Best Books for Writers

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

  • The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life

    by
    Amy Tan
    Published in 2004
    by Penguin Books

    The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life is a collection of Amy Tan’s essays, interviews, and musings tracing her journey to become a novelist. Throughout over thirty essays, including “My Love Affair with Vladimir Nabokov,” “The Ghosts of My Imagination,” and “Five Writing Tips,” Tan shares inspiring and humorous insights about the connections between life and art, underscores the transformative power of storytelling, and explores the importance of empathy in the life of a writer.

    ISBN: 
    9780142004890
  • Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction

    by
    Benjamin Percy
    Published in 2016
    by Graywolf Press

    The author of three novels and two story collections, who also writes the Green Arrow and Teen Titans series for DC Comics, Benjamin Percy delivers a collection of fifteen urgent and entertaining essays on the craft of fiction—many of which originally appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine. Percy looks to sources including JawsBlood Meridian, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage such issues as plot, suspense, momentum, character, setting, and dialogue.

    ISBN: 
    9781555977597
  • Vanity Fair's Writers on Writers

    by
    Graydon Carter, editor
    Published in 2016
    by Penguin Books

    The forty-three essays in this book feature writers focusing on fellow writers—reflecting on their contemporaries, as well as influential and inspirational authors from previous eras. First published in Vanity Fair between 1983 and 2016, the collection includes pieces such as Elizabeth Bishop on Marianne Moore, Martin Amis on Saul Bellow, Jacqueline Woodson on James Baldwin, Meg Wolitzer on Judy Blume, Nadine Gordimer on Wole Soyinka, and Christopher Hitchens on Stieg Larsson.

    ISBN: 
    9780143111764
  • The Jane Austen Writers’ Club: Inspiration and Advice From the World’s Best-Loved Novelist

    by
    Rebecca Smith
    Published in 2016
    by Bloomsbury

    “People love Jane Austen’s work for so many reasons—the comedy, her sparkling dialogue, the unforgettable characters, the accuracy of her observations...how she captures what it is to be in love, lonely, bullied, wrong, disappointed, to be part of a family...” In The Jane Austen Writers’ Club, Rebecca Smith reveals insights into these craft elements and storytelling techniques gleaned from Austen’s novels. The book includes many exemplary passages, practical exercises, as well as writing advice Austen offered to her aspiring novelist nieces and nephew.

    ISBN: 
    9781632865885
  • The Flexible Lyric

    by
    Ellen Bryant Voigt
    Published in 1999
    by University of Georgia Press

    “Looking closely at a hero's mortal parts has always been a risky enterprise. We want our great writers pure of heart.” In The Flexible Lyric, poet and professor Ellen Bryant Voigt compiles nine craft essays examining the art of lyric poetry, beginning with a discussion on the creative process and Voigt's fascination with Flannery O'Connor and Elizabeth Bishop. Each essay that follows examines different aspects of lyric poems, from tone to image to voice and beyond. Through close reading of an array of poets like Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Denise Levertov, Shakespeare, and others, Voigt shows us the nuance and attention it takes to write a fantastic lyric poem.

    ISBN: 
    9780820321318
  • Making Shapely Fiction

    by
    Jerome Stern
    Published in 1991
    by Norton

    ​“The shapes of fiction inspire by presenting ways to embody your experiences, memories, and imaginings.” ​In this comprehensive volume, Jerome Stern breaks down and reconstructs the component parts that come together to shape a work of fiction. Stern focuses on straightforward insights, exercises, techniques, and a list of don'ts that will help writers of all levels of experience enliven their work with new tension, immediacy, and momentum.

    ISBN: 
    9780393321241
  • Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry

    by
    The League of Canadian Poets
    Published in 2016
    by University of Regina Press

    Measures of Astonishment is a collection of essays by thirteen of Canada’s most notable poets, first presented in lectures from 2002 to 2015 as part of the League of Canadian Poets’ Anne Szumigalski Lecture Series. Poets including Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, Robert Currie, and Gregory Scofield offer their unique and distinctive perspectives on poetry, sharing insights about its craft and exploring its far-reaching meanings.

    ISBN: 
    9780889773714
  • Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer

    by
    Bret Anthony Johnston, editor
    Published in 2008
    by Random House

    “This is what I believe in, what I trust will ultimately distinguish those who want to write and publish from those who do write and publish: work....I believe that the act of writing is itself the muse.” In Naming the World, author and professor Bret Anthony Johnston has compiled a collection of craft advice from a wide range of his favorite writers and teachers of writing, including Dorothy Allison, Dan Chaon, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Robbins, and Vu Tran. Each chapter acts as a short master class filled with insights and experienced perspectives, as well as varied and illuminating exercises and prompts designed to inspire writers seeking to improve their narrative writing skills.

    ISBN: 
    9780812975482
  • Life Without Envy: Ego Management for Creative People

    by
    Camille DeAngelis
    Published in 2016
    by St. Martin's Griffin

    “We must grow to become enough for ourselves, to fill our own vacancies. We must slay our own demons on our own terms.... You have to be kind to yourself so that you can keep on making your art....” In Life Without Envy, writers and creative thinkers of all types and levels of experience will learn how to slay their creative demons. DeAngelis’s helpful tips, inspiring anecdotes, and practical exercises demonstrate how to overcome feelings of negativity and competition, find support in community, and build a healthy, happy mindset as an artist.

