Best Books for Writers

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

  • The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination

    by
    Wallace Stevens
    by Vintage

    “These are not pages of criticism nor of philosophy. Nor are they merely literary pages. They are pages that have to do with one of the enlargements of life,” writes Wallace Stevens in the introduction to this 1965 edition of his collection. Throughout the seven essays, Stevens explores the expansive capabilities of poetry, connections between reality and creativity, the use of metaphors, and the role of sound and music in language. Writers will be inspired to examine and redefine their own notions of poetry and its capacity to enlarge the imagination.

    ISBN: 
    978-0394702780
  • Curious Attractions: Essays on Fiction Writing

    by
    Debra Spark
    Published in 2005
    by University of Michigan Press

    ​In this collection of nine essays, ​Debra Spark delves into the elements of craft that make for effective and resonant storytelling, sharing personal anecdotes and humorous observations along the way. Spark brings critical insights and engaging candor to key issues integral to fiction writing such as emotion, style and voice, the origins of creative inspiration, beginnings and endings, and relevance to contemporary world issues.

    ISBN: 
    978-0472068975
  • The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between

    by
    Stacey D’Erasmo
    Published in 2013
    by Graywolf Press

    “Like looking directly at the sun, looking directly at the creation of intimacy in fiction seems like a dangerous business.” This installment of Graywolf’s “Art of” series examines the various ways authors, including Joan Didion, D. H. Lawrence, Toni Morrison, and Virginia Woolf, have approached the challenge of crafting intimate relationships on the page, between friends, lovers, family members, and enemies. Writers will be inspired by D’Erasmo’s insights on methods of portraying the complexity of true connections between characters, and her emphasis on building intimacy between author and reader.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555976477
  • The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks

    by
    Joshua Beckman
    Published in 2018
    by Wave Books

    The inaugural title in Wave’s Bagley Wright Lecture Series on Poetry is actually a pair of books, packaged as one, that includes talks on poetry delivered in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and other cities across the United States in 2014. In The Lives of the Poems, Joshua Beckman, an editor at Wave, offers three variations of the same talk that—through repetition and adjustment—illuminate the intimate experience of making a particular set of poems. In Three Talks, he explores the fluid social dynamics of poetry as it lives between readers, poems, and books. A unique presentation of personal, intellectually curious, and provocative talks, The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks provides rare insights into a deeply literary life.

    ISBN: 
    978-1940696423
  • What to Read and Why

    by
    Francine Prose
    Published in 2018
    by Harper

    “The essays gathered in this volume contain reading suggestions and imprecations, records of enthusiasms, pieces that start with particular books and move toward the larger subject of how and what and why we read....” In this essay collection, literary critic and novelist Francine Prose examines the enduring value found in reading literature by authors including Roberto Bolaño, Jennifer Egan, George Eliot, and Mohsin Hamid, taking a closer look at the craft of writing on the sentence level. By reflecting on the specific elements of writing that can provide for powerfully transformative and transportive reading experiences, Prose offers writers an opportunity to approach their own work from new angles and with fresh inspiration.

    ISBN: 
    978-0062397867
  • The Thorn Necklace: Healing Through Writing and the Creative Process

    by
    Francesca Lia Block
    Published in 2018
    by Seal Press

    “Life might be hard, but art? This we can do. Together.” Francesca Lia Block’s The Thorn Necklace is a prescriptive memoir examining the interrelationship between life’s challenges and artistic practice, and the transformative potential of creative writing as a healing process. Block shares lively anecdotes from her personal life and from exemplary literature, and provides numerous exercises on narrative development for writers of both prose and poetry seeking to channel their own creative energy and experiences into powerful storytelling.

    ISBN: 
    978-1580057516
  • The Business of Being a Writer

    by
    Jane Friedman
    Published in 2018
    by University of Chicago Press

    The Business of Being a Writer is a comprehensive guide to the publishing industry for writers with chapters covering topics such as “Online and Digital Media,” “Researching Agents and Publishers,” “The Basics of Book Launches,” and “Crowdfunding and Donations.” Friedman provides in-depth and current knowledge to help writers position themselves for a long-term career of writing, sharing her expertise and advice on fundamental business principles and the benefits of using digital tools and online media.

    ISBN: 
    978-0226393162
  • Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays, and Life Into Literature

    by
    Bill Roorbach and Kristen Keckler
    Published in 2008
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    In this updated, tenth anniversary edition of Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach and Kristen Keckler offer techniques and advice for writing creative nonfiction and how to begin writing about your life experiences. The book includes prompts, such as drawing maps of remembered neighborhoods and reflecting on old photographs, as well as considerations of the ethics of creative nonfiction, trends in the memoir genre, and practical guidance on background research, character development, and shaping compelling scenes.
     

