For three years, I’ve had the same quote pinned to a whiteboard above my desk. It reads, “a professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” The quote hails from author Richard Bach, whose novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull skyrocketed him to fame in the 1970s. Though I’m predisposed to introduce any author with an impressive sum of their writing accomplishments, his quote I hold dear implores a different narrative – one that looks at professional writing more as a state of mind than a title to gain from some points on your resume.
Admittedly, I didn’t just wake up one day wholly convinced that creative writing was my one true calling in life. I don’t think I’ll ever be so brazenly confident. Like most writers, the curse of second-guessing oneself is hard to shake.
That said, due to the insight and imagination of these five authors, I have gained the necessary motivation to build a life for myself centered around a love for language and storytelling. Each of these unique writers provided me with distinct lessons and points of inspiration that help me keep pushing toward my goals.
Kicking off this list is the one and only Gillian Flynn. Though she’s popularly known for her beloved thriller Gone Girl, my introduction to her dark and twisty stories was her debut novel Sharp Objects. In my mind, Flynn is the master of modern thrillers and brilliantly crafted antiheroine characters (you can read more about that here).
My obsession with Sharp Objects, in particular, which I’ve read three times, inspired me to hone in on writing within the psychological thriller genre. Flynn’s razor-sharp stories consistently helped motivate me to lean into the dark side of my mind when tackling my own novel in progress. In other words, if I could channel even a fraction of the eerie, gritty style of Flynn’s three novels, I’d be content.
So, here’s the thing. Murakami writes some supremely weird books. However, that’s precisely the reason he makes my little list. His one-of-a-kind, eccentric storytelling taught me the invaluable lesson of not being afraid to get a little weird and take some risks in your writing. For, at the end of the day, if you want your stories to stand out, you have to find a unique style or voice that captures the reader. By reading a whole lot of Murakami, I finally got the guts to just let loose more when typing away at my computer – a change that’s served me well so far.
(Note: Murakami does have some questionable patterns when it comes to writing female characters. You can read more about that phenomenon here).
I simply had to include the King of Horror in this list. Not just because he’s one of the most successful authors of all time, but because his book On Writing was a touchstone for me early on in my writing journey. I first read his “Memoir of the Craft” in high school, before I had fully committed to being an English major in college. In general, I knew I loved books, but I was still quite clueless about what writing for a living really entails and looks like. King’s insights were crucial in helping me grasp the importance of building a sound writing routine that treats the practice as a full-time job.
Safe to say, this was a big hurdle for me to overcome initially because, well, consistency was not my thing. I had grandiose ideas for stories but never knew how to generate that passion into prose day in and day out. As I prematurely learned in the 2nd grade when I attempted to pen an entire novel by hand, burnout is real, and it’s hard to see a project through without the proper work routine in place.
James Baldwin’s writing has left me in tears time and time again. His undeniable gift for capturing humanity at its core – the good, the bad, and the ugly – not only made me remember why I love reading but the undeniable power of writing. More specifically, Baldwin was the first author who taught me the meaning of writing for survival. Writing is a life-saving (though daunting) occupation. He taught me that writing is taxing but beautiful and wholly necessary. On this lesson, I’ll let Baldwin have the last word:
Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say. If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.1984 Interview with The Paris Review
Last but certainly not least is master wordsmith Donna Tartt. Hailed as the queen of dark academia for her debut novel The Secret History (and rightly so), Tartt taught me to look at novel writing as the ultimate immersive experience. The beauty and intricacy of her storytelling don’t come about overnight. In fact, Tartt is known for taking anywhere between 8-12 years to write her novels. This has often reminded me that creative writing is long-haul, intimidating work. (We can’t all birth a manuscript in 9 months flat like Stephen King!)
Since I’ve had some luck with short fiction but not with the novelist venture, Donna Tartt is a constant inspiration to me to approach my passion project as more of a long-distance race. Getting over the hang-up of wanting to accomplish the novel goal in a year when a decade may be more realistic is a tough pill to swallow, but a crucial one nonetheless.
Finally, for more writing content, click here.