Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 15
One More ALA Link

What Happens when a Hobby Turns Into Something More?

I've been doing some thinking today, inspired in part by the connection that I see between Jules and Eisha's recent identify crisis (and comments therein) and the discussion that's been taking place on various blogs (and a discussion list), especially at Becky's Book Reviews, about summer reading lists. In both cases, the concern is that it's possible to take something enjoyable (like blogging or reading) and suck the fun out of it by turning it into work (as happens with book reviews sometimes, and with required reading lists). Mary Lee from A Year of Reading called these things (in the comments here) "idea cousins." (This post is a bit introspective - feel free to skip if you're just looking for children's book news and reviews.)

What I'm wondering is, is my blog a job or is it a hobby? Reading children's books used to be a hobby for me. I would lose myself in the books. I would recommend them to people, and buy them for kids I knew. The books were an escape and a joy. They were what I loved. I would occasionally get on my soapbox with people I knew well, urging them to read to their kids, but this was an infrequent thing.

Then I started my blog, and I developed an audience, and people started sending me books. And that was all great (I love the books and the discussion). But now I have deadlines. I have posts that I try to publish on a weekly schedule. I have my weekly newsletter. I have authors and publishers asking me to review their books, and people who visit my blog asking me to recommend books to them. I have other blogs that I read, and I try to keep up with the constant trickle (sometimes a deluge) of new blog posts into my Google Reader. I highlight reviews that inspire me. I've had a project management role with the Cybils, and a research role with Readergirlz. I'm even occasionally been called upon to be an interviewer.

Over the past year I've done some things to focus my blog efforts a bit. I've stopped participating in big, cross-blog events like the SBBT (although I think that it's great that they exist), because having externally imposed deadlines and coordinating with other people adds a layer of stress to an already finely balanced juggling act. I've pretty much stopped doing interviews, because I find them taxing, and I'd rather keep my focus on the books themselves. I've pushed back on anyone who tries to get me to commit to reviewing a particular book in a particular timeframe (that deadlines thing again). I stepped down as a Readergirlz Postergirl, because I was having trouble focusing enough on pure YA to be useful. I don't do challenges, and I rarely do memes.

On the surface, my focusing efforts are about keeping the time requirement for the blog manageable, since it's a part-time effort for me, and keeping myself focused on the things that I think really make a difference. But as I think about it now, in light of Jules and Eisha's recent post, and all of the recent discussion about summer reading lists (especially the contributions from A Year of Reading), I also realize something. My focusing efforts have for the most part centered around pushing back on the things that feel like work (to me), so that I can focus on the parts that I most enjoy. And I think that's a good thing. (I also owe a debt of gratitude to Kim and Jason from Escape Adulthood for the philosophy that's helping me with this).

Blogging for me still lives in an odd space that's not a job (I don't do it full time, I don't get paid for it, I don't have a boss), but not quite a hobby either (I have deadlines, I make commitments to produce certain things, I work with other people). It's more like an unstructured volunteer position. Talking about children's books and reading, helping people to grow bookworms, is much more than a passing fancy for me. It's a cause, a soapbox, something I think is really really important. Ultimately, the reason that I spend so much time on my blog is because of that - because I truly feel like if I can help even a few parents and teachers and librarians to find the right books for even a few kids, I'll have made a positive difference in the world. When someone tells me that their child spent hours lost in a book that I recommended, I know that I'm doing something worthwhile.

And yet, even with that feeling to guide me, even with that reasoning to justify the effort that I expend as important, I still struggle with the TIME. If you have a full time job, you expect to spend 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week on it, and you set up your life to do that. And if you have a normal hobby, then you enjoy it in your spare time, but you can usually put it aside when you're busy. But what if you have something that's not your full time job, but that takes 20 or 30 or 40 hours a week to keep up with, and that you really want to do? And where you're producing something that other people look at? Obviously, I can and do put the blog on the back burner sometimes, like when I moved last spring, when I travel, when we have guests visiting, etc. But even when I'm not traveling - even when I'm just home, having a normal work week, and a normal amount of social things going on, the time that the blog takes up is more time than I really have available. Other things have been falling through the cracks. I've been stressed out. I've been having tension headaches (because of the other things that I'm not doing, not because of the blog itself).

I know what the answer is. I know, like Jules and Eisha just discussed, that I need to scale the blog back further. I've committed myself to doing more than I have time for, on a week by week basis. And even though I wish that I had more time to give to to these efforts, that's not really an option at this point. I have a full time job and other personal commitments. I need to spend less time on the blog, even if I don't want to. If I don't, I'm going to turn the whole thing into work, and/or get burned out.

But even though I KNOW that's the answer, it's still not easy. I have so many things that I want to do with my blog - I love doing my Sunday visits posts, I love the literacy round-ups, I love reading and reviewing books (well, the reviews are work, but I love having reviewed books). I'm really enjoying these little "reviews that made me want the book" posts. And I love putting out my little weekly newsletter (which isn't really any extra work, once the above content is produced). How could I give any of these things up? It's not that I think that other people sit around waiting with bated breath for me to produce these things every week - it's that I WANT to produce them. And I have a couple of new things on the horizon, too, which I'm absolutely committed to, because they're going to help me take my blog's mission to another level. (More on those later.)

So here I am, knowing that I need to cut back a bit, but not willing to do it. I'm like a dieter who can't give up any of her favorite foods. I'm addicted to my blog, addicted to the books, addicated to the idea of helping to grow bookworms. But I'm going to have to figure something out, because these headaches have to go.

I have some small ideas that I'm going try, like not requesting any new review books for a while (I'm sure I have a whole year's worth of reading material already), and scaling back my blogroll a bit, but I suspect that I'm going to need to make some bigger sacrifices. I'm working on it ... At least I know that I'm not alone (see Jules and Eisha's post at 7-Imp, and Jenny's post at Read. Imagine. Talk., for example). Meanwhile, if anyone has gotten this far, thanks for listening. It always helps me to write things out.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.