There are many ways to find inspiration as a writer: trying out new creativity prompts, eavesdropping on interesting conversations in public (super guilty of this — sorry every-person-who-sits-at-a-table-next-to-me-in-a-diner-ever), or meditating until a brilliant idea pops into your mind.
But the simplest, most certain way to get your creative gears turning?
When words are your great love — and corralling them into something cohesive is your career of choice — there’s no better way to spark your motivation and muse than by indulging in your passion.
But if you’re anything like me (and nearly every other writer I know), your “To Read” list is likely long enough to be overwhelming. When you’re feeling stuck and in need a jolt of inspiration, it can be nearly as daunting to pick your next read as it can be to, you know, write your next project.
Never fear; we’ve curated a list of six books that are certain to lift your spirit, summon your muse, and get your fingers pounding until your keyboard begs for mercy.
Jen Sincero may not be what you expect out of a “self-help” author. She’s raw, sometimes vulgar, unwaveringly honest, and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She’s open about her own insecurities, failures, and self-doubt, and she’s quick to call out anything that’s phony, trivial, or naive.
Which is exactly what makes “You Are a Badass” so… well…. badass.
Sincero skips anything fluffy, passive, or cliche, and goes straight to the heart of what you want, why you want it, and what is keeping you from getting it. She speaks to you in a voice that feels like your oldest friend, someone who knows you better than you know yourself and is willing to call you on behaviors and attitudes that are holding you back.
The casual, intimate tone of the writing pulls you in and helps you invest emotionally — which makes any revelations you have hit hard and hit deep. (I spent a good 45 minutes just staring at the wall in stunned shock after her exercises revealed to me my own beliefs regarding money, as well as where those beliefs stemmed from.)
But it’s not only your own uncomfortable negative beliefs and actions that Sincero forces you to confront — she also encourages you to be brave enough to acknowledge what it is that you really want out of life, no matter how ridiculous, fanciful, or irresponsible your goals may seem to you.
Want to be a world traveler that exclusively flies private? Want to write a record-breaking bestseller — immediately followed by another? Want to get your memoir optioned by a major Hollywood studio? Want to win a Nobel Prize?
Jen Sincero believes that if you want any of those things, they’re as good as yours already — as long as you are willing to put in the bravery, work, and passion to claim them. And once you finish this book, you’ll believe the same thing.
Sincero manages to not merely inspire you to write (although she very much does that), but to write well, to write the project you most want to go after, to seek the sort of writing career that you most desire. If you have a writing goal you’ve brushed off as unrealistic, you’ll suddenly see its possibility; if you don’t know exactly what your writing goal is, you’ll be able to find it.
“You Are a Badass” manages to be all action and wonder and bravery and optimism, without any naivety or saccharine language or false encouragement. It gives you the courage to admit what you want and go after it, no matter how terrifying it is.
The book absolutely isn’t for the meek — but then again, neither is writing. You know you’ve got it in you.
For over 25 years, “The Artist’s Way” has called on creatives to go after what they truly want and to live a life full of productive passion. More than a book, it’s basically an entire personal development plan, and it offers actionable, concrete steps to take to affect change in your career — and in your life.
It makes sense that “The Artist’s Way” is more of a process than just a simple read; it was born out of Julia Cameron’s teaching notes from her workshops on how to “unblock” yourself and realize your full creative potential, and it allows anyone to access the benefits of her workshops from the comfort of home.
The assignments are both terrifying and fun, overwhelming and exciting, difficult and addictive. From writing (unsent) letters to your most hurtful critics, to acknowledging and writing down your deepest fears and insecurities, to purging all media (TV, music, news, Instagram, etc.) from your life for a week, to writing stream-of-conscious Morning Pages, to taking yourself on weekly Artist Dates, your life for the next several weeks will be centered on upping your creativity and finding your inspiration.
While the meat of the book is in the assignments, the language itself is also motivating and impactful. Cameron has a way of capturing the pain of creative struggle, as well as the hope and beauty that can come out of it, in a way that makes a case of writer’s block feel like an epic quest, and breaking through it and creating a holy act.
Take note: If you write for a living but don’t consider yourself as particularly artistic or creative (say, if you’re a technical writer, a copywriter, or run a blog on the latest tech developments), this book can still be just as helpful. These tasks help to increase creative thinking overall (which means an increase in problem solving and idea generation), and are excellent ways to up your confidence, motivation, and productivity (and what writer doesn’t love that?).
It’s also just fun (and sometimes, when our work is creative, it’s easy to forget to let creativity be enjoyable). For example, some of the assignments involve living out your childhood dreams. So if you wanted to be a rockstar? Take up guitar lessons. An astronaut? Join an astronomy club.
