7 Novels To Pick Up When You Need Creative Inspiration, But Don't Want To Read Another Book About Writing
I have a dark and terrible confession to make, internet: I'm not that into "how-to" books. Don't get me wrong, I've most certainly delved into the occasional cookbook (before giving up and making pasta), and I own a distressing number of books on how to "upcycle" one's t-shirts into slightly different t-shirts. But when it comes to the craft of writing, I tend to find that personally, reading "how-to-write" books is an excellent way to procrastinate on doing any actual writing. Novels, on the other hand, remind me what it is I like about writing in the first place. So if you're looking for some writing inspiration that doesn't come in an instruction manual, pick up one of these novels and get to work.
Of course, your mileage may vary when it comes to which novels are the most inspirational. Everyone writes differently, and everyone draws on different fictional fodder when it comes to crafting new ideas. Some may draw creative energy from lengthy Russian tomes, while others may find the most artistry in the sexy vampire canon. There's no wrong way to find writing inspiration. But if you're looking for a little extra help along the way, these books are an excellent place to start:
'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' by Betty Smith
It is a truth universally acknowledged that most writers are total suckers for books about writers. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of Francie Nolan, a young bookworm and aspiring author, growing up in the slums of Williamsburg in the early 1900s. That's pretty much the whole plot. But Betty Smith manages to take filthy Brooklyn streets, hungry children, and scrawny trees, and transform them into things of heart-wrenching beauty in this American classic.
'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy
The God of Small Things is a masterclass in writing from a child's perspective. Arundhati Roy's prose is by turns beautiful and nonsensical and deeply, brilliantly layered as she follows two young twins through a turning point in their shared childhood. Esthappen and Rahel live in a world of their own making, until the forces of history and hate intervene to tear their small family apart.
'Wonder Boys' by Michael Chabon
Dealing with a dreadful case of writer's block? Disillusioned with your creative writing classes? Stuck with a lengthy manuscript and nowhere to go? Read Wonder Boys. Chabon's hilarious, insightful novel presents us with Grady, an aging writer on the verge of collapse and Crabtree, an editor who's swiftly capsizing his own career.
'Mr. Fox' by Helen Oyeyemi
It's every writer's secret dream/nightmare: what if your characters came to life? ...what if they were really, really mad at you? Mr. Fox brings us St John Fox, a celebrated novelist, and Mary Foxe, his fictional muse who is absolutely fed up with his treatment of women (specifically, his heroines, who he keeps murdering). Oyeyemi mixes meta-fiction and fantasy in this clever novel, perfect for writers of every kind.
'Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows' by Balli Kaur Jaswal
There are far too few novels out there about women bonding over the writing of erotic fiction. Luckily, we have Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. It's the story of Nikki, a bartender and law school dropout, who finds herself teaching creative writing at the Punjabi community center. The course is not at all what she signed up for, but Nikki soon discovers that she and her conservative students have more in common that she ever thought (especially when it comes to steamy literature).
'The House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende
If you're looking for some sweeping, decade-spanning writing inspiration, look no further. The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga, tracing one family through three generations of women: the otherworldly Clara, the passionate Blanca, and the youngest, Alba, the ambitious revolutionary bent on changing her country for the better. Allende's writing is transcendent, weaving together myth and history in one unforgettable novel.
'If on a winter's night a traveler' by Italo Calvino
It's debatable whether or not If on a winter's night a traveler really counts as a novel. On the one hand, what else would you call it? But on the other hand, Calvino creates a bizarre mystery in which every other chapter is the first chapter of an entirely new novel, in an entirely different style, while you, the reader and protagonist, scramble to try and find chapter two. It's strange and delightful, and a must-read for any writer looking for a whole cavalcade of new ideas.