Best Books for Writers

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

  • Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction

    by
    Brian Dillon
    Published in 2018
    by New York Review Books

    “Imagine a type of writing so hard to define its very name should be something like: an effort, an attempt, a trial. Surmise or hazard, followed likely by failure.” In roving and fragmentary prose, Brian Dillon approaches the work of essayists including Roland Barthes, Michel de Montaigne, Jacques Derrida, Joan Didion, Elizabeth Hardwick, Georges Perec, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, William Carlos Williams, and Virginia Woolf, to demonstrate the expansiveness of the form and its distinctive possibilities as a medium for exploring new ideas.

    ISBN: 
    978-1681372822
  • The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life

    by
    Priscilla Long
    Published in 2018
    by University of New Mexico Press

    With The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long has written a comprehensive manual covering integral topics in chapters such as “Daily Writing,” “Working With Language,” “Dramatic Story Structure,” “Transitions,” and “Metaphor and Simile.” In this second edition, Long has replaced exemplary sentences and passages with revelatory new models, and updated sections to reflect how writing and publishing practices have evolved since the 2010 edition, including changes in the average length of stories, scientific findings about handwriting versus typing, and perceptions about self-publishing.

    ISBN: 
    978-0826360052
  • The Left-Handed Story: Writing and the Writer’s Life

    by
    Nancy Willard
    Published in 2008
    by University of Michigan Press

    The subjects and ideas explored in this collection of essays by Nancy Willard span a wide range of the poet and novelist’s many passions: creative muses, fairy tales, litany as poetic form, and children’s literature. Readers and writers of all genres and levels of experience will enjoy Willard’s practical and entertaining insights and analyses, and find inspiration in her examination of the imaginative processes integral not only to literature, but to other creative disciplines such as art and film.

    ISBN: 
    978-0472069996
  • Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture

    by
    Dana Gioia
    Published in 2002
    by Graywolf Press

    In this 2002 edition with a new introduction, California poet laureate Dana Gioia explores a range of topics on poetry’s evolving roles through his collection of essays, and considers integral craft elements with a focus on modernist poets such as Elizabeth Bishop and Robinson Jeffers. Written in lively and straightforward prose, Gioia’s insights on poetry’s marginalization, free verse versus formalism, and the merits of long narrative poetry will inspire writers to reevaluate their form and style, and examine how their work fits into contemporary society.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555973704
  • Mentors, Muses, and Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives

    by
    Elizabeth Benedict, editor
    Published in 2012
    by Excelsior Editions

    In this collection, Elizabeth Benedict gathers thirty essays from accomplished writers on their experiences with life-changing mentors and the transformative power of creative influence and community. Writers of all levels will find inspiration in these stories by acclaimed authors such as Alexander Chee, Michael Cunningham, Samantha Hunt, Dinaw Mengestu, Sigrid Nunez, and Cheryl Strayed, who look back on role models whose support and guidance had a meaningful impact at an early stage in their writing careers.    

    ISBN: 
    978-1438443508
  • A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

    by
    David Mura
    Published in 2018
    by University of Georgia Press

    In A Stranger’s Journey, poet, memoirist, and critic David Mura explores the ways in which relationships to personal identity and race play an integral role in narrative expression and craft, particularly in memoir writing, using examples from authors such as Mary Karr, Maxine Hong Kingston, and ZZ Packer. Writers of all genres and levels of experience will find helpful inspiration in Mura’s guidance into using an understanding and interrogation of self as a timeless and transformative storytelling tool.

    ISBN: 
    978-0820353685
  • Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers From the Very First Sentence

    by
    Lisa Cron
    Published in 2012
    by Ten Speed Press

    In her first book preceding Story Genius, Lisa Cron offers a practical guide to understanding the human brain’s predisposition toward compelling narratives and how to transform this knowledge into powerful storytelling techniques. With titles such as “I’ll Feel What He’s Feeling,” “Digging Up Your Protagonist’s Inner Issue,” and “The Road From Setup to Payoff,” each of the twelve chapters zeroes in on a cognitive secret and its correlating story secret, and includes illustrative examples and checklists so that writers can apply Cron’s tips to their own work. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1607742456
  • The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination

    by
    Wallace Stevens
    by Vintage

    “These are not pages of criticism nor of philosophy. Nor are they merely literary pages. They are pages that have to do with one of the enlargements of life,” writes Wallace Stevens in the introduction to this 1965 edition of his collection. Throughout the seven essays, Stevens explores the expansive capabilities of poetry, connections between reality and creativity, the use of metaphors, and the role of sound and music in language. Writers will be inspired to examine and redefine their own notions of poetry and its capacity to enlarge the imagination.

    ISBN: 
    978-0394702780
  • Curious Attractions: Essays on Fiction Writing

    by
    Debra Spark
    Published in 2005
    by University of Michigan Press

    ​In this collection of nine essays, ​Debra Spark delves into the elements of craft that make for effective and resonant storytelling, sharing personal anecdotes and humorous observations along the way. Spark brings critical insights and engaging candor to key issues integral to fiction writing such as emotion, style and voice, the origins of creative inspiration, beginnings and endings, and relevance to contemporary world issues.

