Best Books for Writers

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

  • Why Poetry

    by
    Matthew Zapruder
    Published in 2017
    by Ecco

    Why Poetry is Matthew Zapruder’s exploration—and defense—of the value of poetry. Zapruder claims no special training is required to enjoy poetry, and suggests that “a poem is like a person. The more you know someone, the more you realize there is always something more to know and understand.” Through this lens, he considers examples by poets ranging from Matsuo Bashō to Adrienne Rich to John Ashbery, and grounds his analysis in stories from his own life as a poet, teacher, and editor at Wave Books.

    ISBN: 
    978-0062343079
  • A Writer’s Craft: Multi-Genre Creative Writing

    by
    Kendall Dunkelberg
    Published in 2017
    by Palgrave

    Either as an introduction or as a refresher, A Writer’s Craft serves as a straightforward guide to the broad world of creative writing. Many craft elements applicable across genres are discussed in chapters such as “The Writing Process,” “Language, Rhythm, and Sound,” “Character and Voice,” and “Perspective and Point of View.” The book presents an in-depth exploration of the specific forms of creative nonfiction, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama, and provides lists of further recommended reading, a glossary of literary terms, guidelines for workshops, and advice on how to be a good literary citizen.

    ISBN: 
    978-1137610942
  • The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction

    by
    Ann Charters, editor
    Published in 2016
    by Bedford/St. Martin’s

    Ann Charters’s anthology collects eighty short stories, including new fiction and neglected classics by authors such as Sherman Alexie, Anton Chekhov, Lydia Davis, Junot Díaz, Louise Erdrich, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Denis Johnson, Clarice Lispector, Marjane Satrapi, and Alice Walker. A distinctive innovation of the anthologies is the “Commentaries” section, which in this ninth edition consists of in-depth essays and discussions by the authors themselves, providing insight into the stories, historical and biographical contexts, and the craft of fiction.

    ISBN: 
    978-1319125189
  • The Essential Poet’s Glossary

    by
    Edward Hirsch
    Published in 2017
    by Mariner Books

    “The devices work the magic in poetry, and a glossary gives names to those devices.” Edward Hirsch’s book is a focused selection of his comprehensive 2014 volume, A Poet’s Glossary, and unpacks the most essential poetic devices, terms, and movements that have informed international verse. From “abecedarian” to “Zen poetry,” the insightful entries will inspire readers and writers to experience and create poetry with a newfound understanding of its integral components.

    ISBN: 
    978-0544931237
  • Writing Abroad: A Guide for Travelers

    by
    Peter Chilson and Joanne B. Mulcahy
    Published in 2017
    by University of Chicago Press

    “At every point, writing deepens our exploration of unknown terrain, new cultures and languages, and connections with people.” Writing Abroad explores the ways in which journeys and travel experiences can be a rich and compelling source of insights about people and cultures both familiar and unknown. Chapters such as “Encountering Another Language in Your Own Voice,” “Portraits and Profiles,” and “Travel Writing in the Age of the Internet” demonstrate the power of using memories, observations, and engagement with other cultures for storytelling, and each section is filled with inspiring writing, revision, and fieldwork exercises.

    ISBN: 
    978-0226444499
  • Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo

    by
    Grant Faulkner
    Published in 2017
    by Chronicle Books

    The executive director of National Novel Writing Month, cofounder of 100 Word Story, and frequent contributor to Poets & Writers Magazine gathers a wide range of observations and advice for writers, addressing challenges such as starting a new project, going deeper and taking risks, nourishing the muse, and overcoming creative doubts. “We become the things we do,” Faulkner writes in this inspiring handbook, “and I can promise you, if you excavate your life to make room for your imagination, if you open up time to keep writing, you won’t just finish your novel, pen the poem in your head, or submit a short story you’ve worked so hard on, you’ll change, because once you realize yourself as a creator, you create worlds on and off the page.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1452161082
  • On Imagination

    by
    Mary Ruefle
    Published in 2017
    by Sarabande Books

    “It is impossible for me to write about the imagination; it is like asking a fish to describe the sea,” claims poet Mary Ruefle on the first page of this chapbook-length essay. Through her unique blend of anecdotes and meditations upon subjects ranging from John Keats to Jesus to the Ukrainian art of Easter egg dyeing, Ruefle manages to demonstrate that the act of writing is much more than the solitary task it can sometimes feel like—it is a collaboration between yourself and the world. “The imagination is not what you play with, the imagination plays with you.”

    ISBN: 
    978-1941411476
  • The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing: How to Find Funds and Write Foolproof Proposals for the Visual, Literary, and Performing Artist

    by
    Gigi Rosenberg
    Published in 2010
    by Watson-Guptill

    In this guide, writer and artist coach Gigi Rosenberg leads readers through the process of grant writing and navigating resources to fund artistic projects. With chapters covering topics such as deciphering applications, writing proposals and artist statements, selecting work samples, and constructing a budget, the book includes advice, anecdotes, and interviews with grant writers, recipients, panel members, and decision makers, as well as useful appendices indispensable to both professional and aspiring writers.

    ISBN: 
    978-0823000708
  • Interview With a Ghost

    by
    Tom Sleigh
    Published in 2006
    by Graywolf Press

    In this collection of essays, Tom Sleigh investigates the ways private life, selfhood, and aesthetics are served by poetry written in the first person, and uses multiple forms to explore identity and the limits of subjectivity. Sleigh discusses his own writing, as well as work by poets including Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Bradstreet, Seamus Heaney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Tomas Tranströmer, and Derek Walcott to inspire new ways to think about poetic craft.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555974404
  • Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life

    by
    Lee Martin
    Published in 2017
    by University of Nebraska Press

    “After years of writing both fiction and memoir, I’ve come to believe that the term storytelling best fits what I do.... The point is that no matter the approach I take to the material at hand, I’m always relying on the tools of the storyteller to construct an interesting narrative.” Writer and teacher Lee Martin’s practical guide is an informative and instructive journey through the integral tools of the storyteller, such as structure, scene, detail, characterization, point of view, and language. Martin shares insightful advice and techniques covering the revision process, as well as tips and anecdotes on formative elements of the writing life.