    ISBN: 
    978-1582975276
  • Radiant Lyre: Essays on Lyric Poetry

    by
    David Baker and Ann Townsend, editors
    Published in 2007
    by Graywolf Press

    This anthology focusing on lyric poetry gathers essays by David Baker and Ann Townsend, as well as other poets and critics such as Linda Gregerson, Carl Phillips, and Stanley Plumly, whose writing exploring the form ranges from conversational to investigative, from practical to enlightening. Divided into two parts, lyric modes and lyric means, the essays will be helpful to poets interested in the historical origins and evolution of lyric poetry, the different strategies used to create meaning, and its present status in contemporary literature.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555974602
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life

    by
    Bonnie Friedman
    Published in 1993
    by HarperCollins

    “I dreamed of a book like a friend also traveling through the night, a friend with a compass, and secrets to share about her own experience,” writes Bonnie Friedman in the introduction to Writing Past Dark, which she hopes will act as a supportive companion for writers. In this essay collection about the emotional side of the writing life, Friedman explores, and offers strategies for dealing with, an array of inner dilemmas that writers face, including feelings of envy, guilt, distraction, and writer’s block. Originally published in 1993, the collection may take on a new relevance in the current digital age, where literary successes, critiques, and debates are regularly shared publicly.

    ISBN: 
    978-0060922009
  • Read This if You Want to Be a Great Writer

    by
    Ross Raisin
    Published in 2018
    by Laurence King Publishing

    Written in a clear and straightforward style, novelist Ross Raisin’s book is an indispensable guide through essential elements of craft for fiction writing such as planning, research, characters, point of view, dialogue, and editing. Each of the book’s three sections is filled with helpful tips and exercises, and exemplary passages by authors including Italo Calvino, Lydia Davis, Denis Johnson, James Joyce, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Zadie Smith.

    ISBN: 
    978-1786271976
  • How to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse

    by
    Thomas C. Foster
    Published in 2018
    by Harper Perennial

    Thomas C. Foster, professor emeritus of English at the University of Michigan, Flint, provides an in-depth examination of the inner workings of the poetic form through the lens of the inquisitive reader. In fifteen chapters split into the three sections (What Is Poetry?, How Is Poetry?, and Why Is Poetry?), Foster explores the ways technical elements like sound, sense, rhythm, symbols, imagery, and music are crafted by the poet in order to inform the audience’s reading experience. With knowledgeable insights and explanations, the book offers poets of all levels a refreshed perspective of their own writing.

    ISBN: 
    978-0062113788
  • Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life

    by
    Jenny Boully
    Published in 2018
    by Coffee House Press

    Unlike most craft books, this collection of lyric essays about the experiences at the intersection of lived life and literary life is not prescriptive and offers no advice for composition or revision. Instead the author of five books, including Not Merely Because of the Unknown That Was Stalking Toward Them (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2011), lingers on the joys and challenges of the uncertainty that accompanies creative work. The result is a slim book that captures an author’s practice and the relationships she draws between writing and falling in love, dreaming, and memory.

    ISBN: 
    978-1566895101
  • Behind the Book: Eleven Authors on Their Path to Publication

    by
    Chris Mackenzie Jones
    Published in 2018
    by University of Chicago Press

    In Behind the Book, Chris Mackenzie Jones, marketing and communications director at the Loft Literary Center, examines the complete writing and publishing timelines of debut books by authors of various genres, including Brian Benson, Edan Lepucki, Courtney Maum, Eric Smith, and Monona Wali. From generating ideas and writing process, to revision and polishing, to publication and its aftermath, this book assists writers in navigating the many potential paths and strategies for successfully publishing a first book.

    ISBN: 
    978-0226405803
  • Poetic Meter and Poetic Form

    by
    Paul Fussell
    by McGraw-Hill

    Poetic Meter and Poetic Form delves into the tools of meter, rhyme, and stanza in poetry. In this 1979 revised edition, which adds a new chapter on free verse, Paul Fussell offers an overview of the history of these tools, as well as practical advice for applying them. The two-part book addresses writers who are seeking to improve their poetic techniques, but it is also intended “to help aspiring readers deepen their sensitivity to the rhythmical and formal properties of poetry and thus heighten their pleasure and illumination.”

    ISBN: 
    978-0075536062
  • The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story

    by
    Edwidge Danticat
    Published in 2017
    by Graywolf Press

    “Writing has been the primary way I have tried to make sense of my losses, including deaths.” In The Art of Death, Edwidge Danticat shifts from a memoiristic account of dealing with her mother’s death, to examining how other authors, poets, and philosophers have used literature to make sense of death, loss, mourning, and finding peace. Writers can find inspiration in Danticat’s insights on the value that integrating themes of sorrow and renewal can bring to a work of literature and its creator.

    ISBN: 
    978-1555977771
  • Your First Novel: A Top Agent and a Published Author Show You How to Write Your Book and Get It Published

    by
    Ann Rittenberg, Laura Whitcomb, and Camille Goldin
    Published in 2018
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    This revised and expanded edition, with a foreword by novelist Dennis Lehane, is a thorough and practical how-to guide for writing a first novel divided into two parts. The first section, written by young adult novelist Laura Whitcomb, provides guidance through the writing process from initial ideas and preparations, to fleshing out the plot and going through revisions. The second section, written by literary agent Ann Rittenberg, goes through the steps of acquiring and working with an agent to the publication of a first book. Interspersed are writing exercises, tips, and firsthand accounts from authors sharing their experiences in publishing.

