Best Books for Writers

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

  • De/Compositions: 101 Good Poems Gone Wrong

    by
    W. D. Snodgrass
    Published in 2001
    by Graywolf Press

    For each of the acclaimed classics collected in this poetry anthology, W. D. Snodgrass has rewritten an accompanying “wrong” version to illustrate the various ways elements of craft and artistry combine to create remarkable verse. By viewing Snodgrass’s often humorous reimaginings side by side with the originals by poets such as William Blake, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, Wallace Stevens, and W. B. Yeats, readers and writers gain valuable insight into the inner workings of great poetry.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555973179
  • The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing

    by
    Margot Livesey
    Published in 2017
    by Tin House Books

    Each of the ten essays in The Hidden Machinery is rooted in close readings of authors such as Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, Tom Stoppard, and Virginia Woolf, from whom Livesey, the New York Times best-selling author of eight novels, draws invaluable lessons about rhythm in dialogue, the pitfalls of research, creating indelible characters, and much more about the inner workings of fiction.

    ISBN: 
    978-1941040683
  • You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)

    by
    Jeff Goins
    Published in 2014
    by Tribe Press

    “It’s a choice, writing is. One that belongs to you and me. We get to choose it (or not) every single day,” writes Jeff Goins in the first chapter of You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). Goins helps readers overcome doubt and hesitation in order to gain the confidence and discipline needed to choose writing everyday and move forward with projects. Also included in the book are strategies for self-branding, publicizing, networking, and social media.

    ISBN: 
    978-0990378501
  • The Wilds of Poetry: Adventures in Mind and Landscape

    by
    David Hinton
    Published in 2017
    by Shambhala

    Focusing on over a dozen poets including John Cage, Robinson Jeffers, W. S. Merwin, Charles Olson, Jerome Rothenberg, and Gary Snyder, writer and translator David Hinton explores the ways in which each poet’s work embodies a twentieth-century avant-garde notion of self-identity influenced by ancient and classical Chinese concepts and spiritual practices. Readers are given inspiring insights into the development of the modern ecopoetic tradition and gain new perspective into the power of poetry to construct a holistic worldview that encourages a wildness of consciousness.

    ISBN: 
    978-1611804607
  • ​“Coming to Writing” and Other Essays

    by
    Hélène Cixous, edited by Deborah Jenson
    Published in 1992
    by Harvard University Press

    “Writing: a way of leaving no space for death, of pushing back forgetfulness, of never letting oneself be surprised by the abyss.” In this collection of six essays edited by Deborah Jenson, Hélène Cixous takes readers on a meandering journey through the complex and intricate relationships between writing, language, poetry, painting, music, gender and sexuality, and feminism. Writers of all levels will find inspiration in the playfulness and lyricism of Cixous’s prose as she explores the work of Clarice Lispector and examines the urgency of the artistic impulse to create.

    ISBN: 
    978-0674144378
  • True Stories, Well Told: From the First 20 Years of Creative Nonfiction Magazine

    by
    Lee Gutkind and Hattie Fletcher, editors
    Published in 2014
    by In Fact Books

    “Gathering information is where you start, and disseminating it is where you end, but if you don’t spend the time in the middle processing what you’ve learned, putting it in context, questioning why you cared about it, and assessing how learning it has changed you, you can’t write a great story,” writes Susan Orlean in the anthology’s introduction. The twenty nonfiction narratives by authors such as Toi Derricotte, Carolyn Forché, Gordon Lish, and Jerald Walker will inspire readers and writers with the depth and range of great stories showcasing profound learning experiences and unique voices.

    ISBN: 
    978-1937163167
  • The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on Craft

    by
    Douglas Bauer
    Published in 2006
    by University of Michigan Press

    From this book’s first chapter on story openings to its last chapter on closings, author, editor, and writing instructor Douglas Bauer covers the most essential elements of a complete work of fiction, guiding readers through the process of writing dialogue, characters, and dramatic events. In this revised and enlarged edition, Bauer emphasizes the attentive engagement and consistent work that all writers must commit to in order to strengthen their storytelling and craft skills.

    ISBN: 
    978-0472031535
  • The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips From Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field

    by
    Tara L. Masih, editor
    Published in 2009
    by Rose Metal Press

    In twenty-five brief essays by experts in the field, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction explores the popular flash fiction genre. The book’s introduction provides a comprehensive history of the short short story, from its early roots and publications, to its current state and practice. Featuring essays by Steve Almond, Stace Budzko, Kim Chinquee, Pia Z. Ehrhardt, Lex Williford, and others, this guide will especially interest those teaching or writing short fiction.

