They say everyone has a book in them; the question is whether that book deserves to come out. If you find yourself wanting to write a book but don’t know where to start or are bogged down in the middle of a draft, take heart: millions of people have been right where you are now. Most gave up, but some pressed ahead. If you wish to be one of the latter group, we’ve compiled 90 successful authors to give you, in their own words, the advice and inspiration you need to go from “aspiring writer” to “writer” to “published writer.”
Why they Write
If you’re at a loss to know what to write about, listen as these authors reveal the motivation behind their work.
- Beverly Cleary: The letters of appreciation from both children and adults are what this children’s author considers the most rewarding part of her profession.
- Caroline Myss: As a spiritual guru, Myss makes a living out of inspiring people. She’s also an author, and here she discusses with Oprah how to find your purpose, whether it be writing or something else.
- John Irving: The World According to Garp author discusses the sweetness of the blank page and the thrill of starting on a new adventure with a new work.
- Michael Chabon: The Pulitzer Prize winner talks about great literature and the weighty responsibilities of the writer.
- Joseph Monniger: In addition to explaining his writing routine and setup, Monniger says he writes in the hope of transporting his readers to another place.
- Unknown author: This video doesn’t name the author, but he poignantly describes the feeling you’ll have when you too see your name in print on a book cover.
- George R.R. Martin: In this long video, Martin shares the famous William Faulkner quote that he uses as his mantra for all his writing.
- Ray Bradbury: Though he recently passed, the legend is here to remind you that just one short story sold in a year is reason enough to keep going.
- Markus Zusak: The author of The Book Thief reminds you about one of the greatest reasons for wanting to be a writer: trying to find beauty in a sometimes ugly world.
- Randy Kearse: Kearse uses writing and speaking to help others after spending 13 years in prison.
- Russell Celyn Jones: Jones says what keeps him coming back to the blank page is the knowledge that the last book was not quite perfect.
In these videos, accomplished authors give you their best pointers for kickstarting your writing career.
- Mary Higgins Clark: If you know you can write but don’t know what to write about, take this suspense writer’s suggestion: look at your bookshelf.
- Cindy Gerard: The author of Feel the Heat says her No. 1 piece of advice to aspiring writers is always the same: just finish the book.
- Regan Hoffman: If you hammer away at your writing long enough, it will eventually come out right, says this author of I Have Something to Tell You.
- John Grisham: Write a page a day. It’s a cliche bit of advice, but coming from this bestselling writer, it’s worth heeding.
- Author Magazine: A collection of writers give you their hard-earned pieces of wisdom about writing.
- Joyce Carol Oates: Oates lays out her process for creating characters, and she makes it sound easy.
- Christopher Hitchens: The journalist and author assures young writers that if they can talk, they can write. The key is finding their voice.
- Luanne Rice: Carrying around a notebook and jotting down thoughts helped this author pen 30 novels.
- Candace Fleming: This author’s advice is the same for young aspiring writers as it is for old: CLAPS. Every story needs character, location, action, a problem, and a solution.
- Erin Downing: This author says if you want to be published, get thee to a bookstore and do some market research to see what other people are writing and how they’re doing it.
- Ananda Leeke: This author gives you her two cents on overcoming writer’s block.
- Peter Lerangis: Read everything you can get your hands on and while you’re reading, really concentrate on the writing and ask yourself, “What is this author doing?”
- Scott Gold: Gold, the author of The Shameless Carnivore, instructs young writers to take advantage of blogging and get their stuff out there as much as possible.
- Simon Sinek: In this video, author Sinek advises aspiring writers to look at what they get passionate about and translate that passion into their writing.
- David Brin: In this 10-minute vid, the author of The Postman gives you the tools and advice you need to make “magic.”
- Matt Myklusch: This author admits he spent “his entire life” as an aspiring writer, but what helped him over the hump was to find his voice and write for himself.
- Amy Reed: In a nice change, author Amy Reed gives you permission to not be so hard on yourself if you’re not writing every single day.
- Geoffrey Zimmerman: It should be inspiring to hear that you hold the key to your own success. According to this author and screenwriter, the most important thing you can do is listen to who you are.
