Best Books for Writers

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

  • The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

    by
    John Truby
    Published in 2008
    by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    The Anatomy of Story, based on lessons taught in John Truby’s acclaimed screenwriting courses, is a comprehensive guide through the process of building and shaping narrative, using elements such as dialogue, symbolism, tone, and characterization to propel the story forward. The book is full of techniques and insightful anecdotes that can be applied to writers seeking to strengthen their own fiction and nonfiction storytelling skills.

    ISBN: 
    978-0865479937
  • The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms

    by
    Ron Padgett, editor
    Published in 2000
    by Teachers & Writers Collaborative

    The second edition of this handbook, originally published in 1987 by the nonprofit Teachers & Writers Collaborative, guides writers through more than seventy traditional and modern poetic forms and terms including the abstract poem, the cinquain, the ghazal, the macaronic verse, the tanka, and the villanelle. Each entry contains a definition and history, a variety of exemplary passages, and helpful prompts and hints for usage.

    ISBN: 
    978-0915924608
  • Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing

    by
    Hélène Cixous, translated from the French by Sarah Cornell and Susan Sellers
    Published in 1993
    by Columbia University Press

    “Let us go to the school of writing, where we’ll spend three school days initiating ourselves in the strange science of writing, which is a science of farewells. Of reunitings,” writes Hélène Cixous at the start of this Wellek Library Lectures series book, based on her 1990 lectures given at the University of California, Irvine. Cixous reflects on the writing process and explores three integral elements of writing: The School of the Dead (the death of something or someone which gives birth to writing), The School of Dreams (the crucial role of dreams), and The School of Roots (the importance of delving into the “nether realms”).

    ISBN: 
    978-0231076593
  • Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past

    by
    William Zinsser
    Published in 2004
    by Marlowe & Company

    In this book, writer, editor, and teacher William Zinsser provides the guidance and tools to excavate one’s past for the “small, self-contained incidents” that can be transformed into memoir. Zinsser draws upon the work of authors such as Annie Dillard, Mary Karr, and Henry David Thoreau, and presents personal examples from his own life to offer advice and insight into key issues of memoir writing, including how to select the best anecdotes and memories, writing about places and people, and placing trust in the creative process and one’s instincts. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1569244685
  • Writing Brave and Free: Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing

    by
    Ted Kooser and Steve Cox
    Published in 2006
    by Bison Books

    Former U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser and veteran editor Steve Cox provide invaluable guidance for getting started, or restarted, with creative writing in this book designed to motivate and inspire a vigorous and pleasurable practice. Each of the nine sections consists of short, straightforward chapters focusing on every aspect of the process, including writing exercises, developing good habits, considering your reader, sensory details, revision, and practical advice about publishing.

    ISBN: 
    978-0803278325
  • Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems

    by
    Stephanie Burt
    Published in 2019
    by Basic Books

    Award-winning poet and critic Stephanie Burt, who was the subject of a 2016 installment of Reviewers & Critics by Michael Taeckens, offers an accessible introduction to reading, understanding, and appreciating poetry, from Shakespeare’s sonnets to “non-book forms of poetry” shared via social media. “Don’t Read Poetry is for readers hunting sharp, nimble thinking about culture, comprehension, and poems,” writes National Book Award–winning poet Terrance Hayes. “Whether discussing an ancestral Hawai’ian language, a canonical poet like Langston Hughes, or contemporary poets like Rodrigo Toscano and Jennifer Chang, Stephanie Burt manages to illuminate ‘the difficult process of turning paired marks into words.’ Don’t read poetry, she suggests, read poems.”

    ISBN: 
    978-0465094516
  • When Memory Speaks: Exploring the Art of Autobiography

    by
    Jill Ker Conway
    Published in 1999
    by Vintage Books

    From explorations of St. Teresa of Avila and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to George Sand, W. E. B. Du Bois, Virginia Woolf, and Frank McCourt, Jill Ker Conway’s book is an in-depth investigation of memoir writing, tracing its evolution and shedding light on how autobiographical storytelling reflects cultural context and is shaped by social forces such as gender roles. Conway presents memoir as a powerful form that fosters understanding—illuminating perceptions of the past and providing instructions and insights for the future. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0679766452
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft

    by
    Janet Burroway, with Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Ned Stuckey-French
    Published in 2019
    by University of Chicago Press

    The tenth edition of Janet Burroway’s classic 1982 book guides fiction writers of all levels through the entire creative process, with updated exemplary passages and advice from contemporary authors, and sections on current issues such as distraction, appropriation, different genres, and young adult fiction. Chapters focus on characterization, setting, plot and structure, point of view, and revision, and each closes with a list of suggested readings and writing prompts that allow for further study.

    ISBN: 
    978-0226616698
  • You Must Revise Your Life

    by
    William Stafford
    by University of Michigan Press

    “In this book readers are invited to approach the composing of literature by several slanting ways....” In this 1986 book from the Poets on Poetry series, William Stafford reflects on a number of less frequently discussed elements of the writing process that lie outside the realm of technique and strategy. Stafford shares sources and inspiration, his poems about writing, interviews about the writing life, and covers both being a teacher and a student of writing, revealing how it is an art practice of discovery.