    ISBN: 
    978-0978984861
  • Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft

    by
    Tony Hoagland
    Published in 2006
    by Graywolf Press

    This collection is “intended for the reader who loves poems and likes to think about them,” writes Tony Hoagland in the foreword. In each of the conversational essays exploring poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Matthea Harvey, Galway Kinnell, Yusef Komunyakaa, Harryette Mullen, and Sharon Olds, Hoagland ruminates and thinks through craft elements like diction, metaphor, tone, and composition with an enthusiasm and practical curiosity that will inspire readers and writers of all levels.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555974558
  • Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction

    by
    Jessica Lourey
    Published in 2017
    by Conari Press

    “The point is to learn how to recycle your facts into fiction so you can experience the personal transformation that comes with rewriting your life.” Filled with anecdotes, exercises, and guidance on character, structure, and revision, Rewrite Your Life combines elements of craft book and self-help to explore the process of using one’s own experiences as building blocks for life-changing storytelling. 

    ISBN: 
    978-1573246934
  • You, Too, Could Write a Poem

    by
    David Orr
    Published in 2017
    by Penguin Books

    This collection of essays and reviews features critic and columnist David Orr’s​ incisive investigations of poetry’s role in contemporary culture​. Readers and writers alike will ​find inspiration and insight in Orr’s explorations, which cover a broad range of poets, books, celebrities, and poetry-related subjects​ including Oprah Winfrey, beach poems, translation, Louise Glück, Matthea Harvey, James Franco, Mary Jo Bang, and Robert Frost.

    ISBN: 
    978-0143128199
  • The Story Cure: A Book Doctor's Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir

    by
    Dinty W. Moore
    Published in 2017
    by Ten Speed Press

    The directory of creative writing at Ohio State University and author of a number of books of literary nonfiction as well as textbooks and craft guides, including most recently Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals (Ten Speed Press, 2015), returns with a handbook for writers who have encountered artistic ailments such as writer’s block, character anemia, flat plot, and silent voice. Moore’s signature wit and wisdom are once again on display in this useful guide for writers of all levels of experience.

    ISBN: 
    978-0399578809
  • This Word Now

    by
    Owen Egerton and Jodi Egerton
    Published in 2016
    by Write Good Books

    “All you need is a word,” write Jodi and Owen Egerton at the beginning of This Word Now, emphasizing the importance of getting the first word or idea down on the page. Chock-full of essays, anecdotes, lists, and exercises, the book is designed to help readers warm up and stay engaged through the various stages of the creative process, and to approach and access the imagination while both having fun and being challenged.

    ISBN: 
    978-0692720486
  • Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice

    by
    Colum McCann
    Published in 2017
    by Random House

    Letters to a Young Writer charges aspiring writers not only to learn the rules, but also to break them. This collection of short essays examines different aspects of both the craft and the profession of writing fiction. McCann’s book offers both inspiration and concrete examples, calling you to look outward rather than inward to push the boundaries of experience.

    ISBN: 
    978-0399590801
  • Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier

    by
    Joni B. Cole
    Published in 2017
    by University Press of New England

    “I wrote this book because I want writers, including myself, to cheer up. I want us to swap out the all-too-common mindsets and practices that do not serve us for ones that feed our creativity, our productivity, and our souls.” Author and instructor Joni B. Cole guides readers through the steps of actively attending to the joyful aspects of creativity, while steering clear of unproductive attitudes, habits, and perceptions. With engaging honesty and humor, Cole shares anecdotes, examples, and exercises designed to jumpstart the discovery of happiness and inspiration throughout the entire writing process.

    ISBN: 
    978-1611689112
  • Turning Life Into Fiction

    by
    Robin Hemley
    Published in 2006
    by Graywolf Press

    In this manual, Robin Hemley guides writers through the process of incorporating and fictionalizing real people, events, experiences, and anecdotes. Filled with exercises for generating ideas from daily life and strategies for “molding the factual material to the specifications of one’s fictional world,” this expanded second edition also includes an appendix with the complete texts of many of the short stories referred to throughout the book.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555974442
  • Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin’ Memoir

    by
    Pamela Des Barres
    Published in 2017
    by TarcherPerigee

    “Reflection can actually change, if not the outcome, then the attitude about particular heart-rending events. And it’s so often the case that brave writing begets brave living.” Author, instructor, and former rock and roll groupie Pamela Des Barres leads readers toward bravery in both writing and living in this book filled with creative prompts, lively exemplary anecdotes, and comparative references to music and literature. The book acts as a guide through the process of facing and reflecting on one’s own memories—whether heart-rending, dangerous, regretful, youthful, or transgressive—and how to write about these experiences with a new attitude of confidence and awareness.

