If my Spotify account could tell you anything about me, it would say that I really like playlists. I have 361 of them. (Wait, what? I didn’t realize how many I had till I counted them all.) It’s a little like an archeological dig from my high school years up to my current playlists – junior year of undergrad. I could listen to music with lyrics while I wrote papers in high school, but once the 16-page research pages started popping up in college I found I needed to switch to something that helped me focus on the writing, while keeping the creative part of my brain entertained. Before I started looking into instrumental music, I thought it must all be that boring classical stuff (sorry, classical fans) my grandmother always listened to in the car. The last few years have proven me wrong, however, and I’ve collected a good number of playlists that I’d like to share with you all. Instrumental music is great no matter what kind of material you’re writing – fiction, poetry, essays, research papers, or something else entirely; there’s always something out there to fit your style and mood. Here are some of my top picks, based on what I listen to each artist for.

Music for Conquering Anything

I listen to instrumental music most when writing academic papers. I often don’t find them too interesting, so I need to hear something motivating. Hans Zimmer is one of my favorite composers, and I find that listening to an exciting movie soundtrack like “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Sherlock Holmes”, or “The Dark Knight Rises” makes a daunting paper feel like a great adventure. There’s a reason Hans Zimmer has close to 3,000,000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone!

Music for That Specific Scene

A new favorite artist of epic proportions is the composting team of Nick Phoenix and Thomas J. Bergersen, who call themselves Two Steps from Hell. Their music is featured in film trailers, video game soundtracks, and other media. Each of their albums has a different feel to it, which can be very useful if you need to set a specific mood for your writing. I could go through and tell you what my “feel” of each of the albums is, but if you’re looking for something to put you in the mood to take on a specific scene, it’s best to test some out for yourself. The albums “Invincible” and “Archangel” are my favorites, though they even have a – truly unsettling – album called “Halloween”, if you ever find yourself in need of a soundtrack for writing a thriller.

Music to Write Deep and Introspective Things

If you’re looking for something calmer, maybe for a more contemplative piece of writing, Explosions in the Sky is my suggestion for you. Mostly electric guitar and drums, this group lands more on the experimental indie rock side of the musical spectrum. With albums titled “The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place” and “How Strange, Innocence” and songs in the eight to ten-minute range, Explosions in the Sky expose an incredibly dynamic emotional landscape within each song.

Jessica Born Music for if You’re Still Unsure about Instrumental Music

Still thinking that pop or rock music is much more your speed? Give Lindsey Stirling a try. Trained as a classical violinist, Lindsey Stirling throws her years of training in a blender with dubstep, dance, and hip-hop influences. While some of her songs have guest vocalists like Lecrae, Lzzy Hale, and Christina Perry, her instrumental tracks also have unmatchable energy. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun writing than when I’m dancing in my chair to Lindsey Stirling. I might even get my classical-loving grandma to like it someday!

More Playlists

Want all of these great suggestions in a playlist? I made one for you. It’s called “Set the Mood & Set the Stage”. Here is the link on Spotify. Want to explore more instrumental music? Check out these other Spotify playlists for good focus music: “Deep Focus”, “Intense Studying”, “Perfect Concentration”, “Mellow Beats”, and “Brain Food”. I hope these suggestions will give you many motivated writing sessions, and a starting point to discover all the great instrumental music that is out there. Happy listening and happy writing!

 -Jessica Born

Historical fiction is a unique genre. History and fiction come together and blur the lines of reality. For many, historical fiction can be an escape from the reality of modern times. As an English major, and as someone with an interest in literature, I know that when studying different areas of literature, you also submerse yourself into history. This history that surrounds prominent authors of the ages gives readers a better understanding of the texts and pieces that they are studying.

One author that is widely pronounced within historical fiction is Hilary Mantel. Mantel has published memoirs and short stories, but she is best known for her soon-to-be completed trilogy about Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power during the reign of Henry VIII. The first book of the trilogy is Wolf Hall, following is Bring Up the Bodies. The third and final book of the trilogy is The Mirror and Light which is still a work in progress.

