Books that Made You a Writer

In the "Books that Made You" series, we're taking a look at the books that made us who we are. This time, we asked you what book made you a writer. After scrutinizing our highly scientific social media poll, we present to you this non-exhaustive list of Grubbie-approved gateway reads.


Grub Instructor Britni de la Cretaz says Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles convinced her to dive into sports writing. “If she could write essays about her feelings and anxiety and domestic violence and tie it all back to baseball, so could I.”


Grubbie Anita Harkess says The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron got her into the habit of writing something every day.


Novel Incubator Graduate Robert Fernandes says Jonathan Lethman’s The Fortress of Solitude “made me believe I was ready to finally write a novel. What really hit me was realizing that here was a writer who was of my generation, almost exactly my age, and he was writing about things I wanted to write about. As soon as I finished that novel I was hit with the idea for my first book.”


Grubbie Susan Schirl Smith says Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art resonated with her, especially his concept that what you resist the most is what you most need to do. “In his book, he looks at resistance being the all-encompassing factor keeping creativity stifled. One aspect that resonated for me was creating (writing) for the sake of creating, for the process, rather than the outcome.”


Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned was the book that did it for Novel Incubator Graduate Kate Burcak. “I didn't realize books could be so pink and just different from the high school curriculum of depressing classics. It really opened my eyes to more contemporary literature and sparked something in me!”


Novel Incubator Graduate Cara Wood says “I think it wasn’t until I started seeing myself in classic female writers like Louisa May Alcott or Jane Austen that I thought I could be a writer. Learning about some of Louisa May Alcott’s adult work, like Behind a Mask, in college was another turning point for me. The idea that I could experiment with genre like that was thrilling.”


Stephanie Gayle, Novel Incubator Graduate, says “I can actually remember standing in my elementary school library, holding The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and thinking, ‘I wonder if I could write a book?’ The magic that book worked continues to move me, and it made me answer that question, ‘Could I write a book?’ with a resounding yes.”


Grubbie Kristen Paulson says the Harriet The Spy books by Louise Fitzhugh gave her "the heavenly idea that one could walk around and write observations in a notebook.”


Sonya Larson, Director of the Muse Conference & Advocacy, says Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams was the first book that made her think “Oh, I really, really, really want to do this.”


GrubStreet’s Director of Core Programs and Faculty, Dariel Suarez, pinpointed Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky. “Not sure what it says about me,” he adds, “since its opening line is ‘I’m a sick man… I’m a spiteful man.’”


Grub Instructor Alysia Abbott says it’s hard to say exactly which book made her a writer, but “reading The Complete Poems: 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop was the first time I felt real kinship with a poet's work.”


Allison Scott, a member of the Boston Writers of Color Group, chose The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. “I’ve re-read it every two to three years since I was in elementary school.” She adds, “the movie is tragic but has some catchy music.”


Grubbie Rebecca Pacheco lists three books: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Still Writing by Dani Shapiro; and The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. “All urged me to stop waiting to be anointed as a writer and instead put my butt in the chair and words on the page. They offered humor where there was frustration, kinship in the doubt-filled process, and beautiful sentences to remind and excite me back into writing when I lose my way.”



Missed our last post in the series? Never fear! From our highly scientific poll, here are the top five Books that Made You a Reader.

About the Author

As Editor of GrubWrites, GrubStreet's popular blog, Colwill serves the Grub community a daily dose of literary goodness. Book lovers can find reviews, news, recommendations, and conversations with exciting new authors to stay up to speed on all things lit. Writers, GrubWrites is your go-to spot for expert craft talk, thoughtful discussions on how writing is learned and taught, and essential publishing and publicity advice. Colwill is also a GrubStreet instructor and consultant specializing in the novel.


Colwill is Writer-in-Residence at Wellspring House, and a recipient of the work-study scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Henry Blackwell Essay Prize. She was named a finalist for the 2019 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize, and  her creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet (Press 53), Solstice Literary Magazine, The Conium Review, Poetry and Audience, and other places, and her essays have featured on Dead Darlings and elsewhere. She's served on the editorial team for Post Road magazine and The Conium Review and is currently Fiction Editor at Pangyrus magazine. A scholarship awardee for GrubStreet's Novel Incubator, after graduating from the program Colwill found representation for her first novel with literary agent Robert Guinsler of Sterling Lord Literistic. She was educated at Leeds University in England, where she received her BA hons in English Language and Literature (International), with stints at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Kansas State University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, where she was awarded the Seaton Graduate Fellowship in Creative Writing. Most recently, Colwill completed a Master's degree in English Literature at Boston College, for which she was awarded a full scholarship. Hailing from Yorkshire, England, her life's mission is to introduce the word "sozzard" to the American vernacular. For a full list of publications, projects, and other services, including copy editing, please visit

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by Colwill Brown