Best Books for Writers

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

  • The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation

    by
    Fanny Howe
    Published in 2009
    by Graywolf Press

    “Since early adolescence I have wanted to live the life of a poet,” writes Fanny Howe in the introduction of her book of essays. Her essays form a collage of recollected memories and imaginative explorations of topics including travel, language, childhood and family, historical events and figures, love and relationships, philosophy and religion—all integral components of her life as a poet. Writers will be inspired by Howe’s intensely lyrical reflections on the creative minds and thinkers who have influenced her and the questions, experiences, and forces that have propelled her work.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555975203
  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life

    by
    Natalie Goldberg
    Published in 1990
    by Bantam Books

    Natalie Goldberg’s guide to the writing life begins on the first page with her rules for writing practice starting with: “Keep your hand moving.” The book goes on to relay numerous anecdotes, insights, lessons, and short writing exercise prompts gathered from over three decades of experience as a teacher of craft and meditation. “Trusting your own mind is essential for writing. Words come out of the mind,” Goldberg writes.

    ISBN: 
    9780553347753
  • Living to Tell the Tale: A Guide to Writing Memoir

    by
    Jane Taylor McDonnell
    Published in 1998
    by Penguin Books

    “When we write a personal narrative we find new meanings and, at the same time, we discover connections with our former selves. I think all writing constitutes an effort to establish our own meaningfulness, even in the midst of sadness and disappointment.” Jane Taylor McDonnell’s guide to the memoir form provides tips, strategies, and exercises that will inspire writers to excavate personal history and shape—and reshape—memories into powerful storytelling. Also included is a list of recommended reading.

    ISBN: 
    978-0140265309
  • Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

    by
    Benjamin Dreyer
    Published in 2019
    by Random House

    The longtime copy chief of Random House, who has copyedited books by authors such as E. L. Doctorow, David Ebershoff, Frank Rich, and Elizabeth Strout, offers authoritative yet amusing lessons on punctuation, grammar, and other rules and non-rules of writing, including “confusables” (affect/effect), “trimmables” (added bonus, end result), and miscellany (“you don’t tow the line, you toe it”) in a fun, appealing style that puts a contemporary spin on William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s The Elements of Style

    ISBN: 
    978-0812995701
  • The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

    by
    Julia Cameron
    Published in 2016
    by TarcherPerigee

    “There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. Frustrations and rewards exist at all levels on the path. Our aim here is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb.” In this twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Artist’s Way, which includes a new introduction, Julia Cameron guides writers and artists through a twelve-week process of building and strengthening a creative life through the use of her two primary tools—the morning pages and the artist date—along with hundreds of inspiring exercises and activities.

    ISBN: 
    978-0143129257
  • At Home in the Dark: Conversations With Ten American Poets

    by
    David Elliott, editor
    Published in 2018
    by Keystone College Press

    This book is a collection of conversations that David Elliott, professor emeritus at Keystone College, conducted over the course of sixteen years with poets of various styles including Robert Creeley, Marie Howe, W. S. Merwin, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Lucien Stryk. The dialogues explore topics such as the musicality of poetry, imagery, myth, narrative, writing process, and poetry’s social and political roles, offering a source of inspiration for poets seeking new perspectives on writing verse.

    ISBN: 
    978-1640425019
  • Short-Form Creative Writing: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology

    by
    H. K. Hummel and Stephanie Lenox
    Published in 2018
    by Bloomsbury Academic

    H. K. Hummel and Stephanie Lenox introduce “writing that prioritizes brevity over page count, compression over expansion, and distillation of image and voice over development of plot and character” in this comprehensive book with helpful sections on narrative voice, time and space, sentence structure, logic, humor, revision, and other integral elements of craft specifically geared toward the short creative prose form. The guide is filled with writing exercises and prompts, and includes an anthology of over fifty exemplary short-form pieces by authors such as Matt Bell, Lydia Davis, Natalie Diaz, Amy Hempel, Jamaica Kincaid, Ada Limón, Justin Torres, and Ocean Vuong.

