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Language » Writing Books

The best books on creative writing, recommended by andrew cowan.

The professor of creative writing at UEA says Joseph Conrad got it right when he said that the sitting down is all. He chooses five books to help aspiring writers.

The best books on Creative Writing - Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

The best books on Creative Writing - On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner

The best books on Creative Writing - On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The best books on Creative Writing - The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

The best books on Creative Writing - Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett

Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett

best way to learn creative writing books

1 Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

2 on becoming a novelist by john gardner, 3 on writing: a memoir of the craft by stephen king, 4 the forest for the trees by betsy lerner, 5 worstward ho by samuel beckett.

How would you describe creative writing?

Creative writing is an academic discipline. I draw a distinction between writing , which is what writers do, and creative writing. I think most people in the UK who teach creative writing have come to it via writing – they are bona fide writers who publish poems and novels and play scripts and the like, and they have found some way of supporting that vocation through having a career in academia. So in teaching aspirant writers how to write they are drawing upon their own experience of working in that medium. They are drawing upon their knowledge of what the problems are and how those problems might be tackled. It’s a practice-based form of learning and teaching.

But because it is in academia there is all this paraphernalia that has to go with it. So you get credits for attending classes. You have to do supporting modules; you have to be assessed. If you are doing an undergraduate degree you have to follow a particular curriculum and only about a quarter of that will be creative writing and the rest will be in the canon of English literature . If you are doing a PhD you have to support whatever the creative element is with a critical element. So there are these ways in which academia disciplines writing and I think of that as Creative Writing with a capital C and a capital W. All of us who teach creative writing are doing it, in a sense, to support our writing, but it is also often at the expense of our writing. We give up quite a lot of time and mental energy and also, I think, imaginative and creative energy to teach.

It is hugely rewarding, engaging with the students, but it is hugely frustrating as well, because the larger part of it is engaging with an institution. I’m sure I’m not alone in being very ambivalent about what I do!

Your first choice is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer , which for someone writing in 1934 sounds pretty forward thinking.

Because creative writing has now taken off and has become this very widespread academic discipline it is beginning to acquire its own canon of key works and key texts. This is one of the oldest of them. It’s a book that almost anyone who teaches creative writing will have read. They will probably have read it because some fundamentals are explained and I think the most important one is Brande’s sense of the creative writer being comprised of two people. One of them is the artist and the other is the critic.

Actually, Malcolm Bradbury who taught me at UEA, wrote the foreword to my edition of Becoming a Writer , and he talks about how Dorothea Brande was writing this book ‘in Freudian times’ – the 1930s in the States. And she does have this very Freudian idea of the writer as comprised of a child artist on the one hand, who is associated with spontaneity, unconscious processes, while on the other side there is the adult critic making very careful discriminations.

And did she think the adult critic hindered the child artist?

No. Her point is that the two have to work in harmony and in some way the writer has to achieve an effective balance between the two, which is often taken to mean that you allow the artist child free rein in the morning. So you just pour stuff on to the page in the morning when you are closest to the condition of sleep. The dream state for the writer is the one that is closest to the unconscious. And then in the afternoon you come back to your morning’s work with your critical head on and you consciously and objectively edit it. Lots of how-to-write books encourage writers to do it that way. It is also possible that you can just pour stuff on to the page for days on end as long as you come back to it eventually with a critical eye.

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There are two ways in which you can start to get that wrong and produce bad work. One is where you don’t allow the critic in at all. And so it is just a constant outpouring of unmediated automatic writing, which can become a kind of verbal diarrhoea. And the other side of that is where you allow the critic too much authority and the critic becomes like a bad dad who finds fault with everything and doesn’t allow the child to produce anything. And that results in a sort of self-sabotaging perfectionism, which I have suffered from. I got very blocked, and I read this book and it unblocked me.

Good! Your next book, John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist , is described as comfort food for the aspiring novelist.

This is another one of the classics. He was quite a successful novelist in the States, but possibly an even more successful teacher of creative writing. The short story writer and poet Raymond Carver, for instance, was one of his students. And he died young in a motorcycle accident when he was 49. There are two classic works by him. One is this book, On Becoming a Novelist , and the other is The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers . They were both put together from his teaching notes after he died.