    ISBN: 
    9781250099341
  • The Kite and the String: How to Write With Spontaneity and Control—and Live to Tell the Tale

    by
    Alice Mattison
    Published in 2016
    by Viking

    In this spirited guide to navigating the writing life, Alice Mattison—author of six novels, four story collections, and a collection of poems—urges writers to let playfulness and spontaneity “breathe life” into their work (letting the kite move with the wind) while being mindful of practical considerations such as finding trusted readers and setting appropriate goals for publication (holding the string). Mattison, who teaches at the Bennington Writing Seminars, walks readers through the stages of writing, from early inspiration to first draft to revision, all the while making clear that writing well is not nurtured by rules and instructions but rather a combination of spontaneity, clear judgment, and positive attitude.

    ISBN: 
    9780525428541
  • How to Be an Artist Without Losing Your Mind, Your Shirt, or Your Creative Compass: A Practical Guide

    by
    JoAnneh Nagler
    Published in 2016
    by Countryman Press

    “The term working artist should not refer to the amount of money made at the practice. It is more aptly a description of the person who shows up and does the work—day in, day out, year in, year out.” In seven chapters covering essential topics such as day jobs, finances, time management, and creating a support network, JoAnneh Nagler guides readers through the practical elements that enable an artist to show up and do the work in a healthy and sustainable way.

    ISBN: 
    9781581573671
  • Part Wild: A Writer's Guide to Harnessing the Creative Power of Resistance

    by
    Deb Norton
    Published in 2016
    by Atria/Enliven Books

    “The wild part of our nature urges us to explore and create something new that will elevate our existence and possibly the existences of others, but this drive must run the gauntlet of the wiring that perceives our creative impulses to be dangerous.” In twenty chapters, Deb Norton examines common roadblocks to this creative drive—from confronting shyness, distractions, and perfectionism, to finding one’s own unique voice. Norton provides over three dozen practical exercises and prompts to help writers overcome their inner critics and channel their energy toward new levels of productivity.

    ISBN: 
    9781501129155
  • Why Write?: A Master Class on the Art of Writing and Why It Matters

    by
    Mark Edmundson
    Published in 2016
    by Bloomsbury

    “Writing is a meditation; writing is as close as some of us can come to prayer; writing is a way of being, righteously, in the world. And this is something that everyone ought to know.” In Why Write?, teacher, scholar, and author Mark Edmundson presents a case for the power and importance of writing to transform lives. Along the way, Edmundson shares inspirational wisdom, advice, and personal anecdotes to help readers and writers find the approach to unlock writing for themselves.

    ISBN: 
    9781632863058
  • The Butterfly Hours: Transforming Memories Into Memoir

    by
    Patty Dann
    Published in 2016
    by Shambhala

    In The Butterfly Hours, Patty Dann guides readers through ten writing lessons by sharing lively anecdotes collected from her personal experiences as a novelist and memoirist, and from over twenty-five years of teaching writing classes. Each chapter focuses on a different lesson—such as “Write Out of Love or Anger,” “Steal From Yourself,” and “Read Your Work Aloud”—and is filled with one-word writing prompts that will inspire writers to explore their own memories for new storytelling ideas.

    ISBN: 
    9781611802887
  • On Writing

    by
    Charles Bukowski
    Published in 2015
    by Ecco

    ​“I don't know what interests me. Non-dullness, I suppose. Proper poetry is dead poetry even if it looks good.” On Writing, edited by Abel Debritto, presents an entertaining array of previously unpublished letters—written by Bukowski to his friends, editors, and publishers between 1945 and 1993—that circle around the topic of writing and publishing. Readers will enjoy Bukowski’s trademark humor, insight, and self-deprecation in the correspondences, which are interspersed with lively drawings and photographs of the writer at work.

    ISBN: 
    9780062417404
  • Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)

    by
    Lisa Cron
    Published in 2016
    by Ten Speed Press

    “Humans are wired for story. We hunt for and respond to certain specific things in every story we hear, watch, or read—and they’re the exact same specific things, regardless of the genre.” Story Genius illuminates how the most successful stories engage the brain’s biological responses and sense-making instincts. With step-by-step instructions, Cron demonstrates that by connecting every element of the story to the protagonist’s internal struggle, writers can create a blueprint for an effective novel from start to finish. 

    ISBN: 
    9781607748892
  • The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose

    by
    Helen Sword
    Published in 2016
    by University of Chicago Press

    “This book will help you energize your writing, boost your verbal fitness and strip unnecessary padding from your prose.” In The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose, Helen Sword helps writers at all stages apply this vigorous regimen to their own work to create cleaner, clearer writing at the sentence level. Part of the Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing series, this book includes five chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of the sentence—verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives and adverbs, and “waste words”—and includes exercises to put Sword’s guiding principles into practice.

