Guest Post: Writers, get a hobby

Sometimes writing for a living is like being a sex worker. You take something wonderful and just make it into work for money.

Uh-oh.  Now TheWriting is mad. He’s standing in the corner, hand on his you-know-what, saying that I make’im feel cheap.  Sorry.

But, really, Carleen and her grandfather are so right. And I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out my hobby and writing around the fact that I don’t have one. Oh, Carleen. I wanna come play in your garden.


I am a writer, which means I write. A lot. Almost every day. It is creative and (most of the time) satisfying to stretch my mind to find just the right word, image, feeling, thought to describe how I see it in my head.

However, after publishing three nonfiction books, two novels, and countless articles, essays, and blog posts, I’m starting to realize the importance of having something else creative to do. Something that’s just for me. A hobby.

My grandfather told me this years ago.

“You have a hobby?” Papa asked Dirk, my husband. We were in the driveway at my grandparents’ house and Papa was about to show Dirk his hobby. Dirk was considering how to answer. I whispered, “Say no. Just say no.” Dirk shook his head, intrigued.

Papa raised the garage door and we stepped in. Dirk started laughing. If what he saw before him was a hobby, then no, he didn’t have one.

More than 50 years ago my grandfather started collecting black sports and music memorabilia. Papa’s garage was a sports museum that rivaled the real ones. I’ve been to the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City. My grandfather had almost as many photos, videos, and books (about baseball, boxing, football and basketball) crammed into his one-car garage.

We looked around and just when Dirk thought he’d seen it all, Papa told him, “This is just the sports. We haven’t even got to the music.”

We entered the basement, which was part museum, part lounge and part shrine to the gods and goddesses of rhythm and blues.

My grandfather wore his heart on his walls, ceilings and even floors. Along with two jukeboxes, thousands of albums and 45s, there were hundreds of laminated newspaper stories, autographs and black and white glossies of people with names like Duke, Cab, Basie, Ella and Billie.

If it was music-related it was there: including saxophone-playing M&M figurines and a life-size cardboard Tina Turner. My favorite part was that, like a crow decorating his nest, he gilded his finds with shiny beads, mirrors, disco balls, and sayings like “Some of our best friends are old songs.”

Papa told us that day, “Get a hobby. Something to keep your mind busy. I could be down here forever and still not read all my books or listen to all my music.”

A few years later, Dirk and I dug up the grass in our urban front yard and planted drought-tolerant trees, shrubs and flowers. We weren’t thinking about hobbies, just that in a drought, a lawn doesn’t make sense.

But a funny thing happened: we ended up not just creating a garden, but becoming gardeners. In the spring, I’m so excited to get outside that I don’t stop to change out of my pajamas. I go out “just to pull a few weeds” and hours can go by. Like Papa and his basement, I could be in my garden forever and not learn all it has to teach me.

But we don’t have forever. Papa died four years ago. I’m grateful to him for many things. Perhaps most for teaching me to live passionately. And thankfully I got the chance to tell him that when I showed him my hobby. He and my grandmother came to visit for my birthday. The California poppies, fire witch dianthus and blue flax were in delicious bloom. Dirk and I walked my grandparents through the yard, telling them what was planned and what were happy accidents.

“You’re out here all the time, aren’t you?” Papa asked, smiling.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Beautiful,” he said, and I knew he meant more than the flowers.

I’ve had a hobby for six or seven years now. But it’s just this summer, while I’m working on two novels, that I’m realizing what a godsend it is to have something else to obsess about. Something besides characters, theme and plot that fills me with wonder. Something that stretches my mind (and body), but also rests it. I always respected my grandfather’s wisdom, but the older I get the smarter he seems. Writers, take Papa’s advice: get a hobby.


Carleen’s latest book is ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’, the sequel to her first novel Orange Mint and Honey. It is available exclusively at A Chapter a Month. Visit Carleen at her website, follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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