It’s November again, and that means that there’s some serious writing energy in the air. November is the month that writers from all over the world sit down to touch pen to paper, or fingertips to keys (be they of the analog or digital variety), and participate in what is known as NaNoWriMo. The elongated title of this exciting event is National Novel Writing Month, a challenge during which authors strive to write 50,000 words of a novel in November. NaNoWriMo is also the name of a non-profit organization (www.nanowrimo.org) which provides support, opportunity and encouragement to writers during this, and every one of their writing adventures.
Encouragement is of the utmost importance when beginning any new creative project. The process realizing our visions is immense. Even more overwhelming, is allowing ourselves the vulnerability to share our unique perspective. In times like these a few words of wisdom, by someone who has walked the same path, can be invaluable. Read on for some excellent tomes of sage advice for authors by authors. These books are filled with just the glimmer of hope that tender creatives need, often sprinkled with the wry humor and earth-shattering honesty that the best of authors are known for.
“Make Good Art” – Neil Gaiman. The printed and bound version of Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts is not technically a book. However, its place as number one on this list is well-deserved. “Make Good Art” is a fantastic call-to-arms for any artist, not just writers. Gaiman delivers advice on having the courage to go out into the world and create. He urges artists who are just starting out, as well as seasoned artists, to ignore the boundaries created by the world and those that we create ourselves. He insists that no matter what you are facing, what you are going through, if you are an artist, you must create. This speech is an essential read for anyone who needs a little motivation given with a lot of heart. Put it on the shelf over your desk. Put it by the bathroom mirror so you see it when you brush your teeth in the morning. Put it anywhere that its powerful message can reach you again and again.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott. If you have seen Lamott’s Bird by Bird come up on many lists similar to this one, it’s for a very good reason. The advice given to writers by Anne Lamott is like that of your most honest older sister, the one that you are secretly intimidated by because she is so cool. With wit and cutting humor, each essay in this volume explores a different aspect of the craft of writing or the act of being a writer. If for no other reason, this collection is invaluable for the essay, “Shitty First Drafts,” which urges writers to put pen to paper, regardless of perfection. This is a hard won lesson, but it is absolutely essential to the writers’ craft. If you want to learn how literature’s cool sister does this writing thing, then Lamott’s advice is definitely for you.
On Writing – Stephen King. The catalog and success of Stephen King is daunting to say the least. One of the most prolific writers of our time, this man has been doing it, and doing it well for very long time. He has built an empire based purely on his evocative imagination and his drive to produce more and more work. In his book, On Writing, King talks about his own experience as a writer, as well as delivering both philosophical and practical advice to the aspiring writer. In this edition, King also describes his life-threatening vehicular accident, and how he had to struggle back to his life’s work. With sections titled “What Writing Is,” and “Toolbox,” King’s memoir is full of the tried and true methods which this powerhouse of an author has himself used. Even if you are not a devoted fan, this book is real-world advice from a man who has made writing into a way of life.
The Faith of a Writer – Joyce Carol Oates. In The Faith of a Writer, the well-respected and award-winning author Joyce Carol Oates weighs in on what it means to be a writer. She discusses how important reading is for the aspiring writer, how the journey towards self-knowledge is essential to the work, and how great ideas are not enough if they are not paired with the craft of good writing. Perhaps one of the most poignant pieces of advice that Oates offers in this slim, but forceful piece is simply the words “Write your heart out.” Offering both insight into what inspires a writer of Oates’ caliber to what is essential to narrative craft, this piece will inspire with its elegant guidance.
Advice to Writers – Jon Winokur. Last, but certainly not least is Advice to Writers, compiled and edited by Jon Winokur. The gathered advice of more than four hundred authors delivered in small quotes, snippets, anecdotes and even short lists. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek and willfully contradictory, this often hilarious and sweepingly insightful collection touches on all aspects of living the writers’ life. While there isn’t much for concrete wisdom on the logistics of writing to be found here, what Winokur has compiled is a joyful reminder that at the end of the day, writing is about the pure pleasure of telling a story, and doing it with style.