On Becoming a Novelist  is the more succinct and, I think, is the better of the two. He talks about automatic writing and the idea, just like Dorothea Brande, of the artist being comprised of two people. But his key idea is the notion of the vivid and continuous dream. He suggests that when we read a novel we submit to the logic of that novel in the same way as we might submit to the logic of a dream – we sink into it, and clearly the events that occur could not exist outside the imagination.

What makes student writing in particular go wrong is when it draws attention to itself, either through bad writing or over-elaborate writing. He suggests that these faults in the aspirant writer alert the reader to the fact that they are reading a fiction and it is a bit like giving someone who is dreaming a nudge. It jolts them out of the dream. So he proposes that the student writer should try to create a dream state in the reader that is vivid and appeals to all the senses and is continuous. What you mustn’t do is alert the reader to the fact that they are reading a fiction.

It is a very good piece of advice for writers starting out but it is ultimately very limiting. It rules out all the great works of modernism and post-modernism, anything which is linguistically experimental. It rules out anything which draws attention to the words as words on a page. It’s a piece of advice which really applies to the writing of realist fiction, but is a very good place from which to begin.

And then people can move on.

I never would have expected the master of terror Stephen King to write a book about writing. But your next choice, On Writing , is more of an autobiography .

Yes. It is a surprise to a lot of people that this book is so widely read on university campuses and so widely recommended by teachers of writing. Students love it. It’s bracing: there’s no nonsense. He says somewhere in the foreword or preface that it is a short book because most books are filled with bullshit and he is determined not to offer bullshit but to tell it like it is.

It is autobiographical. It describes his struggle to emerge from his addictions – to alcohol and drugs – and he talks about how he managed to pull himself and his family out of poverty and the dead end into which he had taken them. He comes from a very disadvantaged background and through sheer hard work and determination he becomes this worldwide bestselling author. This is partly because of his idea of the creative muse. Most people think of this as some sprite or fairy that is usually feminine and flutters about your head offering inspiration. His idea of the muse is ‘a basement guy’, as he calls him, who is grumpy and turns up smoking a cigar. You have to be down in the basement every day clocking in to do your shift if you want to meet the basement guy.

Stephen King has this attitude that if you are going to be a writer you need to keep going and accept that quite a lot of what you produce is going to be rubbish and then you are going to revise it and keep working at it.

Do you agree with him?

Yes, I do. I think he talks an awful lot of sense. There is this question which continues to be asked of people who teach creative writing, even though it has been taught in the States for over 100 years and in the UK for over 40 years. We keep being asked, ‘Can writing be taught?’ And King says it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, but what is possible, with lots of hard work and dedication and timely help, is to make a good writer out of a merely competent one. And his book is partly intended to address that, to help competent writers to become good ones. It is inspirational because he had no sense of entitlement. He is not a bookish person and yet he becomes this figurehead.

He sounds inspirational. Your next book, Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees , looks at things from the editor’s point of view.

Yes, she was an editor at several major American publishing houses, such as Simon & Schuster. She went on to become an agent, and also did an MFA in poetry before that, so she came through the US creative writing process and understands where many writers are coming from.

The book is divided into two halves. In the second half she describes the process that goes from the completion of the author’s manuscript to submitting it to agents and editors. She explains what goes on at the agent’s offices and the publisher’s offices. She talks about the drawing up of contracts, negotiating advances and royalties. So she takes the manuscript from the author’s hands, all the way through the publishing process to its appearance in bookshops. She describes that from an insider’s point of view, which is hugely interesting.

But the reason I like this book is for the first half of it, which is very different. Here she offers six chapters, each of which is a character sketch of a different type of author. She has met each of them and so although she doesn’t mention names you feel she is revealing something to you about authors whose books you may have read. She describes six classic personality types. She has the ambivalent writer, the natural, the wicked child, the self-promoter, the neurotic and a chapter called ‘Touching Fire’, which is about the addictive and the mentally unstable.