    ISBN: 
    978-1496202024
  • What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing

    by
    Peter Ginna, editor
    Published in 2017
    by University of Chicago Press

    This compilation of essays is a revealing and thorough exploration of the variety of functions held by editors who hold indispensable roles in the process of preparing a manuscript for publication. In What Editors Do, over twenty-five editors from small presses to large publishing houses share advice, insights into the inner workings of the publishing industry, and perspectives on editing as both an art and a craft. All readers and writers passionate about literature and the creative process will find valuable inspiration in this informative resource.

    ISBN: 
    978-0226299976
  • The Education of a Young Poet

    by
    David Biespiel
    Published in 2017
    by Counterpoint Press

    The Education of a Young Poet is poet and nonfiction author David Biespiel’s coming-of-age story of the writer’s awakening to the creative impulse—how that impulse both shaped and was shaped by his family ancestry, and from a childhood in Houston to young adulthood in Boston. Woven throughout the memoir are inspiring anecdotes about leading a literary life, including insights into the craft of writing and the power of language in everyday life and in literature.

    ISBN: 
    978-1619029934
  • Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process

    by
    Joe Fassler, editor
    Published in 2017
    by Penguin Books

    “A life can change in a paragraph, in a turn of a phrase, in a single well-used word.” Light the Dark is a collection of essays exploring inspiration from over forty acclaimed authors, including Sherman Alexie, Junot Díaz, Angela Flournoy, William Gibson, Khaled Hosseini, Yiyun Li, Walter Mosley, Eileen Myles, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Marilynne Robinson. Each writer begins by sharing a favorite passage from literature that has transformed his or her writing life, and then delves into the various ways a powerful encounter with art can shape the creative process and be integrated into one’s own work.

    ISBN: 
    978-0143130840
  • Story Sparks: Finding Your Best Story Ideas and Turning Them Into Compelling Fiction

    by
    Denise Jaden
    Published in 2017
    by New World Library

    “Don’t be afraid of tiny ideas or half-formed ideas. Have faith. If ideas are meant to create stories, given time and focus they will grow and complete themselves.” In Story Sparks, author Denise Jaden moves away from the notion of inspiration as a visitation from the muse and demonstrates that the growth of ideas, of any size or shape, into stories is a process. The four-part book offers steps on how to develop creative habits for writers working at all levels and appendixes to help when feeling stuck.

    ISBN: 
    978-1608685097
  • The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop

    by
    Diane Lockward, editor
    Published in 2016
    by Terrapin Books

    A follow-up to Diane Lockward’s 2013 book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, this second volume guides poets seeking to transform their practice through practical steps such as revising the creative process; selecting and refining diction, syntax, and sound; and completing final revisions. Each of the ten sections thoroughly explores and discusses craft tips provided by an experienced poet (Ellen Bass, Ada Limon, Dean Young, and others) and includes illuminating sample poems and related writing prompts.

    ISBN: 
    978-0996987172
  • Devotion

    by
    Patti Smith
    Published in 2017
    by Yale University Press

    “Inspiration is the unforeseen quantity, the muse that assails at the hidden hour. The arrows fly and one is unaware of being struck....” Devotion, part of the Why I Write series based on Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Lectures, offers an intimate and poetic glimpse into Patti Smith’s personal history and creative experiences as a musician, author, and visual artist. Smith explores the mysteries and intricacies that connect artist, inspiration, and audience, and shares insightful musings on craft and the creative process.

    ISBN: 
    978-0300218626
  • Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process

    by
    John McPhee
    Published in 2017
    by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    The author of more than thirty books of nonfiction as well as more than a hundred pieces of journalism published in the New Yorker over the past fifty years offers a collection of essays on the writer’s craft in which he shares memories and tips of the trade gleaned throughout his distinguished career as a writer and an instructor at Princeton University. McPhee uses excerpts of his work to provide lessons on crucial decisions regarding structure, diction, and tone that shape well-written nonfiction pieces.

    ISBN: 
    978-0374142742
  • Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life

    by
    Diana Raab
    Published in 2017
    by Loving Healing Press

    “The art of writing for change is about setting out on a journey.” In Writing for Bliss, Diana Raab thoroughly details her seven steps to writing personal narrative as a means of self-transformation. Chock-full of inspiring techniques and expressive and embodied writing exercises, the book demonstrates to readers the healing potential of therapeutic storytelling and how sharing deeply personal and life-changing experiences with others can be freeing.

    ISBN: 
    978-1615993239
  • Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism, and Creative Nonfiction Exercises From Today’s Best Writers and Teachers

    by
    Sherry Ellis, editor
    Published in 2009
    by TarcherPerigee

    In this book from the Now Write! series, Sherry Ellis compiles over eighty writing prompts focused on nonfiction writing that will inspire readers and writers to embark on a new theme or direction, or help refine and craft elements of current works in progress. The collection includes ideas and exercises by acclaimed nonfiction authors including Reza Aslan, Jenny Boully, Paul Lisicky, Carole Maso, Dinty W. Moore, Rene Steinke, Gay Talese, and Xu Xi.

    ISBN: 
    978-1585427581
  • 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

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