Best Books for Writers

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

  • 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
  • Narrative Design: Working With Imagination, Craft, and Form

    by
    Madison Smartt Bell
    Published in 2000
    by Norton

    Madison Smartt Bell provides thorough and insightful analyses of twelve short stories—by former students and established writers including Percival Everett, Ernest J. Gaines, Mary Gaitskill, and William T. Vollmann—to demonstrate and model different techniques for crafting narrative to create powerful storytelling. For each story, Bell dissects basic elements such as plot, character, tone, point of view, and dialogue, and then offers endnotes on language, subject matter, and style for a complete take that will help writers develop their own voice.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393320213
  • Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book

    by
    Courtney Maum
    Published in 2020
    by Catapult

    “In addition to giving writers the information they need to feel in control of their publication journey, Before and After the Book Deal is a safe house for the publishing questions many authors are too afraid to ask,” writes author Courtney Maum. Maum tackles practical pre-book deal questions such as “Am I writing the wrong book?,” “How should I submit?,” and “What if everyone says no?,” and post-deal issues including book titles, covers, author photos, sales, reviews, events, and life after the debut. The book also includes advice from over fifty authors and publishing professionals, and offers lists of helpful references and resources.

    ISBN: 
    978-1948226400
  • Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different

    by
    Chuck Palahniuk
    Published in 2020
    by Grand Central Publishing

    Best-selling novelist Chuck Palahniuk takes readers behind the scenes of the writing life in this blend of memoir and guidebook filled with practical advice, anecdotes, and the kind of insights readers might expect from the author of Fight Club, Choke, and Haunted. In a chapter titled “Establishing Your Authority,” for example, he writes: “To create a story in which the reader never thinks to criticize the characters, kill the mother or father before the first page.” At its heart Consider This is a tribute to those who taught Palahniuk himself, including novelist Tom Spanbauer, whose unconventional writing workshop in Portland, Oregon, the author credits with having provided an essential space to improve his writing.

    ISBN: 
    9781538717950
  • Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path

    by
    Nicole Gulotta
    Published in 2019
    by Roost Books

    “Embracing a seasonal approach to your creativity can change everything, because it roots you to your own innate rhythms in a way our social media-fueled, busy-as-a-badge-of-honor culture does not,” writes Nicole Gulotta in Wild Words. Broken down into ten chapters—including “The Season of Self-Doubt,” “The Season of Listening to Your Body,” and “The Season of Finishing”—this book covers self-care rituals, personal stories, and practical routines that aid writers in embracing their craft amidst all their daily duties. Guided by an approach that “allows you the spaciousness to be exceedingly gracious with yourself,” writers can learn how to enter into a new, sustainable, and healthy relationship with their creativity. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1611806656
  • Woman Writer: Occasions and Opportunities

    by
    Joyce Carol Oates
    Published in 1989
    by Dutton Books

    Throughout this collection of twenty-seven essays, Joyce Carol Oates demonstrates a critically incisive and feminist perspective on writers such as Mary Shelley, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, and Emily Dickinson, and topics including Mike Tyson, Winslow Homer’s paintings, her travels in Budapest, creativity, and the politics of being a woman writer. Oates’s insights will motivate writers of all levels to seek inspiration in literature, art, and observations of contemporary culture.

    ISBN: 
    978-0525484943
  • American Audacity: Literary Essays North and South

    by
    Christopher Benfey
    Published in 2009
    by University of Michigan Press

    American Audacity, part of the Writers on Writing series, is a collection of essays examining the significant role regionalism has played in literary criticism and American literature. In the book’s three sections—Northerners, Southerners, and the Union Reconsidered—Christopher Benfey writes about authors, such as James Agee, John Dos Passos, Emma Lazarus, Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty, and how their work is situated in the country’s literary tradition, providing an inspiring new perspective on how social identity informs an author’s work.

    ISBN: 
    978-0472033997
  • 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

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