9 Unlikely Reads that Will Make Your Writing Better

There are thousands of “best books for writers” lists out there. (I’ve written one!) But what about the inspiration that comes from all around us? Not just Bird By Bird (even though everyone should have read this one by now…) but poetry, graphic novels, non fiction etc. Writers always have their eyes and ears open about ideas and jumping off points. Where do your ideas come from?

Here are 9 Unlikely Reads that Will Make Your Writing Better:

1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

One of the most important skills a writer can have is to deeply understand the human condition. Everyone we meet in life is going through a personal struggle and so should every character. Tiny Beautiful Things is Cheryl Strayed’s book of advice from her former Dear Sugar column in The Rumpus. This book is profound in its way to relate to people and thinking about the meaning of our troubled lives.

2. Neruda

I’m a strong believer in the power of poetry. Everyone has their own go-to poet, but mine has long been Neruda. I’m a sucker for love stories and sometimes it feels like every story that can ever be told has already been written. Neruda (and many poets) have a way of distilling love and life into such simple and clear notes that it rejuvenates your inspiration and teaches us that simple stories are the most powerful.

3. This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki 

Emotions are conveyed not only in words, but often in images. This One Summer took the world by storm with its beautiful coming-of-age story set to illustrations. It won awards for its portrayal of adolescence featuring secrets, melancholy and wistfulness. When you write, images are often filling your mind and as a writer you try to get them down on paper. One of the hardest things to do is communicate what’s in your head and get it down on the page. This graphic novel is a reminder of the power of imagery.

4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This is an award-winning portrayal of a child looking for her place in the world. We’ve all felt like outsiders, but diversity and diverse representation in literature is something all writers should be working towards in their fiction. Please pick this up.

5. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Comedy is not easy to write. In fact, humor might just be the hardest thing to write. Time after time, I see writers who are writing what their idea of funny is, when in fact, we all have a different sense of humor. This Is Where I Leave You is darkly funny and never lets the reader forget that sometimes humor comes from unexpected places.

6. Shakespeare 

Everyone has a favorite play. Mine is Macbeth. It’s one of his easier reads, but I am always very moved by the motivation of the characters. Greed, love, passion, and legacy are universal emotions that never get old and never date themselves. I think Shakespeare is a great way to reconnect with the themes of life that run deep in our DNA.

7. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Writing for teens is not easy. Ask any YA author. What makes this book soar is its ability to remind us what our teen years were like in a honest way that few books can. We can all remember what our high school days felt like, but that’s through the lens of years of healing. Few writers can tap into the true life and death emotions that teens feel about love, life and their futures. This book is a great teacher in knowing your audience.

8. August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

Family drama is my favorite kind of drama. Secrets buried by family members for the sake of their own sanity–this is a hook I can always get behind. I was blown away by this screenplay, which was originally written for the stage. Southern charm, family issues that span generations and learning what stigmas/secrets/ways of living are genetic and what you can leave behind is a lesson that takes decades to learn. This is a beautiful script based on a moving play that you can find in the link above under “2013 Screenplays.”

9. Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Writing a novel, is very obviously different than writing a screenplay–that’s easy to see. “Saving the cat” is a metaphor for more than just writing for the screen. Saving the cat is about letting your story and characters reach an all time low, and then bringing them out from the darkness when it seems too bleak. Don’t be afraid to challenge your characters and risk losing the cat–you’ll always find a way to save her.

Q: What unconventional books, plays or stories inspire you? 

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