    ISBN: 
    978-1350019898
  • The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems

    by
    Frances Mayes
    Published in 2001
    by Mariner Books

    “If no one ever handed you poems that brought you close to the art of poetry, I hope that the words in this book will invite you,” writes Frances Mayes in the introduction to this guide to reading and writing poetry. The poet, teacher, and author of the best-selling memoir Under the Tuscan Sun provides chapters on form, diction, interpretation, subject, and more. The book also includes definitions of writing techniques and terms, writing exercises, and examples from numerous poets, including Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Jamaica Kincaid, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and James Wright.

    ISBN: 
    978-0156007627
  • Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies

    by
    Sol Stein
    Published in 1995
    by St. Martin’s Griffin

    “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions—how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.” In this practical and comprehensive book on writing prose, author and editor Sol Stein provides a guide through the essential concerns of craft: intentions, plotting, tension and suspense, dialogue, sensory description, revision, and more. The book covers both fiction and nonfiction, as well as overlapping elements, and is full of anecdotes and exemplary passages from other works of literature.

    ISBN: 
    978-0312136086
  • The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebook

    by
    Brian Shawver
    Published in 2013
    by University Press of New England

    In The Language of Fiction, novelist and English professor Brian Shawver provides a guide through language fundamentals—from style to sentence structure to punctuation and the most common errors—demonstrating that careful attention to the mechanics of prose can have a profound effect on the reader’s experience. This humorous and accessible book will inspire writers to reevaluate their own choices with renewed vigor, resulting in more intentional and powerful storytelling.

    ISBN: 
    978-1611683301
  • We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress

    by
    Craig Morgan Teicher
    Published in 2018
    by Graywolf Press

    An acclaimed poet and critic who regularly writes reviews for the Los Angeles Times, NPR, and the New York Times Book Review, Craig Morgan Teicher assembles here a fascinating collection of essays that trace the poetic development of luminaries such as Sylvia Plath, John Ashbery, Louise Glück, W. S. Merwin, and francine j. harris, exploring how poets start out, how they learn to hear themselves, and how some of them are able to create works that stand the test of time. “I do hope,” Teicher writes, “that these investigations of various poets’ development offer other writers ways of thinking about how life and art—and how art and artists—affect one another.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1555978211
  • How Poems Get Made

    by
    James Longenbach
    Published in 2018
    by Norton

    “Nobody rereads Keats’s ode ‘To Autumn’ to be reminded that in September leaves turn colors and fall from the trees; even if we know the poem by heart, we savor our experience of the poem’s language as it unfolds in time, luring us forward.” In How Poems Get Made, James Longenbach offers a practical guide to writing poetry, providing examples from a range of poets—Blake, Crane, Donne, Dickinson, Moore, Shakespeare—while also dissecting the elements that bring readers back to the same poems over and over again. Each chapter examines an element or quality, such as diction, syntax, figures, and rhythms, showing in detail how a poem gets made.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393355208
  • Understanding the Essay

    by
    Patricia Foster and Jeff Porter, editors
    Published in 2012
    by Broadview Press

    In Understanding the Essay, Patricia Foster and Jeff Porter have gathered the work of a wide range of acclaimed essayists, including James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Jamaica Kincaid, George Orwell, David Foster Wallace, and Virginia Woolf. Each writer is introduced with a contextual biography, followed by a piece by another essayist—such as Eula Biss writing about Anne Carson’s “On Trout,” Patricia Hampl writing about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Crack-Up,” and Phillip Lopate writing about William Hazlitt’s “On the Pleasure of Hating”—which offers insightful analysis of a specific essay, and refreshing perspectives on the possibilities of the form.

    ISBN: 
    978-1554810208
  • The Writer’s Eye: Observation and Inspiration for Creative Writers

    by
    Amy E. Weldon
    Published in 2018
    by Bloomsbury Academic

    “Our writing is transformed and invigorated when we see writing as a process of being in ongoing relationship with the world beyond our own heads, and when we see language as the estuarial zone in which our own perceptions, the needs of our readers, and the realities of the external world mingle richly to create something new.” The Writer’s Eye is a guide to developing and strengthening writers’ observations of the physical world, an integral puzzle piece to powerful storytelling. Writers of all levels and genres will be inspired by dozens of writing exercises and sample texts interspersed throughout the book, which is organized into chapters focusing on topics such as neuroscience for writers, world-building, voice, and revision.

