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Best Books for Writers

From the newly published to the invaluable classic, our list of essential books for creative writers.

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by Jerome Stern

Published in 1991 by Norton

​“The shapes of fiction inspire by presenting ways to embody your experiences, memories, and imaginings.” ​In this comprehensive volume, Jerome Stern breaks down and reconstructs the component parts that come together to shape a work of fiction. Stern focuses on straightforward insights, exercises, techniques, and a list of don'ts that will help writers of all levels of experience enliven their work with new tension, immediacy, and momentum.

by The League of Canadian Poets

Published in 2016 by University of Regina Press

Measures of Astonishment is a collection of essays by thirteen of Canada’s most notable poets, first presented in lectures from 2002 to 2015 as part of the League of Canadian Poets’ Anne Szumigalski Lecture Series. Poets including Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, Robert Currie, and Gregory Scofield offer their unique and distinctive perspectives on poetry, sharing insights about its craft and exploring its far-reaching meanings.

by Bret Anthony Johnston, editor

Published in 2008 by Random House

“This is what I believe in, what I trust will ultimately distinguish those who want to write and publish from those who do write and publish: work....I believe that the act of writing is itself the muse.” In Naming the World, author and professor Bret Anthony Johnston has compiled a collection of craft advice from a wide range of his favorite writers and teachers of writing, including Dorothy Allison, Dan Chaon, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Robbins, and Vu Tran. Each chapter acts as a short master class filled with insights and experienced perspectives, as well as varied and illuminating exercises and prompts designed to inspire writers seeking to improve their narrative writing skills.

by Camille DeAngelis

Published in 2016 by St. Martin's Griffin

“We must grow to become enough for ourselves, to fill our own vacancies. We must slay our own demons on our own terms.... You have to be kind to yourself so that you can keep on making your art....” In Life Without Envy, writers and creative thinkers of all types and levels of experience will learn how to slay their creative demons. DeAngelis’s helpful tips, inspiring anecdotes, and practical exercises demonstrate how to overcome feelings of negativity and competition, find support in community, and build a healthy, happy mindset as an artist.

by Alice Mattison

Published in 2016 by Viking

In this spirited guide to navigating the writing life, Alice Mattison—author of six novels, four story collections, and a collection of poems—urges writers to let playfulness and spontaneity “breathe life” into their work (letting the kite move with the wind) while being mindful of practical considerations such as finding trusted readers and setting appropriate goals for publication (holding the string). Mattison, who teaches at the Bennington Writing Seminars, walks readers through the stages of writing, from early inspiration to first draft to revision, all the while making clear that writing well is not nurtured by rules and instructions but rather a combination of spontaneity, clear judgment, and positive attitude.

by JoAnneh Nagler

Published in 2016 by Countryman Press

“The term working artist should not refer to the amount of money made at the practice. It is more aptly a description of the person who shows up and does the work—day in, day out, year in, year out.” In seven chapters covering essential topics such as day jobs, finances, time management, and creating a support network, JoAnneh Nagler guides readers through the practical elements that enable an artist to show up and do the work in a healthy and sustainable way.

by Deb Norton

Published in 2016 by Atria/Enliven Books

“The wild part of our nature urges us to explore and create something new that will elevate our existence and possibly the existences of others, but this drive must run the gauntlet of the wiring that perceives our creative impulses to be dangerous.” In twenty chapters, Deb Norton examines common roadblocks to this creative drive—from confronting shyness, distractions, and perfectionism, to finding one’s own unique voice. Norton provides over three dozen practical exercises and prompts to help writers overcome their inner critics and channel their energy toward new levels of productivity.

by Mark Edmundson

Published in 2016 by Bloomsbury

“Writing is a meditation; writing is as close as some of us can come to prayer; writing is a way of being, righteously, in the world. And this is something that everyone ought to know.” In Why Write?, teacher, scholar, and author Mark Edmundson presents a case for the power and importance of writing to transform lives. Along the way, Edmundson shares inspirational wisdom, advice, and personal anecdotes to help readers and writers find the approach to unlock writing for themselves.

by Patty Dann

Published in 2016 by Shambhala

In The Butterfly Hours, Patty Dann guides readers through ten writing lessons by sharing lively anecdotes collected from her personal experiences as a novelist and memoirist, and from over twenty-five years of teaching writing classes. Each chapter focuses on a different lesson—such as “Write Out of Love or Anger,” “Steal From Yourself,” and “Read Your Work Aloud”—and is filled with one-word writing prompts that will inspire writers to explore their own memories for new storytelling ideas.

by Charles Bukowski

Published in 2015 by Ecco

​“I don't know what interests me. Non-dullness, I suppose. Proper poetry is dead poetry even if it looks good.” On Writing, edited by Abel Debritto, presents an entertaining array of previously unpublished letters—written by Bukowski to his friends, editors, and publishers between 1945 and 1993—that circle around the topic of writing and publishing. Readers will enjoy Bukowski’s trademark humor, insight, and self-deprecation in the correspondences, which are interspersed with lively drawings and photographs of the writer at work.

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