• Writers at Work at Work: Ivan Glonstein

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Writing at Work     Comments 2 comments

    The StacksLibraries are popular writing havens for many of us. In theory, at least, they’re quiet and they’re calm, and no matter where you sit down, whether it’s at an open table or squatting in some forgotten stacks, you’re surrounded by books and, more importantly for some of us, the smell of books.

    But is a library a good writing environment if it’s also your workplace?

    In our latest “Writers at Work at Work,” “Ivan Glonstein” tells us that it is–with a few caveats. Including guilt and shame.

    This series sprang from a conversation I had with a friend who told me that he works on his novel when his boss isn’t buzzing around. I asked for some brave volunteers to share their experiences with us of writing at work; so far we’ve heard from RaymundoJake, and Dana. Today we’re talking to:


    “Ivan Glonstein”


    Do you want us to use a pseudonym for you?

    This first question already stumped me. In a sense, I want to say fuck no, I don’t care. I don’t care. But, everything has changed in the last half a year. I’m the sole breadwinner for a family of three, my wife and my daughter. Before, I could say, “Writing is so important to me that I’m willing to risk my job.” But now I suppose I shouldn’t be [redacted]. I should be “Ivan Glonstein.”


    Please describe your work setting: do you have privacy in which to write, or are you out in the open? An inspiring view of nature, or cubicle walls? Computer or longhand?

    I’m out in the open. I have zero privacy, other than cubicle walls. I have a computer on which I work most of the time. Sometimes I print something out and hunch over it so that anybody giving the benefit of the doubt would think I was doing my job.

    I’m a librarian. I catalog books, which means I have to read and interpret all the numbers, symbols, and phrases behind the title page, the librarian’s little playspace. I work in a library, which should be a writer’s temple. Only I’m just one of the altar boys.

    [Tweet “”Before, I could say, ‘Writing is so important to me that I’m willing to risk my job.’””]


    Have you ever been caught writing at work? Please describe the incident.

    People walk by and see me do it all the time. While writing this, about three already have. Just yesterday my supervisor walked by. Nobody’s ever said anything, though. This makes me feel like it’s no big deal and simultaneously like I’m giving fodder to a case for my termination.

    Once my cube neighbor said something. He asked if I was working on writing, then he smiled at me, a “rhetorical question” kind of smile. I was embarrassed, but I admitted to it. He’s the kind of person who has made many confessions to me, so I don’t think he would rat me out.

    Other than that, I don’t get any reaction. However, I’m considering asking whether there’s a rising resentment, a feeling that I’m not a “team player.”


    Do your co-workers know you write at work? What would your boss say if he/she knew?

    They certainly know I write. I pass along news of my publications. They put up links in tri-weekly emails compiling news about people who work here. Only a couple people have responded about this. I got some praise. One person told me, “Wow, you must be really busy.” I took this to mean, “C’mon, you’re just jerking us around. You can’t be a good worker.”

    Also, I was asked to give a writing class, since everybody knows I teach writing on the side. Maybe they wanted to make sure my side job was legit, since I have in the past adjusted my schedule to accommodate my teaching. I gave a lunch talk, a one-off creative writing class. Librarians love literature, and anybody who loves literature thinks about writing, might even have experimented with it at some time or another. They all had fun with it. But they never asked me to do it again.

    [Tweet “”I work in a library, which should be a writer’s temple. Only I’m just one of the altar boys.””]


    Do you ever feel guilty for writing on company time?

    Yes. I do. I feel a deep guilt about it. Once, I even thought I might try to lead a normal life and just do my job, go home, read a book or watch a movie, and start over again the next morning. But not writing would be the end of me pretty quick, and the only time I have to do it outside of work is on the train to work. I don’t think this is a good thing, but that’s how it is with me. It feels unsustainable, when I give it a long glance, as I am in writing these answers.

    This is probably the hardest question. I always complete my job tasks in time. By the afternoon, though, I usually hit a wall. Surely there are people out there who are better than me. But I usually have to put stuff aside. The next day, I get it done in about a tenth of the time it would take me after 3 or 4 the previous day.

    It’s not that we need to work all that time. It’s just that employers are never going to say, “Oh, sure, just go home…and we’ll still pay the same amount of money.” Honestly, I don’t think they really care what you do, but they want people on their chairs, at their desks, even in this age when nobody does anything off the internet anymore. So, why isn’t telecommuting more popular? It’s about control.


    Are you forced to write in fits and starts between tasks, or are you able to set aside blocks of time?

    More the former than the latter. I sometimes hide on a long lunch break and get some work done. I guess they can’t take lunch break away from me. I’ve been writing a novel for almost three years now, and it’s really become difficult lately to conceptualize the monstrosity of it in little bits and pieces.

