Sunday, January 21, 2007


We all get asked to volunteer for probably more than a dozen different things during the year. Sometimes there are things we’d truly love to participate in or become a part of, and then there are others that . . . well, we’d rather get run over by a car than get stuck on another dull board.
But sometimes as authors, I think we might just get asked a little more often than others do. It’s understandable. We seem to have so much time on our hands. Even wonderfully supportive spouses who are normally understanding can forget that if you’re staring into space, in front of your computer, you’re actually working and say, "hey, if you’re not doing anything, would you mind . . . ?"

So how do you keep from volunteering every time someone calls or emails or knocks on your door? I’m not sure I have an answer, except that you have to be honest with others and yourself and look at the time you have and decide if you can be an effective volunteer or not.

Last year I turned down many requests unless they directly related to my career. I knew that with two books coming out, plus homeschooling my children, and my normal writing schedule, I’d be swamped. I know others that can handle more, but I couldn’t. It wouldn’t have been fair to the commitments I already had or to the people I would supposedly be helping out. I felt bad, but promised myself that this year, I’d make up for it. And have accepted a couple of volunteer positions already. One of them being the position of my daughter’s Brownie girl scout troop’s cookie mom. A dangerous job, being surrounded by all those delicious cookies! Also incredibly time consuming as some of you moms out there who have done this know. With organizing all the girls and moms and collecting orders and money, distributing the cookies – even something as simple as this will kill hours of my time. But this year I’m up for the challenge.

So how does this relate to writing? In our writing life I think we need to be careful how much we pile onto ourselves too. I know authors who can write four or five books a year and do a great job. If I tried to do that I make myself insane. So like in the rest of my life I mentally shelve "extra" stories and ideas I may have and do not volunteer to work on them until I’ve finished what I committed myself to already.

On days that I feel bad, I tell myself that what’s important is not how much I’m getting done, but how well I’m doing what I’m doing. And that helps, a little . . . .



Anonymous said...


An excellent post that came at the perfect time. Well, for me, anyway. Lately I've been feeling a tad...well, overextended. It's hard to say no, especially to people we like and respect, but we have to learn that we can't do it all.

At least not in the same year. lol.


Nancy Morse said...

Not volunteering makes me feel guilty, but with a full-time day job and writing, I have to weigh the guilt against things like...oh, eating & sleeping. There's just so many hours in the day. There was a post a few days ago about juggling and I'm already running around frantically to keep those plates spinning. So if I'm asked, I politely decline and explain that I'm already up to my eyeballs. Of course, depending upon what type of volunteering I'm asked to do, I always offer to write a check instead, which seems to work to the advantage of those asking and helps lighten my guilt.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because I was educated by nuns in Catholic schools, but I feel really guilty when I don't volunteer.

And I applaud Lara for volunteering in ways that will make her kids proud. When my children were young, I was team mom, room mother, on the PTA board, Little League Board, and taught Sunday school while working part-time.

My activities tapered off as they grew older (and the boys pleaded "Please, Mom, can't someone elese be team mom?").

I have come off some pretty horrific deadlines in recent years, and since I don't currently have one, I'm back to volunteering.

Currently, I'm on the board of my local RWA chapter. In addition, I write a monthly column for RWA's Regency chapter, the Beau Monde. I also contribute articles to my local chapter newsletters, to the PASIC newsletter, to the Regency Plume and the Regency Reader. Also, I judge 3 or 4 contests a year -- and that takes a lot of time!

Most of my volunteerism is aimed to benefit my fellow writers, but I must own that I gain in many ways, beside the altruistic ones. First, every time I write a newsletter article (many of which are picked up by other chapters), I get name exposure. Also, after a few weeks I upload the articles to my website. This, I think, adds a variety of interesting information to my site while establishing my own credentials.

My volunteerism in no way compares to the efforts of people like Faye Hughes and Patti Berg, who donate soooo many hours to PASIC. Please, Faye, don't feel overwhelmed. You're great, and we really benefit by all your efforts.

