Top 10 Books for Writers that aren’t About Writing

There are plenty of books about learning how to write well. (Check out the 808 section for a bunch!) These inspire us writerly types to write while giving us confidence, direction, and a sense of being a part of a writing community.

But books about writing aren’t the only books that leave you burgeoning with story ideas. Here’s a list of ten books that aren’t about writing but that will inspire you to write anyway.

content.chilifreshThe Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnik: This isn’t a book about writing. Or creativity. It’s about food—restaurants and meat, recipes and bacon. And yet, something about its utter devotion to its subject, and its structure, and the intermittent e-mails to Elizabeth Pennell (a writer who first saw the cookbook as a literary form) will remind you of the creative process. You might want a snack when you’ve finished it, but you’ll also want to start writing.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Stephen Pressfield: Stephen Pressfield is a fiction writer, but this isn’t a book about writing fiction. It’s a book about whatever goal it is you’ve always had but never accomplished, and how you overcome the resistance that’s held you back so far.

Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp: One of the world’s most accomplished dance choreographers, Tharp explores creativity with the goal of turning ideas into finished projects. The daily creative habit is not a new idea, but Tharp’s experiences of being enmeshed for most of her life in creative endevours help illustrate how the process really works.

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield: Without a font (and a printing press of whatever sort), a story cannot become a book, so perhaps we writerly types owe a debt to fonts. We can repay it by reading this exploration of fonts, which goes beyond an explanation of serifs, kerning, and leading. It’s a history and a study of how typography has influenced the world. Consider, for example, this idea from a broadside by typographer Beatrice Warde: “This is a printing office, Cross-Roads of Civilization, refuge of all the arts against the ravages of time, Armoury of fearless truth against whispering rumour, Incessant trumpet of Trade. From this place WORDS may fly abroad not to perish as waves of sound but fixed in time, not corrupted by the hurrying hand but verified in proof. Friend, you stand on sacred ground: this is a printing-office.” The place all writers want their books to end up!

content.chilifresh-1Steal like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon: Where do ideas come from? Kleon posits that there are no new brand-new ideas, just those that are influenced by the old ones. Being open to influence and interaction helps ideas continue to spark. This short, graphically-illustrated book will help you see the epic scope of possibilities all around you.

Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Berstein: A groundbreaking book, Spark doesn’t tell you how to be creative. Instead, it shows the creative mind at work, from writers like Joyce Carol Oates to actors like Patti LuPone. These illustrations help create a deeper understanding of creative methods that might just change you process.

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder: While it focuses on writing screenplays, Synder’s book teaches you something lasting about the creative process, specifically about structure and form. You’ll have a better understanding of why you like certain movies and why you don’t, which will translate into the stories you write.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie: Ostensibly about business, Mackenzie’s book tells the story of his years as the creative director at Hallmark. But it also illustrates how a creative mind both thrives and is throttled by demanding stress—and how to work around it.

content.chilifresh-2Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke: About to enter the German military, a young writer named Franz Kappus wrote a series of ten letters to the poet Rilke. His answers are partly about poetry, but mostly about living an authentic life. “No one can advise you or help you. No one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself.” As writers, we only have that to offer—ourselves, and Rilke’s writing shows us how to do that.

The Everyday Work of Art by Eric Booth: When people question if art, literature, and creativity are necessary, this book answers with a steady, affirmative yes. Instead of looking at what individual artists bring to their genre, it explores how art influences individuals. Madeline L’Engle said the book “reminds us of the necessity of the arts for the growth and health of the human spirit.” It will help you nurture your own creative spirit and bring more energy to your writing.


One response to “Top 10 Books for Writers that aren’t About Writing

  1. I’ll have to check out some of these books. I’ve heard of Save the Cat, but I haven’t made it to actually reading it yet.

    I do have to voice my unpopular opinion, though. I did not like Pressfield’s War of Art. I’ve heard so many people praise it, and I did see some merit in it; however, I thought it was annoying and overhyped. I got that it was supposed to be motivational, but I felt like it never got to a real actionable point that could do much for people. Maybe it’s just me. I prefer more concrete advice, and I felt that this was a wishy-washy attempt to put together a self-help book.

    Nice collection post, though!

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