Best Books for Writers

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

  • Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture

    by
    Dana Gioia
    Published in 2004
    by Graywolf Press

    This book collects over two dozen essays by author, professor, and former California poet laureate Dana Gioia which present wide-ranging reflections on the evolving position of poetry in contemporary culture, and the cultural significance of poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Kenneth Rexroth, Kay Ryan, Jack Spicer, and James Tate. Gioia arrives at insightful and inspiring conclusions—and questions—concerning the definition of poetry, its unwavering value amid changes in literary culture, and the impact of both innovation and traditionalism.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555974107
  • Pity the Reader: On Writing With Style

    by
    Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell
    Published in 2019
    by Seven Stories Press

    A student of Vonnegut’s at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop from 1965 to 1967, during a time when the teacher was finishing his masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five, McConnell guides the reader through nearly everything the famous author ever said or wrote about the art and craft of writing. “Practicing an art form is a way to grow your soul,” Vonnegut said, and with rare photographs and reproductions as well as a generous offering of the novelist’s aphorisms, short essays, articles, and speeches, Pity the Reader proves the profound truth in that statement, offering insight and inspiration on every page.

    ISBN: 
    978-1609809621
  • Telling Time: Angels, Ancestors, and Stories

    by
    Nancy Willard
    Published in 1993
    by Harvest Books

    Nancy Willard’s renown as a lively and versatile poet, novelist, and children’s book author is showcased in this collection of thirteen essays, which incorporate elements of parable, fantasy and folk tales, and poetry to explore the craft of writing and the role of the imagination. Willard presents readers with the magic possibilities of drawing inspiration not only from personal experiences and memories but also from ancestors and spirits, and includes examples from her own work as well as writing by Marvin Bell, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Tess Gallagher, and William Carlos Williams.

    ISBN: 
    978-0156931304
  • Essays One

    by
    Lydia Davis
    Published in 2019
    by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    In this first of two planned volumes, Lydia Davis offers her insights, analyses, and observations on craft, art, translation, and the writing life. Sections of the book include reflections and notes on the practice of writing—forms and influences, revision, writing habits—and closer looks at the work of notable authors, such as Rae Armantrout, Lucia Berlin, Jane Bowles, Gustave Flaubert, and Thomas Pynchon. Davis also examines the work of renowned visual artists and their influence on her writing.

    ISBN: 
    978-0374148850
  • No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

    by
    Chris Baty
    Published in 2014
    by Chronicle Books

    In No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, has created an engaging handbook to accompany writers through the process of writing a fifty-thousand-word novel in thirty days, from start to finish. The first half of the book is full of practical tips to prepare for the writing ahead—getting in the right mind-set, figuring out a way to schedule in writing time, advice for motivation and incentives, and planning characters and plot—while the second half provides an encouraging week-by-week guide through a month’s worth of inspired fiction writing.

    ISBN: 
    978-1452124773
  • The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life

    by
    Dinty W. Moore
    Published in 2012
    by Wisdom Publications

    “As a writer, I had learned the power of releasing my control of a story, of letting the words, the characters, the images, the mysterious underpinnings of a piece of prose take me in unexpected directions.” In this slender, enlightening volume, author and professor Dinty W. Moore applies concepts from Buddhism and mindfulness studies to the practice and process of creative writing. The book presents a series of illuminating quotations by writers and artists—including Anton Chekhov, Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, Carlos Fuentes, Ursula K. Le Guin, George Saunders, and August Wilson—followed by short meditations applying the quotes to four integral components of the writing life: initial inspiration, practicalities of process, growing as a writer, and the writer’s place in today’s world.

    ISBN: 
    978-1614290070
  • Poetry as Survival

    by
    Gregory Orr
    Published in 2002
    by University of Georgia Press

    Poet and professor Gregory Orr offers an in-depth analysis and meditation on the time-tested ways in which reading, writing, and listening to lyric poetry can be instrumental in processing, healing, and transcending trauma and suffering. Orr selects examples and anecdotes from ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Inuit, and Japanese cultures, and brings in the work of poets—such as Emily Dickinson, Stanley Kunitz, D. H. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and Richard Wilbur—to demonstrate the transformative power of the form.

    ISBN: 
    978-0820324289
  • Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction

    by
    Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz
    Published in 2014
    by Cengage Learning

    This comprehensive primer on creative nonfiction writing, now in its second edition, is divided into two parts: “Writing Creative Nonfiction” and “Reading Creative Nonfiction.” The first ten chapters take you through essential elements of the writing process, from notebook jottings to first draft to revision, and cover important considerations such as voice, research, and ethics. The anthology portion explores different forms—memoir, personal essay, portrait, essays about place, narrative journalism, and short shorts—with exemplary writing by authors including Nora Ephron, Pico Iyer, Susan Orlean, George Orwell, Charles Simic, and Alice Walker.

