By Erica Converso
Free. It’s a wonderful word, isn’t it? A limited budget shouldn’t prevent you from becoming the best writer you can be. And if you use the resources available in your community – and outside it on the vast expanse of the internet – you’ll find that the possibilities for finding story inspiration and guidance are limitless.
So where should you start? Well, as a former librarian I may be biased, but I’d like to recommend your local library. Of course, this doesn’t seem like particularly original advice – everyone knows you can borrow books for free from your local library. But I’ll bet you don’t know just how many books – and other materials like movies, music, magazines, and more – you have at your fingertips.
Do Your Research with Databases
Check your library’s website to find out which databases they offer. My local library has Creativebug, which teaches you various craft projects. Want your character to develop a knitting hobby? Watch a few videos, and you can both learn how. Or Bluebird, offering to teach you any of 163 different languages. Knowing a subject deeply can add a level of authenticity to your characters and plots that a quick internet search just can’t match.
There are digital versions of traditional encyclopedias like Britannica, and newspaper subscriptions through ProQuest, giving you access to news not only across the country, but also across time. If you plan to set your work in a bygone era, primary sources are only the press of a button away. Don’t have a computer or printer? Your library has you covered there too! While the specific databases your library has available will vary, many have similar services to the ones listed above.
Get A Wide Variety of Inspiration Via Worldcat
Maybe you’re not quite ready to write yet, and want to settle in with a good book to enthuse your Muse. Wander through your library or ask a librarian for a recommendation. Grab a grammar guide to brush up on your writing basics. Or, if you know which book you want, see where it is available. For this, I recommend Worldcat.org – the premier resource for finding which books are in which libraries.
Worldcat.org helps you find which libraries carry which books – even if they’re rare, translated, or long out of print! Once, I even sent an e-mail to a library in Australia to ask about a particular rare book Worldcat informed me they had, A Ruler of Princes, by Baroness Orczy, published in 1909. The library was kind enough to send me scans of the table of contents and first pages, enough for me to determine that it was an Australian edition of a favorite book I’d already read.
Many libraries now belong to consortiums that link them with other libraries in the area. So if your library doesn’t have a book, you can inter-loan it from another. In some cases, libraries can even reach out across the state for an older, rarer book or, if it can’t be transported, to help you set up an appointment to view the book in its home library. And in many states, being a resident with valid ID entitles you to a library card for some of the bigger city libraries. For example, even though the New York Public Library only has branches within New York City, any resident of the state can get a card. Even if you don’t visit, you still have access to the vast collection of digital resources they have available.
Free Books for Everyone
That brings me to my last major set of resources: free e-books and audiobooks. Many libraries have access to Overdrive, the main digital distributor for libraries. Overdrive, and its companion app Libby, offer e-books, audiobooks, online magazines, and even some streaming video. You can borrow a book for a period of weeks, and read it online or on your e-reader, tablet, or phone. Many titles can even be read through your favorite app, such as Kindle or Apple iBooks.
If your library doesn’t have a title, you can use the web portal to request it, and your library may purchase it if there is enough demand. Some libraries also have alternate or additional e-book distributors, such as Freading, Hoopla, and Tumblebooks. This is a great way to study other authors’ styles or dive deep into a new genre without struggling to haul home a bagful of books.
Outside of the library, you can also use Project Gutenberg to download works that are out of copyright – also known as being in the public domain. In the United States, that’s works published in or before 1927. Project Gutenberg has domains in various countries, so look for yours to find the works that are available for your country. These books aren’t just great to read, though; they can also be wonderful jumping off points for new stories. Want to write more about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy? As characters in the public domain, you can do just as you please.
I could go on all day about the resources available all over the internet to teach, motivate, and inspire you, but this is a great starting point. Also, I dare you to go to the library and come out without something to read – I never could manage it!
While you’re enjoying all of this fabulous and absolutely free content, we’d love to know what some of your favorite ways to use your local libraries as a writer are. Let us know in the comments!
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