Best Books for Writers

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

  • My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form

    by
    Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney, editors
    Published in 2014
    by Rose Metal Press

    “The novella-in-flash takes the best of both of its namesakes’ lengths, blending the extreme brevity of the flash with the longer—albeit still brief—arc of the novella,” write editors Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney in the introduction to My Very End of the Universe, a unique collection of five exemplary works of this hybrid genre. Each of the five novellas—by Chris Bower, Margaret Patton Chapman, Tiff Holland, Meg Pokrass, and Aaron Teel—is composed of stand-alone flash pieces and accompanied by a short essay by the author about craft elements specific to the form. Each piece embodies the strengths of this unique genre and how it “mixes the quick and the sustained into a single whole that may—if a reader wishes—be perused in one pass, but which coheres into a unity that will linger in the mind.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0988764583
  • Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style

    by
    Virginia Tufte
    Published in 2006
    by Graphics Press

    In Artful Sentences, Virginia Tufte presents her incisive analysis and commentary on over one thousand sentences written by acclaimed contemporary authors. Each of the fourteen chapters examines a different aspect of a sentence’s grammatical structure—such as short sentences, noun phrases, verb phrases, appositives, and parallelism—making for an illuminating demonstration of the power of syntax to create style. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0961392185
  • A Hundred Himalayas: Essays on Life and Literature

    by
    Sydney Lea
    Published in 2012
    by University of Michigan Press

    “I believe my existence would be a jumble without recourse to writing, especially the writing of poetry,” writes former poet laureate of Vermont Sydney Lea in this collection of essays, part of the Writers on Writing series, that spans over thirty years. Lea’s explorations of topics, including the process of creating a poem, the function of literary criticism, nature writing, the practical concerns of a writer’s life, and his analyses on the work of Williams Wordsworth and Robert Frost, reveal the power of poetry to assist in discovering one’s place in the world. “Whatever their quality,” Lea writes, “my poems provide the means to discover otherwise unknowable connections among my soul’s responses.”

    ISBN: 
    978-0472051885
  • Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft

    by
    Natalie Goldberg
    Published in 2001
    by Bantam

    “When I write a book I surrender not to the liberal travels of my restless thoughts but to the design of the work itself,” writes Natalie Goldberg in the follow-up to her books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. Goldberg leads writers through the steps of the creative process that come after inspiration—directing energy and focus to transform raw material into completed work for publication—and provides helpful anecdotes and insights about editing, advice about essential craft elements, and reminds us to celebrate the act of writing. “Writing a book is my one chance to experience freedom, to cut loose by succumbing to the discipline of form.”

    ISBN: 
    978-0553374964
  • The Sound of Paper: Starting From Scratch

    by
    Julia Cameron
    Published in 2005
    by Penguin/Tarcher

    “What I am after is ‘enough’—enough to set the writing gears going, which may not be very much. Sometimes just a pinch of information is enough.” In this book, Julia Cameron, the author of the Artist’s Way, shares her insights and experiences to help writers delve deep within themselves to find inspiration for creative work. The personal essays are accompanied by exercises that prompt reflective thinking designed for writers in need of motivation and renewal. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1585423545
  • Creative Writing: Four Genres in Brief, Third Edition

    by
    David Starkey
    Published in 2016
    by Bedford/St. Martin’s

    This practical textbook provides an inspiring jumpstart to delving into the craft of writing poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and drama, with sections on each of the four genres including discussions and analyses of key literary elements, inventive writing exercises, and short anthologies of exemplary contemporary work, ranging from traditional to experimental. The revised edition also includes a section on hybrid writing, as well as updated advice on how to get published. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1319035334
  • Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel

    by
    Elizabeth George
    Published in 2020
    by Viking

    The author of two dozen suspense novels leads readers through her writing process, revealing the steps she took to start and finish her 2008 novel, Careless in Red, from conceiving the characters and developing the voice to outlining the plot and building the scenes. In Mastering the Process, George returns to the form she established in her 2004 book, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, in which she illustrates her points using examples from works by Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, E. M. Forster, John Irving, Toni Morrison, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, and Alice Hoffman. This time she sticks to one consistent model—the book she wrote herself using a process she has followed for twenty-two of her twenty-four novels. The result is a behind-the-scenes look at a bestselling author’s decisions as they are made throughout the creative process. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1984878311
  • How Dare We! Write: A Multicultural Creative Writing Discourse

    by
    Sherry Quan Lee, editor
    Published in 2017
    by Modern History Press

    This collection of essays about writing and navigating the literary world by writers of color—including Sherrie Fernandez Williams, Marline Gonzalez, Ching-In Chen, Sagirah Shahid, Wesley Brown, and Hei Kyong Kim—offers wisdom, insight, support, and advice on how to carve out a more expansive space for diverse voices. The essays are paired with inspiring and generative writing exercises, and the book is divided into sections focusing on themes such as literary gatekeeping, the tyranny of grammar, identities, personal narratives, rejection, and healing. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1615993307
  • Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency

    by
    Olivia Laing
    Published in 2020
    by Norton

    Funny Weather is populated by artists who move and excite me, who look with sharp eyes at the societies they inhabit but who also propose new ways of seeing,” writes Olivia Laing in the foreword to this collection of essays, letters, interviews, and criticism that meditates on the work of artists and writers such as John Ashbery, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Hockney, Chris Kraus, Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Maggie Nelson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Sally Rooney, and David Wojnarowicz. Laing provides an inspiring perspective of the significance of creative work: as a tool for resistance and reparation. “What drives all these essays is a long-standing interest in how a person can be free, and especially in how to find a freedom that is shareable, and not dependent on the oppression or exclusion of other people.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1324005704
  • Still on Call

    by
    Richard Stern
    Published in 2010
    by University of Michigan Press

    “The book has been almost entirely written and assembled by a man in his late seventies. If that man, me, can be trusted to assess his powers, then he goes on record here saying, ‘In some ways, I’m a wiser, more knowledgeable, and even abler writer than I was ten, twenty, or fifty years ago.’” Part of the Writers on Writing series from the University of Michigan Press, Richard Stern’s culminating nonfiction collection of “orderly miscellany” includes essays, reviews, criticism, and reflections on literature, writers and writing, and twentieth-century culture. Inspiration will be found in the expansiveness of Stern’s keen observations which demonstrate how the power of seeing with a writer’s eye can provide startling perspectives on life and art. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0472050901
  • The Poets & Writers Complete Guide to Being a Writer: Everything You Need to Know About Craft, Inspiration, Agents, Editors, Publishing, and the Business of Building a Sustainable Writing Career

    by
    Kevin Larimer and Mary Gannon
    Published in 2020
    by Avid Reader Press

    In this comprehensive handbook, Kevin Larimer and Mary Gannon, the two most recent editors of Poets & Writers Magazine, distill fifty years of knowledge and resources accumulated by the nonprofit organization and its magazine. Topics include practical tips about how to submit to literary magazines, writing contests, MFA programs, and literary agents; insights about self-publishing and small presses; and the connections between writing and family, friends, community, respect, and happiness. The book also features writing prompts, craft advice, and personal essays about writing by acclaimed authors such as Jennifer Acker, Jane Hirshfield, Ada Limón, George Saunders, and Ocean Vuong.  

    ISBN: 
    978-1982123079
  • Creative Writing: A Workbook With Readings

    by
    Linda Anderson, editor
    Published in 2006
    by Routledge

    This comprehensive creative writing guide serves as a practical workbook, introducing the broad concerns of creative process and providing a thorough review of elements specific to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The chapters are full of helpful insights, methods, tips, and exercises on topics such as character, setting, point of view, structure, voice, imagery, and theme. The second part is an anthology of the exemplary writing referenced in the workbook by authors including Raymond Carver, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith, Richard Hugo, Jamaica Kincaid, Katherine Mansfield, Hilary Mantel, Flannery O’Connor, and Wole Soyinka. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0415372435
  • Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose

