Best Books for Writers

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

  • The Writer's Desk

    by
    Jill Krementz
    Published in 1996
    by Random House

    With an introduction by John Updike, The Writer's Desk showcases Jill Krementz's black-and-white portraits of over fifty well-known writers from the latter half of the twentieth century, such as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda, Susan Sontag, and Kurt Vonnegut, at work on their craft. Emerging and established writers alike will be inspired and fascinated by the photos of the authors, which are accompanied by their own descriptions on individual creative routines and spaces.

    ISBN: 
    9780679450146
  • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

    by
    Elizabeth Gilbert
    Published in 2015
    by Riverhead Books

    The author of the best-selling memoir Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia (Viking, 2006) offers a transformative nonfiction treatise on creativity in which she explains where inspiration comes from, how ideas form and develop, and how to overcome the fear of pushing beyond one's comfort zone to create something new.

    ISBN: 
    9781594634710
  • Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction

    by
    Margot Singer and Nicole Walker, editors
    Published in 2013
    by Bloomsbury

    This anthology, which collects contemporary essays by writers such as Eula Biss, Wayne Koestenbaum, Lia Purpura, and David Shields, demonstrates the range and expansion of the creative nonfiction genre with a selection of exploratory pieces, all pushing the boundaries of form and expectation.

    ISBN: 
    9781441123299
  • The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination

    by
    Carl Phillips
    Published in 2014
    by Graywolf Press

    As part of Graywolf’s "Art of" series, award-winning poet Carl Phillips presents seven lyric essays about the importance of taking risks when making art. Through the examination of poems by Ashbery, Bogan, Frost, Niedecker, Shakespeare, and others, Phillips shows the ways in which poetry allows us to explore our humanity.

    ISBN: 
    9781555976811
  • What Poets Are Like: Up and Down With the Writing Life

    by
    Gary Soto
    Published in 2013
    by Sasquatch Books

    Gary Soto's memoir takes the form of over sixty short essays filled with insightful and humorous observations and wisdom gained from his experiences as a poet: giving readings, confronting award nominations and journal acceptances and rejections, and struggling daily with his craft. Soto reflects on both the role and status of the writer in society, and his personal trajectory as a poet.

    ISBN: 
    9781570618741
  • A Writer's Space: Make Room to Dream, to Work, to Write

    by
    Eric Maisel
    Published in 2008
    by Adams Media

    Eric Maisel draws upon his extensive experience as a creativity coach, psychotherapist, and author of over forty books to guide readers through the steps it takes to create the most inspiring and productive space—both physical and mental—for writing. Maisel's practical advice helps writers identify their creative impulses and transform their habits by implementing focus and an organized schedule to their writing lives.

    ISBN: 
    9781598694604
  • Always Apprentices: The Believer Presents Twenty-Two Conversations Between Writers

    by
    Sheila Heti, Ross Simonini, and Vendela Vida, editors
    Published in 2013
    by McSweeney's

    This volume collects twenty-two conversations from five years of interviews originally published in the Believer. The often irreverent exchanges between authors such as Don DeLillo with Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Gaitskill with Sheila Heti, and Joan Didion with Vendela Vida reveal insights into their personalities and experiences—both writing-related and not.

    ISBN: 
    9781938073250
  • Lectures on Literature

    by
    Vladimir Nabokov
    Published in 2002
    by Mariner Books

    In these trenchant and whimsical lectures, Nabokov taps into the craft behind such European classics as Madame Bovary, Bleak House, and Ulysses. With an introduction by John Updike, this collection includes lectures as valuable for their content as they are for their delivery.

    ISBN: 
    9780156027755
  • The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

    by
    Twyla Tharp
    Published in 2003
    by Simon & Schuster

    "I've learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns. That's why writers, for example, like to establish routines for themselves." Choreographer Twyla Tharp explains how creativity comes from the willingness to work hard and make it a habit. The book includes thirty-two practical exercises to inspire people across the creative spectrum to become more productive.

    ISBN: 
    9780743235273
  • Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

    by
    Jane Hirshfield
    Published in 2015
    by Knopf

    In the ten essays comprising this collection, Jane Hirshfield explores a wide range of elements that give poetry its transformative power. From examinations of work by poets including Bashō, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Czeslaw Miłosz, to investigations of paradox and surprise in poetry, Hirshfield demonstrates the ability of poetry to gift its readers with "new possibilities of perceiving."

    ISBN: 
    9780385351058
  • The Art of Memoir

    by
    Mary Karr
    Published in 2015
    by Harper

    The author of the memoirs The Liars’ Club (Viking, 1995), Cherry (Viking, 2000), and Lit (Harper, 2009) draws from decades of experience as a writer, reader, and teacher to spotlight this complex and powerful form of storytelling. “Memoir done right is an art, a made thing,” she writes in the preface. Including unique insights and examples of the author’s personal favorites in the genre, The Art of Memoir provides a humorously candid examination of the literary form Karr has influenced over the past twenty years.

    ISBN: 
    9780062223067
  • Creating Poetry

    by
    John Drury
    Published in 2006
    by Writer's Digest Books

    John Drury’s Creating Poetry is a straightforward, comprehensive guide to writing verse. In sections such as “Preparing,” “Sight,” “Movement,” and “Sources of Inspiration,” Drury walks readers through his taxonomy of poetry and process from inspiration to completion, with plenty of examples, prompts, and challenges along the way.

    ISBN: 
    1582974632
  • I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory

    by
    Patricia Hampl
    Published in 1999
    by Norton

    “A writer is, first and last, a reader." Patricia Hampl's collection of essays explores the depths of writing created from the most personal memories—in works by Anne Frank, Czeslaw Milosz, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and others—and provides insightful reflections on her own writing life as a memoirist.

