Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Library Resources for Writers

By David E. Sharp

I might have mentioned, in addition to being a writer, I am a librarian. (Only a zillion times, right?) I use a lot of library resources in my craft. They're free. They're in-depth. And they're useful.

Some folks have a musty image of the library. Dusty tomes, shushing old ladies with horn-rimmed glasses, and facelift-tight buns. 

Well, sit on my virtual book cart and buckle up! It's time for a refresher on how your library can help you be awesome!

Welcome to the library of the future.
Oh, wait. That's from last week.


Novelist is a library resource that can help you. Understanding what people like about  books can help you maximize that quality and present insightful comparisons to other works your readers enjoy. These are good things to know when you talk to a literary agent. 

Do you know what your appeal factors are? How would you describe your tone? Is it bleak? Amusing? Bittersweet? Are your characters quirky, or are they brooding and complex? And now the tricky part: Can you name a read-alike with similarities that go deeper than genre descriptions?

Appeal factors are what we like about stories. They're less about our mechanics, and more about the way we weave our tale for particular readers. 

Two books in the same genre, say The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, do not share the same appeal factors. Game of Thrones may have more commonality with The Walking Dead. Both are bleak, gritty and character-driven, though one is fantasy and the other horror.


There's no such thing as 'enough' research. Readers need confidence in your expertise. Topics range from the broad to the minute.

Multiple databases give you a primer on ancient history. Most of my own research has been about life in the last few centuries. Newspaper archives provide a snapshot of everyday life in any year or era. Find the vernacular of the day or glimpse the issues important to people.

Census records, like those found in or other genealogy databases, can give you an idea of a family unit and the names of the period. Need to specify? You can filter your search to find families looked in the 1870's with parents born in Germany, who lived in Ohio, and whose estate value was approximately $10,000.00.

No, dude. Not how it works.
But I appreciate the sentiment.

Need more nuanced cultural information? Try Culturegrams. It goes beyond the Encyclopedic providing first-hand experience of living in a particular region. There are videos offering a view of the traffic in downtown Melbourne or demonstrations of common gestures used in Cambodia. 

What does a police chief really DO during a day? A wedding planner? An archaeologist? Try Career Cruising. Interviews with professionals, hour-by-hour daily routines, and actual workload are available. This database is designed for job-seekers interested in a career path, but it's an incredible tool for authors.

Physical Space

Libraries are great meeting places. Talk with beta readers, reserve a study room to type without the distractions of home, or get in some people-watching.

More often, libraries are designed to be a third space (somewhere not home or work). You won't find stodgy librarians giving the stink-eye. Some libraries even have coffee shops or at least some kind of caffeinating option so you can sip a hot beverage while you ruminate.

The topic of today's meeting is creative methods
to maximize our bodacity. Thoughts?

And Books! 

If you don't read, don't write. What kind of musician doesn't love music? You can check out physical books, eBooks, audiobooks, graphic novels, picture books, books about books, professional journals, magazines— you get the idea. 

So read! Read always! Never don't read! You'll become a better writer. It's easier now than ever to get a good book in your hands. (You don't even have to come into the building.)

In this modern day of librarianship, most of these resources are available online. Use them when inspiration strikes. I'm not saying you should use these exclusively, only they're more in-depth than Google and cheaper than a plane ticket. 

And who can't use a few more tools in their repertoire?

Remember why you write in the first place.
Go on. Indulge.

Go see what your library has to offer.

Or, if you're not convinced, check out these resources:


Ronda Simmons said...

This is an excellent and timely post, David, especially as we are gearing up for NaNoWriMo. I've been using my local library lately because if I turn off my phone, no one can call me. The librarians there have never asked me to do any housework, or to make them a snack. Or play fetch. All I have to do in the library is write, or read, or daydream, which is an integral part of writing, in my opinion.

David Sharp said...

Hey Ronda!

Glad you're finding it to be such a great creative space. Mostly, I want others to know they have access to some wonderful tools that are easy to overlook. Let me know if you find other great aids the library provides.

Good luck with NaNoWriMo! (Or break a leg? I'm not sure what you're supposed to say to writers.)

Laura Mahal said...

David, you are my image of a librarian. Witty, clever, able to imitate anyone from Kermit the Frog to the entire cast of Monty Python's Flying Circus. I shall never, ever, forget when you broke into a refrain from "I Don't Want a Pickle." In fact, almost exactly a year ago, I devoted a blog post to that memorable moment. (I do, however, want a motor-sickle.)

So, come one, come all, to your friendly neighborhood library. You'll find edification, entertainment, even erudition. If you choose your location carefully, you might discover David Sharp, a fine writer and a fabulous friend.

Once you've heard Kermit, there's no going back. You'll be committed to this delight of a craft called writing, forever and ever. Amen.

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