Getting a job at the university library has been one of the best things to happen to me this year.
First of all, library.
Second of all, job.
Third of all, LIBRARY.
The thing is a freaking treasure trove. Ever wanted to read scholarly articles about cult TV? We got that. Want books in German, French, Portuguese, or Russian? You bet. Beautiful hardcovers from the early 1800’s? Yep.
And I’m just in the humanities library.
Probably one of the best tasks I’ve had while working there has been the missing list. Every month or so, the library compiles a list of books that the computers list as being in the library, but patrons have not been able to find. And I, list in hand, get to search for them.
I’m not saying that sarcastically. I actually really like doing this. Consider:
While doing this, I found the section of Ursula K. Le Guin’s books, at which point I nearly squealed, then sat down and proceeded to take off the shelf every novel on there that I hadn’t read. When it came time for me to bring the missing books I’d found back downstairs so that they could be put back into the system as in the library, I put those lovely, beautiful, pretty novels in my special place in the back.
(My special place is just the table in the break area, but I love the delighted shivers I get every time I see the books I’ve found for me during my shift.)
I’ve also helped with sorting the books that have been returned, which means I get to see all the cool things other students are reading.
SERIOUSLY, GUYS. STOP CHECKING OUT SUCH COOL BOOKS. THEY KEEP COMING HOME WITH ME.
Except for whoever’s writing a paper or something on the Twilight series. Just keep all those academic analyses coming.
So in my slow self-burial beneath a pile of intoxicating ink-covered pages, I came across two books that have conspired to change how I approach my writing. Not really in a revolutionary way. More in a “hey, dumbskull, the bathroom’s that way” kind of way. The first, which I came across while sorting, was Stephen King’s On Writing.
(Thank you, whoever it was that borrowed that book and then returned it on my birthday because that was a wonderful unintended present. :) )
As I was reading On Writing this week, I came across a part where he talks about whether he writes for money at all. His answer: Nope. He writes for fun.
Which I smiled at and told myself I do, too. Except then my money brain informed me that I should think about money, too. After all, I want to be able to actually make some off my books. You know, to pay university tuition, maybe buy an iPad mini (instead of just a Kindle, because Kobo. Gosh.). I shrugged and pretended the whole exchange hadn’t happened.
Then, the next week, I was searching for books on that missing list when I came to the section with C.S. Lewis’s books. At which point I took a minute to see if they had Boxen, the book about the world he and his brother had made up together as kids. I’ve been wanting to read it for years, but it’s one of those more obscure books that I’ve just never managed to get my hands on, so my search was more out of a sense of duty than anything. I didn’t really expect to find it.
Until I saw it sitting there, all casual-like, above The Horse and His Boy.
(This is also a nearly 100% accurate representation of what I did when I saw Ursula Le Guin’s books the week after.)
(No, this is exactly what I did. I have no regrets.)
It’s a delightful book. Instead of talking about the world of Boxen, like I’d expected, it’s full of stories that C.S. Lewis wrote about the world while still a child, spelling errors and all. It’s clear that he wrote it all for sheer enjoyment, and the accompanying drawings he did of animals in tweed, or in puffy Medieval sleeves, or of the men who also lived there have quite won me over.
And, as I’ve been reading it, even though the stories could clearly be improved, I love them as they are. Reading them isn’t a chore; it’s play.
Which fascinated me. What was it that kept me reading? What was it that I enjoyed so much?
I also wondered if any of my worlds had the same kind of life in them; if I’d taken the same kind of care and attention in making them that he and his brother obviously had in their creation. So, I pulled out a notebook I’d found in my recent episode of Total Room Makeover, one in which I’d written about how a world I call Erd got created, as well as the stories of some important personages following that event.
It had the same thing.
The same joy.
Entirely unselfconscious, despite the fact that I’d written it as a teenager, imaginative, and beautiful in its simplicity.
In that moment, something I’d been wondering about while reading Boxen solidified in my mind:
Technical perfection has nothing on joy.
There were some really, really awkward words in those stories I wrote. Young C.S. Lewis still had a lot to learn about spelling. A. Lot. And yet, none of that detracted from the delight those words gave me. Not a single bit.
For the past while, I’ve been feeling creatively clogged because I’ve been focussing way too much on creating salable fiction. One of the first questions my left brain would ask as soon as my right brain was primed to work was: “Will this sell?”
Because it sucked some of the joy out of that moment and replaced it with fear. Have that happen enough times and your right brain ain’t gonna come out and play, nohow, no way. The only problem was that, as much as I want to create, I also do need to know if I’m writing something that people will want to read; will want to pay money to read. That’s kind of the point of publishing.
But now I know that I’ve been worrying about all the wrong things. The key to beautiful creativity is to take all the skills of an adult…
…and enter those worlds as a child again.