Best Books for Writers

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

  • Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction

    by
    Damon Knight
    Published in 1997
    by St. Martin’s Griffin

    “Try to improve your writing one piece at a time—work on your characterization, for instance, or dialogue, or plotting, until you have made some progress; then turn to another aspect and work on that.” This is the third edition of this comprehensive and popular guidebook by Damon Knight, acclaimed science fiction author, editor, critic, and founder of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In a clear and straightforward style and format, the book covers the essential elements of a writer’s life and work, including how to get ideas, when to begin a story, and advice on work habits.

    ISBN: 
    978-0312150945
  • Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World

    by
    James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Christopher Merrill, editors
    Published in 2015
    by Norton

    This anthology of flash fiction collects eighty-six short shorts by authors from six continents, including Petina Gappah, Yasunari Kawabata, Etgar Keret, Kim Young-ha, Naguib Mahfouz, Shabnam Nadiya, María Negroni, Lili Potpara, Josephine Rowe, and Juan Villoro. The range of work demonstrates the expansive potential of this abbreviated form (stories usually containing no more than 750 words), and will inspire writers to view storytelling in new ways.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393346077
  • How to Be an Artist

    by
    Jerry Saltz
    Published in 2020
    by Riverhead Books

    “I hope this book will bring you not only answers, but also new questions about your relationship with art,” writes art critic Jerry Saltz in this handbook filled with full-color artwork, prompts, exercises, and advice for being an artist working in any medium. From ideas to consider before even getting started, to tackling issues such as first steps, imagination and storytelling, self-doubt, creative process, and work habits, Saltz provides writers with a new way of seeing their work. “The process of making art is fluid and mercurial. It involves epiphanies large and small, turn-ons and turn-offs, symbols and structures in a constant state of change.”

    ISBN: 
    978-0593086469
  • Why Writing Matters

    by
    Nicholas Delbanco
    Published in 2020
    by Yale University Press

    Joining titles such as Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters and Jay Parini’s Why Poetry Matters in Yale University Press’s Why X Matters series, the new volume by Delbanco explores questions of influence and the creative impulses toward imitation and originality. The author of more than thirty books of fiction and nonfiction, Delbanco draws on his decades of teaching experience at Bennington College, Skidmore College, Columbia University, and elsewhere—he was director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor until 2015—to offer a kind of reading workshop, equal parts memoir, literary history, and scholarly analysis.

    ISBN: 
    978-0300245974
  • The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better

    by
    Will Storr
    Published in 2020
    by Abrams Press

    “One benefit of understanding the science of storytelling is that it illuminates the ‘whys’ behind the ‘rules’ we’re commonly given. Such knowledge should be empowering. Knowing why the rules are the rules means we know how to break them intelligently and successfully.” In The Science of Storytelling, each chapter focuses on a different element of storytelling, from creating an imagined world to the protagonist’s complexities and emotional conflicts, to larger questions of meaning, plot, and conclusions. Journalist and novelist Will Storr incorporates psychology and neuroscience research and uses examples from different types of literature—from Harry Potter to Alice Walker to King Lear—to provide writers with a new perspective of the mechanics of storytelling.

    ISBN: 
    978-1419743030
  • The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice

    by
    Gary L. McDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek, editors
    Published in 2010
    by Rose Metal Press

    Rose Metal Press’s guide gathers thirty-four short personal essays about prose poetry by practitioners and teachers of the form, including Joe Bonomo, Brigitte Byrd, Maxine Chernoff, Denise Duhamel, Ray Gonzalez, Bob Hicok, Tung-Hui Hu, David Keplinger, and Gary Young. The essays share a diverse range of experiences, influences, and styles that demonstrates the possibilities for innovation in the form, and each one is followed by two exemplary prose poems by the essayist.

    ISBN: 
    978-0978984885
  • Poetry and the Fate of the Senses

    by
    Susan Stewart
    Published in 2002
    by University of Chicago Press

    “The cultural, or form-giving, work of poetry is to counter the oblivion of darkness,” writes Susan Stewart in Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, which examines how poetry, from ancient and classical traditions to contemporary postmodernism, has been a medium for expressing and sharing sensory experiences. Stewart analyzes the work of writers—including Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Carson, Samuel Coleridge, Emily Dickinson, George Herbert, Hesiod, Ovid, and Derek Walcott—and draws in a number of philosophers to argue for the power of a form that illuminates and makes palpable the contours of other lives and transforms the distances between individuals.

    ISBN: 
    978-0226774145
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them

    by
    Sol Stein
    Published in 1999
    by St. Martin’s Griffin

    How to Grow a Novel is a comprehensive guide for writers seeking practical advice on the nuts and bolts—as well as integral but often overlooked craft elements—that go into writing fiction. Sol Stein, who died in 2019, shares indispensable insights and specific techniques and examples gained from decades of writing novels and plays, and editing the work of authors such as W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Elia Kazan, George Orwell, Lionel Trilling, and Simone Weil.

    ISBN: 
    978-0312267490
  • Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction

    by
    Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
    Published in 2019
    by McGraw-Hill Education

    The third edition of Tell It Slant is an updated comprehensive guide to the craft of creative nonfiction for writers seeking to expand perspective, find and refine a distinctive voice, and construct compelling narratives. Chapters focus on topics such as inspiration, identity, writing the body, innovative and hybrid forms, and community. Included are personal anecdotes, professional tips, a series of related prompts, and an anthology of twelve diverse and acclaimed examples of the genre to emphasize the importance of reading as a writer.

    ISBN: 
    978-1260454598
  • Forms of Poetic Attention

    by
    Lucy Alford
    Published in 2020
    by Columbia University Press

    “The way we attend to the world changes the world we perceive, and the world we perceive changes the way we attend.” Lucy Alford shifts away from the conventional perspective of poetic form as the product of technical devices and focuses on understanding the effects of poetry through the lens of the writer’s attention, making the case that the most integral aspect of creating poetry revolves around refining relationships to attention. Alford’s close readings and analyses of work by authors, including Al-Khansā’, A. R. Ammons, Charles Bukowski, Anne Carson, Paul Celan, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Audre Lorde, Stéphane Mallarmé, Harryette Mullen, and Claudia Rankine, demonstrate the uniqueness of attention required and produced by poetry, and offers writers a fresh angle with which to approach their own work.

    ISBN: 
    978-0231187541
  • What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

    by
    Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
    Published in 1991
    by William Morrow

    “To be a good writer you must do two very different things—write like a writer and think like one.” This handbook is a guide through over eighty writing exercises that provide insights on craft and process from Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, who have more than twenty-five years of experience teaching creative writing between them. The exercises cover elements of storytelling—beginnings, characterization, point of view, dialogue, plot, and revision—with each entry including a straightforward description of the exercise, the objective, and student examples that will inspire both beginning and experienced writers.

    ISBN: 
    978-0062720061
  • 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

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