    ISBN: 
    978-1133307433
  • By Cunning & Craft: Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers

    by
    Peter Selgin
    Published in 2012
    by Serving House Books

    “Instinct alone isn’t enough. To produce a work of art, technique must also be brought to bear. When instinct and technique merge seamlessly, I call the result cunning,” writes Peter Selgin, author and professor at Georgia College & State University, in this craft book “for serious writers of all levels.” The comprehensive guide includes practical advice and exemplary passages that cover essential elements of the process from inspiration and ideas, to point of view and dialogue, to structure and revision.

    ISBN: 
    978-0985849535
  • Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections

    by
    Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker, editors
    Published in 2008
    by University of Iowa Press

    This anthology collects twenty-four essays by contemporary women poets whose careers were influenced by the women who came before them. Selections include Beth Ann Fennelly on Denise Duhamel, Katy Lederer on Lyn Hejinian, Aimee Nezhukumatathil on Naomi Shihab Nye, Eleni Sikelianos on Alice Notley, and Tracy K. Smith on Lucie Brock-Broido, with poems by both the mentors and mentees following the essays. The book demonstrates the powerful, varied, and complex ways in which mentorship takes form and poetic traditions move between generations and within a community.

    ISBN: 
    978-1587296390
  • Improv for Writers: 10 Secrets to Help Novelists and Screenwriters Bypass Writer’s Block and Generate Infinite Ideas

    by
    Jorjeana Marie
    Published in 2019
    by Ten Speed Press

    “This is a workbook for the work of writing. Getting into a great space for creating, wringing out our imagination, deepening our understanding of people and therefore of characters, and having a stockpile of tools to move the work forward.” Writer and instructor Jorjeana Marie provides ten rules from the world of improvisational theater to free the imagination for the purposes of creative writing. The book includes dozens of helpful tips and is full of exercises inspired by improvisational techniques that can be performed and practiced right at the desk to jumpstart new ideas and reveal new perspectives on characterization, setting, dialogue, themes, structure, and plot.

    ISBN: 
    978-0399582035
  • The Rag-Picker’s Guide to Poetry: Poems, Poets, Process

    by
    Eleanor Wilner and Maurice Manning, editors
    Published in 2013
    by University of Michigan Press

    Curated by editors Eleanor Wilner and Maurice Manning, this book of thirty-five essays—by poets such as Tony Hoagland, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Linda Gregerson, A. Van Jordan, Thomas Lux, and C. Dale Young—discusses the unexpected sources of poetic discovery, unique approaches to revision, and offers personal insights into the writing process. “The venture of this collection is to look, from the many vantages that the poets in this eclectic anthology chose to look, at what it was—knowing that a poem can’t be conceived in advance of its creation—that nevertheless helped their poems to emerge or connected them over time.”

    ISBN: 
    978-0472052035
  • Elements of Fiction

    by
    Walter Mosley
    Published in 2019
    by Grove Press

    In his previous writing guide, This Year You Write Your Novel (Little, Brown, 2007), the author of more than fifty critically acclaimed books offered the basic tools and practical advice needed to write a novel in a single year. In this conversational follow-up, Mosley breaks down the art of fiction to its essential ingredients: character and character development, plot and story, voice and narrative, context and description. Drawing on his own writing methods and supplying engaging examples from his own work, Mosley provides tips, tools, and advice for writers, from blank page to first draft to revision after revision.

    ISBN: 
    978-0802147639
  • First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing ... and Life

    by
    Joe Moran
    Published in 2019
    by Penguin Books

    “Making a sentence sing is a way of making others more likely to listen and ourselves more likely to be understood. A good sentence gives order to our thoughts and takes us out of our solitudes.” English professor Joe Moran provides a guide to the construction of effective sentences, covering integral considerations such as word order, nouns and verbs, plain words, and long sentences. With examples from the Bible and Shakespeare to Orwell and Diana Athill, and with support from scientific studies on what attracts readers, writers of all genres will find Moran’s tips and examples practical and helpful in developing their skills.

    ISBN: 
    978-0143134343
  • The Sound of Listening: Poetry as Refuge and Resistance

    by
    Philip Metres
    Published in 2018
    by University of Michigan Press

    “I am interested increasingly in poetry and the arts as a way of creating another life, of marking and embodying alternative ways of being and living,” writes Philip Metres in the introduction to this collection which gathers a decade of his writing on poetry. The book provides a historical context to poetry as resistance and explores subjects ranging from post-9/11 writing, to landscape and peace poetry, to personal examinations of poets such as Khalil Gibran, Adrienne Rich, and Lev Rubinstein. Writers will be inspired by Metres’s insightful questions and his expansive view of the different ways poetry has served as a tool for both challenging injustice and healing.

    ISBN: 
    978-0472037285
  • In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction

    by
    Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones, editors
    Published in 1996
    by Norton

    This anthology collects nearly one hundred examples of short creative nonfiction by acclaimed authors such as Andrei Codrescu, Rita Dove, Joy Harjo, Bhanu Kapil, Li-Young Lee, Barry Lopez, Naomi Shihab Nye, Michael Ondaatje, and Cynthia Ozick. Writers will be inspired by the diversity of themes, styles, and sensibilities found in the pieces—ranging from a few paragraphs to two thousand words—which demonstrate the wide scope and emotional potential of the form.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393314922
  • 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

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