“The Artist’s Way” is perfect for the writer who wants to get their hands dirty — and have a blast doing it.
OK, at first glance, this may not seem like a book that will do anything to inspire your writing. I mean, a book on cleaning? That thing we all neglect doing until absolutely necessary (or until it can serve as a perfect writing procrastination tool)? That’s supposed to help with writing?
As creatives, writers tend to be highly observant, which means that we also get distracted by our surroundings more easily than others (so, it’s not really our fault when we eavesdrop in restaurants). We may also be more negatively affected by a bad environment — and more inspired by a beneficial one.
Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” fully embraces the effect your environment can have on you, and acknowledges the emotional or mental hold our possessions often have on us. She firmly believes that when your home or workspace is cluttered, unorganized, or full of items that you don’t need or love, it can drag you down and hold you back from being who you really are (and achieving the goals you most desire).
Her aim sounds almost naively idyllic and misleadingly simple: to surround yourself exclusively with items that “spark joy” — items that give you a surge of happiness, comfort, gratitude, or inspiration. You start by sorting every item you own (and she means every item) into categories (books, clothing, photos, etc.). Then, working your way through one category at a time, you hold each item in your hands long enough to determine if it sparks joy.
If it does? You keep it. If it doesn’t? You toss it.
The book is a quick, easy read; the process itself is much trickier and more time-consuming — and can reveal things about you didn’t expect. For instance, if you’re a lifestyle blogger for a living and find that the only books you kept were your Ray Bradbury and Douglas Adam novels, it may be time to branch out and try writing your own sci-fi novel. If you’re a homebody yet most the photos you keep are from your semester abroad, maybe you need to make traveling more of a priority.
It also provides easy-to-follow steps to help you find the perfect place in your home for every item you hold onto, as well as advice on how to maintain your new organization method once you’ve finished.
Is it a lot to take on? For sure. Is it worth it? Undoubtedly.
Since I read Kondo’s book and implemented her strategies, my writing life has changed immensely. I now find inspiration in everything around me — from the candles I burn while writing, to the sweaters I wear while I work, to the office supplies on my desk. Everything I own fills me with a sense of happiness and gratitude that wakes me up and tunes me into my senses and surroundings — which makes tuning into new ideas and inspiration far easier than when I feel shut down or burdened by my surroundings.
Not only that, practically, my productivity has increased; I’m no longer sifting through clutter to find what I need — when I have a story idea, I know exactly where my notebook is, where the perfect pen is, where my old story notes to draw from are.
This way of thinking has even infiltrated my digital life. My Google Drive is even neatly organized now, with only documents that are worth saving, all set up in easy-to-access folders.
When you’re not bogged down by what you own, it’s amazing how much easier it is to find your creativity.
Even the most practical writer knows that there’s an air of mystery to what we do. Conjuring words out of thin air and creating something that moves others is akin to crafting a spell and watching it work its supernatural wonders.
Sometimes, I’ve felt myself almost going into a trance when I’m writing a poem or a piece of fiction, but it’s not only in creative writing that this happens. Even when I’m writing real estate copy, I can feel a tingle inside of me when the right words surface, or I may even feel like I’m not writing at all, like the words are just coming out through me.
Elizabeth Gilbert sees the magic in writing as well — and in all creative living (whether or not you make your living through “creative” means or simply use the energy gained from creative acts to fuel your career).
And when she says magic, she means magic. As in, “I just got my letter from an owl and I’m shipping off to Hogwarts” magic.
It may seem ridiculous, or too out-there, or too fantastic to be true, but she’s got countless stories to back up her worldview. (And, even if it is a little fanciful, is there anything wrong with adding a little more fantasy and wonder to your life?)
But what really sets “Big Magic” apart, beyond its magical outlook, is that it is more than an inspiration — it’s a call to action. Gilbert wholeheartedly believes that inspiration is all around, that ideas are actively seeking out creators willing to share them.
She encourages you not only to be open to listening to that voice in the back of your mind that others may tell you to ignore, but to go with your gut and trust that if you are drawn to write something, that it’s because you’re meant to do it.
She also encourages you to … you know … write.
The perfect idea can come to you over and over again. It can nag at you until you can think of nothing else. It can pop into your mind, fully formed and ready to transform your career and your life.
But if you don’t sit down and put pen to paper, nothing will actually happen. And the idea may even leave you and find someone else to share it. (She firmly believes that one such idea was physically transferred from herself to another writer she met, after she had abandoned it for too long.)
