Which Writers Most Influence Your Work?

by | Dec 5, 2012 | The Writing Life | 57 comments

No writer lives in a vacuum. We all take inspiration from the people who have come before us. We are moved some of their best ideas, we all start through imitation before we graduate to originality, and it’s important to recognize and honor the people who paved the way for your work.

This is an important process, and even as we mature as writers and as human beings we continue to be shaped by those around us and whose work inspires us, just as I’ve cribbed social media lessons from Tahereh Mafi and The Rejectionist even as they’ve become real-life friends.

I’ve asked before who in your life most influenced you on the way but who are the writers who have shaped your work?

For me, it’s Bill Watterson, Douglas Adams and Roald Dahl.

Art: Ein Maler bei der Arbeit by Paul Cézanne


  1. GabrielD

    Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey

  2. Gabrielle Prendergast

    So hard to say. Once I might have said John Irving and Margaret Atwood. Then I might have said JKR, but now I write for teens and in verse so…Ellen Hopkins? I'm just trying to find my own voice I guess.

  3. agilebrit

    When I grow up, I want to be an unholy amalgam of Jim Butcher and Rob Thurman.

  4. Carolyn

    C.S. Lewis has informed my world view more than any other writer. I have profound love and gratitude for the man, but I write nothing like him.

    Hemingway's world view is antithetical to my own, and I see the man as a coward, chauvinist and childish twit. But I read Hills Like White Elephants in the 8th grade and dammit if I didn't fall in love with those sentences. Later, I fell in love with the screenplays of Frank Darabont.

    From a story perspective, it's Poe and King.

  5. cindy

    On different ends of the writer genre are the two authors who have influenced me the most; Francine Rivers and Ted Dekker.

  6. John Doppler Schiff

    Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain), Roger Zelazny (Nine Princes in Amber), and Stephen King (The Shining), my earliest encounters with sci-fi, fantasy, and horror respectively.

  7. Liberty Speidel

    Right now, I'd have to say J.D. Robb has influenced me a lot. But, so has Diane Mott Davidson, K.M. Weiland, and Janet Evanovich. Lately, I've been really into Craig Johnson (he's really shown me how to have an unreliable narrator at times.) Some of these are for their style, some for content. Weiland is for beauty of prose and complexity of plot.

  8. Melanie Schulz

    I know this sounds trite, but really Stephenie Meyer. WHile my story is completely differnt than hers, I have to admit that it was when I finished the Twilight series that I got a real passion for writing.

  9. Jaimie

    Jane Austen, CS Lewis and Lev Grossman, all of whom are wonderful people. And while he's less of a wonderful person, his writing style was an enormous influence in my formative years: Orson Scott Card.

  10. Julie Luek

    I love a non-fiction writer named Michael Perry. He can take any subject and with such elegant and easy writing (and how he achieves both is art)and engage me as a reader. I also love how Fannie Flagg weaves a really good story. Barbara Kingsolver, Bill Bryson and Anne Lamott are also wonderful authors. I will read almost anything these folks put out there.

  11. Matthew MacNish

    Back in the day: Tolkien.

    Now? Andrew Smith, A.S. King, Paolo Bacigalupi, etc.

  12. Leigh Caroline

    Victoria Schwab, CE Murphy, KT Hannah, Catherynne Valente, Trisha Leigh, and Seanan Mcguire.

    Depends on what aspect you're talking about.
    Style? Victoria Schwab and Catherynne Valente.
    Characters? CE Murphy, Seanan Mcguire, and Trisha Leigh.
    Getting me to keep putting one word after the next? KT Hannah and Rebecca Weston.

  13. Angie Lockett

    Wow, tough question. There are many.CS Lewis had a huge impact on me as I grew up. Stephen King for showing me that characters should be flawed and screw up. It makes them interesting and it makes them relatable. JK Rowling for demonstrating how world building is supposed to be done. And the list would not be complete without Dr Seuss. He was another one that I adored while growing up and his amazingly creative stories prompted me to write my own first stories as a child.

    This list if far from complete though, every author that I've read has influenced me in some way.

  14. JeffO

    Though I don't write horror, I'd have to put Stephen King at the top of my list.

  15. Nathan Elberg

    Aldous Huxley, Terry Goodkind,and my father, Yehuda Elberg

  16. ADominiqueSmith

    Zora Neale Hurston, Oscar Wilde, and J.K. Rowling.

  17. abc

    Salinger, John Green, Katherine Patterson

    Maybe, I'm just guessing. In reality, I don't know! This is a tough question. I don't want to compare myself or my writing to anyone (not because I'm great, but because THEY are), but I can speak of influence. Well, it has to be Salinger the most. The guy was a dick, but I love how he wrote. I love his characters. I love the pain and the humor, the insight, the existential plight, the beauty and ridiculousness and grandeur and difficulty of life represented. Holden, Buddy, Zooey, Franny, Seymour–my god!

    John Green is just awesome.

