In Which I Become A Full-Time Writer

Some people talk about the compulsion to write, or the compulsion to read. I definitely suffer from both of those (the latter more often than the former, regrettably) but my true addiction is giving books to other people. I give away my books, wheedle copies of other people's books away from them for someone else, and have accounts on every swap site - all in the service of getting books for other people.

So that's why I've been working in a library for almost 15 years. 

Unfortunately the school district I work for is in a serious financial crunch, and it's come to a point where my job in the library was the one in the crosshairs. I'm honestly - truly - surprised that my aide position has lasted as long as it has in the climate my district has found itself in. I was offered another position - within a classroom - but I don't teach or tutor for a reason.

1. Lack of patience

2. Inability to understand your inability to understand

You can see, there's a reason why I never went for an educator's license. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I don't have good qualities for a classroom setting. Another person would, I'm sure, serve the students better, and get more value out of the position themselves.

So... I'm now a full time writer.

It's a little scary, a lot sad, and entirely freeing. I've been living on a school schedule since I was 5 years old. Cicadas singing has always made my stomach drop a little because it means summer is almost over, and since resigning last week I've been able to simply listen to them for the first time in my life, not use them as a natural clock for the death knell of my mid-afternoon naps.

School hasn't started yet, and I've already been back in my office twice. Once because a student at band camp (who didn't know the only reason I was in the building was to resign) asked me if we had a copy of a novel she needs for English class (and of course we do, and of course I went and got it for her because that's who I am at my core), and the second time to grab a used book for a swap account I run on behalf of the library.

I think I'm going to end up back there once or twice a week as a volunteer (okay fine, probably twice)  because it's part of my identity to match people to books.

And also because I have a Keurig and a mini-fridge there and I don't feel like moving them. 

This Is What Librarians Do

I've talked before about being a librarian, and how misunderstood the job is. No, we don't sit around and read all day. And I want to say right now that I've never shushed anyone. Being a librarian is a pretty unique job because it's like retail, stocking shelves and being a data analyst all at the same time.

Oh, and some of us are pretty muscular too, because being a librarian sometimes requires heavy lifting.

What? Yeah, it's true.

This past spring and summer I undertook one of the hardest tasks of my life - and yes, I count being published in that estimation. I reconfigured a K-4 library all by myself. It took over 200 hours, some of them unpaid. And I'm not posting about this so you'll tell me how awesome I am - I guarantee you there are many librarians that have done - and would do - exactly this many times over.

Without going into the sad, sad business of public school funding too far, I'll simply say that because of money issues our district lost the full time library position in the elementary building two years ago. The lady whose job this had formerly been was still in the library when classes were in there, but that was the only time. The solution to actually maintaining the library - shelving in particular - was to have high school students do it.

I know anyone reading this who is a librarian is probably cringing right now.

Cringe harder.

At the end of one year of having teenagers manage the shelving the elementary library looked like this.


 I'm guessing I don't need to tell you that Dewey had pretty much gone out the window.

The district librarian and I are located in a different building, so when I went over to this library to do my end of the year report, I ended up saying some very bad words. I said them alone, because that's the proper thing to do, but I said them loudly. 

And then I proceeded to fix it.

First - discarding. This library hadn't been properly weeded in years. I ended up getting rid of about 3000 books that were beyond salvaging. Torn books, books whose spines were completely broken, and some books that were actually growing mold. Don't worry - these weren't dumpster fodder. These 3000 books went home with the children who picked them off the free book table. Even if they only had one more read left in them, they got the chance to prove it.

Second - re-cataloging. Hundreds of books were quite simply, nowhere near the places they needed to be. For example Attack of the Alien Fire Ants was in non-fiction. No idea what happened there.

Third - genre labeling. As many picture books as possible were put into categories - dinosaurs, dogs, holidays, etc - so that the little kids could actually find books that interested them, rather than rummaging through a colossal mess and hoping they hit something good in their allotted library time.

Fourth - putting all that crap back. Yep. This place was such a wreck that the best solution was to empty every single shelf and start from scratch. Obviously this was done one section at a time, but I made a HUGE mess before things got better. 

And lastly - I showed administration these pictures and explained that a library needs to be maintained, not just manned. And they listened. Even though we don't have a librarian in that building full time, we do have a staff member assigned there specifically for shelving and item maintenance, and teachers are handling the checkout process for their own classes -- which is a lot easier now that they can find books on their own. Ahem.


A lot of people have no idea the amount of work that librarians put in on a daily basis just because we want to make sure that people (especially kids) have the books that they want in their hands when they walk out the door.

During the summer when I was working the a/c in this building was turned off. So I'd spend hours covered in sweat and filth, come home sore from moving so many pounds of books around, and still have someone say to me at a party, "Shhhh!!!" when I told them I was a librarian.

And I'm like, "You know what? I think I'm going to punch you in the face."

Rituals & Pouring Chocolate on Stuff

When I was in high school I worked at an ice-cream and pizza place.

And if you think that's funny - I worked at a Hallmark during college. Yep. Mindy, selling greeting cards. It's downright surreal.

Anyway... whenever we had a new ice cream flavor for people to try we let them have a sample before committing to buy. But I had a little trick where I offered to pour chocolate on stuff if they were unsure after a plain taste.

And it totally worked.

It's weird the things that become buried in your skull, popping out at completely inappropriate moments years down the line. I don't know what it was... maybe the fact that there was a counter between us, or that I really wanted the student to fall in love with the book I was giving them, but with that ice-cream joint 10 years in my past I told the kid -

"Try this. If you don't like it bring it back and I'll pour some chocolate on it."

Since the title was THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness, I didn't end up pouring chocolate on anything, but it was a good lesson in a few ways.

1) The kids knew early on that the new librarian was insane.
2) Association can be buried deep, and we're not always in control of what our brain is kicking out.

Because of being in the service industry for most of my life thus far, I wanted the person across the counter to be happy. My brain randomly offered to pour chocolate on something to accomplish that goal and my mouth said HELL YES! GOOD IDEA, BRAIN!

This is why writing rituals work so well. Once those synaptic pathways in our brains have been beaten into well-formed tunnels, our thoughts squeeze through without a lot of voluntary action on our part. This can apply to so many things in life, but it's especially useful for writers.

We're always terrified we're going to fail, that this time the white page will remain blank, or the cursor is just going to blink instead of produce a string of words in its wake. If you can set up a ritual before writing - even a small one - and stick to it, soon you'll find the thoughts flowing from your brain out through your fingertips because both brain & body instinctively know what to do in this situation.

My own ritual is quite simple. I write in my bed, lying down, usually between the hours of 9 and 11 PM. If I'm not working on a WIP at the moment, I use the time for blogging, or reading. My brain knows that I'm either going to write, or absorb writing through reading. Either way, many of the same synapses are firing, and I can count on them to rev right up when I call on them to do so.

The drawback?

I haven't poured chocolate on anything in a damn long time.