Monday, June 3, 2013

Commitment and the GASP

Commitment to writing is a sticky issue for me. The old mantra “find a fixed time every day or several days a week to write” has not worked for me, but I believe that it is necessary to success and it’s something I am aiming for now that I'm back to working on my novel. Key to the idea of 'commitment' is participating in this writing group, to which I am new (this is my first blog post!). I live farther away than the other active members—about a 50-minute drive north each way—so that commitment is particularly challenging and yet sweeter because I do it.

Still, when I realized that one of the June meetings coincided with my annual pilgrimage to the Scholastic warehouse sale, I said, I’m sorry, I can’t make it that night.
I wasn’t happy about that, not only because I hadn’t been in the group all that long but also because I would be away on vacation for a couple of the summer meetings.

But it didn’t seem realistic to attend that night. The Great Annual Scholastic Pilgrimage (or GASP as it shall further be known) , while one of my favorite events of the year, is also one of the most exhausting. I’m a librarian in an urban school and our budgets are quite low; I double it with the profits from two Scholastic book fairs per year. The June Scholastic warehouse sale in Robbinsville is where I use the credit earned to select two or three hundred new books for our library.

I always go on a Monday, the only day with a light teaching schedule (5 classes as opposed to 7 and it only takes switching one class to leave school at 1 pm and head for the GASP, about a 40-minute drive south. Monday is also when our writing group meets. I could not imagine myself spending hours selecting books, boxing them and hauling them to my car until my back hurt, and then driving the hour and a half from Robbinsville to Madison for the writing group. Especially when the next morning involves hauling the boxes from car to library.

But then I thought about it. This is my seventh year doing the GASP. I know how the warehouse is organized—at this point I gasp with excitement at the prospect of buying new books for my students, not with anxiety at facing the city-size dimensions of the warehouse.  I know how long it takes me to select and pack up $3,000 in book credit: about four hours. So basically, I’m done by about six p.m. With that hour and a half drive between Robbinsville and Madison, I can be at the writer’s group by the time it starts, tired or not.

So there’s really no excuse for me not to go. So here I am, committing to going. See you then!

And then of course there is the everyday commitment of working on the novel, which involves a lot more time and even more brainpower than a bimonthly meeting, the drive notwithstanding. My work-life balance is always awry. Joining the group itself is not just for critique, but to keep me focused on the goal of working on and completing my novel.

Every time I think I’m ready to start committing to those blocks of time, something gets, or tries to get, in the way. Like last week. I hold two jobs—my official one as a school media specialist and privately helping to run a family business in rare-and-out-of-print books. It used to be just the one library job, plus jewelry-making and teaching on the side, but when Gov. Christie came in and started cutting salaries, my salary and raises decreased to the point where I couldn't support my family. I’m a single mother and the sole breadwinner.

So the balance shifted. I joined the family book business. I kept the jewelry business. I stopped writing the novel I had begun. Even so, three jobs was too much. As the book-selling became more lucrative, I stopped the jewelry work. Then I got serious about the novel again and joined the group with Ariel’s inspiration. So I’m back to three jobs—with the unpaid one, writing, being the most important to my well-being—and trying to find set times during the week to write.

Then last week, the discarded job—the jewelry—beckoned again. A local couple was opening a new store and seeking crafters on consignment, and had gotten my name. I couldn’t say no: I had a large stock I hadn’t sold and can always use the money. It’s tempting. I find jewelry making very relaxing and I’m good at it. I could consign a lot and keep making more jewelry. I could reorganize my tools, make repairs—in other words take on a massive creation and reorganization project which would take days and weeks. Whatever.

But this time, my thought was: I’m not going to let this cut into my writing. So I did none of those things. I agreed to consign, but stuck to keeping it as simple as possible. I took what inventory I had that did not need fixing or polishing or organizing. I set a limited range of price lists. I committed to delivering them and finishing the paperwork over a two-day period, and not let it drag into weeks. And the next day--today--I went back to writing.


  1. Yay, Helen! It's so easy to get distracted - to do what others want you to do or ask you to do. It's way harder to carve out that writing time -- to do the one thing you want to do. I'm glad you did it.

  2. Great post! (And nice to (virtually) meet you Helen!) I completely understand about how challenging it can be to make writing a priority. Congratulations! It definitely sounds like you are doing it! (Enjoy the meeting and your writing!)

  3. You have a very great balancing feat going here! I think if you can find even one hour to write, you'll be pleased. Don't neglect what gives you pleasure!

  4. It IS hard to find time to write. Everything is a trade-off. Lately I'm trying to write from 7:30-9:30 every weekday, between when my daughter goes to school and when I leave for work (instead of going back to sleep). But that means I can't stay up late watching "Elementary" with my husband or I'm a zombie. I wish there were just 6 extra hours in the day. 30 hours instead of 24, God. Would that be so hard to arrange?

  5. I actually make that same pilgrimage to the GASP but more for personal purchases for my family. I live about 15 minutes from there and could easily help you out if you needed. Gale knows me and has my email if you want to reach out. Your drive is inspiring! Oh, LOL, a double meaning : )

    Lyn Sirota

  6. Wow, lady you've got a lot on your plate! I hope it all balances wonderfully well for you, and you find yourself w/a finished ms in no time! As for the book sale, I'm going to a Half Price Books sale at a fairground this month, and I'm SO EXCITED!!! =)

  7. Lynn, I may take you up on that! I prefer browsing and selecting on my own (it keeps my focus) but given that I my day will end much later, I would love some company and help when it comes to packing it up, de-selecting and getting it to the car so my brain doesn't get too fried :)

  8. I used to love those trips when I was school librarian, Helen. I would get on a complete adrenaline high, probably tapping into some ancient hunter-gatherer part of the brain. I'm sure it will be a lot of fun, despite the inevitable collapse afterward.