How They Got Started
These authors demonstrate how the journey to becoming a successful writer can be a long and winding road and how books can come from often painful experiences.
- Michelle Au: In every blogger’s dream come true, Au tells how an agent read her blog and contacted her about writing her memoir.
- Wayne Dyer: The author shares about his journey from fighting leukemia to “the father of motivation.”
- Anthony Horowitz: If you’re worried because you don’t come from a literary family, you are in exactly the same position as this author of more than 50 books.
- Stephen King: In this interview, the horror legend notes that short stories may be a good avenue for aspiring writers instead of the “quagmire” of trying to write a novel.
- Diana Gabaldon: At the age of 35, Gabaldon decided she would write a historical novel “for practice,” as that was the easiest genre she could think of.
- E.L. James: Inspired by Twilight‘s Stephanie Meyer, this author of 50 Shades of Grey says she had never written a novel before the infamous fanfiction-to-book conversion that’s sold more than 2 million copies.
- Jeff Kinney: The Diary of a Wimpy Kid author stumbled onto the idea for the series after failing to cut it as a cartoonist with his artistry skills.
- Elizabeth Noble: UK transplant Noble is inspired by the grandeur of New York, and that love for the Big Apple translated into her book, The Girl Next Door.
- William P. Young: The breakout author of The Shack briefly shares how his 50-year road to personal healing produced the bestselling book.
- R.L. Stine: Stine tapped into the memories of his own fears as a child to become one of the all-time greatest writers in the history of children’s lit.
- Chris Van Allsburg: The man behind the beloved The Polar Express says he got into art basically by picking the major at random, and the rest was history.
- Nicholas Sparks: Believe it or not, The Notebook spent time in a pile of forgotten books in an agent’s office before being discovered and propelling Sparks to fame.
- Carissa Phelps: Phelps went from homeless at 12 to college graduate and turned her story into a book, as she relates in this moving clip.
- Lisa Jewell: After being laid off from a secretary gig, Jewell started writing, never expecting to become such a literary success.
- Matt Logelin: Blogger-turned-writer proves the worst disasters in life can produce writing that changes other people’s lives.
- Robert Crais: TV writing presented a paying job for this suspense writer to get his foot in the door before he got published.
- Lou Beach: Beach built a book on the back of a collection of well-received Facebook posts and status updates.
- Siobhan Cunningham: Cunningham’s convoluted path to author included stints in the modeling, football, music, and horseracing industries.
- Cheri Lasota: Lasota says it took her years of practicing before she could get past page 50 or so of her first drafts of novels.
- Lynn Vincent: After writing romance novels in a fifth grade journal, eight years in the navy, marriage, birth, and surviving a bombing attack came before getting published.
- Matthew Goodman: Goodman drew on his frustration, anger, and feelings of helplessness to pen Hold Love Strong.
- Anthony Doerr: Doerr churned out a book on memory by drawing on his memory of his grandmother who came to live with him while losing her own memory through dementia.
- Mark Oppenheimer: Almost everyone has good conflicts from high school to draw on for a story, as this author did.
- Sonya Chung: Maybe travel is what you need to start writing. This author journeyed to Korea, the land of her ancestors, and found the inspiration for a novel.
- Keshni Kashyap: Indian American graphic novels are a fairly small niche. Kashyap discusses how she found her place in that niche.
Light Bulb Moments
On the other hand, you’ll be happy to hear from these authors that inspiration can strike at any moment.
- Suzanne Collins: Idle channel surfing sparked the idea for a monster bestseller, as Hunger Games author Collins says here.
- Aimee Friedman: The young adult novelist shares that she gets inspiration by eavesdropping on other people’s conversations and filing away interesting or funny comments.
- Amanda Hocking: It took hearing an author say in an interview that writing requires work, not just passion, for this author to launch her writing career.
- Ian McEwan: The Solar author reveals that simply walking helps inspire his ideas, but other times he simply forces the issue by starting to write.
- Jake Bell: The author of the Nate Banks children’s books explains how inspiration can come from something as simple as glasses fogging up.
- Debbie Burgin: The divorce coach explains how the revelation that a play on the title The Joy of Sex would make a great title for a book on divorce led to her actually writing it.
