Warning: the following may be hazardous to your writing habits.
We aspiring writers who live in Fairfield County, Connecticut, are fortunate. With the center of publishing only 50 miles away in Manhattan; with vibrant public libraries and their energetic events coordinators in almost every community; with fine chain and independent bookstores within easy driving distance; and with several universities featuring creative writing programs and commitments to cultural outreach close by, we have a steady schedule of author appearances to attend for education and inspiration. As I reported in my previous post, for example, bestselling writers Dennis Lehane and Peter Abrahams shared their wisdom with us in person less than 24 hours apart. Like Western pioneers on the Santa Fe Trail arriving at Bent’s Fort, authors on the book-tour trail find our area a welcoming stopover.
But what if you cannot get to an author talk? Or if you live in a place far from that book-tour trail? How can you sit face-to-face with a National Book Award winner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a bestselling crime writer, a unique-voiced memoirist? That’s why the Internet and YouTube were invented, of course.
Herewith an annotated index of a baker’s dozen links to a random sampling of author talks online. And I’m not referring to someone’s latest appearance on “Today” or “Charlie Rose.”
A caveat: I have watched only a few of these. Thus, I cannot promise you they all impart ready-to-use writing advice. Nor can I promise that these are the best available videos of each writer. My purpose is simply to show that, if you are looking for inspiring sights and sounds from one of your favorites, you may be able to find it. So here’s the list, in alphabetical order, except for Ian McEwan in the anchor-leg spot, the reason for which will be apparent.
• Michael Cunningham. The Pulitzer Prize winner for The Hours, from the fabled Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
• Louise Erdrich. The new National Book Award for Fiction winner (The Road House) on Well Read.
• Elizabeth Gilbert. Her famous 2009 lecture on creativity at the TED conference.
• Mary Karr. The poet and memoirist (The Liar’s Club, et al.) from the Writer’s Symposium By The Sea at Point Loma Nazarene University.
• Barbara Kingsolver. Thoughts on libraries and on being a writer from the author, most recently, of Flight Behavior, from Minnesota Public Radio.
• Elmore Leonard. The now-87-year-old crime master on his writing schedule and process, one of several short segments from AuthorLearningCenter. Given his lofty spot in my pantheon of writing heroes, I also recommend his recent acceptance speech at the National Book Awards (scroll down), where he received the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. (I skipped over Martin Amis’ introduction; Leonard gets his medal and takes the mic at roughly the 6:30 mark).
• Laura Lippman. Her illustrated master-class lecture—on how she does it—at the Crime Fiction Academy.
• Alice Munro with Diane Anthill. The short-story genius with the British novelist and editor, plus a moderator, at the International Festival of Authors in Canada. There is a much longer, biographical interview with Munro at TVO.
• Richard Price. How to capture the sound of the streets in dialogue is one of several segments in this presentation at Big Think. Other writing experts at this repository of no-frills, in-their-own-words videos include, Margaret Atwood, Anne Lamott, Tom Perrotta, Salman Rushdie, The New Yorker Editor David Remnick, Robert McKee (the screenwriting guru) and Gay Talese.
• Gay Talese. Take an author-guided tour of his English-basement “writing bunker” in his East Side of Manhattan brownstone via The New Yorker.
• Kurt Vonnegut. Listen to him enumerate, in this clip, his famous instructions on how to write a story .
• Tom Wolfe. Oscar Coral’s 72-minute documentary, “Tom Wolfe Gets Back to Blood,” on the 81-year-old white-suited wonder’s reporting and writing of his new novel. (This on-demand viewing may require registration and perhaps a fee.)
• Ian McEwan. In a video produced by his publisher for the Anchor paperback release of his novel Solar in 2011, McEwan offers “Advice for Aspiring Writers.”
Now, having proffered this list, I urge you, before clicking on the Play arrow of any of the above, to read the first comment beneath the McEwan video, posted by someone named Lucian O’Rourke. It reads:
Aspiring writers: stop watching YouTube!—Alex McNab