    ISBN: 
    978-0472068975
  • The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between

    by
    Stacey D’Erasmo
    Published in 2013
    by Graywolf Press

    “Like looking directly at the sun, looking directly at the creation of intimacy in fiction seems like a dangerous business.” This installment of Graywolf’s “Art of” series examines the various ways authors, including Joan Didion, D. H. Lawrence, Toni Morrison, and Virginia Woolf, have approached the challenge of crafting intimate relationships on the page, between friends, lovers, family members, and enemies. Writers will be inspired by D’Erasmo’s insights on methods of portraying the complexity of true connections between characters, and her emphasis on building intimacy between author and reader.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555976477
  • The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks

    by
    Joshua Beckman
    Published in 2018
    by Wave Books

    The inaugural title in Wave’s Bagley Wright Lecture Series on Poetry is actually a pair of books, packaged as one, that includes talks on poetry delivered in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and other cities across the United States in 2014. In The Lives of the Poems, Joshua Beckman, an editor at Wave, offers three variations of the same talk that—through repetition and adjustment—illuminate the intimate experience of making a particular set of poems. In Three Talks, he explores the fluid social dynamics of poetry as it lives between readers, poems, and books. A unique presentation of personal, intellectually curious, and provocative talks, The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks provides rare insights into a deeply literary life.

    ISBN: 
    978-1940696423
  • What to Read and Why

    by
    Francine Prose
    Published in 2018
    by Harper

    “The essays gathered in this volume contain reading suggestions and imprecations, records of enthusiasms, pieces that start with particular books and move toward the larger subject of how and what and why we read....” In this essay collection, literary critic and novelist Francine Prose examines the enduring value found in reading literature by authors including Roberto Bolaño, Jennifer Egan, George Eliot, and Mohsin Hamid, taking a closer look at the craft of writing on the sentence level. By reflecting on the specific elements of writing that can provide for powerfully transformative and transportive reading experiences, Prose offers writers an opportunity to approach their own work from new angles and with fresh inspiration.

    ISBN: 
    978-0062397867
  • The Thorn Necklace: Healing Through Writing and the Creative Process

    by
    Francesca Lia Block
    Published in 2018
    by Seal Press

    “Life might be hard, but art? This we can do. Together.” Francesca Lia Block’s The Thorn Necklace is a prescriptive memoir examining the interrelationship between life’s challenges and artistic practice, and the transformative potential of creative writing as a healing process. Block shares lively anecdotes from her personal life and from exemplary literature, and provides numerous exercises on narrative development for writers of both prose and poetry seeking to channel their own creative energy and experiences into powerful storytelling.

    ISBN: 
    978-1580057516
  • The Business of Being a Writer

    by
    Jane Friedman
    Published in 2018
    by University of Chicago Press

    The Business of Being a Writer is a comprehensive guide to the publishing industry for writers with chapters covering topics such as “Online and Digital Media,” “Researching Agents and Publishers,” “The Basics of Book Launches,” and “Crowdfunding and Donations.” Friedman provides in-depth and current knowledge to help writers position themselves for a long-term career of writing, sharing her expertise and advice on fundamental business principles and the benefits of using digital tools and online media.

    ISBN: 
    978-0226393162
  • Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays, and Life Into Literature

    by
    Bill Roorbach and Kristen Keckler
    Published in 2008
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    In this updated, tenth anniversary edition of Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach and Kristen Keckler offer techniques and advice for writing creative nonfiction and how to begin writing about your life experiences. The book includes prompts, such as drawing maps of remembered neighborhoods and reflecting on old photographs, as well as considerations of the ethics of creative nonfiction, trends in the memoir genre, and practical guidance on background research, character development, and shaping compelling scenes.
     

    ISBN: 
    978-1582975276
  • Radiant Lyre: Essays on Lyric Poetry

    by
    David Baker and Ann Townsend, editors
    Published in 2007
    by Graywolf Press

    This anthology focusing on lyric poetry gathers essays by David Baker and Ann Townsend, as well as other poets and critics such as Linda Gregerson, Carl Phillips, and Stanley Plumly, whose writing exploring the form ranges from conversational to investigative, from practical to enlightening. Divided into two parts, lyric modes and lyric means, the essays will be helpful to poets interested in the historical origins and evolution of lyric poetry, the different strategies used to create meaning, and its present status in contemporary literature.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555974602
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life

    by
    Bonnie Friedman
    Published in 1993
    by HarperCollins

    “I dreamed of a book like a friend also traveling through the night, a friend with a compass, and secrets to share about her own experience,” writes Bonnie Friedman in the introduction to Writing Past Dark, which she hopes will act as a supportive companion for writers. In this essay collection about the emotional side of the writing life, Friedman explores, and offers strategies for dealing with, an array of inner dilemmas that writers face, including feelings of envy, guilt, distraction, and writer’s block. Originally published in 1993, the collection may take on a new relevance in the current digital age, where literary successes, critiques, and debates are regularly shared publicly.

