Inspirational Authors Who Will Rekindle Your Love of Writing

Abi Wurdeman
June 2, 2023

One of the toughest things about writing is staying inspired.

Sure, each new project feels like an adventure when we first leap into it. But then we run into difficulty. Maybe the story that was so vibrant in our mind just kind of lays there on the page, all floppy and dull. Or we stumble across plot holes and contradictions that seem unfixable.

All of a sudden, we look for excuses to cancel writing sessions. We start to associate writing with boredom or failure or struggle. 

In these moments, it helps to have someone to look to: a role model to remind us that these hurdles are surmountable and the challenge is always worth it.

If you’re feeling a bit slumpy today—or if you anticipate slumps ahead—let me help. I’ve compiled a list of ten wildly inspiring authors whose stories just might light your creative fire again. 

Plus, you’ll find a handful of thought-provoking author quotes from some of the greatest literary minds.

But first, let’s talk about what exactly we’re chasing when we search for inspiration

What Makes an Author Inspirational?

That’s a subjective question if ever I heard one. If you’re looking for motivation, you have to seek out whatever sparks your soul. I can give you all the Lucy Maud Montgomery quotes in the world. But they’re not going to do you much good if your love for her is not as deep as mine.

So I won’t tell you what you should find inspiring. Instead, I’ll point out some of the key qualities shared by authors known for being inspirational.

When we recognize the traits that help writers become the role models they are to us, we can choose to nurture those traits within ourselves. With any luck, we may someday become our own role models.

Defining Inspirational Authors

So what do we mean when we say “inspirational author”?

For the purpose of this article, I’m talking about artists who:

  • Commit fully to their craft
  • Improve the world through their writing
  • Courageously follow their own creative path
  • Refuse to accept the limits others place upon them
  • Persevere to the best of their ability

And what kind of people manage to pull off such feats? 

Let’s break it down.

The Characteristics of Inspiring Authors

A person in a gray sweater holds out a lit sparkler.

Here are the traits you’re likely to see in your writerly role models.


The most inspiring authors do things their way. They share their perspective without apology and care more about creating something that holds meaning for them than being impressive to others.


Admirable writers don’t mess around. They show up and work. They choose social circles and life experiences that feed their creativity. And they treat their craft as a top priority long before it makes them any money.


These superstars set their egos aside and let curiosity rule. They’re eager to know how they can improve. They study the work of more talented writers. 

Beyond the craft itself, they’re fascinated with life. The artists that capture our attention do so because their work asks compelling questions and reveals unfamiliar worlds.


I almost used the term “passion.” That applies, too, but we artists tend to think of passion as a tortured compulsion to create. That compulsion certainly counts for something, but I believe joy is where the true power is.

By joy, I don’t mean happiness. Literature is full of brilliant creators battling depression; you don’t have to be happy to brighten the world. 

When I talk about a writer’s joy, I’m talking about the fulfilling spark that comes from investigating our curiosities and creating something that didn’t exist before. Writers explore new forms, tell engaging stories, and even overcome unthinkable hardships because they’re chasing the ideas that light them up.


There are no books without courage. Writing is terrifying. It forces us to be vulnerable—to expose our ideas, interests, and abilities to potential criticism. I can’t think of a single inspiring author story that doesn’t include a truckload of bravery.

And it’s not just about the author’s willingness to be picked apart by critics. It’s also about the courage it takes to write the specific stories they tell.

The Power of Storytelling

When we write the stories we feel most compelled to share, we inevitably show readers who we are. Our work essentially says, “This is who I am. This is how I see it. Here are my deepest fears. This is what thrills me.”

It doesn’t matter if what we write isn’t meant to be autobiographical. We still expose our true selves when we write from a place of honesty. There’s no avoiding it. And that’s what makes storytelling so powerful.

Our authenticity can make someone else feel seen and understood. Stories inspire empathy and give us a better understanding of other people’s experiences. Best of all, when we use stories to speak openly and honestly, we make it safer for others to do the same.

You’re about to see a lot of that in the list that follows.

Top 10 Most Inspiring Authors

Just kidding. I’m not ready to commit to naming the most inspiring authors. Writing is a tough job. You have to overcome loads of self-doubt and fear of failure to do it. 

Add in the external obstacles of class, race, gender, disability, or personal trauma, and any writer who manages to show up and share themselves with the world is a walking miracle.

The list that follows is definitely lacking. James Baldwin should be on this list. So should Paul Coehlo, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Murasaki Shikibu, and a whole bunch of other people. 

But we don’t have that kind of time. So here are a handful of writers whose stories and drive will hopefully spark the writerly spirit in you.

1. Octavia Butler: Writing Herself In

A blue, pink, and white cover of Kindred by Octavia Butler.

Octavia Butler was the first sci-fi writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. Pretty big deal.

But she’s perhaps best known for what she referred to as “writing myself in.” Rather than bending to the expectations of a genre that rarely saw any women protagonists—let alone women of color—she wrote her novels from the point of view of marginalized Black women. 

