On the importance of libraries and personal archives

I have been having a sort of academic discussion with a fellow friend and writer about what constitutes into a writer’s archive. As some of you may or may not know, every professional writer keeps what it is informally known in the business as “the files”, which is nothing but a collection of unfinished stories, snippets of research promptly jotted down on napkins and, in some cases, entire chapters ashamedly (sometimes wisely done so) removed from published work that will never see the light of day.

Seventy years ago the definition of “my files’ signified, for most writers, the possession of a metallic file cabinet often found in the offices’ supply shop at a very convenient discount located either next to the home desk or at a corner.

Having just one file cabinet and it meant you were a weekend writer, a hobbyist, someone who was too afraid to quit the day job to launch yourself into the adventure of being poor. Have more than one cabinet, but less than three, and it meant that perhaps you were an academic of some sorts, a “connoisseur”, a person of several interests who was indeed on the way to somewhere.

But, have no less than six and it meant you would also most certainly had an entire room devoted to your writing. I’m talking about stacks on top of stacks of magazines, comic books, movie posters from wall to wall (which were either sent by the studios one worked for as a courtesy or bought from frequented cinemas houses) and many other memorabilia that could be considered as “war trophies”.

Professor J.R.R Tolkien at his home office, compared to...

Notably, we have a very defined contrast between what a writer’s space used to look like, and what it looks like today. The soul of the creative room has been exchanged for empty space and, inadvertently, for a very dangerous consequence: an expiration date.

...the modern writer's office.

Sadly, with the advent of the home computer, those wonderful physical cabinets morphed into digital folders. Soon, a writer’s archive went from occupying an entire room to the indignifying amount of occupying nothing. Frames were taken down from walls, comics, and books from shelves and tables, file cabinets were emptied, all in the name of digitalization. Any physical proof of existence was burnt, it all lives now online, in the confinement of virtual spaces, or in the cloud, as computer geeks like to define it nowadays.

That is how a writer went from working surrounded by his or her own version of Disneyland, to writing inside the white prison of THX 1138. Jumpsuit and all.

Well, no more. I am determined to bring back the dignity of the home office to writers everywhere. It is because of this unforgettable sin I just described to you, that I’ve written a small essay and a set of clear instructions on how to build your own home library, an archive if you will.

Why? So we can keep moving forward, without leaving what matters behind.

You will find the essay in question in the latest issue of The Free Bundle: A Map to Where Muses Live, or How to Build Your Own Home Library.