Now you may be asking yourself how Hilary Mantel’s trilogy pertains to you as someone who studies literature. Mantel’s books are centered around the Tudor Monarch and courtiers during the Renaissance period. During this time came about the Tudor sonnet. When reading Mantel’s books, you will come across the character of Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was a known poet and courtier whose work is still studied today. Wyatt was one of the earliest poets of the English Renaissance, and he brought about significant innovations within English poetry, as well as, helped in the introduction of the sonnet from Italy into England. Wyatt was also heavily involved within court politics, which is why he would be included within Mantel’s fiction. This extension of Sir Thomas Wyatt as a character is surely fictional, but this is where the lines blur between reality and fiction; Wyatt is presented with qualities of his true self but also ones that have been exaggerated. There surely is not enough information regarding Wyatt to truly produce him as a character within a book. Using information about the society that Wyatt lived in, which was court society, his own poetry, and the bits and pieces we do know, such as his relations among others, Mantel is able to fill in the gaps with her own details.Leah Meldrum

As someone who studies literature and has had to take classes on the importance of Renaissance literature, it is super interesting to see a poet that you have studied come alive into a character within a genre. I think this trilogy by Hilary Mantel can be a creative way to submerse yourself into the history of a time-period that many English majors may study. Mantel, as a writer has a true art for presenting fact but also extending the truth into fiction. When studying Renaissance literature, and having to read the work of Sir Thomas Wyatt, I found that reading Mantel’s books helped me better understand the context of the world that Wyatt lived in. It allowed me to better understand his poetry because I could get a sense of the life of Tudor Court. While historical fiction is not truth, it can help you as a reader to better understand some of the texts and pieces you have to read for classes within your major. So, next time if you struggle to read a piece of literature from a time-period way before your own, maybe check out some historical fiction that could help guide you along the way.

If you are interested in further reading any of Hilary Mantel’s other work please check out her website hilary-mantel.com.

– Leah Meldrum

I am an English major and I am proud of it. You should be too.

“And what are you going to do with that major, Megan?” asked one of my relatives, incredulously. And once again, I found myself having to defend my choice of going into Editing and Publishing as an English major at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. And I doubt it would be the last. Do we have this reoccurring defense in common? Many are skeptics of the importance of English majors in the job market today. And so, I am writing a message to English majors everywhere, from a fellow English major—while I am not necessarily on the same path as you, we still understand each other. You may be focused on writing poetry, non-fiction, fiction, comics or screenplays. You might want to be an editor or work for a publishing company. You may want to teach English to high school students or even college students! It does not matter to them. I bet that large majority of you have experienced doubt about your college choice, whether it comes from close family, friends or a mentor of sorts. “An English major, you say? Now, why would you want to do that?” “How are you going to find a job?” “Don’t you know that is a dying industry?” “Is there a reason you are paying that much for college and then not make any money in the future?” they ask. They will tell you the benefits of studying the Sciences; or how Accounting is the field you really should look into. They will definitely tell you that Computer Science is the future of the world, and that you should get in while you can! Well, here are some ways to prove those people wrong. This is how you can be successful as an English major.

I would just like to start my advice off by saying that if you choose to study English, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOUR CHOICE. Remember, you are in charge of your future and you can do anything that you put your mind to. It is easier to be successful though, if you work hard and genuinely enjoy what you are doing. Colleges around the country offer English programs because it is important that people know the impact Literature and writing have on society. There is no need to change the path you want to be on just because someone else says it will not be worth it. Personally, I am not just an English major because I do not like Math or Science. They are two subjects that I am not particularly interested in, it’s true. But I am an English major because of my love for words, books, stories and creativity.

A common misconception about English Majors is that we are all going into teaching, because apparently it is the only field where we can find jobs. This is untrue, by the way, no matter how often you hear it. Many people assume that I am going into Elementary or Secondary Education when I tell them that I am studying English and are often surprised that the field has broader job opportunities. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with teaching. In my opinion, being a teacher is the most honorable, while also the most rewarding, job of all time. Keep in mind, however: you can do anything with English. Many recent media articles have focused on the fact that much of today’s work force lacks one major skill: being able to write effectively and efficiently.