It is very entertaining and informative and it is also hugely affirming. I identified myself with each one of the six types. There is a bit in each of them that sounded just like me. And I thought, well if they can get published so can I. You do often worry that you are an impostor, that you are only pretending to be a writer and that real writers are a completely different breed, but actually this book shows they can be just like you.

Your final choice is Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett .

This is a tiny book – it is only about 40 pages and it has got these massive white margins and really large type. I haven’t counted, but I would guess it is only about two to three thousand words and it is dressed up as a novella when it is really only a short story. On the first page there is this riff: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

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When I read this I thought I had discovered a slogan for the classroom that I could share with my students. I want to encourage them to make mistakes and not to be perfectionists, not to feel that everything they do has to be of publishable standard. The whole point of doing a course, especially a creative writing MA and attending workshops, is that you can treat the course as a sandpit. You go in there, you try things out which otherwise you wouldn’t try, and then you submit it to the scrutiny of your classmates and you get feedback. Inevitably there will be things that don’t work and your classmates will help you to identify those so that you can take it away and redraft it – you can try again. And inevitably you are going to fail again because any artistic endeavour is doomed to failure because the achievement can never match the ambition. That’s why artists keep producing their art and writers keep writing, because the thing you did last just didn’t quite satisfy you, just wasn’t quite right. And you keep going and trying to improve on that.

But why, when so much of it is about failing – failing to get published, failing to be satisfied, failing to be inspired – do writers carry on?

I have a really good quote from Joseph Conrad in which he says the sitting down is all. He spends eight hours at his desk, trying to write, failing to write, foaming at the mouth, and in the end wanting to hit his head on the wall but refraining from that for fear of alarming his wife!

It’s a familiar situation; lots of writers will have been there. For me it is a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is something I have to keep returning to. I have to keep going back to the sentences, trying to get them right. Trying to line them up correctly. I can’t let them go. It is endlessly frustrating because they are never quite right.

You have published four books. Are you happy with them?

Reasonably happy. Once they are done and gone I can relax and feel a little bit proud of them. But at the time I just experience agonies. It takes me ages. It takes me four or five years to finish a novel partly because I always find distractions – like working in academia – something that will keep me away from the writing, which is equally as unrewarding as it is rewarding!

September 27, 2012

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Andrew Cowan

Andrew Cowan

Andrew Cowan is Professor of Creative Writing and Director of the Creative Writing programme at UEA. His first novel, Pig , won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the Betty Trask Award, the Ruth Hadden Memorial Prize, the Author’s Club First Novel Award and a Scottish Council Book Award. He is also the author of the novels Common Ground , Crustaceans ,  What I Know  and  Worthless Men . His own creative writing guidebook is  The  Art  of  Writing  Fiction .

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best way to learn creative writing books

The 20+ Best Books on Creative Writing

If you’ve ever wondered, “How do I write a book?”, “How do I write a short story?”, or “How do I write a poem?” you’re not alone. I’m halfway done my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts , and I ask myself these questions a lot, too, though I’m noticing that by now I feel more comfortable with the answers that fit my personal craft. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing candidate, or even a college graduate, in order to soak up the great Wisdom of Words, as I like to call it. Another word for it is craft . That’s because there are so many great books out there on writing craft. In this post, I’ll guide you through 20+ of the most essential books on creative writing. These essential books for writers will teach you what you need to know to write riveting stories and emotionally resonant books—and to sell them.

I just also want to put in a quick plug for my post with the word count of 175 favorite novels . This resource is helpful for any writer.

best way to learn creative writing books

Now, with that done… Let’s get to it!

What Made the List of Essential Books for Writers—and What Didn’t

So what made the list? And what didn’t?

Unique to this list, these are all books that I have personally used in my journey as a creative and commercial writer.

That journey started when I was 15 and extended through majoring in English and Creative Writing as an undergrad at UPenn through becoming a freelance writer in 2014, starting this book blog, pursuing my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts , and publishing some fiction and nonfiction books myself . My point here is not to boast, just to explain that these books have all helped me better understand and apply the craft, discipline, and business of writing over the course of more than half my life as I’ve walked the path to become a full-time writer. Your mileage my vary , but each of these books have contributed to my growth as a writer in some way. I’m not endorsing books I’ve never read or reviewed. This list comes from my heart (and pen!).