    ISBN: 
    978-1440351907
  • A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry

    by
    Gregory Orr
    Published in 2018
    by Norton

    The author of a dozen books of poetry as well as three books about poetry, including Poetry as Survival (University of Georgia Press, 2002), Orr delivers an innovative and accessible guide based on the notion of turning “worlds into words,” using close readings of poems such as Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” and Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays.” The primer also provides a dozen writing exercises and a glossary of terms that is useful for new and emerging poets alike.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393253924
  • Fast-Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life Story in 45 Hours

    by
    Rachael Herron
    Published in 2018
    by HGA Publishing

    From the author of the memoir, A Life in Stitches (Chronicle Books, 2011), this guidebook goes through the entire process of drafting a memoir: from preliminary conception of ideas and direction, to organizing and outlining narrative structure and themes, planning character arc, revising, and getting published. With a humorous tone and a straightforward style, Herron provides experienced advice on managing friends and family, overcoming worries and other obstacles, and practicing self-care.

    ISBN: 
    978-1940785417
  • Poetry: A Writers’ Guide and Anthology

    by
    Amorak Huey and W. Todd Kaneko
    Published in 2018
    by Bloomsbury Academic

    Poetry: A Writers’ Guide and Anthology combines elements of an introductory textbook, encyclopedia, and anthology into one comprehensive volume on the craft of poetry. Amorak Huey and W. Todd Kaneko provide in-depth discussions of thirty-eight components of poetry, in alphabetical order from ambiguity to work, that they consider “the building materials and tools every poet relies on when making a poem.” The anthology section covers twenty poetic modes (list poems, love poems, and protest poems to name a few), each illustrated with acclaimed contemporary poetry by poets including Natalie Diaz, Terrance Hayes, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Danez Smith, and Ocean Vuong.

    ISBN: 
    978-1350020153
  • Literature Class

    by
    Julio Cortázar, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
    Published in 2017
    by New Directions

    Literature Class is a collection of eight lectures delivered by renowned Argentine author Julio Cortázar while visiting the University of California in Berkeley in 1980, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver and edited by Carles Álvarez Garriga. In these talks, which are occasionally directed or rerouted by students’ questions and interjections, Cortázar shares insights into his personal experiences dealing with the challenges of writing short stories and novels. His inquisitive discussions on elements such as time, fate, realism, musicality, humor, and eroticism will provide new approaches to language and storytelling, and a refreshed perspective for writers seeking inspiration.

    ISBN: 
    978-0811225342
  • The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction

    by
    Michael Noll
    Published in 2018
    by A Strange Object

    In The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction, Michael Noll presents as single excerpted page from forty different contemporary novels and short stories in order to examine and point out specific writing techniques. These insightful discussions and analyses are followed by practical writing prompts and exercises, such as how to “write pretty” or how to “move through time space,” that will motivate writers to approach their craft with refreshed perspective.

    ISBN: 
    978-0998518411
  • Write Smart, Write Happy: How to Become a More Productive, Resilient, and Successful Writer

    by
    Cheryl St. John
    Published in 2018
    by Writer’s Digest Books

    Write Smart, Write Happy is a book for managing the ups and downs of the writing life, which often includes obstacles such as writer’s block, rejection, procrastination, and general self-doubt. Readers and writers will appreciate Cheryl St. John’s straightforward and practical guide divided into seven parts and covering career planning, setting goals and priorities, maintaining interpersonal relationships, honing time management skills, and defining success.

    ISBN: 
    978-1440351792
  • Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems

    by
    Susan Grimm, editor
    Published in 2006
    by Cleveland State University Poetry Center

    “When we have a problem, we look for advice—what do others do? Not so we can replicate their strategies, but so we can listen, consider, begin to make wordless decisions deep in the cerebral mass. It is the conversation that is useful, rather than the single instruction,” writes Susan Grimm in her introduction to Ordering the Storm. The book is comprised of essays by eleven poets, including Maggie Anderson, Wanda Coleman, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, and Bonnie Jacobson, reflecting on the process of assembling a collection of poetry. The essays offer a range of perspectives and approaches to the task of arranging poems while providing a sense of community with each voice and insight.

    ISBN: 
    978-1880834701
  • FLASH!: Writing the Very Short Story

    by
    John Dufresne
    Published in 2018
    by Norton

    In FLASH!, John Dufresne provides an introductory examination of flash fiction, exploring the elements that distinguish very brief fiction from longer stories, and how this literary form is particularly suitable for the twenty-first century. The book contains dozens of writing prompts and exercises, as well as samples of short short stories that demonstrate an expansive range of styles and techniques.

    ISBN: 
    978-0393352351

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