Here’s a question for you. Have you ever immersed yourself in an environment when working on a creative project?
What I mean is, have you ever done something like write a short story while sitting in a library or drawn in a sketch book while sitting in an art gallery? I have, and I have to say it’s an amazing experience.
When I was in college I did this all the time. It seemed like every semester I’d have a free hour or two between some of my classes, so I’d head over to one of the libraries on campus, find an underpopulated area, then break out my notebook and write. There’s something about being surrounded by all those books, all those stories, that sets a certain mood. Couple it with that very specific smell that all libraries have – you know, that old paper and ink smell – and it was almost intoxicating.
Over the years I’ve written in all sorts of environments. I’ve sat in various rooms of my house and in the backyard. I’ve written in coffee shops and restaurants. I’ve written while sitting in my truck in parking lots. I’ve written while laying on the beach or sitting under a tree in the nearby national forest. They’re all great places because they set different moods. There’s different sensory input…noises, smells, movement, and color. It all ends up influencing my writing to some degree.
But sitting in a library, man, that’s completely different. When I sit along at a table in the fiction section, no one around but I can hear the whispered voices from the other side of the shelves, I feel like a monk sequestered away in a monastery. Libraries are like holy places to me. They hold the sum of human knowledge, experience, creativity. I can close my eyes and feel as if I’m absorbing all of it, I feel all those words and ideas swirling around me like mist.
I think this stems from when I was a kid. When I was really young my grandmother would watch me after school got out, and just down the street from her was a little public library. It was tucked away in this little nook as part of a small fresh water pumping station in South Florida. In fact, I’d been riding my bicycle past it for months before I even noticed it. Once I did, it felt like I had discovered Narnia. It wasn’t very large inside, probably no more than a couple dozen rows of shelves, but I spent hours in there, sitting on the floor and thumbing through whatever books caught my eye. I think the librarian, a kind older lady, asked me if I needed help every once in a while, but for the most part she left me to explore.
The feeling I had in that little library has stayed with me over the decades despite the fact that I fell out of the habit of visiting them on a regular basis. My love of books is the cause…well, my love of owning books, to be precise.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I got back into visiting a library several times a week. I probably could have used the time to do homework or study for an upcoming exam, but the urge to write was too strong. I’d stuff my backpack under my chair and sit there hunched over my spiral notebook (always with a black cover, for some reason) and lose myself in whatever story was flowing in my head. Over the course of four years I probably wrote a couple of dozen short stories (of dubious quality) and reams of poetry. Apparently, it was conducive to fiction writing.
I don’t get out to the local public library as often as I used to. The past few times I went I ended up getting cornered by homeless people wandering the rows asking for money. There were also unsupervised kids running around yelling and knocking things over. I think the local library was trying to be more inclusive, to increase their visitor numbers, but it got away from them. I hope they can get it back under control. I miss the experience.
Regardless, I recommend trying this for yourself. Find a nice place you can sit and create. Maybe it’s not the library, but a local bookstore may have tables (and coffee) where you can spend some time writing. Or maybe you can hang out in an art gallery for an hour and do something creative. I think you’ll find it’s a unique experience, that it stimulates your creativity.
If you do, please let me know how it goes.