Five Books that Every Aspiring Writer Should Read

Tried and true, these are the books that time and time again I return to on my bookshelf. Despite moving all over the world, they stick by my side and travel wherever I go, continuing to provide inspiration and encouragement. These books will give you the motivation to succeed in your own creative sphere, no matter what stage you are at in life. Read on to discover the newest additions to your 2019 reading list!

Educated by Tara Westover

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“It was only as I grew older that I wondered if how I had started is how I would end--if the first shape a person takes if their only true shape.”

Looking at Tara Westover as an adult, she seems to lead a pretty normal life: grew up in Idaho, attended Brigham Young University and eventually graduated from Oxford with a PhD in History. Although her education appears normal, Westover led anything but a normal life. She grew up in a Mormon survivalist family. Her upbringing meant that her family did not believe in healthcare or government education, meaning that she did not visit the hospital and she did not attend school. After years growing up working on her father’s scrap yard in the mountains of Idaho, Tara managed to get a scholarship to attend college and eventually moved on to complete a PhD at one of the top universities in the world. Despite not knowing what the Holocaust was when she entered college, Tara proved to the world the power of hard work and education.

Not only is Tara’s story an incredible ode to hard work, perseverance and learning, but it also outlines the incredible journey of an author whose memoir is now one of the best selling books in the world. Although Tara’s background is in academic writing, Education shows a drastic switch in style and audience, encouraging budding authors to explore new genres themselves. Her memoir is an example of “writing what you know,” and her language and style relates to audiences everywhere. Her journey from the mountains of Idaho to the classrooms of Oxford and the bookshelves across the world is an inspiration to any writer.

Check out her recent commencement speech to Northeastern University!

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

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“Because the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

When I first picked up this book, I read the first four pages and then did not stop writing for a week. Pressfield manages to inspire writers with just a few words, guiding readers on how to stop Resistance--the name he gives to the procrastination, distraction and other productivity-killers in life. He explores what keeps us from pursuing our calling and how to challenge Resistance in every aspect of our creative lives. Pressfield helps readers identify Resistance and shares advice on how to welcome the Muses (our creative inspiration) into our everyday lives.

The book is set up in short 1-2 page segments that meditate on different trials we face. This is the perfect book to keep next to your computer or journal--read when you need a massive dose of inspiration and a kick to get up and pursue your goals. The War of Art is hands-down the best instructional guide for success I have ever read, and it continues to be my go-to for inspiration and motivation in any area of my life.

Upstream by Mary Oliver

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“Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.”

Mary Oliver spent most of her life writing about the earth. A modern-day Thoreau or Emerson, Oliver made her mark in the literary world by writing about every day experiences. Her writing is simple but extremely powerful. Her ability to understand everyday occurrences as larger than they may seem makes her writing both relatable and enjoying to read. The language of Oliver’s writing is a reminder to writers everywhere to slow down and think about the very things they are writing. Oliver encourages us sit and understand the world around us before putting pen to paper.

In the last chapters of Upstream, Oliver explores writers such as Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe and William Wordsworth, discussing their writing and explaining why these authors have such a hold on the American literary conscious. Through attempting to understand the appeal of these writers, Oliver offers readers an understanding of writing itself. Oliver’s mastering of the art of contemplation encourages budding writers to attempt the same.

The New York Times wrote a beautiful tribute to Mary Oliver a few days after she passed away this year.

Letters to a Young Poet

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“This above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?”

A short but incredibly captivating read, Letters to a Young Poet is a series of letters written by Rilke--a 20th century German poet--to a young man asking for guidance on his writing. What ensues is a beautiful guide to creativity and life. Rilke’s advice expands from writing to include topics such as love, loss, loneliness and criticism. The collection of letters serves as an honest approach to writing and life, with Rilke admitting to the burdens of being a writer and the struggles life presents to us. He discusses the importance of being alone when writing, how to measure one’s progress in creativity and the importance of experiencing all of life.

The letters are best read with a warm cup of tea and enough time put aside to contemplate Rilke’s advice. This is likely the most bruised book I own, wrinkled and smudged with numerous pencil marks from hours of rereading. Despite being written almost one hundred years ago, the trials of writing and life which Rilke describes remain true to today.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

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“If a person has never given writing a try, they assume that a brilliant idea is hard to come by. But really, even if it takes some digging, ideas are out there...Writing the ideas down, it turns out, is the real trick.”

I first came across Ann Patchett in an article where I read the quote above. I was blown away by her conviction in taking on the idea that great art and ideas only come from destined geniuses. This memoir offers numerous pieces of advice to any aspiring author. She is brutally honest, talking about the difficulties in making art while simultaneously making a living. Her determination to become a writer is absolutely inspiring. Taking on various freelancing opportunities and writing gigs for magazines, Patchett’s story brims with authenticity and is a path that is relatable to many writers.

For those uncertain with what genre of writing to pursue, she talks about the ways that fiction and nonfiction interact and build upon each other. She discusses the ways that years of nonfiction writing has influenced how she writes fiction and the skills she has gained from both types of writing. Overall, Patchett’s memoir serves as an incredibly honest account of a writer’s journey. By talking about the struggles of being a writer, she gives her audience an honest and forthright memoir that is inspirational to anyone beginning their own journey in writing.

Check out the article that introduced me to Ann Patchett!

What is the book that you keep returning to? Let us know in the comments — we are always looking to add to our own reading lists!