Q) I have been writing on and off for most of my life. Nothing published, and frankly, nothing close to being published. Recent conversations with loved ones (read husband and parents) make me wonder if I am wasting my time; I spend at least three or four hours a week on my writing. How do I know if I'm just wasting my time or not?
Doing what you love is never a waste of time. Yet from your question, I’m not feeling the love. If you spend three or four hours a week writing in a journal or dabbling with a short story, and you enjoy it, great! If you’re writing with the goal of being published, I’m afraid I have to be honest. You’ve got more than an uphill battle.
The single most important character trait of successful writers is drive. Good old fashioned work ethic, coupled with passion to tell a good story. One you are certain only you can tell. Even if you’re driven, there will be times when your story has you by the throat. You will wrestle with it in your dreams, it will distract you from your day job, and you’ll find you willingly skip leisure time in favor of stealing just one more hour at the keyboard.
Writers write for all kinds of reasons, publication being only one. If you write solely for self-expression, go for it. If you want more from your writing, you’ll have to give it more of your time and energy. Some days you’ll be wrung out from giving, and still, whether it’s a day later or a week later you’ll go back to it. You won’t be able to stop yourself.Amy MacKinnon
Wasting your time doing what? If you enjoy those three or four hours writing, then it's not a waste of time. I enjoy reading and baking, and even spend a fair amount of time doing so each week. Is that a waste? I take pleasure in each, a vastly underrated pursuit.
If, however, you're writing with the intention of getting a book published, then perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your commitment to your dream. Find your story and write it through to the end. Just that one story. Do so with intention (it will be published, it will be the best writing I'm capable of at this point, I will tell a great story with honest characters). Like everything else in life that matters -- relationships, education, career-- your writing demands a consistent investment of time and devotion.
As for your family and friends, think twice before sharing your writing life with them until you are published. In all likelihood, they perceive you as another person, not as a writer. And because they love you, they'll be quick to point out the many, many obstacles along your journey in an attempt to protect you. Your job as writer, as one who dares to dream big, is to see your way around all of the brick walls. Remember, publishing is persistence.
You don't. End of story.
I can't tell you how many times I've had near panic attacks wondering that very same question. Although, I can almost guarantee that I've poured even more hours into my writing than you have. What helps me is to think of the alternative to writing: what else would I be doing with my time? I would spend my evenings watching either Stephen Colbert of Two and a Half-Men, or likely both (I could tape one as I watch the other).
For me writing is as much about who I am and what my dreams are than whether I will be published this year, next year, 2012 or 2020. Writing helps me love myself and I long to become. Simply put, I am a writer, published or not. If you feel at all like I do, than, frankly, do you have a choice?
I have been a writer all my life, personally and professionally. The challenge of being a published author of fiction is its own unique beast. Ignore the others; listen only to yourself. If you want to be a published author, take writing as seriously as you have your professional career (workshops, books, network). Take it as seriously as you do your family (What to Expect, He Says She Says, playgroup wisdom, counseling). Take it as seriously as you do your garden, your decorating, your boat, your fishing, your skiiing, your tennis, your golf. There is a craft, skills that need to be acquired and practiced and polished. If you were to study for an MFA, your thesis would be "a book-length novel of publishable quality." That is your goal. The question is not when it will happen, but do you want to make it happen? If you answer yes, keep writing and revising and learning and moving ahead.