    ISBN: 
    978-0472063710
  • The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know

    by
    June Casagrande
    Published in 2018
    by Ten Speed Press

    Divided into two parts, the first half of this guide focuses on syntax, covering parts of speech and the grammar of phrases and clauses. The second half concentrates on usage and propriety, exploring topics such as dangling participles, Oxford commas, language myths, and sentence fragments. June Casagrande’s guidance is humorous and straightforward, and provides writers with clarification of the ever-evolving nature of words, and the confidence to use language more intentionally in their creative work.

    ISBN: 
    978-0399581069
  • The Accidental Memoir

    by
    Eve Makis and Anthony Cropper
    Published in 2019
    by Fourth Estate

    “That’s the beauty of writing about personal experiences: With the right encouragement, everyone can do it. Everyone is an expert of their own life.” This illustrated book is designed to be accessible to writers of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels. Filled with fun and inventive prompts and exemplary passages, the guide provides inspiring tips on memoir writing, and encourages the practice of self-discovery and creative expression through the unearthing of personal stories.

    ISBN: 
    978-0008329297
  • Humor in Modern American Poetry

    by
    Rachel Trousdale, editor
    Published in 2017
    by Bloomsbury Academic

    “Modernist poetry’s reputation for difficulty leads many readers to overlook the fact that poets of the modern era are continually joking, mocking, and making puns,” Rachel Trousdale writes in the introduction to this book highlighting humor. In this collection of ten essays, professors and scholars of modern poetry discuss humor as a “structurally central” and “constitutive part” of poetry citing work by Elizabeth Bishop, Phyllis McGinley, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, and others. The essays focus on the different ways humor can connect, alienate, push boundaries, or demonstrate how a writer approaches a particular audience.

    ISBN: 
    978-1501352607
  • Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative

    by
    Jane Alison
    Published in 2019
    by Catapult

    Jane Alison’s book on craft calls into question the dramatic arc many writers have been taught to follow in their work. “So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?” she writes. Alison presents a “museum of specimens” including writing by Anne Carson, Raymond Carver, Gabriel García Márquez, Jamaica Kincaid, Clarice Lispector, and Mary Robison, to illustrate some of the possibilities for nonlinear storytelling—and she invites her readers to follow these examples to “keep making our novels novel.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1948226134
  • The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life

    by
    Richard Russo
    Published in 2019
    by Vintage

    Published in hardcover by Knopf last May, the bestselling novelist’s essay collection, now in a paperback edition, contains insights into Russo’s life as a writer, teacher, and reader. While the nine pieces that make up the collection hold the same warmth, generosity, compassion, and humor that have drawn readers to his previous books, including the novels Everybody’s Fool and That Old Cape Magic and the memoir Elsewhere, it is Russo’s insightful record of the writing life, with all the usual markers of rejection, failure, revision, and hard work, as well as his sober take on the business of publishing that are the real draw for writers.

    ISBN: 
    978-0525435334
  • By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry

    by
    Molly McQuade, editor
    Published in 2000
    by Graywolf Press

    This anthology collects critical writing by over two dozen contemporary women poets who share their diverse range of insights, experiences, and perspectives. Written by poets including Lucie Brock-Broido, Rita Dove, Jorie Graham, Lynn Hejinian, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Sharon Olds, and Adrienne Rich, the essays explore topics such as living the life of a poet, influence and inspiration, race and gender, complex nuances of craft, and poetry’s place in the world.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555972974
  • Make Us Wave Back: Essays on Poetry and Influence

    by
    Michael Collier
    Published in 2007
    by University of Michigan Press

    “Literary influence...is the story of a writer’s deliberate attempt to find and make something like a literary home,” writes the poet, professor, and former director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in the preface to this collection. Writers seeking to make a literary home of their own will be inspired by Collier’s illuminating essays, written over the course of twenty years, which explore how he has been influenced by authors including Louise Bogan, Jorge Luis Borges, William Meredith, and Walt Whitman.

    ISBN: 
    978-0472069477
  • The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: An Instructional Memoir for Prose Writers

    by
    Stephanie Vanderslice
    Published in 2017
    by Bloomsbury Academic

    “I feel certain that while the writers at the cool table may be few, if you read this guide and follow my lead, the satisfying life of a writing outsider is well within your grasp,” Stephanie Vanderslice writes in the introduction to her book, offering recognition that all writers deserve a fulfilling writing life. Using her own experiences and drawing from her Huffington Post blog of the same name, Vanderslice has written a manual for perseverance as a prose writer that includes making the commitment to the work, finding community, making a living while writing, connecting with readers, and traditional and nontraditional publishing.

