COLUMN: Symbiosis in the stacks

To have books, you have to have writers. Although the massive output of writers might suggest otherwise, books don’t write themselves.

To have books, you have to have writers. Although the massive output of writers such as Alexander McCall Smith or James Patterson might suggest otherwise, books don’t write themselves.

It takes writers, and in the fraught and fast-changing writing and publishing industry of today, it’s getting harder and harder to be one.

So how do we support writers to write the books we love?

The library plays its part, hosting author readings (the better to inspire us), participating in the annual One Book, One Kootenay program (raising awareness about our fabulous local authors), helping writers learn about the craft (we’ve had writing workshops for teens and, earlier this month, an ePublishing seminar for digitally-confused writers) and — officially and unofficially — giving writers a place to write.

Writers have been writing in public libraries for at least a few centuries of creative wordsmithing.

Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, for example, wrote her first two books in the New York Public Library reading room.

In the Nelson Library I’ve seen more than a few local authors tapping away.  In any library — including ours — that person hunched over a laptop or scribbling in a notebook could be writing the next Giller Award-winner — or simply the novel you can’t forget.

Libraries regularly host writers-in-residence, giving a published author a place to work, usually in exchange for some community one-on-one with aspiring writers; in Canada, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Vancouver Public Libraries all host writers-in-residence, from the obscure to the very famous.

David Bergen, Miriam Toews, and Austin Clarke have all drummed up at least some of their words in a public library.

The Nelson Library welcomes writers, and this month has played host to participants in NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month.

This annual non-profit endeavor encourages people of all ages — including more than 300,000 annually — on six continents worldwide to sit down and write.

American writer Gene Fowler famously said that “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Any writer I know would agree, at least some of the time. But if misery loves company, that’s where NaNoWriMo comes in.

A NaNoWriMo participant could be an auto mechanic with a different set of wheels to grease, or a financial planner who craves words instead of numbers.

The NaNoWriMo-er could also be an established writer who just needs a block of space and time in the company of like-minded people.

NaNoWriMo writers come in as people with an idea; they go out as novelists.

The goal is 50,000 words in one month, no small feat in itself. One day, their novels could be on our shelves.

We give NaNoWriMo writers a dedicated table, a place to plug in, and access to the Internet. They do the rest.

So far, we’ve had no complaints from the janitor about any blood spillage, so it must be going at least a little better than it did for Gene  Fowler.

In 2012 the final word count in the Kootenay Region was 1,654,779.

NaNoWriMo wraps up soon, but last week organizer Deb O’Keefe reported the Kootenay word count had already broken a million.

What will happen this week?

And what stories are spinning within the very walls of our own public library?

At the Nelson Library, fiction circulates more than anything else, proving that readers love the results of all that bloodletting, midnight oil, and angst.

So what better place for writers to write? It’s a perfect symbiosis that begins with “Chapter 1” and ends with a sigh of satisfaction — or at least relief — for writer and reader, both.

 

– Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. www.nelsonlibrary.ca.

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