#5OnFri: Five Books to Nurture the Writer in You

by Denise Willson
published in Reading

So you want to be a better writer, huh?  You’ll need to read. A lot. And not just books on the craft (of writing), but books in every genre, targeting every age group. Books will teach you to be a better writer.

How, you say? Pull up a chair and I’ll share.

Here is a list of my top five reads and rereads, my go-to books, the ones I cling to when searching for inspiration and craft reminders. Not one lives within the genres I write, but each has taught me something valuable about my voice, my style, my craft. Each, along with many others, have taught me to be a better writer.

The Time Traveler’s Wife18619684

By: Audrey Niffenegger

If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve read this book a dozen times. Seriously. In my mind, this book has it all: outside-the-box characters, clear and unique voice, riveting plot lines, a touch of fantastical whimsy, and most importantly, good writing. This book is so well written the only thorn is the movie. You need to resist the urge to gobble this book quickly, slowing to appreciate the syntax, irony, symbolism, spot-on dialogue, slight-of-hand POV, and how Audrey leaps place and time flawlessly. There is so much to learn from this book, I cannot gather enough words to do it justice. It’s magic.


LifeofPiLife of Pi 

By: Yann Martel

The first half of this book is slightly uneventful, but necessary. Why? Because the second half is so wildly creative, so ‘out there’, you’d never believe it if the story hadn’t been rooted in a real life character living a relatable life. Backstory is king. It cannot be dumped or spewed, but left to simmer and steam, breathes life into any plot line, no matter how delusional. This book inspires me to think outside the box, to take chances, and know that no idea is too big when motivation rings true.


downloadBeautiful Disaster

By: Jamie McGuire

This book knows how to get the party started. Like other best sellers, it’s got larger-than-life characters who manage to infuriate and pull heart strings at once, but the key is how quickly the reader feels this. Jamie McGuire had me at page one. Maybe even paragraph one. There was action, big things happening, and characters reacting in a way I could relate to. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked. This is hard to do, my friends, but uber important. A reader won’t know you’ve written a good story if they don’t read past the first page.



By: Stephenie Meyer

This book made readers out of non-readers. Along with J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it took an entire category of young adult readers by the hand, then crossed the busy road to a huge adult audience. That in itself makes this book worth investigating, but for me, this series was pure fun. I found my voice reading this book. I didn’t mimic Stephenie’s voice, or the voice of her characters, but discovered how much fun it can be to get to know my cast, fall in love with them, and how readers react when they feel the same. I dare say Mrs. Meyer had a blast writing Twilight. And if I accomplish anything as a writer, I’ll settle for enjoying the ride. So should you.


download (2)Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook

By: Donald Maass

No doubt you can learn to be a better writer by reading all kinds of books. This also includes books on craft itself. My copy of Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is dog eared, highlighted, and has more margin notes than a editor’s manuscript. Bought almost ten years ago, it’s helped me with the good-bad-and-ugly of every writing project since. When you find a craft book that speaks to you, use it wisely. It can be a beacon of light during your darkest hour, a friendly smile when you’re on the right path, and a rumble in the belly when you discover a new way to navigate. You can never know enough. Be open to learning.

For me, reading a book once will not teach me much. Reading is entertainment, how I like to spend my time. Sure, after one read, I’ll know what I liked about a book, what I didn’t like, but if the read was fantastic, I need to explore the ‘why and how of it.’ Why did this book catch my serious interest? How did the author manage to make me feel this way? Why did I find these characters intriguing? How did the author keep my interest from start to finish? The questions, of course, are endless.

The key is to answer them.

Read your favorite books over and over. Not twice, not three times, more. Break them down. Read with a purpose and dissect into chunks: plot lines, character profiles, motivations, story arcs, dialogue, beginning, middle, end, etc. Make notes. Lots of notes. You’re in this to learn, right? Do it. Let the authors of your favorite books teach you how to be a better writer.

It’s all right there, in a book.


xjypqc23orrj7zwk0ntw_400x400Dee Willson

Author of A Keeper’s Truth, out this August!

Find me on Twitter at @denisewillson or at authordeewillson.com

To hone my craft I participate in conferences, seminars, writing courses, critique groups, and social media. I’ve published short stories and reviews and contributed to blogs. GOT is the first in the Gift of Travel series and my third novel. I am also the author of A Keeper’s Truth, publishing August 2015, and Meant 2 Be, a crazy ghost story riddled with fate (nasty bugger). My agent would say I’m a redheaded spitfire. My kids call me the cuddle monster. Hubby claims I’m handy and he’ll keep me forever. l’m lucky to have all this to pour into my writing. “Hehehe,” she snickers with a crooked smile.


  • Yay, Dee! So happy for you and to see you here! I was just talking to a friend today about a book I read (The Swimmer by Joakim Zander) it was structured in a way I loved–going back in time to the present–five POVs AND backstory *is* King in this book. It actually inspired me again to rework the story I started in January. What you said about Twilight is important–have a blast writing the book. If it becomes a chore then maybe you’re not telling the right story. I’ll also add this: put aside all thoughts about any type of marketing. Write the story for yourself.

    • Denise Willson

      Great advice, Rebeca! Love writing. Always.
      And kudos to finding a book, The Swimmer, that speaks to you. Read it over and over, absorbing what you love about it, and you’ll easily apply everything you’ve learned.
      Thanks for commenting!

  • Catherine Luttinger

    This is a terrific list, Dee!! I’ve never read Twilight, but always wanted to– and your praise for TTTW has me downloading it to my kindle right now! I’d follow you anywhere foxy lady!! You define the playful professional.

    • Denise Willson

      Thanks, Catherine, and enjoy the reads! Let me know when you read The Time Traveler’s Wife (hint: summer in the Cape is a good time to read). We’ll squeal and talk about it for hours!

  • Vaughn Roycroft

    Great list, Dee! The reasons you give for each are compelling. I confess the only one I’ve read is Don’s Breakout Novel (and my copy sounds a lot like yours). Time for me to broaden my reading horizons. I’ll also confess that I’ve read few books more than three times. The only works of fiction I can think of are: Lord of the Rings, The Far Pavilions, and The Pillars of the Earth. I’m inspired to try, though. Thanks!

    • Denise Willson

      Give it a shot, Vaughn! Re-reads can be any book that speaks to you. I find though, the learning comes from the focused second, third, forth reading, not the first. The first round I’m struck by how well the author presented a specific strength (say, dialogue), but it’s the following reads that allow me to focus on HOW the author accomplished it.
      Try it with your favorite book!

  • Denise Willson

    Great, Jeff, read on!

  • Sara Letourneau

    Nice list, Dee! I’ve seen the movie for Life of Pi, and I’ve been meaning to read the book since then. I’d have to think about which five books would be on my list… but I recently finished Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (the first book, not the entire trilogy), and oh my goodness… That might have to be on said list. 🙂

    • Denise Willson

      Great suggestion, Sara, to build that list! I’ll have to check out Daughter of Smoke and Bone, sounds like it might be a keeper. 🙂
      Happy reading!

  • Rita Bailey

    Insightful list, Dee. I’ve just added BEAUTIFUL DISASTER and HOW TO WRITE THE BREAKOUT NOVEL to my summer reading list. Keep writing and sharing your insights, Red-headed Spitfire!

    • Denise Willson

      Awesome, Rita, read on! Always something new to learn.

      And, hey, congrats on third in the Elora Writer’s Festival Short Story Contest. Great news!


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