Most of these books are geared towards fiction writers, not poetry or nonfiction writers

It’s true that I’m only one human and can only write so much in one post. Originally, I wanted this list to be more than 25 books on writing. Yes, 25 books! But it’s just not possible to manage that in a single post. What I’ll do is publish a follow-up article with even more books for writers. Stay tuned!

The most commonly recommended books on writing are left out.

Why? Because they’re everywhere! I’m aiming for under-the-radar books on writing, ones that aren’t highlighted often enough. You’ll notice that many of these books are self-published because I wanted to give voice to indie authors.

But I did want to include a brief write-up of these books… and, well, you’ve probably heard of them, but here are 7 of the most recommended books on writing:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – With her guided practice on how to rejuvenate your art over the course of 16 weeks, Cameron has fashioned an enduring classic about living and breathing your craft (for artists as well as writers). This book is perhaps best known for popularizing the morning pages method.

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner – If you want to better understand how fiction works, John Gardner will be your guide in this timeless book.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – A beloved writing book on process, craft, and overcoming stumbling blocks (both existential and material).

On Writing by Stephen King – A must-read hybrid memoir-craft book on the writer mythos and reality for every writer.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose – A core writing book that teaches you how to read with a writer’s eye and unlock the ability to recognize and analyze craft for yourself.

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin – Many writers consider this to be their bible on craft and storytelling.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg – A favorite of many writers, this book takes an almost spiritual approach to the art, craft, and experience of writing.

I’m aiming for under-the-radar books on writing on my list.

These books are all in print.

Over the years, I’ve picked up several awesome books on creative writing from used bookstores. Oh, how I wish I could recommend these! But many of them are out of print. The books on this list are all available new either as eBooks, hardcovers, or paperbacks. I guess this is the right time for my Affiliate Link disclaimer:

This article contains affiliate links, which means I might get a small portion of your purchase. For more on my affiliate link policy, check out my official Affiliate Link Disclaimer .

You’ll notice a lot of the books focus on the business of writing.

Too often, money is a subject that writers won’t talk about. I want to be upfront about the business of writing and making a living as a writer (or not ) with these books. It’s my goal to get every writer, even poets!, to look at writing not just from a craft perspective, but from a commercial POV, too.

And now on to the books!

Part i: the best books on writing craft, the anatomy of story by john truby.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You want to develop an instinctive skill at understanding the contours of storytelling .

All I want to do as a writer, my MO, is tell good stories well. It took me so long to understand that what really matters to me is good storytelling. That’s it—that’s the essence of what we do as writers… tell good stories well. And in The Anatomy of Story , legendary screenwriting teacher John Truby takes you through story theory. This book is packed with movie references to illustrate the core beat points in story, and many of these example films are actually literary adaptations, making this a crossover craft book for fiction writers and screenwriters alike.

How to read it: Purchase The Anatomy of Story on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The art of memoir by mary karr.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re writing a memoir book or personal essays .

Nobody is a better person to teach memoir writing than Mary Karr, whose memoirs The Liar’s Club and Lit are considered classics of the genre. In The Art of Memoir , Karr delivers a master class on memoir writing, adapted from her experience as a writer and a professor in Syracuse’s prestigious MFA program. What I love about this book as an aspiring memoirist is Karr’s approach, which blends practical, actionable advice with more bigger-picture concepts on things like truth vs. fact in memoir storytelling. Like I said in the intro to this list, I didn’t include many nonfiction and poetry books on this list, but I knew I had to make an exception for The Art of Memoir .

How to read it: Purchase The Art of Memoir on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The emotional craft of fiction by donald maass.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: Plot isn’t your problem, it’s character .