    by
    Kay Ryan
    Published in 2020
    by Grove Press

    “There must be a crack in the poet of some sort. It has to be deep, privately potent, and unmendable—and the poet must forever try to mend it.” In her first book of essays, Pulitzer Prize–winner and former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan includes insightful literary criticism, book reviews, and personal essays on poetry and poets—such as Emily Dickinson, Annie Dillard, Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Marianne Moore, Marilynne Robinson, Stevie Smith, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos Williams. Writers will be inspired by Ryan’s distinctively fresh perspectives on the roles of art and poetics in a creative life.  

     

    ISBN: 
    978-0802148186
  • Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction

    by
    Damon Knight
    Published in 1997
    by St. Martin’s Griffin

    “Try to improve your writing one piece at a time—work on your characterization, for instance, or dialogue, or plotting, until you have made some progress; then turn to another aspect and work on that.” This is the third edition of this comprehensive and popular guidebook by Damon Knight, acclaimed science fiction author, editor, critic, and founder of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In a clear and straightforward style and format, the book covers the essential elements of a writer’s life and work, including how to get ideas, when to begin a story, and advice on work habits. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0312150945
  • Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World

    by
    James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Christopher Merrill, editors
    Published in 2015
    by Norton

    This anthology of flash fiction collects eighty-six short shorts by authors from six continents, including Petina Gappah, Yasunari Kawabata, Etgar Keret, Kim Young-ha, Naguib Mahfouz, Shabnam Nadiya, María Negroni, Lili Potpara, Josephine Rowe, and Juan Villoro. The range of work demonstrates the expansive potential of this abbreviated form (stories usually containing no more than 750 words), and will inspire writers to view storytelling in new ways. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0393346077
  • How to Be an Artist

    by
    Jerry Saltz
    Published in 2020
    by Riverhead Books

    “I hope this book will bring you not only answers, but also new questions about your relationship with art,” writes art critic Jerry Saltz in this handbook filled with full-color artwork, prompts, exercises, and advice for being an artist working in any medium. From ideas to consider before even getting started, to tackling issues such as first steps, imagination and storytelling, self-doubt, creative process, and work habits, Saltz provides writers with a new way of seeing their work. “The process of making art is fluid and mercurial. It involves epiphanies large and small, turn-ons and turn-offs, symbols and structures in a constant state of change.” 

    ISBN: 
    978-0593086469
  • Why Writing Matters

    by
    Nicholas Delbanco
    Published in 2020
    by Yale University Press

    Joining titles such as Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters and Jay Parini’s Why Poetry Matters in Yale University Press’s Why X Matters series, the new volume by Delbanco explores questions of influence and the creative impulses toward imitation and originality. The author of more than thirty books of fiction and nonfiction, Delbanco draws on his decades of teaching experience at Bennington College, Skidmore College, Columbia University, and elsewhere—he was director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor until 2015—to offer a kind of reading workshop, equal parts memoir, literary history, and scholarly analysis. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0300245974
  • The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better

    by
    Will Storr
    Published in 2020
    by Abrams Press

    “One benefit of understanding the science of storytelling is that it illuminates the ‘whys’ behind the ‘rules’ we’re commonly given. Such knowledge should be empowering. Knowing why the rules are the rules means we know how to break them intelligently and successfully.” In The Science of Storytelling, each chapter focuses on a different element of storytelling, from creating an imagined world to the protagonist’s complexities and emotional conflicts, to larger questions of meaning, plot, and conclusions. Journalist and novelist Will Storr incorporates psychology and neuroscience research and uses examples from different types of literature—from Harry Potter to Alice Walker to King Lear—to provide writers with a new perspective of the mechanics of storytelling. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1419743030
  • The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice

    by
    Gary L. McDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek, editors
    Published in 2010
    by Rose Metal Press