    ISBN: 
    978-1350025301
  • American Originality: Essays on Poetry

    by
    Louise Glück
    Published in 2017
    by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    “By giving form to devastation, the poem rescues the reader from a darkness without shape or gravity; it is an island in a free fall; it becomes his companion in grief, his rescuer, a proof that suffering can be made somehow to yield to meaning.” Louise Glück’s second book of essays is both conversational and erudite, discussing new and emerging literary figures of American poetry and topics such as originality, narcissism, and healing. The book also includes a section with introductions to the first books of poets Ken Chen, Dana Levin, Spencer Reece, Richard Siken, and others.

    ISBN: 
    978-0374299552
  • The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms

    by
    Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, editors
    Published in 2001
    by Norton

    Edited by Eavan Boland and the late Mark Strand, this primer is a comprehensive guide covering dozens of poetic forms, such as the ballad and sonnet, blank verse and free verse, the elegy and pastoral. Each chapter of the anthology focuses on a different form and includes discussion of structure, close readings, and a range of exemplary poems that contribute to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the expansive possibilities of working within formal constraints.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393321784
  • Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need

    by
    Jessica Brody
    Published in 2018
    by Ten Speed Press

    With Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, author Jessica Brody has reimagined Blake Snyder’s best-selling screenwriting guide Save the Cat! (Michael Wiese Productions, 2005) and adapted it for novel writing. Brody outlines fifteen essential plot points integral for structuring a compelling story, and using a wide range of examples from literature—including books by Margaret Atwood, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tana French, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Angie Thomas, and Alice Walker—covers topics from the ten universal story genres, to the basics of writing heroes and villains, detectives and underdogs, road trips and quests, and love and friendship.

    ISBN: 
    978-0399579745
  • Welcome to the Writer’s Life: How to Design Your Writing Craft, Writing Business, Writing Practice, and Reading Practice

    by
    Paulette Perhach
    Published in 2018
    by Sasquatch Books

    “This book will give you a panoramic view of what you need to know most and what you need to know first....” Paulette Perhach’s introductory guide is a comprehensive volume containing hard-earned wisdom and organizational ideas, covering everything from writing and reading habits, to craft and editing. The book is full of helpful writing exercises and prompts, lists of prizes and literary journals, strategies for social media and financial budgeting, and inspirational anecdotes from poets and prose writers offering insightful advice gleaned from their personal experiences. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1632171511
  • American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring

    by
    William Giraldi
    Published in 2018
    by Liveright

    “The critic is a reader before he is a writer, a spirited lover of literature, and criticism is one important use to which he puts his reading and his love,” William Giraldi writes in the introduction to his collection of essays on American writers, literary critics, and cultural themes spanning several decades. In the book’s three sections—American Moments, American Critics, and American Stories—Giraldi discusses Cynthia Ozick, James Baldwin, Harold Bloom, Stanley Fish, Katie Roiphe, Cormac McCarthy, Allan Gurganus, and Elizabeth Spencer, among others, as well as topics such as commercial fiction, Catholic novelists, bibliophilia, and the art of hate mail.

    ISBN: 
    978-1-63149-390-4
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

    by
    Renni Browne and Dave King
    Published in 2004
    by William Morrow

    In the second edition of this primer on the craft of editing, Renni Browne and Dave King have updated their original 1994 book to provide more thorough guidance on not only what not to do, but what to actively do as a self-editor. This revised edition also reflects the evolving nature of the publishing industry and includes online opportunities. For writers who have completed a first draft, this book provides indispensable insights into polishing and perfecting dialogue, exposition, characterization, point of view, and voice to create publication-ready writing.

    ISBN: 
    978-0060545697
  • The Promise of Failure: One Writer’s Perspective on Not Succeeding

    by
    John McNally
    Published in 2018
    by University of Iowa Press

    The author or editor of seventeen books, including The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide: Advice From an Unrepentant Novelist (2010) and Vivid and Continuous: Essays and Exercises for Writing Fiction (2013), both also published by the University of Iowa Press, McNally returns with a book that mixes thoughtful advice, tips on craft, and memoir of the writing life with humor and honesty. Using his own life as a blueprint, McNally navigates thorny issues such as how to know when to quit and when to persevere as well as how to deal with depression as a creative person and ways to energize your writing through reinvention.

    ISBN: 
    978-1609385750
  • 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

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