    On the other hand, I’m also learning that working slow is actually better than racing through a thing. So, I try to keep a part in my head—barely conscious, which is where it’s going to work anyways, right?—until I can get to the next “fit” or “start,” and by the time I get there it may have become something else, or it’s pretty well solidified as what it’s gonna be. Then I actually have to get down to articulating it.

    Writing appeals to me because I very rarely say a thing the way I want to—that is, well—on first pass, so the little editor in my brain gets the time he needs to warm up his little editing machine (a small bicycle chain running a typewriter, which he runs back and forth, sometimes sprinting, sometimes just cruising along, sometimes standing on the pedals to climb an incline).


    Does your writing style/process at work differ from your style/process at home?

    Yes. At home I have more distraction, because I’m a father. On the other hand, if my poor wife relieves me, I can set aside a large chunk of time. I can’t count on it though. I feel very affirmed when I say, “I’m not doin’ that today,” and I just don’t do it. Because I have to write. I have to write. Or I’ll be depressed later, pent up. Of course, sometimes that is something, you know, important. Like acquiring food. Then, later, I feel bad that I didn’t do that. And I feel hungry. If my family is gonna be hungry, though, then I know I have to stop writing. At least for that day…

    [Tweet “”I sometimes [write] on a long lunch break … they can’t take lunch break away from me.””]


    Does your job involve any writing? How do your personal writing and your work writing impact each other?

    Pretty much no. I’ve been trying to do documentation of some of the tasks I and others have to do around here. Because I’d rather just follow a list of rules than try to remember every little piece. But there doesn’t seem to be much interest in that. I think a lot of librarians would be the type of sailors who would go down with the ship. I am not, and I prefer to have it written down, so I don’t have to waste any energy remembering. I need that energy to write.

    I do find ideas in little things I read in the books I catalog. I don’t have time to read them, but I do anyways. As a librarian, I don’t think anybody can bust me for reading a book. Of course, I’m cataloging double digits of books a day, so I just sneak a little of that in.


    What are you presently writing at work? Plug your project!

    I’m writing a novel about Americans traveling to Ukraine, one story in the 30s, and one story in the present, right in the midst of the war that’s happening there. When I started it in 2012, things were calm, so I’m not trying to exploit the situation there. I want to make that clear: I didn’t choose Ukraine because it’s now a “hot topic.” When I started this novel, it was just the place where I spent part of my honeymoon, where my wife comes from, and seemed only of interest to me, not even to other Russian speakers.

    [Tweet “”I think a lot of librarians would be the type of sailors who would go down with the ship.””]


    Do you have any advice to pass along to anyone who wants to start writing at work but doesn’t know how, or is scared to try?

    I like Kafka’s aphorism: “Not lying does not mean [I just had to switch over, because people came close, okay I’m back] avoiding the opportunity to lie.” Something along those lines. I wanted to be honest about it. But these days, I have a family to support. Being fired is more of a fear than in the past.

    I’ve become Ned Nederlander with the Ctrl + Alt screen switch.

    It was never a problem before. I’m sure I developed a reputation for being the person who just comes here, does his job, but then does a little something extra that he’s not supposed to. Now, however, I’m afraid this has made me a target. I’m afraid that when I really do need some time, not for myself but for my family, I end up gaining more resentment. And I do need time, a lot.

    But when are we supposed to write? It seems to me that artists are truly underappreciated in our society. Unless you’re a superstar, anything you do is considered an act of vanity, a hobby. Nobody takes you seriously unless you have insider status, which usually means a job teaching creative writing. That’s the only way to be considered legit. But to get there, a huge part of it is luck. It’s the worst kind of profession, worse than library science, worse than the humanities now. But how does one become an insider writer without spending more time writing than a normal person would? I know that the artist-writer has never really been a legit profession in a society, but I think there has been and is more appreciation for it in some places. It’s just that, in those places, writing usually gets the writer into trouble. Here, it’s devalued. We Americans have the freedom to write whatever we want. But it’s not taken seriously in general. Even if you’re a superstar, readers are a minority (many of them probably librarians). And if it’s not important, if the only legit writing jobs are the scarcity of CW professorships that we have in our society, then what other recourse do we have than to struggle to get it down no matter where or when?

    [Tweet “”Nobody takes you seriously [as a writer] unless you have insider status.””]


    Many thanks to “Ivan” for sharing his story. If you want to tell us yours, email me at david[at]writebynight.net and I’ll get you set up. Or leave a comment below.

    Now get back to writing at work!

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    Very interesting librarian’s slant on this subject, Ivan. I think you’re right-on about the workplace being about control. Every place I’ve ever worked has been far more about appearances over substance. Regarding “When are we supposed to write?”, I’ve decided the answer is “whenever and wherever you can, and as fast as you can.” Speed comes with practice and getting control over our internal editors. Legitimacy is also something that comes over time when we reach a critical mass of touching people with our art. In the long run, that’s more valuable than a contract with a New York publisher.


    Thanks, Raymundo. You’re absolutely right about touching people.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x