Five years ago, I completed my first NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, where participants write a 50,000 word novel in November. On a whim in 2014, shortly before November 1, I committed to writing 1,667 words per day to meet the goal. They weren’t good words. But I did it, and I learned so much in the process.
By writing every day for one month, with a word goal in mind, I learned the power of getting a draft down on paper—with a deadline motivating me to do it quickly. Those deadlines help me follow through, whether I’m reading a library book before it’s due or finishing a new chapter to send to my editor.
NaNoWriMo might eventually result in a hit novel; Cinder and The Night Circusdid start as NaNo projects. And while I hope bestseller status isn’t your NaNo goal, I firmly believe that participating in such an intense writing challenge will help you learn something about yourself, and your creative process.
I love books that get “meta” about my favorite topics, and writers-on-writing is definitely one example. Today, in honor of the upcoming NaNoWriMo, I’m sharing twelve of my favorite books on writing and creative inspiration. Whether or not you participate in this year’s challenge, I hope you’ll find some useful wisdom on this list.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this November? I’d love to hear your tips or recommendations for books to inspire, motivate, and guide writers at any level.
This book is perfect for fiction lovers and writers alike. Prose's insights are terrific, her voice is engaging. Her comparisons and lessons from well-known classics like Middlemarch or Flannery O’Connor enlighten and delight. Writers: this is a must-read. Readers: you'll gain insight into how your favorite authors work their magic. More info →
The concept couldn’t be simpler: this compendium holds the daily routines of 237 writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers, and scientists. We glimpse the creative processes of drinkers and drug takers, early risers and exercisers, nap takers and night owls. Some schedules are mundane, others are wildly eccentric. With their contradictory routines, you’ll be assured there’s no “right” way to work. While you could read it straight through, it’s best enjoyed dipping into again and again, slowly over time. A perfect book to keep nearby as you sit down to write each day. More info →
What keeps me from getting my writing done? Me. My distractions, my doubts, my to-do-lists. I resonated with so much of what Pressfield had to say about the many forms the Resistance takes, and how to combat it. I recognized myself over and over in these pages–and I’d thought I was the only one. Tackle writer’s block with Pressfield’s timeless advice. More info →
I frequently turn to this one for inspiration and encouragement. In Anne's own words: "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 modern classic, and a must-read for writers. More info →
If you like to work with a plan, a guide, or a rule book, this one's for you. It’s the unofficial handbook for NaNoWriMo, written by the founder. Baty draws on his own experience and brings in authors to encourage and motivate you through each week. Read it before your NaNoWriMo or in bits and pieces as you write. Either way, you’ll glean helpful advice. More info →
Just. Get. It. Done. There’s an inevitable part of the NaNoWriMo process where "just getting it done" overshadows any artistic, literary goal. This is the book you need to push through the unavoidable slog and increase your word count. Take it from me, adding complicated routines or exercises to your writing practice will only slow you down. Keep it simple, and collect a few tips from this little book. It's short and sweet, super practical. More info →
Even if you haven’t read it yet, you’ve probably come across a few quotes from King’s famous memoir. “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” “ The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Filled with quotable wisdom, this is an exceptional book for book lovers and a must-read for writers, and I'm saying that as someone who has read a grand total of two books by King. (The other is 11/22/63.) I thoroughly enjoyed his descriptions of his fiction writing process (although his descriptions convinced me that I never, ever want to read Carrie.) I especially enjoyed the anecdotes he shared about his marriage, and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough when he explores his devastating car wreck and recovery. More info →
Bradbury is remembered for his inventive stories and fantastically creative mind. In this essential book for writers, he shares his process and spills his secrets. Bradbury exudes a surprising amount of enthusiasm and zeal for a book with the word "zen" in the title. His essays combine practical advice with joyful celebrations of the writing life. More info →
I bought this in paperback after 3 separate friends gushed about it in a week. You might want to pick it up before you launch your NaNoWriMo project, but it’s also helpful for the editing process. Cron suggests that since our brains are wired for stories, we can plan our stories in a way that pleases readers’ brains. With chapters on character, plot, and conflict, this science-meets-art guide will help you organize your outlines or drafts. More info →
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard changed my life. I had never encountered reflections like hers, and she quickly became one of my favorite writers. Annie’s honestly, combined with her impeccable prose, make her a wonderful guide. She’s honest about the difficulties, the torture that often accompanies creative work. She even says she HATES writing. Yet her words still make me want to write. More info →
Journey through Smith’s creative life with this ethereal, magical work. Less handbook, more personal journal, Smith takes us from a fictional tale of artistic obsession to a sweeping account of her own writing process. An amazing storyteller, Smith’s awe-inspiring look at the mysterious yet beautiful nature of art is sure to inspire your own writing practice. Divided in three parts, this unusual genre-defying work is a must-read for any creative. More info →
Short, powerful, and moving. Okorafor’s 112 page memoir is for "anyone eager to understand how their limitations might actually be used as a creative springboard." When she woke up from surgery to repair her scoliosis, Nnedi Okorafor couldn't move. Unexpectedly paralyzed and unable to move from her hospital bed, she started imagining strange things...and turned them into stories. Writing became a healing practice for Okorafor, a way to go beyond her limitations and find her strength. I can't wait to pick this one up soon. More info →
Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? Are you participating this year? We’d love to hear your favorite books for writers in comments.