Best Books for Writers

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

  • 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
  • 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

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