From literary agent Donald Maass, The Emotional Craft of Fiction gives you the skill set you need to master emotionally engaging fiction. Maass’s technique is to show you how readers get pulled into the most resonant, engaging, and unforgettable stories: by going through an emotional journey nimbly crafted by the author. The Emotional Craft of Fiction is a must-have work of craft to balance more plot-driven craft books.

How to read it: Purchase the The Emotional Craft of Fiction on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

How to Write Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You need a quick-and-dirty plotting technique that’s easy to memorize .

I first heard of the “Snowflake Method” in the National Novel Writing Month forums (which, by the way, are excellent places for finding writing craft worksheets, book recommendations, and online resources). In How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method , the Snowflake Method is introduced by its creator. This quick yet thorough plotting and outlining structure is humble and easy to master. If you don’t have time to read a bunch of books on outlining and the hundreds of pages that would require, check out How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method for a quick, 235-page read.

How to read it: Purchase How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Meander, spiral, explode: design and pattern in narrative by jane alison.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You want to do a deep dive understanding of the core theory of story, a.k.a. narrative.

A most unconventional writing craft book, Meander, Spiral, Explode offers a theory of narrative (story) as recognizable patterns. According to author Jane Alison, there are three main narrative narratives in writing: meandering, spiraling, and exploding. This cerebral book (chock full of examples!) is equal parts seminar on literary theory as it is craft, and it will make you see and understand storytelling better than maybe any book on this list.

How to read it: Purchase Meander, Spiral, Explode on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The modern library writer’s workshop by stephen koch.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re wondering what it means to be the writer you want to become .

This is one of the earliest creative writing books I ever bought and it remains among the best I’ve read. Why? Reading The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop echoes the kind of mind-body-spirit approach you need to take to writing. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop doesn’t teach you the nuts and bolts of writing as much as it teaches you how to envision the machine. Koch zooms out to big picture stuff as much as zeroes in on the little details. This is an outstanding book about getting into the mindset of being a writer, not just in a commercial sense, but as your passion and identity. It’s as close as you’ll get to the feel of an MFA in Fiction education.

How to read it: Purchase The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Romancing the beat by gwen hayes.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You write or edit the romance genre and want a trusted plotting strategy to craft the perfect love story .

If you’re writing romance, you have to get Gwen Hayes’s Romancing the Beat . This book breaks down the plot points or “beats” you want to hit when you’re crafting your romance novel. When I worked as a romance novel outliner (yes, a real job), our team used Romancing the Beat as its bible; every outline was structured around Hayes’s formula. For romance writers (like myself) I cannot endorse it any higher.

How to read it: Purchase Romancing the Beat on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Save the cat writes a novel by jessica brody.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You have big ideas for a plot but need to work on the smaller moments that propel stories .

Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel adapts Blake Snyder’s bestselling screenwriting book Save the Cat! into story craft for writing novels. Brody reworks the Save the Cat! methodology in actionable, point-by-point stages of story that are each explained with countless relevant examples. If you want to focus your efforts on plot, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is an excellent place to go to start learning the ins and outs of what makes a good story.

How to read it: Purchase Save the Cat! Writes a Novel on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Story genius by lisa cron.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re a pantser and are terrified at outlining yet also realize you might have a “plot problem .”

More than any other book, Lisa Cron’s Story Genius will get you where you need to go for writing amazing stories. Story Genius helps you look at plotting differently, starting from a point of characterization in which our protagonists have a clearly defined need and misbelief that play off each other and move the story forward from an emotional interior and action exterior standpoint. For many of my fellow MFA students—and myself— Story Genius is the missing link book for marrying plot and character so you innately understand the contours of good story.

How to read it: Purchase Story Genius on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Wonderbook: the illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction by jeff vandermeer.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re writing in a speculative fiction genre—like science fiction, fantasy, or horror—or are trying to better understand those genres.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is a dazzling gem of a book and a can’t-miss-it writing book for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers. This book will teach you all the skills you need to craft speculative fiction, like world-building, with micro-lessons and close-reads of excellent works in these genres. Wonderbook is also one to linger over, with lavish illustrations and every inch and corner crammed with craft talk for writing imaginative fiction (sometimes called speculative fiction). And who better to guide you through this than Jeff VanderMeer, author of the popular Southern Reach Trilogy, which kicks off with Annihilation , which was adapted into a feature film.

