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Best Books for Writers

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

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.

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.

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 On Writing, edited by Abel Debritto, presents an entertaining array of previously unpublished letters—written by Bukowski to his friends, editors, and publishers between 1945 and 1993—that circle around the topic of writing and publishing.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.

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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

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