    ISBN: 
    978-0399174209
  • A Little Book on Form: An Exploration Into the Formal Imagination of Poetry

    by
    Robert Hass
    Published in 2017
    by Ecco

    In this book on craft, former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass dismantles the idea of a poem down to its barest building blocks, from the one-line haiku to the villanelle and sonnet. Examining poems by Catullus and Allen Ginsberg, Issa and Czeslaw Milosz, among others, A Little Book of Form investigates the ancient roots of the poetic impulse, taking a wide-ranging look at the form and its creations.

    ISBN: 
    978-0062332424
  • Poems in the Manner Of...

    by
    David Lehman
    Published in 2017
    by Scribner Poetry

    ​“I wanted to make the case for the value of imitation as a creative strategy,” writes David Lehman about this collection of poems in homage to over seventy poets who have left an impression, from Catullus and Li Po to Gwendolyn Brooks and Charles Bukowski, and various styles and forms that inspire, from jazz standards to astrology. A useful resource for creative writers, it may also influence readers to create their own set of “in the manner of” poems.

    ISBN: 
    978-1501137396
  • Environmental and Nature Writing: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology

    by
    Sean Prentiss and Joe Wilkins
    Published in 2016
    by Bloomsbury Academic

    This book presents an introductory history of nature writing—covering subcategories ranging from pastoral and adventure writing to postcolonial and climate change narratives—and serves as a comprehensive guide to the elements of its craft in essays, stories, and poems. Both veterans and newcomers to environmental and nature writing will find inspiration in the exercises and anthology sections, which include work by Camille T. Dungy, Juan Felipe Herrera, Benjamin Percy, and many others.

    ISBN: 
    978-1472592538
  • The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface

    by
    Donald Maass
    Published in 2016
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    In The Emotional Craft of Fiction, veteran literary agent Donald Maass writes that “showing and telling are only part of the picture.” Instead, this book on craft illustrates how to use story to provoke a visceral and emotional experience in readers. Each chapter guides you through topics to help connect readers to your characters, which include emotional modes of writing, connecting characters’ inner and outer journeys, and using plot as a sequence of emotional milestones.

    ISBN: 
    978-1440348372
  • Feeling as a Foreign Language: The Good Strangeness of Poetry

    by
    Alice Fulton
    Published in 1999
    by Graywolf Press

    In this collection of essays, award-winning poet and critic Alice Fulton presents her theories on the strangeness and complexity of poetry, and its ability to access and recreate emotion. In pieces exploring topics such as the concept of fractal poetry and the importance of the writings of Emily Dickinson and Margaret Cavendish to her own work, Fulton calls for a movement toward a socially and culturally conscious poetry of “inconvenient knowledge.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1555972868
  • How We Speak to One Another: An Essay Daily Reader

    by
    Ander Monson and Craig Reinbold, editors
    Published in 2017
    by Coffee House Press

    “Good essays essay interminably.... They keep thinking, keep sorting through their stimuli, keep uncovering and echoing meaning. An essay is thinking in action,” writes Ander Monson, founder of the website Essay Daily, who edited this collection with Craig Reinbold. The book combines many of the best essays from Essay Daily with original pieces, all of which serve as an inspirational showcase for the potential range and elasticity of the personal essay form.

    ISBN: 
    978-1566894579
  • The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers

    by
    Matt Bird
    Published in 2016
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    The Secrets of Story is a humorous guide to the essentials that constitute the most engaging stories. Matt Bird emphasizes the value of “powerful audience identification, which is the heart of good storytelling,” and provides an “Ultimate Story Checklist” to help writers focus on integral craft elements to master, such as character, structure and plot, scene work, dialogue, and theme.

    ISBN: 
    978-1440348235
  • The Writer’s Reader: Vocation, Preparation, Creation

    by
    Robert Cohen and Jay Parini, editors
    Published in 2017
    by Bloomsbury Academic

    This anthology compiles over thirty essays on the literary life by authors including Julia Alvarez, Walter Benjamin, Edwidge Danticat, Henry James, Ha Jin, Cynthia Ozick, Binyavanga Wainaina, and David Foster Wallace. Readers gain access and insight into the reflections of a diverse range of writers, all of whom share their approach to the craft and their perspectives on the writing life.

    ISBN: 
    978-1628925371

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