Reference Books for Inspiration

I first acknowledged I was a writer in my heart when I read a dozen writing reference books cover-to-cover as though they were novels. There was a thrill in discovering something both foreign and familiar — learning about the nuances of development that I itched to put into practice, at the same time recognizing techniques that I do instinctively, pleased to think there was a writer’s scaffold in my brain.

Sometimes I forget that excitement, and writing feels like a commitment that I’m in too deep. Everything new I write sputters and dies within pages, if it doesn’t put me to sleep first. After the usual period of thinking it was all a mistake and I should quit right now, I find myself flipping through a few trigger books on my shelves, reading the underlined passages that clicked the first time I read them. Eventually that little glow starts to flicker inside again. So, I thought I would share some of these books with you.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit
by Brenda Ueland
I discovered this inspiring book on Christmas Eve a few years ago, and I couldn’t believe I had never heard of it before, since it has been in print since the 1930s. It starts and ends with the concept that everyone has something original and important to say, and the author spends the other 160 pages making you believe it. I highly recommend reading it if you’re having doubts about whether you should be doing this writing thing.

Walt Disney: An American Original
by Bob Thomas
Every creative idea Walt Disney had was bigger and more cutting edge than the last, and at times, people told him he was crazy, if they even understood what he was doing. Some of his ideas worked, but on multiple occasions he lost everything–millions–and had to start from scratch. So to me, this book is about the importance of resilience and time. It is also about the importance of support along the way.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
by Renni Browne and Dave King
After re-reading the two books above , I am usually jump-started enough to try to resurrect a piece of writing, which is when I turn to this book. It contains efficient reminders of all of those things that you know but can drift away from: point of view, beats, narrative distance, repetition. The book provides useful examples that aren’t too basic and specific checklists that are easy to do. For me, this is particularly useful when I’m fumbling with knowing where to start to fix something I had abandoned; I can just take out my highlighter and do what the books says.

How to Grow a Novel
by Sol Stein
Until this point, it has been all about me, but this book focuses on the reader’s experience. It provides no-nonsense guidance while also getting me outside of my own perspective. This book has the absolute best advice and examples on dialogue that I have ever read.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook
by Donald Maass
Finally, when I have done everything else and dare to think that my work-in-progress could be The One, I pull out this workbook. It serves two purposes: 1) If I’m too lazy to do the exercises, then I know I should put my WIP away because it won’t be the best it can be; and 2) Once I do the exercises I know that, whether it becomes the breakout novel or not, my book is better. It has worked every time, hands down, no exceptions.

Now that Indies Unlimited is around, I have a slew of go-to articles bookmarked as well. But that is the topic for a different post. What are some of your go-to inspiration books?

Author: Krista Tibbs

Krista Tibbs studied neuroscience at MIT. She once had a job that involved transplanting pig cells into live human brains. She had another job that gave her clearance to the White House. Her books, The Neurology of Angels and Reflections and Tails, are mostly not about those things. Learn more about Krista from her blog, and her Amazon author page.

9 thoughts on “Reference Books for Inspiration”

  1. Thank you for those reference titles. You can never have enough. I love Donald Maass and refer to his Practical Tools often. I like the different exercise and viewpoints. Jacqueline Daval”s ‘Publicize Your Book
    ‘ is great for marketing. Some of the material is a little dated due to the ever changing climate, but on the whole, very informative.

  2. I have different books of reference and inspiration, Krista, but I know exactly what you mean. Your phrase: ‘Everything new I write sputters and dies within pages, if it doesn’t put me to sleep first,’ resonated around the caverns of my mind like a familiar echo.

    Excellent post, Krista.

  3. I saw the Ueland book recommended elsewhere today. Kismet? Maybe I should get a copy. 😀

    Konrath and Eisler’s “Be the Monkey” was the kick in the butt I needed to try self-publishing. I’m reading Guy Kawasaki’s “APE” right now and finding it inspiring. And David Gaughran’s “Let’s Get Digital” and “Let’s Get Visible” are terrific. But the most useful reference book I’ve read this year is “The Emotion Thesaurus.”

  4. Not trying to be a suck-up, but I have found all the titles put out by Indies Unlimited to be very motivating and inspiring. The Stimulus Packages are the epitome of creativity and the Tutorial books contain great advice not only about marketing, but also the art of writing.

  5. I’ve read Self Editing for Fiction Writers, all the Maass books and will definitely check out the rest. Another good one is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Great post, Krista!

  6. Great post, Krista. Looks like I might need not just one but perhaps all. I really need one on motivating your characters; I’m languishing in books where the characters have no faces or lives, or maybe its that I’ve lost my mojo to care about them. I find if I don’t care about them, how can I expect my readers to care. And thanks to all who have provided great books of reference,

  7. Thank you, Krista! The Brenda Ueland book was the first book on writing I ever read. I got a lot of great info from the Donald Maass book, and I’d like to second DV on Bird by Bird. (My copy is falling apart.) Looking forward to picking up a copy of Self Editing for Fiction Writers.

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