Books to Inspire Writers

Books to Inspire Writers

word map using inspiration and related terms

CC image “Inspiration” courtesy of photosteve101 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

During this week when the word “love” is in the air—for all kinds of reasons, some of them commerce, I mean, Hallmark—I played on social media with the theme “book love.” I even used that hashtag (#booklove) on Twitter.

Now, Seth Godin I am not, though the idea got me thinking. None of us works in a void. As writers, we are inspired and guided by what we read. Writing well means reading. Some of what we read may be didactic—The Elements of Style, for example, or, in my case, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. Most of what inspires us does so because of what it is: good writing, a good story, characters we can’t let go of, the voice of an author that we recognize and admire.

In keeping with the spirit of #booklove, below are starting points for writing reference and inspiration. Honestly, this list is individual to me, and could go on forever. My hope is you’ll see a little of what you are looking for, when you write.

Three craft books to inspire writers

On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

Everyone has their favorite “craft” book, and this is mine. I’ve mentioned it on this blog before here and here. In my view, explanation is great, and demonstration is better. Part memoir, part writing advice, On Writing delivers both. King tells a great story in this book… and he gets real about writing tips. Suitable for readers of all genres.

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg

Goldberg is a master at channeling the writing spirit. Chock full of advice, prompts, exercises, and the rush of the act of writing, this book has no equal. I love that I can dip in and out of it at will. Some chapters are longer and more immersive, while others are brevity itself. When you need a quick hit of crafty magic, this book is it.

The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron

This book is about more than writing. If you approach The Artist’s Way the way I originally did, you’ll face all your nasty creative blocks, one by one. Having this book is like having a writing intervention on call at all times. This book makes me take a close look at my excuses and the real reasons I avoid my work.

Three types of inspiration for writers

Books that transport

The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula K. LeGuin
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, Richard Preston

Conveying a sense of place is an asset for writers of any genre. Scenery is more than a descriptive catalogue: what we choose to show, the atmosphere, and the people who inhabit that space all carry the story for us. LeGuin created a fully realized world which existed nowhere but her imagination until she set it down on paper. Preston took us to the redwood forests through the eyes of the people who discovered how beautiful and complex that canopy is.


Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
A Cry in the Night, Mary Higgins Clark

Every writer needs to keep their readers’ attention. I’ve included Mary Higgins Clark, a longtime favorite of mine, because the thriller/mystery/suspense genres epitomize this necessity. Yet other genres need to get readers to turn that page, as well. Even—or especially—if readers think they know “the end” of a story, as with Krakauer’s book.

Research made real

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness, Todd Rose

Research can be the key to unlocking your writing. Doerr creates a fully realized historical place, as well as captures how his blind character makes her way through it. Rose transforms a trove of data into a compelling lesson about the destructive consequences of the concept of “average” in so many areas of our lives.

The bottom line

Your list may look different from mine. What are you looking for when you read? What are the books that you love? What lessons do they teach you? Tell me about your list.

Thoughts, questions, comments, suggestions, and blarney (bonus points for wit):