In fact, she went all in on themes of race, gender, class, and disability, spotlighting the power and heroism of characters who’d been sidelined in society. 

And just as she didn’t care to question the marketability of novels centering a Black woman’s point of view, Octavia Butler wasted no energy wondering if being published might be a dead-end dream.

She spent her childhood in the local library and read every book in the children’s section before she was even allowed to access books for adult readers. As a working woman, she’d wake up at three in the morning to write before putting in her hours for someone else.

Several years ago, I attended a writing workshop where a Huntington Library archivist shared items from Butler’s archives. One was a scrap of paper detailing the exact meal plan she’d have to follow if she wanted to afford an extra day off work each week to write. 

Octavia Butler wasn’t messing around. And her legacy is the proof.

2. Stephen King: Dogged Dedication

Image of the cover of Carrie by Stephen King showing half of a young woman's face.

Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the most popular books on the craft. It’s also a partial memoir that gives us a glimpse into an extraordinary career built from good, old-fashioned humility.

King’s is an enviable rags-to-riches story. In On Writing, he recalls the time when he and his wife (author Tabitha King) were barely scraping by in a tiny apartment with two kids and his publisher called to tell him he was about to make $200,000 off Carrie. It’s the life-altering moment every writer dreams of.

But what I find most inspiring about Stephen King’s journey, however, is his eager embrace of feedback and rejection.

He described the first time an editor marked up his work as “pure revelation” rather than a devastating blow to the ego. He famously secured all his rejection letters to the wall with a nail, upgrading to a spike when the stack got too thick.

Stephen King is a reminder of the incredible things we can create when we go in humble, open, and eager to grow.

3. Maya Angelou: Turning Darkness Into Light

The cover of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

Angelou survived unthinkable trauma as a child. But I’m not going to detail her backstory here, because the point is not to inspire ourselves by ogling someone else’s pain.

It’s to celebrate this particular writer for courageously bringing her whole self to the page and empowering others as a result.

Angelou has published several books full of difficult truths, beautiful prose, and unsinkable hope. But her most famous autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was revolutionary in both its expression of a Black woman’s inner life and its discussion of sexual abuse.

Both Black writers and abuse survivors have pointed to Angelou’s book as a turning point in their own self-expression. She opened up a cultural discussion on topics that had long been considered taboo, uncomfortable, or niche. In doing so, she gave a voice to those who needed one.

4. Sandra Cisneros: Writing What No One Else Can

The cover of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

It’s no wonder it took Sandra Cisneros a minute to tap into her identity as both a person and an author. Most of us spend our youth in search of some sense of self, and Cisneros had the added challenge of never feeling like she fully belonged anywhere.

She was the only girl among six brothers and spent her childhood constantly moving between Mexico and the United States. While she loved her mother, Cisneros was determined not to live her mom’s life of restriction and abandoned dreams. 

When Cisneros began writing seriously in college, she emulated the “big male voices” she admired. It wasn’t until she attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop that she realized that the things that set her apart as a person were the very things destined to set her apart as a writer.

As she put it, “I decided I would write about something my classmates couldn’t write about.”

She began writing from her childhood experiences and shifting cultural environments. Now she’s known for bringing Chicana voices into mainstream U.S. publishing with critically acclaimed nonfiction and fiction works like The House on Mango Street

Plus, she’s won like a ton of awards and fellowships.

5. John Grisham: The Power of Showing Up

The cover of The Firm by John Grisham.

John Grisham wrote his debut novel, A Time to Kill, while maintaining a legal practice and serving in the Mississippi state legislature. And while that novel is well-known now, it was first rejected 28 times before it was picked up by a relatively unknown publisher who printed only 5,000 copies. 

Through all that disappointment, Grisham stayed the course. He began writing The Firm immediately after completing A Time to Kill, and The Firm went on to sit on the New York Times Best Seller list for 47 weeks.

In short, he accomplished a lot for a guy with two other jobs to do. His secret? He showed up… kind of obsessively. He’d make sure he was in his office, ready to write at 5:30 a.m. every day. He’s now published more than 50 novels.

As for those first 5,000 copies of A Time to Kill, he bought 1,000 of them, scheduled his own book tour, and hustled to sell those books himself.

6. Ursula K. Le Guin: Champion of a Genre

The cover of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.

It’s not as if science fiction and fantasy hadn’t already proven their literary value by the time Ursula K. Le Guin hit the scene. If Frankenstein isn’t a profound and masterful thought exercise, I don’t know what is.

Nevertheless, these genres suffered from serious neglect in literary circles, and it was partly Le Guin’s fierce advocacy that inspired others to see what she saw:

Genres that invite big questions that linger long after the story has ended. Endless opportunities to explore the norms of our world by asking who we’d be in a world where our familiar social structures didn’t exist. The absolute joy of letting imagination reign over routine and familiarity.