    ISBN: 
    9780393320312
  • Windows and Doors: A Poet Reads Literary Theory

    by
    Natasha Sajé
    Published in 2014
    by University of Michigan Press

    "I wrote the book I wished I had had in my poetry writing classes," Natasha Sajé writes in the preface. Her nine essays serve as an insightful guide to reading and writing poetry in a way that takes into consideration critical theory, as well as the politics and ideology of poetic language. The included works of contemporary poets provide examples for inspiring writing prompts for poets at all levels.

    ISBN: 
    9780472035991
  • Making a Literary Life

    by
    Carolyn See
    Published in 2003
    by Ballantine Books

    ​"This book... is intended to cover the writing process from the first moment you decide, or dream, that you want to write, on through to the third month after publication of your first novel." Author, teacher, and critic Carolyn See​ guides writers through everything from the basic elements of writing a story, to how to behave around friends and family when you first get published, and emphasizes the importance of sending a daily “charming note.”

    ISBN: 
    9780345440464
  • Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

    by
    Ursula K. Le Guin
    Published in 2015
    by Mariner Books

    "The judgment that a work is complete... can be made rightly only by a writer who's learned to read her own work." In this new update of Ursula K. Le Guin's 1998 handbook, serious writers will learn how to read and revise their own work following a discussion of the basic components of prose. The ten chapters cover everything from punctuation to point of view​, and are interspersed with examples from classic works of literature and writing exercises that put into practice Le Guin's tips on craft.

    ISBN: 
    9780544611610
  • Ernest Hemingway on Writing

    by
    Larry W. Phillips, editor
    Published in 1999
    by Scribner

    ​"All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time​." This book is a collection of Ernest Hemingway's comments on writing and reflections about his own process, gathered from his stories, essays, letters, and interviews. Hemingway's insights offer helpful advice to writers on the craft of writing, work habits, and the writing life.

    ISBN: 
    9780684854298
  • Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals

    by
    Dinty W. Moore
    Published in 2015
    by Ten Speed Press

    In Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy, Dinty W. Moore answers a collection of questions about essay writing from essayists such as Roxane Gay, Phillip Lopate, David Shields, and Cheryl Strayed. Moore expands on topics ranging from larger themes of privacy to the minute particularities of the em dash with humorous and insightful advice, illustrative examples, and writing prompts.

    ISBN: 
    9781607748090
  • The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind

    by
    Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap, editors
    Published in 2015
    by Fence Books

    "This collection is founded on the idea that it's worth trying to write about race, again—in particular that something valuable happens when an individual writer reflects on race in the making of creative work." In 2011 Claudia Rankine created Open Letter, an online forum about race and the art of writing that elicited responses from a diverse group of artists and writers. In this anthology, authors such as Simone White, Francisco Aragón, Bhanu Kapil, Dawn Lundy Martin, and many others offer their responses, filled with their own experiences, questions, and convictions. The result is a vital conversation on a range of topics including depictions of social and racial identity; race, feminism, and creative spaces; and "the white imaginary."

    ISBN: 
    9781934200797
  • What It Is

    by
    Lynda Barry
    Published in 2008
    by Drawn and Quarterly

    In What It Is, Lynda Barry provides imaginative advice and playful instruction in the form of writing exercises, collages, personal anecdotes, and drawings. The book offers inspiration for both experienced writers who are searching for a new perspective on the roles of imagery and memory in creative writing, and those who are looking for accessible guidance on how to begin and maintain a regular writing practice.

    ISBN: 
    9781897299357
  • To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

    by
    Phillip Lopate
    Published in 2013
    by Free Press

    In this book, Phillip Lopate, director of the nonfiction graduate program at Columbia University, explores topics as diverse as "On the Ethics of Writing About Others," and "The Personal Essay in the Age of Facebook.” Lopate also examines master essayists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Baldwin, to demonstrate how concepts of nonfiction writing have been put into practice.

    ISBN: 
    9781451696325
  • Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life

    by
    Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi, editors
    Published in 2001
    by University of Michigan Press

    "The book that you hold in your hands does not contain a set of rules but something quite different—what we might call a set of approaches." In this collection of essays, seventeen authors, including Margot Livesey, Richard Russo, Jim Shepard, and Joan Silber, dispense insightful guidance and personal anecdotes to inspire writers at all stages of their craft.

    ISBN: 
    9780472067749
  • The Art of Attention: A Poet's Eye

    by
    Donald Revell
    Published in 2007
    by Graywolf Press

    ​​​"It is the intimacy of poetry that makes our art such a beautiful recourse," Donald Revell states in The Art of Attention. Drawing upon writers such as Samuel Beckett, John Cage, Ann Lauterbach, and Denise Levertov, Revell presents a case for the transcendent possibilities of poetry, and guides readers to an understanding of the links between the creative reading and creative writing processes.

    ISBN: 
    9781555974749
  • The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction: Building Blocks

    by
    Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davies
    Published in 2006
    by Writer's Digest Books

    The first volume of the Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction series collects excerpts from over a hundred interviews by authors including ​​Sandra Cisneros, Jamaica Kincaid, and Tobias Wolff.​ In short passages, writers share their thoughts on topics such as plot, theme, and dialogue, all conveniently divided by chapters.

    ISBN: 
    9781582974460
  • ​The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction

    by
    ​Stephen Koch
    Published in 2003
    by Modern Library

    Stephen Koch, former chair of Columbia University’s graduate creative writing program, presents indispensable advice covering all the basics of craft in this comprehensive volume. Starting from the moment of inspiration, to writing a first draft, to techniques for character development and plot, this book offers insight and guidance for writers at every stage.

    ISBN: 
    9780375755583

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