    Rose Metal Press’s guide gathers thirty-four short personal essays about prose poetry by practitioners and teachers of the form, including Joe Bonomo, Brigitte Byrd, Maxine Chernoff, Denise Duhamel, Ray Gonzalez, Bob Hicok, Tung-Hui Hu, David Keplinger, and Gary Young. The essays share a diverse range of experiences, influences, and styles that demonstrates the possibilities for innovation in the form, and each one is followed by two exemplary prose poems by the essayist. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0978984885
  • Poetry and the Fate of the Senses

    by
    Susan Stewart
    Published in 2002
    by University of Chicago Press

    “The cultural, or form-giving, work of poetry is to counter the oblivion of darkness,” writes Susan Stewart in Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, which examines how poetry, from ancient and classical traditions to contemporary postmodernism, has been a medium for expressing and sharing sensory experiences. Stewart analyzes the work of writers—including Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Carson, Samuel Coleridge, Emily Dickinson, George Herbert, Hesiod, Ovid, and Derek Walcott—and draws in a number of philosophers to argue for the power of a form that illuminates and makes palpable the contours of other lives and transforms the distances between individuals. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0226774145
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them

    by
    Sol Stein
    Published in 1999
    by St. Martin’s Griffin

    How to Grow a Novel is a comprehensive guide for writers seeking practical advice on the nuts and bolts—as well as integral but often overlooked craft elements—that go into writing fiction. Sol Stein, who died in 2019, shares indispensable insights and specific techniques and examples gained from decades of writing novels and plays, and editing the work of authors such as W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Elia Kazan, George Orwell, Lionel Trilling, and Simone Weil. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0312267490
  • Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction

    by
    Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
    Published in 2019
    by McGraw-Hill Education

    The third edition of Tell It Slant is an updated comprehensive guide to the craft of creative nonfiction for writers seeking to expand perspective, find and refine a distinctive voice, and construct compelling narratives. Chapters focus on topics such as inspiration, identity, writing the body, innovative and hybrid forms, and community. Included are personal anecdotes, professional tips, a series of related prompts, and an anthology of twelve diverse and acclaimed examples of the genre to emphasize the importance of reading as a writer. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1260454598
  • Forms of Poetic Attention

    by
    Lucy Alford
    Published in 2020
    by Columbia University Press

    “The way we attend to the world changes the world we perceive, and the world we perceive changes the way we attend.” Lucy Alford shifts away from the conventional perspective of poetic form as the product of technical devices and focuses on understanding the effects of poetry through the lens of the writer’s attention, making the case that the most integral aspect of creating poetry revolves around refining relationships to attention. Alford’s close readings and analyses of work by authors, including Al-Khansā’, A. R. Ammons, Charles Bukowski, Anne Carson, Paul Celan, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Audre Lorde, Stéphane Mallarmé, Harryette Mullen, and Claudia Rankine, demonstrate the uniqueness of attention required and produced by poetry, and offers writers a fresh angle with which to approach their own work. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0231187541
  • What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

    by
    Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
    Published in 1991
    by William Morrow

    “To be a good writer you must do two very different things—write like a writer and think like one.” This handbook is a guide through over eighty writing exercises that provide insights on craft and process from Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, who have more than twenty-five years of experience teaching creative writing between them. The exercises cover elements of storytelling—beginnings, characterization, point of view, dialogue, plot, and revision—with each entry including a straightforward description of the exercise, the objective, and student examples that will inspire both beginning and experienced writers. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0062720061
  • Murder Your Darlings: And Other Gentle Writing Advice From Aristotle to Zinsser

    by
    Roy Peter Clark
    Published in 2020
    by Little, Brown Spark

    Roy Peter Clark’s “writing book about writing books” collects tips culled from over fifty different guides to writing, including books by E. M. Forster, Natalie Goldberg, Donald Hall, Stephen King, Anne Lamott, John McPhee, Strunk and White, Kurt Vonnegut, and James Wood. The book has six parts for different categories of storytelling strategies, each with a concise synopsis of the tool or technique discussed (complete with explanations and anecdotes), and a list of helpful reminders for implementing the advice. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0316481885

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