There are an abundance of books on writing. In your local bookshop, there is probably a whole section dedicated to books on how to write – usually titled “How To Write A Bestseller” or something along those lines.
I do like these books. They’re useful, helpful and have a lot of practical advice. But they aren’t particularly inspirational. There aren’t often examples of good writing. They don’t make me want to sit down and write.
More often than not, they leave me feeling overwhelmed, incapable and on occasion, patronised.
I’m most inspired from other books. Published, well written, beautiful books. They don’t always have to have an amazing plot or great characters – just lovely or surprising or tasteful prose.
So here are some books I recommend reading to inspire your writing and get writing tips, even if not in your familiar how-to format.
1. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
If you ask me what my all time favourite book is, this one pops into my head (along with The Hunger Games and a few others).
This book has almost no plot. And the plot that is there is odd. Very odd. But I loved it. However, even if you don’t like the “plot”, the writing is to die for.
Jodi Picoult says, “A book with such beautiful writing that sometimes I have to stop and taste a sentence a second time”.
It’s different, lyrical, light, and the words are well chosen.
Here’s an example: “I took a bath by myself and went to bed. I felt her come by later, as I was dozing off. Her standing, by my bed. The depth of shadow of a person felt behind closed eyelids. Sweet dreams, sweet Rose, she whispered, and I held on to those words like they were a thread of gold I could follow into blackness. Clinging to them tightly, I fell asleep.”
This book revolves around food. The description and focus on food is beautiful but not overwhelming. Aimee Bender does a fantastic job of focusing on minor details without letting them cloud up her writing.
2. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
This is one of my favourite books to read. The writing grabbed me immediately. It’s a subtle mix of prose and poetry. It only uses this technique when necessary, but when Lockhart breaks into poetry, it changes everything and makes this story truly unforgettable.
The other notable thing about this book is the length. At only 220 pages, Lockhart tells a unique and memorable story, heartbreaking and surprising. She is talented in keeping in only the necessary details, yet building up a believable cast of characters and a vivid setting.
“We looked at the sky. So many stars, it seemed like a celebration, a grand, illicit party the galaxy was holding after the humans had been put to bed.”
It is young adult, so some of the descriptions can be cheesy, but I think they’re beautiful.
“It doesn’t matter if one of us is desperately, desperately in love.
that equally desperate measures
must be taken.
We are Sinclairs.
No one is need.
No one is wrong.”
It’s a quick, easy read. If you’re going to pick it up just for the writing, I’m confident you’ll fall in love with the story, too.
3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
When I was gifted this book, I didn’t realise how much I would love it.
Honestly, I can’t remember much that actually happened in this story. I remember loving the main character, but I remember being enraptured in the writing. The gorgeous, punch-you-in-the-face prose, the sheer honesty of it.
Since then, I have bought Sylvia Plath’s complete collection of poetry because I just love her voice so much.
Plath has a special skill in describing the familiar quotidian in a completely new unfamiliar way. That’s one of my favourite things to read about.
I notice when I read Plath, I almost start writing like her. Therefore, I feel I become a better writer.
An excerpt from The Bell Jar: “That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the coloured arrows from a fourth of July rocket.”
UGH! How good is that? It’s divine writing. Such a familiar and popular concept but so new in Plath’s voice.
4. The Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret
This beautiful book is a collection of short stories. And by short, I mean short; they average at 3 pages. It’s the perfect book to keep in your bag when you only have 5 minutes here and there to read.
What I like most about this book is the ambiguity of the stories. They are quite vague so they mean something different to everyone who reads them. There’s a huge range of types of stories in this book and while each sentence isn’t particularly lyrical or mesmerising, overall, it’s a gorgeous collection.
He’s so good at setting a scene, drawing up an image in your mind, with just his words.
“She was so pretty, and so incongruous, hanging upside down from the ceiling that way. With her long hair dangling downward, and her breasts molded like two perfect teardrops under her white t-shirt. So pretty. I climbed back up onto the pile of books and kissed her.”
5. Conversations With Freinds by Sally Rooney
For character reasons alone, I couldn’t gift this book with a full 5 stars. It’s a 4 star read for me, but man, did I enjoy reading it and taking in the delicate writing style. It’s a beautifully written book. Sally Rooney has a light yet bold, easy to read, sophisticated tone. Each sentence feels effortless but new.
“The grass had been cut and gave off a warm, allergenic smell. The sky was soft like cloth and birds ran over it in long threads.”
That’s one of my favourite lines from this book. It’s an irrelevant detail to the plot but the way it’s described makes it so important.
“I cried until my lungs hurt and my face was rubbed raw. I couldn’t explain what made me feel that furious, consuming misery, but sometimes even still when I thought about that election, my eyes filled up stupidly with tears.”
Something I struggle with as a writer is describing emotions. I find it hard to “show” an emotion differently every time. In my first novel, there is a lot of crying and emotional breakdowns. I noticed after my first and second draft that I wasn’t doing anything creative with the way I described the tears. So reading books like Sally Rooney’s, where she describes a familiar response/emotion like this, helps me get creative with my descriptions.
Other Books To Check Out
Thanks for reading this blog post so far! I hope one, or all, of these books help you in your writing journey. While we’re here, here are some more books that have great writing that either I, or my Instagram followers, have recommended:
- Girlfriend in a Coma
- One Day
- The Book Thief
- Dark Places
- The Shock of the Fall
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Turtles All The Way Down
- My Year of Rest & Relaxation
- The Girl at the Window
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- The Great Gatsby
- Harry Potter
- The Silence of the Lambs
- Ready Player One
- A Little Life
- The Goldfinch
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane
- Her Body and Other Parties
- Call Me By Your Name
- Station Eleven
- The Night Circus
Good luck with your writing!