JoAnn Ross said...

First of all, while I, too, admire people who volunteer and keep RWA and this fabulous chapter running, the most important thing I ever learned in my life (and no, I didn't learn it from the nuns, lol) was that "No" can be a declarative sentence. Even to publishers.

It also doesn't allow for wiggle room, which ties in with the second most valuable thing I ever learned to say, which I learned from Nora about a decade ago: "This is unacceptable." I've used it a handful of times since then, most recently with rough concrete on the neverending porch, and twice dealing with publishers. And if you're willing to take the consequences (such as, in dealing with a publisher, walking away) it's incredibly powerful.

Oh, and what should've been first -- I'm in a brain fog after spending nearly 8 hrs watching football yesterday and only on my second cup of coffee,lol -- The Work must always be protected.

Samantha Hunter said...

You have obviously hit on the secret, which is knowing yourself and your priorities. Anyone see the recent Superman, where he's flying over the world, and there's this cacaphony of voices he's trying to discern? Even Superman can't help everyone. (I'm a huge Superman fan -- this is evident after a while when you get to know me better).

I write full-time and I am also a freelance magazine editor -- with the freelance work, I have to be able to say yes or no in accordance with my life and writing schedule. However, I have recently thrown myself into a few volunteer activities with each of my chapters, though I try to take on just some small role, a contest judge, helping find judges, etc that I know I can do and not be overwhelmed. It's really just knowing yourself and what you can do, and there's nothing to feel guilty about after that.

Better you take on what you can handle and feel good about giving your best, rather than taking on too much and being shoddy in your work, I think. I would feel more guilty about that, in the end.


Samantha Hunter said...

the second most valuable thing I ever learned to say, which I learned from Nora about a decade ago: "This is unacceptable."

How weird. This is the same phrase I learned from my husband when I met him -- he's really good at these kinds of tough conversations, and I heard him use this a few times, and it was really effective, so I used it as well.

However, I think we all also have to deal with things in accordance with our personalities. I'm not as aggressive as my husband in general, but I can hold the line in a gentle way -- I rarely let myself be pressured or bullied into anything, and feel comfortable with a polite "no, I'm sorry," and sometimes try to find alternatives if I can. I think I'm more of a negotiator, LOL.


JoAnn Ross said...

Sam-- Not only am I a negotiator and a cajoler, I used to be the person everyone came to with everything they didn't want to do. Like a few others, I blame guilt on those nuns. lol

Also, along with being Catholic, my Irish mother always insisted on what seemed, at the time, very old fashioned, much stricter always- smile-and-be-polite "feminine" manners than other mothers I knew in Oregon's remote ranching country. It wasn't until I moved down here that I realized she'd brought her girls up Southern. lol

However, during my 30s, I had a few weeks of therapy sessions with a brilliant woman who taught me that there is a huge difference between aggressive and assertive. It took some practice, but I finally got to where it became much easier and I no longer ended up resenting other people or the situations I'd reluctantly ended up in. Or being irritated at myself for not just saying no when that's what I wanted to say. As I said, I save that "unacceptable" for when negotiations have failed.

The adjective -- which I hated forever until finally, just last year I became resigned to it -- people have always used most about me is "nice" (sigh) so I suspect I've pulled the politely assertive thing off. Though I still really want to be Bailey on Gray's Anatomy when I grow up. :)

One editor even said, during a NINC panel discussion after I'd made a comment with a fairly pointed question regarding one of those Draconian contract clauses that publishers occasionally try to foist on us, that "One thing about JoAnn. . . she always speaks her mind, but is so unrelentingly polite no one can ever get offended." LOL

Samantha Hunter said...

That's a high compliment, and a fit one for a writer, I think.

Thanks for reminding me of the difference between aggressive/assertive -- yes, assertive is good. I try for that.

Going to thank you again for Thirty Nights... I know I've done that before, but it was one of my favorite Blazes ever, and still is, so when I see your name, I always think of it. :)