How to read it: Purchase Wonderbook on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Writing picture books by ann whitford paul.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re looking to write picture books and/or understand how they work .

This book is the only one you need to learn how to write and sell picture books. As an MFA student studying children’s literature, I’ve consulted with this book several times as I’ve dipped my toes into writing picture books, a form I considered scary and intimidating until reading this book. Writing Picture Books should be on the shelf of any writer of children’s literature. a.k.a. “kid lit.”

How to read it: Purchase Writing Picture Books on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Writing with emotion, conflict, and tension by cheryl st. john.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You need to work on the conflict, tension, and suspense that keep readers turning pages and your story going forward .

Mmm, conflict. As I said earlier, it’s the element of fiction writing that makes a story interesting and a key aspect of characterization that is underrated. In Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict , bestselling romance author Cheryl St. John offers a masterclass on the delicate dance between incorporating conflict, the emotions it inspires in characters, and the tension that results from those two factors.

How to read it: Purchase Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Part ii: the best books on the productivity, mfas, and the business of writing, 2k to 10k: writing faster, writing better, and writing more of what you love by rachel aaron.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You struggle to find the time to write and always seem to be a chapter or two behind schedule .

If you’re struggling to find time of your own to write with competing obligations (family, work, whatever) making that hard, you need Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k . This book will get you in shape to go from writing just a few words an hour to, eventually, 10,000 words a day. Yes, you read that right. 10,000 words a day. At that rate, you can complete so many more projects and publish more. Writers simply cannot afford to waste time if they want to keep up the kind of production that leads to perpetual publication. Trust me, Aaron’s method works. It has for me. I’m on my way to 10k in the future, currently at like 4 or 5k a day for me at the moment.

How to read it: Purchase 2k to 10k on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The 3 a.m. epiphany by brian kitele.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re going through writer’s block, have been away from writing for a while, or just want to loosen up and try something new .

Every writer must own an an exercise or prompt book. Why? Because regularly practicing your writing by going outside your current works-in-progress (or writer’s block) will free you up, help you plant the seeds for new ideas, and defrost your creative blocks. And the best book writing exercise book I know is The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley, an MFA professor who uses prompts like these with his grad students. You’ll find that this book (and its sequel, The 4 A.M. Breakthrough ) go beyond cutesy exercises and forces you to push outside your comfort zone and learn something from the writing you find there.

How to read it: Purchase The 3 A.M. Epiphany on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The 4-hour workweek by timothy ferriss.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You think being a writer means you have to be poor .

The 4-Hour Workweek changed my life. Although not strictly about writing in the traditional sense, The 4-Hour Workweek does an excellent job teaching you about how passive income can offer you freedom. I first heard about The 4-Hour Workweek when I was getting into tarot in 2013. On Biddy Tarot , founder Brigit (author of some of the best books on tarot ) related how she read this book, learned how to create passive income, and quit her corporate job to read tarot full time. As a person with a total and permanent disability, this spoke to me because it offered a way out of the 9-to-5 “active” income that I thought was the only way. I picked up Ferriss’s book and learned that there’s more than one option, and that passive income is a viable way for me to make money even when I’m too sick to work. I saw this come true last year when I was in the hospital. When I got out, I checked my stats and learned I’d made money off my blog and books even while I was hospitalized and couldn’t do any “active” work. I almost cried.; I’ve been working on my passive income game since 2013, and I saw a return on that time investment when I needed it most.

That’s why I’m recommending The 4-Hour Workweek to writers. So much of our trade is producing passive income products. Yes, your books are products! And for many writers, this means rewiring your brain to stop looking at writing strictly as an art that will leave you impoverished for life and start approaching writing as a business that can earn you a real living through passive income. No book will help you break out of that mindset better than The 4-Hour Workweek and its actionable steps, proven method, and numerous examples of people who have followed the strategy and are living the lifestyle they’ve always dreamed of but never thought was possible.

