Scroll through any of the lists of inspiring women online and you’re likely to see the same familiar names. Women like Malala Yousafzai, Elanor Roosevelt and Amanda Gorman. And they deserve to be there. They changed or are changing the world for the better and inspiring millions of women and girls to follow where they lead.
My list of inspiring women writers is a little different. I want to get a little more personal here and introduce you to six women who inspire me. They are writers and authors who mostly didn’t set out to inspire anyone. They just blazed their own trail.
Author’s Note: The links in this post are affiliate links to Bookshop.org, a nonprofit that supports indie bookstores. I’ll earn a percentage of the sale of any book you buy from them. So using these links means you get to support amazing women, fund an indie author’s dream of reaching every reader in the world, and help indie bookstores thrive. That’s what we call a win!
1. Nellie Bly, Journalist, Adventurer
Nellie Bly was a journalist at a time when women were mostly restricted to writing about flower arranging and childcare. She had herself committed to a mental institution to write about the conditions inside. And arrested to uncover the truth about women’s prisons. Oh, and remember that Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days? Bly did it for real in 72.
I first read about her in the Children’s section at the Bangor Public Library. It was Nellie Bly who inspired me to study journalism. She showed me that being a woman doesn’t have to hold me back from an adventure. In a very real sense. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
2. Elizabeth Gilbert, Author
Gilbert is the author of Big Magic which is
probably the most inspiring book on creativity that I have ever read. Full disclosure, the only other Elizabeth Gilbert book I’ve read is Eat, Pray, Love, which I liked pretty well even though it wasn’t really my genre. But Big Magic, and by extension its author, will forever rank among my top sources of inspiration.
To understand how deeply this book touched me, you should know that I photocopied the postscript and taped it to my closet door so I would see it every day. It reads in part:
“We are terrified and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege …So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”
3. Matty Dalrymple, Indie Author and Podcast Host
Here’s a pro tip for all you readers: Do not download one of her Ann Kinnear suspense novels at 8 p.m. thinking, oh I’ll just read for a bit before I go to sleep. You will be awake at 1 a.m. emailing the author about how much you loved her book.
Matty inspires me because she’s an indie author who is unfailingly professional. She writes engaging and meticulously researched stories, packages them with professional covers and descriptions, and makes her books widely available on a variety of platforms. In short, she does exactly what I’m striving to do.
Plus, she’s very gracious about 1 a.m. fangirl emails.
4. Cynthia Johnson, Branding Expert, Author, and Co-founder of Bell + Ivy
I picked up Johnson’s book Platform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding at the bookstore this weekend. I wasn’t intending to buy a book on personal branding. Honestly, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the whole concept, but this book changed my mind.
Normally I don’t mark up books, but I took a pencil to this one. There was just so much I wanted to underline. Passages like:
“Personal branding is self-awareness and self-preservation.”
“We are programmed to fit into the world as it exists and told to do our best within a structure that was created before us, which is often presented as if it were created for us.”
Johnson inspires me to take control of my own brand so I can always be the most authentic version of myself. She packaged personal branding as a moral imperative rather than marketing tool. This book reminded me that it’s okay to blaze my own trail and stand by my principles in marketing and in business.
5. Christina Henry, Horror and Dark Fantasy Author
I like books that take well-known stories — myths, fairy tales, legends — and distorts them in unexpected ways. Henry is a master of this. Henry is a master of her craft who excels at tackling some of life’s toughest issues through the lens of well-known stories and familiar characters.
I received The Girl in Red for Christmas and devoured it in an afternoon. The first book of her Black Wings series is sitting on my bookshelf, but I’m putting off reading it because I just know I won’t be able to stop once I start.
Henry inspires me to keep telling the dark, funny, difficult stories I love to tell. Her work shows me that there are people out there who will love these stories as much as I do.
6. V.E. Schwab, Fantasy Author
To understand what it’s like to be a somewhat-new fantasy author reading V.E. Schwab, imagine this. You’re five years old, standing on a stool in the kitchen wearing your apron with the teddy bear on it. Your mom reaches into the oven and withdraws an exquisite apple pie with lovingly crafted homemade crust. She’s even cut the shape of an apple into the top. Meanwhile, you’ve been making animal shapes with leftover bits of dough.
Schwab’s books are transporting, breathtaking, and just plain beautiful. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue reveals the well of wonder hidden within even the most mundane of everyday activities.
To top it all off, Schwab seems to be a thoughtful and genuine human who is willing to share her life with her readers in an authentic way. Her essay on coming out will change the way you see yourself and your relationships.
V.E. Schwab inspires me to be a better writer. That’s it really. Her work is the yardstick against which I measure my own achievement. And while I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the end of that stick, I’m going to keep striving.
Who are the women writers that inspire you? Connect with me on social media and let’s keep the conversation going.