English majors are versatile, meaning that they can work in many different fields. The skills they possess make them desirable for employers, especially their ability to read quickly, write well, and look at things creatively. For example, I was walking through the English Department at OU the other day and found a flyer with a list of jobs in which current OU English graduates are employed. These jobs included positions like Editor and Editorial Assistant, Book Reviewer, Proofreader, Freelance Writer, U.S. Department of Defense-Logistician and Process Analyst, Public Relations Manager, Technical Editor for Educational Publishing Company, Web-Content Writer, Advertising copy writer, HealthCare Administrator, Journalist and Higher Education Media Relations Specialist, to name a few. English graduates from OU have also gotten jobs at many famous institutions like Johns Hopkins University Press, The Palace, United States FBI, SMZ Advertising, Maryland Institute of Art, Lambda Corporation and Thomas Gale Publishing. Now before anyone assumes, “Well, these people clearly couldn’t get jobs in the fields they wanted, so they probably settled for something different,” it is important to remember that every person, English major or not, has their own specific interests and ideas. Being an English major gives you the opportunity to “wow” your readers through solid cover letters, exemplary work reports and being well-read all around.

One important thing to remember when you are applying for a job: Internships are so, so, so important. Many jobs require you to have at least one to two internships before they will even consider hiring you. A good amount of these internships are unpaid, but some can have a salary. It may be scary to realize. But college campuses are full of opportunities to make this happen! Forge connections with your professors, make friends with your classmates and do not be afraid to contact the Career Services office at your school. Professors can write letters of recommendation or be the person to help you find out what you really want to do after college. Your classmates will not only be your future competition in the workplace, but they are smarter than you sometimes. Do not be afraid to ask them questions and use them as a study partner. The Career Services office Megan Luttinenat your school is your best resource for building resumes, practicing the interview process and giving a look into what it is like to have a “real job.” I promise you, these will help out in the long run. Connections are key. Knowing someone in the industry is very important in today’s work place.

Lastly, I have some personal advice to give to you, little English major. Pay attention in your English classes. Do not be afraid to admit that you are wrong or ask for help. Ignore people who say “grades will not matter in the long run” and appreciate the education you are given. Join your English National Honors Society and any other clubs you want. Apply for scholarships and grants. But most importantly, believe in yourself. My parents have always told me to follow the path I want to be on and so far, I have found that I am successful as an English major. You can be too, if you do the research needed, make necessary connections, and pursue your dreams with passion and tenacity.
Good luck, enjoy your books and love the major that you are in. An English major can be extremely successful, when they choose to be.

-Megan Luttinen

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is fast approaching. The idea is to complete an entire novel over the course of November, as the name suggests. According to their website, a novel is about 50,000 words long. While this may seem daunting and stressful, there are, obviously, benefits to it as well. Here are five reasons why I’m excited for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Completion. The most obvious benefit here is having an entire full length novel. No longer are you stuck in the dreaded land of “someday”. This is what I am, personally, most excited about.
  2. Discipline. If you find yourself struggling to find the discipline, like myself, to write every day, this will force you to build it.
  3. Deadlines. In the same vein as the last reason, you will be able to work with deadlines, set by yourself and ultimately set by someone else, in a relatively low stakes environment.
  4. Improv. Because there isn’t a lot of time to plan your novel out, you will learn to second guess yourself less, choosing to run with your first thought more often than not, concerning the current decision you have to make in your novel.
  5. Community. If you need some encouragement, or would like to discuss your NaNoWriMo woes, there is always another writer who would be willing to discuss that with you. If you aren’t able to find anyone around you who is participating, this database could help you find a group of writers near you. Or, if you’d rather stay in your office, there are plenty of places to reach out to your fellow writers online. Also there to encourage you are Pep Talks, written by successful novelists of every kind, which you can find here. I’ve found Neil Gaiman’s, specifically, to be a great source of encouragement.

In case these reasons aren’t convincing enough, consider the success of Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. Before it was brought to life by Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson on the big screen, it had humble beginnings as a NaNoWriMo project. Other examples, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, or The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The bottom line here is that something like this is not going to waste your time as an author, because you will always get something good out of it. Even if it still seems to be a bit too much, I encourage you to venture into it, and, hopefully, surprise yourself.

– Sam Boggs