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Best Books for Writers

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

by Graydon Carter, editor

Published in 2016 by Penguin Books

The forty-three essays in this book feature writers focusing on fellow writers—reflecting on their contemporaries, as well as influential and inspirational authors from previous eras. First published in Vanity Fair between 1983 and 2016, the collection includes pieces such as Elizabeth Bishop on Marianne Moore, Martin Amis on Saul Bellow, Jacqueline Woodson on James Baldwin, Meg Wolitzer on Judy Blume, Nadine Gordimer on Wole Soyinka, and Christopher Hitchens on Stieg Larsson.

by Rebecca Smith

Published in 2016 by Bloomsbury

“People love Jane Austen’s work for so many reasons—the comedy, her sparkling dialogue, the unforgettable characters, the accuracy of her observations...how she captures what it is to be in love, lonely, bullied, wrong, disappointed, to be part of a family...” In The Jane Austen Writers’ Club, Rebecca Smith reveals insights into these craft elements and storytelling techniques gleaned from Austen’s novels. The book includes many exemplary passages, practical exercises, as well as writing advice Austen offered to her aspiring novelist nieces and nephew.

by Ellen Bryant Voigt

Published in 1999 by University of Georgia Press

“Looking closely at a hero's mortal parts has always been a risky enterprise. We want our great writers pure of heart.” In The Flexible Lyric, poet and professor Ellen Bryant Voigt compiles nine craft essays examining the art of lyric poetry, beginning with a discussion on the creative process and Voigt's fascination with Flannery O'Connor and Elizabeth Bishop. Each essay that follows examines different aspects of lyric poems, from tone to image to voice and beyond. Through close reading of an array of poets like Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Denise Levertov, Shakespeare, and others, Voigt shows us the nuance and attention it takes to write a fantastic lyric poem.

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.

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