I’m always fascinated by photos of other authors’ writing spaces: the gorgeous, book-lined office, the dreamy writing shed, the cozy attic with rooftop views.
Until recently, writing at home meant a corner of the kitchen table, surrounded by my children’s LEGO and abandoned cereal bowls. But that doesn’t matter, because I have a secret weapon, the best writing space in the world. I have the library.
Here are five reasons why I think libraries make the perfect working spots for writers.
Let’s be honest, us writers are nosey creatures by nature. There’s nothing I love more than sitting and watching strangers daydream about their lives; in fact, it’s where the inspiration for many of my characters has come from. And the library is the perfect place to do this because so many different people go there, from all walks of life. Just find a large book you can hide behind, and while away your day happily people-watching in the name of research.
2. It’s free
I live in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world. If I want to write in a café, then a coffee and snack will set me back a small fortune, and before long there’ll be a waiter giving me pointed stares about taking up a table for too long. But in a library you can work for as long as you like, and no one will ask you to leave. I can’t think of any other places in our communities where you’re positively encouraged to spend time there and not have to spend a dime.
3. There’s magic in the air
I don’t know what it is about libraries, but there’s something special in the air that makes me knuckle down and write. Maybe it’s because it takes me back to being at college, when a trip to the library inevitably meant a fast approaching essay deadline. Or maybe it’s to do with being surrounded by other people who are also hard at work. Whatever it is, I find I’m always 10 times more productive when I write in the library than when I try to write elsewhere.
When I was a child, Roald Dahl’s Matilda was one of my favorite books. I used to love the bit early on in the novel, when she discovers her village library for the first time, and the librarian, Mrs. Phelps, starts recommending books to her.* After reading Matilda, I used to love going to my local library and asking the librarian for recommendations, and to this day I’ll always try and have a conversation with a library worker when I visit. They have such an incredible font of knowledge about books, plus they can help you on dozens of other queries. In an age of social media and fake news, we need information professionals more than ever.
*In my debut novel, The Last Chance Library, I’ve named one of my characters Stanley Phelps, in honor of Matilda’s kindly librarian!
When I’m writing on a deadline, I can spend days alone, staring at a computer, my only interaction with my own family. For that reason, I love to pack up my laptop and go to the library. I know when I’m there that I can work in peace, undisturbed by my kids wanting snacks or someone at the front door, but also that I won’t be alone. There’s something lovely about having the buzz of other people around, the background hum of activity, the vaguely familiar faces who’ll nod a silent hello when I look up from the screen. Working in the library allows me to stay connected to the outside world, even when my head is lost in the fictional world of a story. And when I need a break from writing, there’s always people-watching to entertain me.