Sometimes people ask if I get paid to blog. The answer is “no.” I don’t get paid to blog, nor have I made more than $100 from all of my published short stories and essays combined. I spent two years writing two different novels that will never earn a dime (because I’ll never attempt to publish them). And I’ll spend who-knows-how-long working on novel #3 with no guarantee of publishing that one either.

So why do I keep going?

I keep going because I love to write. Because I hope to improve. Because I hope, one day, that my writing hobby will transform into a writing career. I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering “what if.” What if the next book would have been “the one?” What if I’d only tried harder?

The original question I sometimes face—Do you get paid to blog?—begs another question: Does that fact that I essentially write for free make the time I spend writing worthless? To tell you the truth, I even pay to write since I use a good chunk of my coveted babysitter time holed up in a coffee shop with my laptop.

Obviously I believe the time and money I’m spending is worth something. I can’t think of any hobbies that come without a financial burden of some kind. By investing in a hobby, we invest in ourselves. We invest in our longer-term happiness.

Wait, I hear you saying. Your kids don’t make you happy? Your marriage? Your friends and extended family? Well, yes and NO! NO! NO! Our relationships with others (spouse, kids, etc.) add meaning to our lives and enrich them in ways I couldn’t fully express. I believe those relationships make our lives worth living. But do they guarantee our day-to-day happiness and sense of self? Talk to the parent of the toddler throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, or the parent of the teenager who totaled the family car, again. What about the neighbor who’s getting divorced?

Let me illustrate further.

In January 2007, 2.5 years into my life as a stay-at-home mom, I realized that aside from giving up a paying job, I’d also let go of most of my hobbies. I’d become uninteresting and unhappy. I loved my kids, of course. And despite the years I spent worrying about my grades, getting myself into a good college, earning a master’s degree, and entering the workforce, I had no philosophical problem with the title of stay-at-home mom. But I did have a problem with the way I was spending my time.

Aimlessly wandering the aisles of Target and surfing was not a legitimate hobby. Returning half of those purchases and repeating the cycle several times a week was not a legitimate hobby. Television was the anti-hobby Reading celebrity gossip magazines was the anti-hobby. The way I exercised (begrudgingly and without variety), while essential to my mental and physical health, was not a hobby either.

My conversations with other moms reflected the prevalent parenting culture of “we live only for our children.” I was spending entire play dates talking about whether I should buy my son the size 24-month jacket or the 3T. I was giving heartfelt advice to others on similar “dilemmas.” I knew we were all made of more than that. At least I hoped.

I whined to my husband about how I’d majored in political science and Spanish instead of English literature. I bemoaned having earned a masters in teaching instead of a MFA in writing.

So start writing, he said. He made me a chart and held me accountable to writing an hour every day. In a year I wrote my first book. I knew I’d found it: my legitimate hobby. (I blogged about his excellent coaching/pushing here.)

One day when I have serious deadlines and perhaps—I can hardly say the words for fear of jinxing it—a publisher’s advance to attempt earning back, I’ll stop calling the writing a hobby and replace it with “job” or “career.” For now I’m grateful the hobby I began only 4.5 years ago has brought me this far: ten literary magazine credits; 34,000 views on a blog I only started eight months ago; guests spots on several blogs I admire; and two unpublished BUT complete novels.

So yes, I suppose I write for free. But the time I’ve spent writing has amounted to something priceless: pride and a deep personal joy that comes with practice, hard work, and doesn’t depend on anyone else. Others find that happiness in training for a marathon, playing an instrument, planning events or raising money for non-profits, photography, golf, yoga, crafts, gourmet cooking, dance classes, adventure travel, collecting wine, fishing, skiing, voracious reading, knitting, making jewelry, painting, sailing. The list is endless with only one thing binding them together: they don’t have anything to do with your role as a parent, spouse, or employee. They’re worth investing in anyway. Aren’t they?

How do you feel about the role of hobbies in our lives? Do you think people depend on their kids, spouses, and other relationships too much in terms of personal happiness? Can hobbies ever go too far? (Example, I’m very grateful that my husband doesn’t play golf!)

Looking forward to the discussion!

(Photo credit: 3rd Foundation via Flickr/Creative Commons)

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, a lead writing instructor at ModernWell in Minneapolis as well as ModernWell's book club director. She reviews 50 books a year on her blog, writes reviews for other sites, and has a friendship advice column at The HerStories Project. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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