How to read it: Purchase The 4-Hour Workweek on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book by Courtney Maum

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re serious about making a living as a writer and publishing with a Big 5 or major indie publisher .

Courtney Maum’s Before and After the Book Deal addresses exactly what its title suggests: what happens after you sell your first book. This book is for ambitious writers intent on submission who know they want to write and want to avoid common pitfalls while negotiating terms and life after your debut. As many published authors would tell you, the debut is one thing, but following that book up with a sustainable, successful career is another trick entirely. Fortunately, we have Maum’s book, packed with to-the-moment details and advice.

How to read it: Purchase Before and After the Book Deal on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Diy mfa: write with focus, read with purpose, build your community by gabriela pereira.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re stressed out wondering if you really need an MFA .

The MFA is under this header “business of writing” because it is absolutely an economic choice you make. And, look, I’m biased. I’m getting an MFA. But back when I was grappling with whether or not it was worth it—the debt, the time, the stress—I consulted with DIY MFA , an exceptional guide to learning how to enrich your writing craft, career, and community outside the structures of an MFA program. I’ve also more than once visited the companion site, , to find a kind of never-ending rabbit hole of new and timeless content on the writing life. On and in the corresponding book, you’ll find a lively hub for author interviews, writing craft shop talk, reading lists, and business of writing articles.

How to read it: Purchase DIY MFA on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Mfa vs. nyc by chad harbach.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You’re wondering how far an MFA really gets you—and you’re ready to learn the realities of the publishing world .

About a thousand years ago (well, in 2007), I spent the fall of my sophomore year of college as a “Fiction Submissions and Advertising Intern” for the literary magazine n+1 , which was co-founded by Chad Harbach, who you might know from his buzzy novel, The Art of Fielding . In MFA vs NYC , Harbach offers his perspective as both an MFA graduate and someone deeply enmeshed in the New York City publishing industry. This thought-provoking look at these two arenas that launch writers will pull the wool up from your eyes about how publishing really works . It’s not just Harbach’s voice you get in here, though. The book, slim but mighty, includes perspectives from the likes of George Saunders and David Foster Wallace in the MFA camp and Emily Gould and Keith Gessen speaking to NYC’s writing culture.

How to read it: Purchase MFA vs. NYC on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Scratch: writers, money, and the art of making a living – edited by manjula martin.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: a) You’re worried about how to balance writing with making a living; b) You’re not worried about how to balance writing with making a living .

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living is alternately one of the most underrated and essential books on writing out there. This collection of personal essays and interviews all revolve around the taboo theme of how writers make their living, and it’s not always—indeed, rarely—through writing alone. Some of the many contributing authors include Cheryl Strayed ( Wild ), Alexander Chee ( How to Write an Autobiographical Novel ), Jennifer Weiner ( Mrs. Everything ), Austin Kleon ( Steal Like an Artist ), and many others. Recently a young woman asked me for career advice on being a professional freelance writer, and I made sure to recommend Scratch as an eye-opening and candid read that is both motivating and candid.

How to read it: Purchase Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Write to market: deliver a book that sells by chris fox.

best way to learn creative writing books

For you if: You don’t know why your books aren’t selling—and you want to start turning a profit by getting a real publishing strategy

So you don’t have to be an indie author to internalize the invaluable wisdom you’ll find here in Write to Market . I first heard about Write to Market when I first joined the 20Booksto50K writing group on Facebook , a massive, supportive, motivating community of mostly indie authors. Everyone kept talking about Write to Market . I read the book in a day and found the way I looked at publishing change. Essentially, what Chris Fox does in Write to Market is help you learn to identify what are viable publishing niches. Following his method, I’ve since published several successful and #1 bestselling books in the quotations genre on Amazon . Without Fox’s book, I’m not sure I would have gotten there on my own.

How to read it: Purchase Write to Market on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

And that’s a wrap what are some of your favorite writing books, share this:, you might be interested in.

