it's a lot less than other hobbies cost – just £300 a year – and it includes my ill-fated foray into self-publishing; without that expense, my outlay comes down to a more reasonable £230 a year). In all that time, however, I have earned just over £300, making my hourly rate somewhere in the neighborhood of £019 an hour. Not exactly something you want to give up the day job for.

Still, in terms of pure job satisfaction, you can't beat it, and it certainly makes improving one's performance an easy task.

My goal for next year is to make £0.25 an hour.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting@

    I wrote a book of short stories that's in local libraries. I'm told I get 4p everytime it goes out. How do I claim this money? Yhey must owe me a fortune by now, at least 84p.

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  2. Ken, not sure how you would go about claiming that, but if you did, it might bump you up into a higher tax braket and that could work against you ;)

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  3. mike, in this reflective mood I guess your cup is half-empty right now? But you have the appearance of durability, and that must be half the battle, wouldn't you say?

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  4. Billy, I'm not really a half-empty glass type of guy, I just like to keep my expectations low. That way, when somethng good happens, I'm pleasantly surprised.

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