- Alexander Scott: Scott lays out how a revitalized rose planted the seed for his book The Mysterious Case of Doctor Octavius Plum’s Incredible Ever After Machine in this video.
- Jacqueline Diamond: Diamond has penned 80 books by building on concepts she enjoys like duality and situations she has experienced as banal as getting stuck at a train station.
- Joy Fielding: Fielding reveals a common source of inspiration for many writers: the daily news headlines.
- Emily Yellin: Everyone hates long phone calls with customer service. After enduring one herself, Yellin realized there was a book there to be written.
- Sarah Rayne After searching for inspiration for a character, Rayne saw an Irish monk lecturing and based the character completely on him, even giving him the same name.
Authors share their revelations of writing from the always-inspirational halls of TED conferences.
- Elizabeth Gilbert: The Eat, Pray, Love author tells a TED audience (and all aspiring writers) that all of us have a genius we simply have to tap into.
- J.K. Rowling: Before Harry Potter was a household name, Rowling saw her fair share of failure, which she now says was well worth the pain.
- James Cameron: Consummate storyteller, writer, and author James Cameron says the roots of his work are found in his childhood fascination with the fantastic.
- Isabel Allende: In this clip, acclaimed author Allende speaks about creativity and the passion that fuels her work.
- Elif Shafak: This novelist insists telling stories helps us experience new things, breach cultural divides, and empathize with our fellow human beings.
- A.J. Jacobs: The mischievous author of The Year of Living Biblically is a classic example of someone who wrung a great book out of one simple idea.
- Marc Pachter: If you want to write nonfiction, take heart: this author claims interviewing is easy because everyone wants to tell the truth about who they are.
- Sherwin Nuland: Here the writer and surgeon stresses the idea that to make the world better, we all have to imagine life through other people’s eyes. In other words, we all need to think like writers.
- Amy Tan: The woman behind The Joy Luck Club explores the mysterious place from which creativity hails.
- Richard St. John: St. John distilled hundreds of interviews with successful people into one book on the secrets to success that is sure to inspire.
- Beck Blanton: In this amazing video, the freelance writer shares how writing carried her through homelessness and helped her find purpose in her life.
- Jim Toomey: He’s a cartoonist but he has many books to his name. Here Toomey delves into the storytelling process, and how sometimes it’s as easy as sticking two characters in a room and seeing what happens.
If you’re still not inspired, maybe one of these authors has the moving story to fire you up.
- Dallas Clayton: Clayton’s “big fantastic” dream was to write a book, which he did, but had to publish himself before it became a big success.
- Lucy Christopher: Even published writers do chores or listen to boring radio shows when they get writer’s block, as this children’s author relates.
- Fran Lebowitz: In a somewhat rambling monologue, the sardonic author offers the encouragement that if your writing never becomes popular, not to worry: it’s impossible to be popular for the right reasons anyway.
- Cheryl Strayed: Oprah sits down with this author and asks her about the inspirational 1,100-mile hike that is the subject of her book, Wild.
- Stephanie Meyer: In this encouraging vid, the Twilight creator admits the first novel in the series was not her best writing and that’s she’s always improving.
- Steven Johnson: In sharing his writing process, this author confesses he can only write consecutively for two to three hours, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t write for eight hours straight.
- Gina Noelle Daggett: Daggett passes along the inspiring quote that always helped her get out of bed before 5 a.m. to write.
- Lewis Black: The angry comedian skewers the pain of writing, but as a published author, he’s living proof it can be done.
- Gary Paulsen: Be reassured by the man who gave the world Hatchet that even “awful students” can become professional writers.
- Louise L. Hay: The bestselling inspirational speaker and author lets you in on the secret that your thoughts (about your writing) create your future.
- Darryl Sloan: Sloan defends self-publishing and explains why you should be excited about it, not embarrassed.
- Colleen Coble and Cara Putman: These ladies may inspire you to find your own writing mentor when you hear the positive effects the two authors have had on each other.
- David Mitchell: At 28, a publisher flew him from Japan to London in “a posh hotel” because of something he’d written. That’s when he realized he was a writer.