Ursula K. Le Guin experimented with form and revolutionized her genres. But the most beautiful part of her story (in my very humble opinion) is the bit where she loved what she loved without apology. In doing so, she made others love sci-fi and fantasy, too. 

7. Ocean Vuong: Doing It His Way

The cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.

Education did not come easily for Ocean Vuong. At least not at first. Between a struggle with dyslexia and the bullying he faced as a queer Vietnamese-American kid, he found it tough to blossom in his Connecticut high school. At one point, his GPA plummeted to a 1.7.

He planned to skip higher education altogether and work at a nail salon with his mother, but ultimately got talked into attending community college. It was there that he discovered a love of poetry. 

When he moved on to pursue a very practical degree in marketing, he knew he was in the wrong place, trying to live the wrong life. He bailed so he could plunge into the literary scene heart and soul, all the while wondering how he was going to support his mom with poetry.

But Vuong trusted his instincts, worked relentlessly, and thrived. It began with chapbooks. Then his debut full-length poetry collection met with critical acclaim, as did his debut novel. He’s won several awards for his work and secured a Genius Grant.

8. Louisa May Alcott: Keeping It Real

The cover of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Educated in part by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Eerson, and Nathanial Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott would seem to have had a leg up in her literary career. But for much of her life, she supplemented her literary earnings with teaching and laundry jobs to support her struggling family.

It was ultimately her publisher who suggested she write a “girls’ story,” an idea Alcott assumed would be a failure. Claiming she “Never liked girls or knew many, except my sisters,” she wrote a semi-autobiographical novel rooted in the very real relationships and struggles that defined her own family life.

Not only was Little Women an instant hit, it also added new layers to the traditionally sentimental depiction of female characters in literature. 

And though Alcott eventually caved to readers' demands that the beloved Jo Marsh find love in the sequel, the author did it her own way. She allowed Jo to stumble into a thoughtful partnership along a journey she carved for herself, rather than fall into the arms of the handsome boy next door. 

9. Neil Gaiman: Following Creative Joy

Cover of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman is bursting with encouraging advice for other writers, clever tweets, and lovely thoughts about libraries. Just about every time this author opens his mouth or uncaps his pen, inspiration happens. 

But what I particularly love about Neil Gaiman’s career is that he does it all. Every single thing. Whatever he wants. If words are involved, it’s happening.

He’s written comics, novels, and screenplays. He collaborates with artists and authors he admires. And he’s even maintained a blog for his fans somewhat consistently at various points in his career.

When we as writers become more serious about building an actual career, it becomes easy to get caught up in all the shoulds. We worry about what’s marketable, what’s practical, and what’s trending. 

And while there’s no question those things matter, I like looking to Neil Gaiman as a reminder that there’s no use chasing this thing if we’re going to suck all the joy out of it.

We might as well give ourselves space to create what delights us.

10. Joy Harjo: Using Her Voice

Cover of An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo.

Joy Harjo is an author, activist, musician, and former United States Poet Laureate. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, she uses her platform to discuss issues and injustices facing Native Americans.

She also allows her heritage to lead the way in her creative process, tapping into Native oral tradition. As both a reader and poet, Harjo focuses on sound and listening first and foremost. For her, written text is “fixed orality.”

And isn’t that the entire point of art? Whether we’re enjoying it or creating it, we get to bring ourselves to the experience. Like Harjo, we’re at our best when the work we create is rooted in who we are and where we come from.

You don’t have to bend to fit in. Come as you are. That’s writing. That’s the job.

Lessons from Inspirational Authors

You’ve heard my thoughts on what the most soul-stirring authors have to teach us. Now here’s some writing advice straight from the rockstars of the literary world.

Overcoming Adversity and Difficult Times

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I began writing about power because I had so little.” –Octavia Butler

“All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.” –Maya Angelou

“You can only say ‘this sucks’ for so long, before it becomes lazy... OK, we get it. It sucks. So now what?” –Ocean Vuong

Achieving Success

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” –Paulo Coelho

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.” –Henry David Thoreau

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” –Stephen King

“I want to discourage you from choosing anything or making any decision simply because it is safe. Things of value seldom are.” –Toni Morrison

Leaving a Legacy

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Make some light.” –Kate DiCamillo

“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” –James A. Baldwin

"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer." –Barbara Kingsolver

“I think most of us are grieving in some way, and the poem becomes a site where we can meet each other in that grief.” –Ocean Vuong

Creativity and Artistic Expression

“A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as much as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.” –Margaret Atwood

"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." –Sylvia Plath

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.” –Margaret Atwood

"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn." –Anne Frank

Feeling Inspired, Yet?

A black letter board with the inspirational quote "You didn't come this far to only come this far."

I hope so! If not, I encourage you to do your own research. Pick an author whose work inspires you. Then give them a Google. I can pretty much guarantee there will be something in their story that motivates you to get to work and discover what you’re capable of.

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Then get back to your novel before the spark fizzles.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.