Best Books for Writers

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

  • Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights From the Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs

    by
    Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, editors
    Published in 2001
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    “It’s a fascinating enterprise, this business of trying to tell the truth about the world through writing that is at once factual and literary,” write editors Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard in the introduction to this book focused on the wide-ranging genre of creative nonfiction. With over thirty essays and an accompanying reader, Writing Creative Nonfiction collects insight on vital elements of writing craft from esteemed writers, including Annie Dillard, Martín Espada, Phillip Lopate, Brenda Miller, and Judith Ortiz Cofer. Forms from the critical essay to the lyric essay, and the academic biography to journalism are covered, and there are prompts and exercises to engage anyone interested in learning more about the genre. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1884910500
  • When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry

    by
    Joy Harjo, executive editor
    Published in 2020
    by Norton

    “It is poetry that holds the songs of becoming, of change, of dreaming, and it is poetry we turn to when we travel those places of transformation, like birth, coming of age, marriage, accomplishments, and death,” writes U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo in the introduction to this landmark anthology celebrating indigenous poets spanning four centuries. Harjo—along with LeAnn Howe, Jennifer Elise Foerster, and a lineup of contributing editors and regional advisors—gathers the work of more than 160 poets representing nearly one hundred indigenous nations such as Eleazar, a seventeenth-century Native student at Harvard; Natalie Diaz; Jake Skeets; Layli Long Soldier; Luci Tapahanso; and Ray Young Bear. With work ranging from traditional oral literatures to contemporary poetry, this anthology is historic and essential reading.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393356809
  • Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics

    by
    TC Tolbert and Trace Peterson, editors
    Published in 2013
    by Nightboat Books

    This anthology of trans and genderqueer poetry and poetics gathers a wide range of poets from across aesthetics and backgrounds, and celebrates their poems and poetic statements that reflect on their individual relationships to language, activism, and identity. A historic and long overdue achievement, this collection of fifty-five poets includes Samuel Ace, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, kari edwards, Joy Ladin, Dawn Lundy Martin, Eileen Myles, and John Wieners. 

    ISBN: 
    9781937658106
  • Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World

    by
    Gregory Orr and Ellen Bryant Voigt, editors
    Published in 1996
    by University of Michigan Press

    This anthology is an invaluable tool for teachers and students of poetry and poetics at every level, and includes essays by current and former lecturers at the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers—such as Marianne Boruch, Carl Dennis, Louise Glück, and Robert Hass. From discussions on Homer to Plath, to meditations on the nature of the image, this 1996 essay anthology continues to be relevant today. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0472066216
  • Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers

    by
    Joyce Carol Oates, editor
    Published in 1998
    by Norton

    Based on Joyce Carol Oates’s writing seminar at Princeton University, this anthology collects numerous types of narratives—including short stories and their early drafts, poems, short plays, myths, and folktales—and recommends in its introduction “to read widely, to read with enthusiasm, to read for pleasure, to read with an eye for another’s craft.” By providing models of rich storytelling, Oates instructs and inspires writers to challenge their work, and includes an afterword on the writing workshop with supplementary prompts and advice. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0393971767
  • 25 Great Sentences and How They Got That Way

    by
    Geraldine Woods
    Published in 2020
    by Norton

    Culling examples of “beautiful, creative, or resonant” sentences from a variety of sources—fiction, nonfiction, drama, poetry, song lyrics, speeches—Woods considers what makes “form and meaning work together, in synergy.” Sentences by Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, and others are juxtaposed with those by Neil Armstrong, John F. Kennedy, and even Yoda from Star Wars, grouped according to their distinctive features: structure, diction, sound, connection/comparison, and extremes. The result is a delightfully readable examination of the foundation of literary architecture for writers and language enthusiasts alike. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1324004851
  • Your Art Will Save Your Life

    by
    Beth Pickens
    Published in 2018
    by Feminist Press

    “You cannot possibly know right now how much your work is going to impact someone, someday.” In this guide for creatives, Beth Pickens writes with candor and wisdom about the power, pleasure, and responsibility of creating art, providing inspiring assignments, practical strategies, and skills and techniques designed to sustain writers through a lifetime of creativity. “Your work—the work you’re making right now and the work you haven’t dreamt of yet—is going to impact the people who need to experience it.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1936932290
  • Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Revised and Expanded

    by
    Jeff VanderMeer
    Published in 2018
    by Harry N. Abrams

    For the fifth anniversary of Wonderbook, Jeff VanderMeer expanded the original edition to include fifty additional pages of illustrations, diagrams, and writing exercises, as well as new instructive modules focusing on storytelling perspectives, structures, and the environment. The vivid and colorful visualizations encourage playfulness as well as logic and will inspire writers—of the speculative, fantastic, and all other genres—who are seeking to refresh their creative outlooks. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1419729669
  • Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers

    by
    Lawrence Block
    Published in 1994
    by William Morrow

    Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is the equivalent of a house call from the family doctor. Whatever my condition, whatever the nature of my creative symptoms that day, I know I can count on a sympathetic ear and an effective remedy. Whether he’s talking about plot, character motivation, point of view, or revisions, his suggestions are practical and his guidance is dependable.” In the introduction to this 1994 edition of Lawrence Block’s handbook, Sue Grafton writes about the book’s innumerable lessons, and the value of revisiting its insights, advice, and wisdom about dealing with the obstacles many writers face repeatedly over the course of years of creative practice: motivation, priorities, commitment, work habits, writer’s block, hopelessness and faith, and failure and success. 

    ISBN: 
    978-0688132286
  • Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay

    by
    Adair Lara
    Published in 2009
    by Ten Speed Press

    “What goes on between a writer of personal true-life stories and the person who reads them is like a friendship—and real friendship is exchanging secrets, taking hostages, rolling over like a dog and exposing your soft throat.” With a straightforward and irreverant style, author and columnist Adair Lara guides writers through the journey of personal essay and memoir writing, from how to approach inspiration and raw material, to techniques and writing routines, to taking steps toward publishing. The book also includes an appendix with a reading list, useful texts, and writing exercises. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1580084802
  • 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

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