    Katherine Patterson shows us a lot of beauty. I'm pretty sure she is the one that put occupation: writer in my mind.

    In nutshell I'm about humor, suffering, humanity, beauty, more suffering, connection, existentialism (finding meaning, authenticity, while recognizing one's humanness). This reminds me–Carson McCullers. Can't forget her!

  18. Alex Newman

    JK Rowling – makes me fall in love with characters and world-building all over again.

    Sarah McCarry – the Rejectionist – encourages me to write passionately and transparently.

    CS Lewis – my writerly godfather whose thoughts and views on life and the written word and fantasy shaped my perspectives irrepressibly.

  19. Naja Tau

    I definitely feel the vibes of the people above me… love Hemingway's style (also think he had a chauvanist POV), in awe of J.K. Rowling's ability to create a world… read a lot of Michael Crichton, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien… watched my best friend in 3rd grade obsess over Roahld Dahl. I admire and appreciate countless many more. But the people who REALLY influenced my writing are not actually writers. I picked up my lust to write from reading comic books from garage sales and thrift stores and drawing and writing and copying till my fingers blistered and warped. Then I started reading books based on comic books (novels about Spider-Man or Catwoman, etc.). And also watching really long, drawn out TV shows or playing video games in a series also made me really crave more lengthy, in-depth relationships with fictional characters. I remember as little kids, me and my friends would act out our own "productions" of the shows we watched and the video games we played. TV series like "I, Claudius" and "Star Trek" got me to read the books when I was a teen. And I could never tell you the names of those authors, but they did spur my imagination on. Eventually as an adult, I stumbled around through various majors and trade school, then the rebel in me was a bit disappointed to see that I had the exact same knack for English that my father does. But I accept it. Then I realized that the best way for me to thoroughly build my own characters and retain the most purity and dignity in that work was through writing novels and not through screen writing or play writing, acting, drawing, etc.

    Good post! I agree that it's very important to honor the people who influenced us today. I really enjoyed seeing who was inspired by who.

  20. Zan Marie

    Diana Gabaldon who inspired me to strive for lyrical prose and directed me to the Books and Writers Forum–the best writing workshop on the web.

    Lois McMaster Bujold whose stories remind me that anyone can be a main character.

  21. Michael Pickett

    I have been told that a new writer should have a succinct way of summing up what kind of writer that they want to be. I guess the best way to describe what I want to do with my writing is to be the Mormon David McCullough.

  22. Bryan Russell

    Daniel Woodrell
    Cormac McCarthy
    Ryszard Kapuscinski
    Ann Patchett
    Eduardo Galeano
    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Ian McEwan
    Steven Erikson
    JRR Tolkien
    David Foster Wallace
    Tim O'Brien
    Lloyd Alexander
    James Joyce
    Italo Calvino

    I bet that would be a great dinner party, too.

  23. Bryan Russell

    Also, the Anonymous who wrote A Woman in Berlin. Whoever she is.

  24. Kirsty

    Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Patricia McKillip, Julliet Marillier… a lot of strong female characters & fantasy.

  25. jongibbs

    I'm a huge fan of the way Terry Pratchett combines humor and tension, especially in the 'Guards' and 'Witches' Discworld series. I love how he can make me love and tear up, often on the same page 🙂

  26. jongibbs

    Lol, and by 'love' I mean 'laugh' 🙂

  27. LinWash

    J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Robin McKinley, and Terry Pratchett.

  28. GSMarlene

    Madeleine L'engle, Piers Anthony and Roger Zelazny. I think (hope) my first manuscript has a tribute to each of them.

  29. Deborah Brasket

    Toni Morrison, Virginia Wolfe, Peter Mathiessen, Faulkner, Marquez Tolstoy were huge in writing the kinds of works I wanted become immersed in and creat myself. And also some poets like Dickenson and Whitman and Wallace Stevens and Neruda.

  30. Terin Tashi Miller

    Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, Mihail Lehrmontov, Prevost, Juan Benitez Perez Galdos, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Hugh Mottram, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Ross MacDonald, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Emile Zola, Honore de Balzac, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Wilfred Owen, W.H. Auden, Tim O'Brien, Alistair MacLean, Rudyard Kipling, and friends Loren D. Estleman and Barry Holston Lopez…:) So far…:)

  31. Chelsea Schmitt

    Nathan, that's not a fair question. It's a little like asking me to name generally recognizable constellations that can be viewed, kinda, sorta, through the light pollution of a big city instead of every star in every galaxy visible across the Milky Way. From the incredible to the awe inspiring, from the inane to the terrible, they're all deserving of a mention.

    From Carl Sagan, to Isaac Asimov, to Piers Anthony, to Orson Scott Card, to Tamora Pierce, to Mercedes Lackey, to Sara Douglass, to L.E. Modesitt Jr, to Michael J. Straczinsky, to Greg Rucka, to Mike Mignola, to Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40k tie-in fiction, to White Wolf's World of Darkness, to everything I've ever read, watched, or played.