    ISBN: 
    9780226351988
  • Becoming a Writer

    by
    Dorothea Brande
    by TarcherPerigee

    “There is a sort of writer’s magic. There is a procedure which many an author has come about by happy accident or has worked out for himself which can, in part, be taught.” This 1981 reissue of Dorothea Brande’s classic 1934 guide, which includes a foreword by John Gardner, lays bare her magic to reveal many of the essential elements of writing, and offers instruction on tapping into inspiration, creativity, and productivity. Brande shares practical advice and exercises to develop writing habits, strengthen the revision process, and cultivate a unique voice and style.

    ISBN: 
    9780874771640
  • The Nearest Thing to Life

    by
    James Wood
    Published in 2015
    by Brandeis University Press

    In this slim volume adapted from lectures presented at the Mandel Center for the Humanities at Brandeis University and the British Museum​, James ​Wood demonstrates that fiction is exemplary of George Eliot's claim that "Art is the nearest thing to life." ​Throughout four concise chapters, Wood ​explores the value and relevance of fiction—and its readers, writers, and critics—​by​ draw​ing​ connections​ to​ his own life. ​Additionally, there are examples from works by writers including Walter Benjamin, John Berger, Aleksand​a​r Hemon, Rachel Kushner, Marilynne Robinson, ​and​ Eudora Welty. 

    ISBN: 
    9781611687422
  • Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction

    by
    Dinty W. Moore
    Published in 2010
    by Writer's Digest Books

    “Always be careful to bring your reader along on your journey. Writing is indeed a solo act, but the result is meant to be shared.” In this comprehensive guide, Dinty W. Moore leads readers through the elements of the personal essay, including how to move past “journaling” and write for an audience, and offers advice on developing routines and publication strategies as well as over a hundred writing prompts for writers at all stages of their craft.

    ISBN: 
    9781582977966
  • The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar: Essays on Poets and Poetry

    by
    Helen Vendler
    Published in 2015
    by Harvard University Press

    "There is no ready and easy way to take the measure of a lyric: it must be seen in itself and as part of an individual oeuvre and as part of a literary tradition..." ​In this volume of over twenty-five essays and reviews, ​critic Helen Vendler explores a diverse range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American, English, and Irish poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Lucie Brock-Broido, Mark Ford, Seamus Heaney, and Langston Hughes. Readers will appreciate Vendler's in-depth analyses of specific elements in each poet's work as well as her examination of how these poets are situated within the larger framework of a culture's literary tradition. 

    ISBN: 
    9780674736566
  • The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work

    by
    Marie Arana, editor
    Published in 2003
    by PublicAffairs

    This collection of essays includes highlights from ten years of the ​Washington Post's Writing Life column, each paired with an author biography by Marie Arana, former editor in chief of the Post's Book World section. Writers such as Julia Alvarez, John Banville, Jimmy Carter, Michael Chabon, Anita Desai, Joyce Carol Oates, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Carl Sagan ​reflect​ on the​ir​ experiences—from how they got started, to reflections looking back on a lifetime of writing—​and share valuable advice, insightful concerns, and a wide range of creative habits.

    ISBN: 
    9781586481490
  • The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction and Nonfiction

    by
    Christopher Bram
    Published in 2016
    by Graywolf Press

    Whether it's War and Peace, Wolf Hall, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, historical narrative has long offered literary treasures for readers—in addition to important lessons for creative writers. Drawing on the work of Gabriel García Márquez, David McCullough, Toni Morrison, Leo Tolstoy, and many others, acclaimed author Christopher Bram (Gods and Monsters, The Notorious Dr. August) examines various strategies of incorporating and dramatizing historical detail in both fiction and nonfiction. Bram's close reading of both successful and flawed passages from classic literature illustrates how authors working in different genres treat major subjects such as slavery and the Civil War, offering valuable insights that writers can draw on for their own historical narratives.

    ISBN: 
    9781555977436
  • Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

    by
    Lorin Stein and Sadie Stein, editors
    Published in 2012
    by Picador

    In this anthology, twenty contemporary short story writers introduce their favorite Paris Review short stories and authors. The book includes pairings such as Joy Williams's "Dimmer" introduced by Daniel Alarcón, Jane Bowles's "Emmy Moore's Journal" introduced by Lydia Davis, Jorge Luis Borges's "Funes, the Memorious" introduced by Aleksandar Hemon, and Donald Barthelme's "Seven Garlic Tales" introduced by Ben Marcus. Each introduction explores the form and craft, and the ways in which the writers have been influenced and inspired by the author they celebrate.

    ISBN: 
    9781250005984
  • How to Write Like Tolstoy: A Journey Into the Minds of Our Greatest Writers

    by
    Richard Cohen
    Published in 2016
    by Random House

    In How to Write Like Tolstoy, Richard Cohen has assembled a compendium of techniques, obsessions, quotes, and exemplary passages by acclaimed prose writers including Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Jonathan Franzen, David Markson, Gabriel García Márquez, and Francine Prose. Each of the twelve chapters focuses on a different element of craft, such as beginnings, point of view, dialogue, writing about sex, and revision, resulting in a book that illuminates for readers the range of perspectives in the writing of great literature.

    ISBN: 
    9780812998306

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