Ever since I was a kid, writing has been my hobby. Until I won a competition to get a short film made. Suddenly, it was a chance at achieving my dream, and everything changed - I had to treat it like a career. Once I got my agent, and sold my first film script, it became my job. Don't get me wrong, I love writing, even more than ever. But it used to be my distraction from my dayjob, the thing that I did to relax.
When it becomes your job, it still *feels* like a hobby, because it's fun (well, when it's going properly, anyway). And because it's fun, you work longer hours, then you start working at the weekend, and then you're working non stop. I've always considered myself a lazy person, until I started writing full time, when I became the sort of frenzied workaholic I'd always assumed didn't really exist. I love doing it, so I'm happy to do it non stop. And that's a bad habit to get into. You need breaks now and again.
The thing is, it's still work. So you end up working yourself into the ground without realising. Take a break?! But I'm writing! This is fun! This IS a break!
So last year, I decided I needed a hobby. A replacement hobby. Something I could do to force myself to take breaks from writing. I'd been thinking about it for a while, and dismissed various ideas. I still play videogames, but that feels more like I'm being entertained than doing something.
And then, for some reason, I thought of getting a ukulele. I still don't know why. Maybe because I've never, ever been able to play an instrument (I took violin lessons as a kid, but had no interest in it, it felt impossibly difficult and weird). Ukuleles seemed fun, unthreatening, and a lot easier than guitars. And they sounded pretty damn cool in the hands of people like Amanda Palmer and Eddie Vedder.
I've always had a good musical ear, and used to recreate my favourite songs in ProTracker on my Amiga. Sometimes I'd make my own simple songs. But I've never had an actual musical instrument, something that required skill as well as patience and a good ear.
I got all excited over the prospect of it, but then thought maybe I was just being silly. Would I really take the time to learn it, or just get bored after 5 minutes? And ukuleles are probably way more difficult than I realised. Maybe it'd be better to just leave it. And so I talked myself out of it. But I kept thinking about it, on and off.
Then, later, Christmas morning arrived, with my main present from Jodie (who is the best person in the world, and always knows what I really need at any given time): a beautiful Mahalo ukulele.
I picked it up, strummed it - even out of tune, without playing a chord, it sounded lovely - and was utterly thrilled. I spent the next couple of hours not letting go of it, learning some simple chords, playing them over and over and over. It was fun, easy, and very forgiving of my clumsiness. Strumming a chord was relaxing, it made me happy.
A while later, I could play a (very simple) song, using four chords. Simple as it was, I'd never had that feeling before, of getting a tune out of a musical instrument. It was fantastic, such a joyful glow.
I don't expect to ever be brilliant at it, but that doesn't matter. It's a creative thing I can do purely for the enjoyment of it, which I think is really important. I don't *have* to be any good at it, there's no pressure, it's just for fun. Art for art's sake. But I'm definitely going to put in the time to learn more chords, to practise, to get better.
Because it's my new hobby.
Note: I found this website with its free e-book incredibly helpful for learning chords and figuring out what to do. They have song chords, links, videos and lots of resources for free, so if you're thinking of getting a ukulele, or have just got one, go and check out the site.