With all the rain we’ve had in Dallas the past few weeks, I’ve had good reason to stay indoors. With all that downtime, I’ve been devouring books about creativity, a favorite topic of mine. As soon as I close one book, I’m at the library or the bookstore picking out another. I’m like a really, really hungry teenager. Can’t get enough, mindlessly consuming everything I can get my hands on.
This all started when I got home from college and couldn’t fit all of my new books on my bookshelves. I had to reorganize the bookshelves (trust me, I was not angry about that), and I tried a new way of arranging the books. One entire bookshelf is devoted to fiction, the other to nonfiction. On each individual shelf, the books are categorized by their subgenres. When I stepped back to admire how grown up and sophisticated my bookshelves looked, I recognized that I had just mindlessly divided my interests into physical groupings. Take a look at these shelves. This is me spelled out for you:
The first fiction shelf is devoted almost entirely to Sarah Dessen and John Green (God bless them) and some similarly light-hearted romances. They are all brightly colored. Happy, funny, witty. There are eleven books on this shelf. It is the most empty.
The second fiction shelf is what I lovingly refer to as the “dark shelf.” These are those mind-rocking, life-altering books that make you uncomfortable and irrevocably change the way you think. These books are even dark colored. I’ve got a lot: 22. The fact that I have double the amount of “dark” books than “light” books reminds me of a conversation I had with my “happy” roommate right before I left for summer: I said, “Being happy is not the end goal of my life. I want to have a meaningful life and be fulfilled.” She kind of gawked at me, and I left the living room feeling a little bit freakish and morbid. Like my shelf.
The last fiction shelf is the classics shelf. Here we find Tolkien, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Austen– you know, the whole team. The language is flowery and exquisite, and as a result, this shelf is tightly packed with thick books. Luckily classics are slow in the making, so I won’t need to make shelf space any time soon.
On my first nonfiction shelf, I’ve given home to all of my creative nonfiction or nonfiction about creativity. Here we have all of my favorite memoirs, books about journaling, and the creativity books I’ve been reading lately. If I could pick a shelf for my future writing projects to end up on, it would be this one, no question about it.
The second nonfiction shelf is more heady nonfiction: feminist texts rubbing spines with Christian texts. For when I’m in the mood to think and chew on hard theories. This shelf isn’t as populated, but then again, a girl can only take so much brain crunching.
And finally, they’re not books, but they’re still taking up a lot of space on my bookshelves: my journals. All of the journals that I’ve filled somehow ended up at the bottom of the fiction bookshelf. I don’t know what that means yet, that the story of my life belongs on the fiction bookshelf, but you should know that it really freaks me out. On the nonfiction shelf, I’ve placed all of those empty journals that I can’t write fast enough to fill at the rate that you people gift them to me (“I saw this at the store, and it made me think of you!”–because we both know I’m the only person you know who journals). Put a bunch of empty journals under all of the books that inspire you to write. It’ll do wonders for your writing output, I promise. I’m filling pages at an alarming rate these days.
And this is how the creative process works, people. You take in a lot of information and then you organize it into categories that make sense to you. Over and over and over again. But it never gets old! You immerse yourself in the ideas that you love, you engage fully in the ideas that capture your attention. Suddenly, you find connections in things that you didn’t realize were in conversation with each other. You start having long theoretical arguments with your dad over dinner (I think he enjoyed it). The puzzle pieces click together, and suddenly, you’re wildly spewing your creative output everywhere, sharing it with everyone who spares a few minutes to talk to you.
So next time you go to a friend’s house, take a look at their bookshelves. See if you know them as well as you thought you did. Better yet: take a look at your own. What do you like? What are you trying to know more about? These topics are where you’re going to have the most creative and inspiring ideas. This is where you’ll have the most fun.
Share that with the world, please?
P.S. I have a whole Pinterest board devoted to bookshelves, so if you’re into that kind of thing, there’s a link on my blog.