Inspirational Books

I’m big on inspiration. I believe all writers are, although I ONCE belonged to a writers group whose conscience was that authors shouldn’t read other peoples work because it might influence their writing [for shame]. What a terrible thing to have happen.
Actually, the group leader was a published author, and fairly good. I read his book–that’ll teach him.
Like I said, I was once a part of that group, and since then I have been part of a group moderated by a nurse in the cancer center I went too. It was based on the idea that writing could be a healing art. Tremendous. I met some great influences, inspirations and learned a great deal along the way.
Some like data. Some like facts. I’m an inspiration junkie. Like the gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, only one was of the mystic variety. Whenever he mentioned himself, he used the disciple that Jesus loved. Not that he was loved more, that was merely his frame of reference. He loved inspiration, and in my arrogance I think everyone else should too.

So, without any more of my drivel, here are the most inspirational books on writing I have read.

I’ve listed them in order of influence. I hope it’s helpful.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

As writers, painters, musicians or… 


Madeleine L’Engle was an American writer best known for young-adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels.

I have read her YA novels and they are tremendous, but it was this book I read first. It was shared with me by an artist friend/relative, and was so chock full of mind-altering inspiration it took six months to read, even as a small paperback. It altered my thinking on the entire creative process. 

We can create anything–there are no limits–we can walk on water.

From AMAZON: Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.

The next two are a toss up for second place- so I’ll give deference to my hero, the best storyteller on the planet… Stephen King


On Writing: a memoir of the craft by Stephen King
Part autobiography and part inspiration, ‘On Writing’ has many reflections on his own personal tragedy. It bursts with tips on mechanics and lots of good simple advice. He wrote this book while recovering from nearly being killed from a motorhome running him down as he was out for a walk.

From WIKIPEDIA: The first section of On Writing is an autobiography, mainly about King’s early exposure to writing and his first attempts at it. King talks about his early attempts to get published, and his first novel Carrie. King also talks about his fame as a writer, and what it took to get there. This section includes his relationship with his wife, the death of his mother and his history of drug and alcohol abuse.
The second section is also autobiographical, in which King discusses the 1999 accident in which he was struck by a vehicle while walking down an isolated country road. He describes the injuries he suffered, his painful recovery and his struggle to start writing again.

Stephen King’s definition of when you are actually a [talented] writer.
Goodreads records it as, “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” I remember it saying, “then you can call yourself a writer.” Who am I though to bicker with Goodreads.

Somehow he manages to read 60-75 books a year and still produce what he produces. AMAZING!!!

Nuts and bolts: After you think your book or story is done shorten your book by 10% find the worthless stuff and take it out. I have a hard time NOT making it longer, but I hear his voice in my ear as I rewrite.
There’s a lot more, but it’s more ethereal and shows up when needed.
Third or Second Place tie is:
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Anne is surely hard to pin down or pigeon-hole into a class or category. If you’ve never treated yourself to her raw style, do yourself the favor and find any one of her many books. I think what does it for me mostly is her transparentness. She is very candid about her own failures and struggle with life. I’m a whole-hearted subscriber to the idea that a rough life makes great writing.

“If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young.” -Anne Lamott

Excerpt from Google Books
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

“A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write… sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind — a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing “now,” while we still can.” — “Seattle Times.”

Description from Wikia Anne Lamott – The author and narrator of the book. A former drug addict
and alcoholic, Lamott has become an author, teacher, mother, and devout Christian. She is heavily influenced by her author father’s bohemian lifestyle. She believes that writing can help create community and lead to personal satisfaction. She also believes that writers are an integral part of society and must have a moral perspective.



Remember I said books on writing that inspired me… There are many fine books on grammar and style. I have an existing post for that. Inspiration is an elusive beast at times and frame of mind is everything to a writer.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You

by Ray Bradbury


Before I knew I was a writer, Bradbury was working to turn me into one. From before I was a teenager, his Illustrated Man carved its mark in my soul. I still make it a point to reread some of his books every year. His short stories are my favorite, and I suppose has some connection for me to my writing.

As it says in the title, there is a Zen to writing, and as all these authors I’ve listed have said in their own way, If you write to be rich and famous quit now.

“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” 

― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Most memorable in this book was how he fed dimes to typewriters in the basement of the LA public library writing and submitted stories not only out of ZEN, but because he had to eat. It drove him to improve and hone his craft. Inspirational in that his only formal education was high school.


The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction
by Stephen Koch

“The cat sat on the mat’ is not the beginning of a story, but ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is.” 
—John Le Carré

At the time I didn’t even know who John Le Carré was, but it caused me to search and opened another treasury of incredible reading.

I was a raving fan of Vonnegut’s since my teen years and I’m sure it was his blurb that caused me to pick this from all the books on writing:

“Make [your] characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” 
—Kurt Vonnegut

So there you have it. That’s my list. Be inspired.

If you’d like to leave a comment and find the form tedious you can comment on my twitter feed @mikeyznsacto or Facebook M. Matheson

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