5 Books of Advice for Writers, by Writers

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.

6 Ways Literature Has Inspired Composers

In honor of National Classical Music Month, we’d like to share some beautiful instrumental songs that were inspired by gorgeous books! We’ve even prepared a Spotify playlist for you that is the perfect length for a long commute to and from school or work. We hope you enjoy reading and listening along to some beautiful literary tunes.


Musicals

Perhaps one of the most exciting ways books influence and inspire composers is in the creation of musicals. Take for example, how the composers of Les Miserables, Ragtime, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame each captured the raw emotion of their respective fictional characters. Whether you’re listening (or singing along to) Éponine’s tears over Marius, Tateh’s excitement about his new home in America, or the gorgeous choral singers at Notre Dame, musicals have a special sort of literary magic that is distinct from other genres of music.


Orchestral Works

As a former orchestra member (Do I have any fellow violists out there?), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about how literature has been an integral part of classical music. The first influential story that comes to mind is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture” is an absolute masterpiece and my personal favorite musical take on Shakespeare’s writing. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s “Faust Symphony” is equally as fascinating. In this work, Liszt creates three character sketches from Goethe’s Faust: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. Instead of recreating the drama’s plot, as many other composers do when inspired by a work of literature, Liszt writes musical portraits that explore the three unique fictional characters.


Operas

Operas lend themselves well to literary inspiration, needing dramatic narrative and compelling, emotional characters. Verdi adored Macbeth so much that he composed a four act opera that begins with an appropriately dramatic overture. Henry Purcell used opera to capture the betrayal of Aeneas to Dido from The Aeneid. What better way to musically express the stormy drama in these works than elaborate operatic arias?


Ballets

Combining both music and dance, ballet is another beautiful art form that can benefit from literary motivation. For example, Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty inspired Tchaikovsky to compose the famous waltz in his “Sleeping Beauty.” (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how well-read Tchaikovsky must have been to make all of his literary references?) Prokofiev tackles the classic Romeo and Juliet in his ballet, which he ended up using to build three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece later on in his life. I have to say, my favorite part of Prokofiev’s work is the scene where Tybalt recognizes Romeo. That particularly catchy song has definitely been stuck in my head a couple times!


Plays

What’s a play without a little musical accompaniment? Shakespeare is once again an influential force in the musical arena. Several of his plays are accompanied by well-composed music. In fact, Robert Johnson, an English composer and lutenist, is well-known for working directly for Shakespeare to provide music, like “Galliard” and “Full Fathom Five,” for his plays. Mendelssohn is another Shakespeare-admirer known for his music composed to accompany Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Film Scores

Last, but certainly not least, literature has been instrumental (pardon the pun) in the “book-to-movie” film scores we listen to today. This just might be my favorite form of literary influence on music; it’s always so exciting to see a movie recreation of one of your favorite books complete with costuming, scenery, and a beautiful soundtrack. To name just a few books that have inspired recent film scores, theres’ the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, Pride and Prejudice, The Handmaid’s Tale, Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Hobbit, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.


The artwork featured on our blog was
provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.


You can find a Spotify playlist with the songs mentioned in 
our post below. We hope you enjoy the music collection!