There are days when I really struggle with writing. When I do, I go to one particular bookshelf and pull out one of the four books listed below. No matter how bad my writer’s block is, a few pages — or a few chapters in a truly desperate situation — will inspire me to write. These four books have an amazing power to get me back on track and remind me why I wanted to write in the first place.
The Novel, by James Michener — There is very little fiction focusing on writing that actually gets through to me. I’ll spend hours reading a novel, pointing out that if a real writer worked that way, she’d be broke. But Michener put his years and years of actual writing experience to work and put together a story that rings true. Because it seems so real to me, I keep coming back to it. I think I’ve probably read The Novel all the way through once every six months since high school.
The Thirteenth Daughter of the Moon, by Stephen Nightingale — This book has absolutely nothing to do with writing, although it has an awful lot to do with storytelling. When it comes to writing a novel that sounds exactly like one of your buddies sat down with you at the bar and started telling tall tales (the kind that get taller with every drink), Nightingale is the best.
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations — A dictionary of quotations seems like an odd source of inspiration, I suppose. And my copy is older than I am. There’s probably been all sorts of brilliant wisdom in the past few decades that I’m missing out on. But when I’m struggling to find the words to describe something, I love seeing what other people have said in the past. Even if I’m writing copy, I pull out this book and start looking up relevant words. Why a book and not Wikiquote? Well, for one thing, Wikiquote can’t be thrown. Occasionally, I need a satisfying thump as much as I need a good quote.
Anne of Windy Poplars, by L.M. Montgomery — This is the book that really convinced me that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I love all the Anne of Green Gables books, but Windy Poplars is so different from the rest of the series (especially structurally). It showed me that there are multiple ways to tell a story, and is more of an old friend that I revisit than a book that I reread.
No matter what type of writing your freelance business relies on, there will be a time when you struggle to find the right words. It’s important to have the resources that will keep you on track through those tough times. I’ve slowly found a few books that inspire me; one I read for a class, one I discovered wandering around the library.
I’ve been known to lend these books out. I have three copies of The Novel, just to make sure that I always have a copy on hand when I need it.
What’s on your inspiration shelf? How did you find the words that help you move forward?