Gilbert believes there are other forces at work — wonder and magic and mystery — but you have to do something if you want them to play a part in your life.
“Big Magic” is a beautiful, inspiring plea to challenge your fears, quiet your doubts, and let creativity work its magic in your life.
As a business leader (including an accomplished career as a CEO, as well as a keynote speaker on growth strategies, corporate turnarounds, leadership, and personal development), you may expect Skip Prichard to be a fairly technical, dry writer who focuses solely on facts, technicalities, and the more academic approaches to motivation and inspiration.
“The Book of Mistakes” proves that Prichard is anything but what you would expect.
There’s practical, easily applicable, and immensely useful advice in the book, for sure. But it’s delivered in an entirely unique way that makes the “Book of Mistakes” different from nearly any other self-help or motivational book on the market. And it’s a difference that may make the book more appealing to professional writers, who are often naturally drawn to narrative, drama, and strong characterization.
“The Book of Mistakes” is perfect for those who crave the emotion of fiction in their inspiration. It offers a set of common mistakes people make that keep them from achieving success, but instead of being presented as a nonfiction guide, the mistakes are woven throughout a novel that ties together two stories: a period tale centered around a heavily guarded, mysterious manuscript, and a modern-day drama of a young professional struggling as his life turns from one of possibility to one of threatening failure.
This method of delivery not only makes the advice go down a bit easier (especially by those who may be resistant against being told what to do, or who find nonfiction unstimulating to read), but it also drives home why you want to avoid these mistakes in your own life.
It’s the old adage of “show, don’t tell”; when you see the emotional repercussions a character suffers due to not avoiding these mistakes, you’re more likely to deeply understand why you want to avoid these mistakes yourself. And watching a character you care about succeed can be more inspiring than simply being told you will succeed.
Prichard offers powerful motivation to any writer who is feeling trapped or stifled in their career, or who feels like they can’t break through to the next level of writing success. If you can’t seem to finish your latest manuscript, or if you’re only making enough through freelancing to just get by, or if you’re feeling like your writing career isn’t going in the direction you crave, “The Book of Mistakes” can offer practical advice on what to change you in your life to turn your career into the one you dream of.
If you’re looking for self-help that doesn’t feel like self-help, and if you’d like a hefty dose of emotion and story to get your own words flowing, this may be the perfect inspiration for you.
That’s right — this last pick is up to you. Inspiration can be a deeply personal, intimate thing. Something may speak to you that moves almost no one else, and what gets everyone else going may leave you cold.
Sometimes the best way to reignite your passion is to remind yourself why you fell in love with writing in the first place.
Go back to the book that you reread over and over, or that made you see writing in a new way, or that encouraged you to fill a blank page with your own words for the first time. Maybe it’s rereading “A Catcher in the Rye” and letting yourself judge phonies the way you did as a teen. Maybe it’s diving into “Romeo and Juliet” and speaking each line of dialogue out loud, savoring each word as if you were on stage at The Globe.
Maybe it’s reconnecting with a childhood classic that filled you with wonder for the first time. Sometimes I snuggle in bed and reread “The Velveteen Rabbit” (while holding my childhood panda bear close to me) and remember how it taught me to see things for more than they appeared, to know what real love is, and to believe in the best kinds of magic.
Whether it’s “The Hobbit,” or “The Elements of Style,” or some pulp sci-fi adventure novel that had one printing and then disappeared into obscurity, pick it up and dive back in. Maybe it’s the textbook from your first college English course, or a memoir by your hero, or, hell, maybe nothing makes you happier than slipping into “Twilight” and falling for a sparkly vampire (no judgment here; I’d move to Forks tomorrow).
Whatever it is that first convinced you words were magic, reread it now and let it convince you all over again.
That’s the best part about great writing; it’s always there for you, waiting to be read again.
When you’re feeling short on motivation, or if you’re ready to take your writing to a new level, look no further than your favorite bookshop or local library for a shot of inspiration.
Whether you’re craving a kick in your (bad)ass, a practical guide to unleashing your muse, a way to revamp your external environment (and organize your mind as well), a chance to embrace the magic of writing, the wonder of getting lost in an inspiring story, or the thrill of reconnecting with what made you fall for writing the first time, this list gives you the perfect place to start your hunt for motivation.
Let yourself into the wonder of words — and then get ready to share yours with the world.
Amanda Kaye Stein graduated from the Academy of Art University with an A.A. in Fashion Design (focus on Fashion Illustration and Creative Writing). She’s worked as a freelance writer, editor, social media manager, graphic designer, artist, and comedy improv performer. She’s an aspiring novelist, YouTube creator, and ukulele rock star.