    So, who influences my work most? Everything. I like it that way.

  32. tanyagrove

    Roald Dahl is definitely one of my influences too, as well as Louis Sachar, Sharon Creech, and more recently, John Green. And Anne Lamott has been my greatest inspiration to keep writing ever since I read Bird By Bird.

  33. Jean

    Truman Capote and Dave Barry.

  34. Lisa Shafer

    Douglas Adams, Mark Twain, and Ian Rankin.

  35. Mindi

    I've learned from just about every book I've ever read, but one author dug into my chest and pulled out my heart, made me ache to be able to write like her–
    Margaret Atwood.

  36. Ted Cross

    George R.R. Martin
    J.R.R. Tolkien
    Fritz Leiber
    Robert E Howard
    Stephen King
    Terry Brooks
    Dennis McKiernan
    Ursula LeGuin
    and all the writers who did the Thieves World novels

  37. Cecelia Dowdy

    Oh, man! Two authors that I've always admired and used to read back in the day were Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon. Both of them created simply amazing stories that captured my interest, helped me to realize I wanted to become a writer!

    Growing up, I loved reading Nancy Drew mysteries as well as the Little House on The Prairie novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

  38. Judith Mercado

    Hemingway and García Márquez. How's that for a combination? But, Hemingway has influenced my preference for economy of expression and García Márquez has enabled me to express non-material realities, albeit expressed with an intention of economy.

  39. considerablespeck.com

    Good question! I think I'd have to say Brian Jacques (because his books made me want to be a writer) and Meg Cabot. Okay, now I have a question for you: Do you ever find that when you have read a book that you love you start writing in that author's voice for a little bit? What do you do when someone else's literary voice is a bit too infectious?

  40. JusB

    Jane Austen for dialogue, David Sedaris and Christopher Moore for humor, and Ken Kesey for thought processes and description.

    Ooh, and Stephen King, thanks to the advice he gives in "On Writing."

  41. Anonymous

    More than a few have influenced me. And one of the most recent is you, Nathan. I like the tight way you write, and yet there's nothing simple about it. A lot of MG/YA books just can't cross over because of the writing. But you seem to have mastered that.

  42. Zack Kullis

    I think there are a few writers that have influenced my writing more than any others, simply because their writing feeds my imagination and makes me want to write.

    Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris.

  43. Spike

    Jack London, for laying out an adventure, and Jim Croce, his lyrics were genius. And there are many others, Steven King, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and… and… and…

  44. k m kelly

    One of my boys says I write like James A Michener. My gosh, I hope not! Don't get me wrong-he wrote fascinating books. I've learned so much history from the man. But a person has to plod on and on to get to the end. So, while I do like to use in-depth research, I try to be a lot less windy.
    I once picked up a ya book by Larry McMurtry that had the most fun voice, edgy and full of attitude. I copied out long passages by hand just to get the feel of how he was expressing himself. That one book has had a profound effect on my writing, too. From it I learned writing doesn't have to be dull and prosaic.

  45. John Durvin

    When I was younger, I read Douglas Adams way too much; Tolkien made a big impression on me too. Unfortunately, these two left me with the awful habit of throwing in lengthy tangents and fascinating but extraneous heaps of world-building that my test-readers always complain about. Then I got into guys like Kafka and Beckett, and my characters got even weirder.

    More recently, an obsession with John Hodgman's "Areas of My Expertise" trilogy and the works of Lord Dunsany has only made things worse.

  46. Archer Caldwell

    Elmore Leonard, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, and Patricia Hightower.

    Each of them have taken a mystery and given it life in such an extraordinary way that you often find yourself wish for a sequel, even just a chapter to check in on the characters you became so attached to in just the span of a few hundred pages.

  47. S.K. Renait

    An opportunity to demonstrate an education; the breadth of reading; just how many of the admired and fêted authors you know. For me it has to be Hergé and Enid Blyton. Nothing hidden, no subtext unwittingly placed between the lines. Everything accessible and understandable. Fun. (Of course, Hérge was full of subtext, but no-one knows that.)

  48. Charie Dawn

    Easily, I would say say Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

    With more thought, a lot of choldren's books writers including Rolad Dahl and Robert Munsch.

  49. JM

    C.S. Friedman, Margaret Weiss, Anne McCaffrey, Laurell K Hamilton, John Scalzi, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tad Williams, and L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

  50. G. B. Miller

    Interestingly enough, no writer influenced my writing, which is probably due to getting a very late start in writing (started 6 years ago when I was 41).

    I did enjoy stories that were well written, so perhaps the only influence I had on my writing, indirectly at least, were pulp/noir fiction writer/editor David Cranmer and fantasy/horror writer Charles Gramlich.

  51. James Duckett

    Stephen King, which is slightly disconcerting since I write MG. great post!

  52. wordboy

    Robert A. Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury

  53. cgblake

    Anne Tyler, Alice McDermott, John Updike, Michael Chabon, Saul Bellow, Richard Ford. It's a pretty eclectic list.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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