Looking for some writing inspiration? If you’re feeling a case of writer’s block or just want to hear from those on the same writerly path, many writers, poets, and other artists have chronicled the methods and settings that have inspired them, as well as chronicling some of their best strategies for getting words on the page. Reading through these books is an exercise in seeing how to create within the scope of real life: how to draw from your natural surroundings and the rhythms of life in order to transform thoughts to words. Even if you’re not a writer yourself, these books provide a vivid window into the creative process that is fascinating for anyone who enjoys the art of words.
The best books on writing are applicable not just for writers, but also offer readers the gift of getting to better understand the process some of their favorite authors have gone through in order to create the essays and stories that connect with readers. Reading these books gives you yet another chance to enjoy the craft of a skilled writer, adding depth to their existing work and giving us another chance to enjoy their skilled prose. On a personal level, I find that many of these books have helped me to evaluate my own routines and goals, causing me to think about how I’m using my time and how I can draw inspiration from the ordinary circumstances of life. No matter what kind of creating you want to do, I hope these books help inspire you and fascinate you with their insight into the writing process.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
One of the classic reflections on how and when to write, Lamott tackles the process of writing “bird by bird,” showing readers how just taking things one step at a time can add up to something beautiful. Lamott walks through everything from “shitty first drafts” to feelings of inadequacy when creating and shares everything in her trademark comforting and thoughtful style. Whether you devour this all at once or turn to it as needed in your own writing process, Bird by Bird breaks down the often overwhelming writing process into something more digestible, giving you the confidence to tackle whatever task is in front of you.
Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa
Writing about the drive to create through the lens of famous writers of fiction, Llosa urges aspiring novelists not to give up by imagining how authors such as Kafka and Faulkner might have approached the craft of writing and the process of creation. Set up as a dialogue of letters, the book’s conversational style draws in both would-be writers and those who want a deeper understanding of the thought process that goes into novel writing.
Known for her insight into the lives of her fictional characters, Amy Tan turns her insightful eye onto her own life, recalling the experiences that shaped such well-known books as The Joy Luck Club and led to her recognition as a masterful storyteller and chronicler of relationships. Tan shows aspiring writers how to draw from both their joy and their pain to lend depth to their work and shows all of us how to look at our own lives as a great story that frames who we are and how we encounter the world.
Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin
The best books on writing are a story within themselves, like this book from Le Guin that is based on workshops she has given across the course of her career. Covering everything from wrangling narration to leading collaborative review groups, this book is both practical and a testament to Le Guin’s ability to take those things that seem out of this world and tie them to our collective understanding. While this book may be primarily for those looking to improve their own writing, it is also a fascinating read for anyone who wants to look inside the mind and creative process of one of the leaders in science fiction writing.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Dillard is known for her sparse and unflinching style, and this guide to life as a writer is no exception. Instead of giving specific pieces of advice or checklists, Dillard concentrates on the life of the writer and her own experiences, drawing back the curtain on her process and inspiring writers to develop one that works for them. Dillard encourages focusing on what is important and pushes writers to avoid the trivial in order to create something that has a long term impact on others. Even if you’re not trying to put your thoughts on paper, her meditations on life and meaning will influence anyone who wants to evaluate how they work and live.
As these books show, writing is intractable from the experience of living for the authors featured here. Maybe you never intend to write anything for public viewing, or maybe you’re well on your way to crafting what you hope will be a published piece; either way, these writers can provide inspiration about structure, creative routines, and taking life step by step in order to reach whatever your goals may be.