Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process is a collection of super-short, inspiring essays from acclaimed authors that comes originally from Joe Fassler’s online series “By Heart” featured in The Atlantic. In this series of interviews, he asked authors which pieces of writing changed their lives as well as how these words influenced their creative process. He compiled their answers first in the online series and then in this print volume.
This may be a music blog, but I firmly believe this book is for any creative person and perhaps even anyone who is human. This is why I’m not taking a traditional book review approach to this post.
There is something to hearing about formative moments in other people’s lives, especially people as well-known as Stephen King or Neil Gaiman.
A passage in Anna Karenina made Mary Gaitskill physically rise to her feet, the words too intense to take sitting down. David Mitchell calls a cherished James Wright poem a “skull melter,” a coinage I love: It conjures a sense of intense light and heat, and also of the cage of the head dissolving away, allowing the mind, the self, to blend freely with the world outside. It really can feel like that, stumbling on the right words at the right time. This book seeks to put that indescribable experience into concrete language. (xi)
It makes them more human, which gives them the ability to inspire artists who haven’t yet had their formative moments. Alternatively, it can serve as a reminder to those who got caught up in the hard work of their craft and lost sight of why they do what they do.
Whenever I feel that way, I pull this book out and randomly flip to one of the 46 pieces written by these influential authors, and it usually reminds me in one way or another of the reason I create art: to show people they’re not alone, and they are loved.
Another reason this book doesn’t lend itself to my traditional book review format is that there are so many voices involved. At any moment, one particular voice reaches out to me more than others; they all have important things to say about life, and I hear them differently depending upon where I am in my personal journey.
It’s a book that grows with you.
I am a bit partial to the authors who are familiar to me, so I’ll close with some words from Neil Gaiman that helped me cope with the days in which I’ve felt my work (composing, practicing, theorizing, all of it) was less than ideal.
But an interesting thing happens when, three or four drafts down the line, you’re reading the galleys. You’ve been sent the proofs to read, and you’re proofreading. You know intellectually that some of these page were written on glorious days. Some of them were written on terrible days. Some of them were written on days when, as far as you were concerned, you had the worst, most appalling writer’s block in the world, and you were just putting down any old nonsense to try to get something down. And some of them were put down on magic days. The truth is, you can’t tell. It all reads like you. It’s all part of the same book. (327)
These words help me through the tough days because it showed that even though the tough days feel so permanent, even though they feel like they define you as a person, the truth is far from that. As long as you keep working, keep creating, you won’t be able to see the difference in the long run.
It seems that most of the authors in this collection had similar experiences; they learned that as long as they keep going, as long as they stay honest with themselves, they have the potential to create art that affects people. And as long as they feel their art is making other people’s lives a little bit better, then all the arduous work is worth it.
Even for people who don’t consider themselves to be artists, this book shows what goes on behind the creation of art, and if you ever questioned why people do it, you’ll probably find some sort of satisfactory answer in these pages. With such a wide range of authors from poetry to prose, science fiction to memoir, and a wider range of influences, there is something in here for everyone to latch onto.
Get a copy here.
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