Confessions of A Horror Writing Hobbyist
It’s been about two years since a Horror Writers Association member’s blog post on the difference between Hobbyists and Professional writers captured a bit of attention. The flames from the social media lynch mob have faded, so I think it’s safe for me to say I’m grateful for the conversation, since ever since, I use the phrase, I’m just a Hobbyist, multiple times a week to cool my burning worries.
Calling myself a hobbyist relieves pressure. Keeps writing fun. Allows perspective. The pride I take in what I put out is to make my heart happy, not to pay for something essential. At best, I write to pay for the electric bill and enough coffee to keep me awake. Each novel is a bit of a crowdfund to pay for the editing, cover, and marketing of the next project.
My hobbyist horror writing thoughts are what I’ve come here to share. Save your questions for the end please. Thanks to Armand for the opportunity.
I don’t write horror to scare others, it just comes natural to me since I am the one who is constantly scared. Scared of the swiftness of random tragedy that befalls us under the watchful eyes of an indifferent God. Scared you’ll look me in the eye, scared I’m doing it wrong. Scared you are mocking me, right now. Scared that the finest humans of this world are destroyed by the worst in an everlasting genocide. Scared of that mole on my back.
Worth mentioning, I also have an immense capacity for joy. I smile often, am blessed with many riches, and my favorite song growing up (which still makes me happy) is Disney’s“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” There are plenty of days I can’t open my mouth without a song jumping right out of it.
In general, I find that horror writers with the darkest thoughts also have the most amazing hearts and are in touch with the fragile human spirit. Horror fiction presents some of the deepest questions of the human condition.
Then again, horror for horror sake, for straight out thrills and fun, is great entertainment. The Evil Dead is a blast, and artistic, but won’t be mistaken for philosophy. It still makes my life better.
One dream project of mine is a novelized version of The War of the Gargantuas. My plan is an alternating first person POV from the green Gargantuan to the brown Gargantuan. I suspect there may be copyright issues.
Being a hobbyist means having to hide my work in progress in a discretely named folder on my work computer. It also means that, in order to swim with the professionals, every page has to earn the right to be read. With so many books to choose from, it’s an privilege to have a reader choose mine.
One thing I’ve learned in this hobby is that Audiobooks sell better than paperbacks, you make more per sale, yet so many authors never bother. Plus, and most important, it’s fun. Perhaps the next best thing to seeing a film made of your book is listening to a narrator read it out loud.
I don’t understand writing clubs who measure word counts. I can see the power of group support, but I would slit my jugular if I measured success by word counts. My best days are often just finishing one paragraph, writing one scene, rewriting a descriptor, or simply lying in bed in that half dreaming state and I figure out how to fill a plot hole.
As I suspect happens with all writers, when my family reads my work, they always try to see themselves in characters that have nothing to do with them. They need to believe I wrote them into the story somehow and want to know if I’ve killed them off. What they don’t realize is that I’m a flaming narcissist, and that everyone in my stories is actually bits of myself, not them. Everytime I write it’s a bit of torturing parts of myself, and when I finally kills the last bits of my psyche, I’ll stop writing altogether.
I have learned how to cherish my one star reviews. Highlights of some of mine include:
“What a crapfest”
“Three Thumbs Down,”
“the author’s a psychopath” and “as sick as the characters in the story.”
“it’s dangerous to write these kind of books these days.”
The opposite of Love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. One star reviews written with passion have much more of an impact than lukewarm 3 star reviews that scream indifference.
After experiencing both, I find self-publishing much more fun than working with a traditional publisher, and more fruitful. The trick is to mimic the steps of a small publisher by paying for a talented editor and cover art, enlisting an army of beta-readers, sending out advance review copies to a street team, and picking advertising venues with care. Sometimes, I even write a query letter and submit a novel to myself. Then I respond 6-8 weeks later with a form letter saying; “Dear Mr. Matthews, Your project is not right for us at this time.”
Having less gateways to pass through as a self-publisher makes impatience a potential killer. Impatience and self-publishing were twins in the womb. When impatience was born premature she grabbed self-pub and yanked her out well before she was done baking.
When I feel pressure to write faster because this is the age of a new book every six months, I think of marathons I’ve run where I’ve tried to keep up with runners faster than me. My legs were ripped to shreds, my thigh bone jutted out of my leg, and I was tortured by the running gods the last few miles for my mistake. Run and write at your own pace, for the race is long, and only with yourself. No need to keep up with the Kenyans or the professionals, because you’re just a hobbyist. This suits me, for I have no writing pattern, but rather, tend to write in manic obsessive binges for days, and then go on keyboard silence for days to follow
In writer hell, writers are perpetually marketing their work to an audience full of only other writers, none of them buying a book nor reading a single word, but all of them praising each other.
Okay, time for questions. Yes sir, you in the back.
“Is Hobbyist just another term for a writer who can’t make enough money to quit their day job?”
Mark Matthews works in the mental health filed and lives near Detroit with his family. He is the author of four novels including MILK-BLOOD, which has just been optioned for a full length feature film and named a semi-finalist for the 2015 Best Kindle Book Awards. His first horror novel, On the Lips of Children, was published by Books of the Dead Press and was a number one selling kindle horror novel on amazon. Follow him on twitter at @matthews_mark or his blog at http://www.markmatthewsauthor.com