    ISBN: 
    978-0060922009
  • Read This if You Want to Be a Great Writer

    by
    Ross Raisin
    Published in 2018
    by Laurence King Publishing

    Written in a clear and straightforward style, novelist Ross Raisin’s book is an indispensable guide through essential elements of craft for fiction writing such as planning, research, characters, point of view, dialogue, and editing. Each of the book’s three sections is filled with helpful tips and exercises, and exemplary passages by authors including Italo Calvino, Lydia Davis, Denis Johnson, James Joyce, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Zadie Smith.

    ISBN: 
    978-1786271976
  • How to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse

    by
    Thomas C. Foster
    Published in 2018
    by Harper Perennial

    Thomas C. Foster, professor emeritus of English at the University of Michigan, Flint, provides an in-depth examination of the inner workings of the poetic form through the lens of the inquisitive reader. In fifteen chapters split into the three sections (What Is Poetry?, How Is Poetry?, and Why Is Poetry?), Foster explores the ways technical elements like sound, sense, rhythm, symbols, imagery, and music are crafted by the poet in order to inform the audience’s reading experience. With knowledgeable insights and explanations, the book offers poets of all levels a refreshed perspective of their own writing.

    ISBN: 
    978-0062113788
  • Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life

    by
    Jenny Boully
    Published in 2018
    by Coffee House Press

    Unlike most craft books, this collection of lyric essays about the experiences at the intersection of lived life and literary life is not prescriptive and offers no advice for composition or revision. Instead the author of five books, including Not Merely Because of the Unknown That Was Stalking Toward Them (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2011), lingers on the joys and challenges of the uncertainty that accompanies creative work. The result is a slim book that captures an author’s practice and the relationships she draws between writing and falling in love, dreaming, and memory.

    ISBN: 
    978-1566895101
  • Behind the Book: Eleven Authors on Their Path to Publication

    by
    Chris Mackenzie Jones
    Published in 2018
    by University of Chicago Press

    In Behind the Book, Chris Mackenzie Jones, marketing and communications director at the Loft Literary Center, examines the complete writing and publishing timelines of debut books by authors of various genres, including Brian Benson, Edan Lepucki, Courtney Maum, Eric Smith, and Monona Wali. From generating ideas and writing process, to revision and polishing, to publication and its aftermath, this book assists writers in navigating the many potential paths and strategies for successfully publishing a first book.

    ISBN: 
    978-0226405803
  • Poetic Meter and Poetic Form

    by
    Paul Fussell
    by McGraw-Hill

    Poetic Meter and Poetic Form delves into the tools of meter, rhyme, and stanza in poetry. In this 1979 revised edition, which adds a new chapter on free verse, Paul Fussell offers an overview of the history of these tools, as well as practical advice for applying them. The two-part book addresses writers who are seeking to improve their poetic techniques, but it is also intended “to help aspiring readers deepen their sensitivity to the rhythmical and formal properties of poetry and thus heighten their pleasure and illumination.”

    ISBN: 
    978-0075536062
  • The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story

    by
    Edwidge Danticat
    Published in 2017
    by Graywolf Press

    “Writing has been the primary way I have tried to make sense of my losses, including deaths.” In The Art of Death, Edwidge Danticat shifts from a memoiristic account of dealing with her mother’s death, to examining how other authors, poets, and philosophers have used literature to make sense of death, loss, mourning, and finding peace. Writers can find inspiration in Danticat’s insights on the value that integrating themes of sorrow and renewal can bring to a work of literature and its creator.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555977771
  • Your First Novel: A Top Agent and a Published Author Show You How to Write Your Book and Get It Published

    by
    Ann Rittenberg, Laura Whitcomb, and Camille Goldin
    Published in 2018
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    This revised and expanded edition, with a foreword by novelist Dennis Lehane, is a thorough and practical how-to guide for writing a first novel divided into two parts. The first section, written by young adult novelist Laura Whitcomb, provides guidance through the writing process from initial ideas and preparations, to fleshing out the plot and going through revisions. The second section, written by literary agent Ann Rittenberg, goes through the steps of acquiring and working with an agent to the publication of a first book. Interspersed are writing exercises, tips, and firsthand accounts from authors sharing their experiences in publishing.

    ISBN: 
    978-1440351907
  • A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry

    by
    Gregory Orr
    Published in 2018
    by Norton

    The author of a dozen books of poetry as well as three books about poetry, including Poetry as Survival (University of Georgia Press, 2002), Orr delivers an innovative and accessible guide based on the notion of turning “worlds into words,” using close readings of poems such as Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” and Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays.” The primer also provides a dozen writing exercises and a glossary of terms that is useful for new and emerging poets alike.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393253924

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