Which Books Have Inspired Your Writing?

When I was a 5-year-old aspiring poet, I devoured books of poetry by Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe, memorizing lines that spoke to the part of me that knew I’d one day work with words.

Later on, as a teenager, I read Bill Ervolino‘s humor column religiously, soaking in his words over breakfast while seated at the brown, Formica table in my parents’ kitchen. I’d turn to the appropriate page in The Record before even glancing at the comics (though I was a die-hard Garfield fan).

From the beginning, what I read informed what I wanted to write.

Last month, I read Lee Gutkind’s You Can’t Make This Stuff Up:  The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between. (Say that one three times fast.) It immediately transported me back about seven years, to when I was taking Cris Beam’s From Pitch to Publish Class at New School. I was focused on the personal essay more than anything else at the time, but when we were required to read Robert Boynton’s The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft, I found myself fascinated by the concept of immersion journalism.

I ate up Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief with a spoon. I absolutely adored Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, which I immediately followed up with Under the Banner of Heaven. I dog-eared pages in Lawrence Grobel’s The Art of the Interview, even though he struck me as a self-important name-dropper. His book still showed me how an interview could be a conversation, and I found that I enjoyed sitting down with people for a story, chatting with them for hours about their projects, their backgrounds, their motivations, getting to live their lives vicariously for just a little bit of time.

As I read Gutkind’s book, it struck me how far I’d strayed from the type of writing that made me fall in love with being a writer. Most of the pieces I’ve written in the past five years have been sex-related listicles and service pieces: How to increase your sex drive. How to increase your chance of orgasm. How to have multiple orgasms. How to keep the spark alive.

When I try to list out all the pieces I’m actually proud of, I come up with only a handful.

I think it’s time to get back to that. To get back to creative nonfiction.

Which writerly genre gets you all fired up? And which books turned you on to it?

Related: Home-Schooled: 20 Books to Build Your Freelance Life Upon


  1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s a great reminder of how to keep at it without getting overwhelmed.

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