    ISBN: 
    978-1350023550
  • Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook

    by
    David Galef
    Published in 2016
    by Columbia University Press

    This book is an engaging primer on the art of writing flash fiction. David Galef covers the origins, evolution, and subcategories of the form that include vignettes, prose poems, character sketches, fables, lists, twist stories, surrealism, and metafiction. Each chapter is full of practical tips, techniques, and editing strategies specific to flash fiction, as well as inspiring prompts and exemplary stories by authors such as Donald Barthelme, Colette, Roxane Gay, Yusef Komunyakaa, Bharati Mukherjee, Sei Shōnagon, Alice Walker, and John Edgar Wideman.

    ISBN: 
    978-0231179690
  • Interviews From the Edge: 50 Years of Conversations About Writing and Resistance

    by
    Mark Yakich and John Biguenet, editors
    Published in 2019
    by Bloomsbury Academic

    This book comprises an engaging selection of interviews published in Loyola University’s New Orleans Review from 1968 to 2018. Writers of all genres will be inspired by discussions with twenty-four authors and activists—including John Ashbery, James Baldwin, Susan Bernofsky, Jorge Luis Borges, Sheila Heti, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Anaïs Nin, and Eudora Welty—who share their unique perspectives on a wide range of topics covering the aesthetic and social aspects of writing. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1501347450
  • The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice

    by
    Tony Hoagland
    Published in 2019
    by Norton

    “This collection of short chapters emphasizes the ways in which a strong poetic voice is connective, binding the speaker and the reader into a conversation compelling enough to be called a relationship,” Tony Hoagland writes in the introduction to his posthumously published guide to crafting the poetic voice. In twelve concise sections, the award-winning poet offers an intimate manual with chapters on worldliness, vernacular, speech register, material imagination, audience, and more. The appendix is replete with exercises and prompts for instructors and writers who want to put their new skills into practice.

    ISBN: 
    978-1324002680
  • The Writer’s Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing

    by
    John Warner
    Published in 2019
    by Penguin Books

    It may be a cliché, but “practice makes perfect” remains a solid approach to improving one’s skills as a writer, and John Warner’s book on craft offers organic, interactive, and relevant strategies for doing just that. The author of five books, including the novel The Funny Man (Soho Press, 2011); a contributing writer for Inside Higher Ed; a columnist for the Chicago Tribune; and a writing teacher with more than twenty years of experience at the college level, Warner takes the reader step by step through the process of writing nonfiction by dissecting key concepts such as audience, tone, and revision, offering inspiring writing exercises along the way.

    ISBN: 
    978-0143133155
  • Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory

    by
    Maureen Murdock
    Published in 2003
    by Seal Press

    “Memory is rarely whole or factually correct....What we remember is a reconstruction of image and feeling that suits our needs and purposes.” Author and psychotherapist Maureen Murdock begins this two-part book by exploring the mutability of memory and its powerful connection to identity, drawing upon her own experiences with a mother struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and examining works of memoir by authors such as Isabel Allende, J. M. Coetzee, and Mary Karr. The second part of the book acts as a primer guiding writers through the practical elements of craft with writing exercises and chapters including “Getting Started,” “Universality,” and “Emotional Truth and the Voice of the Narrator.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1580050838
  • How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

    by
    Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
    Published in 2008
    by William Morrow

    “We do not propose any rules; we offer observations.” In How Not to Write a Novel, Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, both authors and editors with over thirty years of experience, guide writers through what to avoid before submitting your novel to be published. Within the broader topics of plot, character, and style, are more in-depth sections that focus on beginnings and endings, pacing, dialogue, point of view, and setting. Each chapter includes countless tips on how to identify, avoid, troubleshoot, and amend missteps to create a more effective manuscript.

    ISBN: 
    978-0061357954
  • The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics

    by
    Diane Lockward, editor
    Published in 2018
    by Terrapin Books

    Each of the ten sections of this book edited by poet Diane Lockward focuses on a poetic concept, covering topics including diction, etymology, sound, tone, point of view, and revision. There are thirty micro craft essays by acclaimed poets such as Natasha Sajé, Maggie Smith, and Diane Seuss, each in turn followed by writing prompts and model poems. The craft pointers provide a helpful review and challenge for writers wishing to push beyond the basics, and the Top Tips lists are compiled by poets who share their most inspiring words of advice and wisdom. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1947896079
  • A Self Made of Words: Crafting a Distinctive Persona in Nonfiction Writing

    by
    Carl H. Klaus
    Published in 2013
    by University of Iowa Press

    “No matter how genuine you might think it sounds, your written self is an illusion, a stand-in for you. And since it’s made of words, your persona can be made to sound any way you want,” Carl H. Klaus writes in A Self Made of Words. In this guide, Klaus demonstrates how the nonfiction writer can learn to cultivate an intentional version of the “self.” Replete with examples and exercises, the book has two parts: a detailed introduction to the persona, and an overview of the most important elements in writing—including diction, point of view, and sentence structure—that play a role in crafting a distinctive self.

    ISBN: 
    978-1609381943

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