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Sarah S. Davis is the founder of Broke by Books, a blog about her journey as a schizoaffective disorder bipolar type writer and reader. Sarah's writing about books has appeared on Book Riot, Electric Literature, Kirkus Reviews, BookRags, PsychCentral, and more. She has a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Library and Information Science from Clarion University, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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The world of creative writing possesses an extraordinary ability to unleash imagination, craft narratives, and evoke emotions that resonate with readers. Whether you're an aspiring writer or simply someone who appreciates the art of storytelling, consider Oxford Summer Courses. Embark on a transformative journey through our Creative Writing summer school, where you will have the opportunity to explore the art of crafting compelling narratives, experimenting with various writing styles, and honing your literary skills.


Please note that the following list of books is recommended reading to broaden your knowledge and deepen your appreciation of creative writing and literature. While some of these books may be included in the Oxford Summer Courses curriculum, the specific content of the summer school can vary. If you wish to study these subjects with us, you can apply to our Creative Writing summer school.

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1. On Writing, by Stephen King

  • "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work."
  • Published in 2000, "On Writing" by Stephen King is a masterclass in the craft of storytelling. It combines King's personal journey as a writer with practical advice on honing your writing skills during your time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Stephen King's advice on discipline and the writing process benefit aspiring writers at Oxford Summer Courses today?

2. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

  • "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."
  • Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" is an encouraging guide for writers facing the daunting task of putting words on the page. Through humor and personal anecdotes, she offers valuable insights into the writing process during your Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How does Lamott's emphasis on "shitty first drafts" resonate with your own experiences as a writer at Oxford Summer Courses?

3. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

  • "Omit needless words."
  • A timeless classic, "The Elements of Style" is a concise guide to writing well. It provides essential rules of grammar and composition that every writer should know, especially during their time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How do the principles outlined in "The Elements of Style" apply to various forms of creative writing, from fiction to poetry, at Oxford Summer Courses?

4. The story, by Robert McKee

  • "Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact."
  • Robert McKee's "Story" is a comprehensive exploration of the principles behind effective storytelling. It's a must-read for anyone looking to understand the structure and elements of compelling narratives during their time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can the insights from "Story" enhance your ability to construct engaging and impactful stories during your Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses?

5. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

  • "Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart."
  • In "Big Magic," Elizabeth Gilbert delves into the creative process and encourages writers to embrace their creativity with courage and curiosity, a valuable lesson during your time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Gilbert's philosophy on creativity inspire you to approach your writing with a sense of wonder and daring at Oxford Summer Courses?

6. The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner

  • "Fiction seeks out truth. The writer has to go into the dark, quiet spaces of himself and feel around for the truth."
  • John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction" offers profound insights into the art and craft of writing fiction. It explores the intricacies of character development, plot, and the writer's role in conveying truth through storytelling during your Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Gardner's exploration of truth in fiction inform your own creative writing endeavors at Oxford Summer Courses?

7. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

  • "Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open."
  • Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" is a meditative guide to writing practice. It encourages writers to tap into their innermost thoughts and emotions during their Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Goldberg's approach to writing as a form of meditation help you access deeper layers of creativity in your work at Oxford Summer Courses?

8. The Elements of Eloquence, by Mark Forsyth

  • "Rhetoric is the art of dressing up some unimportant matter to fool the audience for the moment."
  • "The Elements of Eloquence" explores the art of rhetoric and language play. Mark Forsyth's witty and informative book will inspire you to experiment with language in your writing during your time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can a deeper understanding of rhetorical devices enhance your ability to craft persuasive and evocative prose at Oxford Summer Courses?

9. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

  • "Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together."
  • Ray Bradbury's "Zen in the Art of Writing" is a collection of essays that celebrate the joy and passion of writing. Bradbury shares his insights on creativity and the writing life during your Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Bradbury's enthusiasm for writing infuse your own creative process with energy and purpose at Oxford Summer Courses?

10. The Nighttime Novelist, by Joseph Bates

  • "Writing is an exploration of the heart."
  • "The Nighttime Novelist" by Joseph Bates is a practical guide for writers who balance their craft with busy lives. It offers strategies for maximizing your writing time and making progress on your projects during your time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can the techniques outlined in "The Nighttime Novelist" help you maintain a consistent and productive writing practice at Oxford Summer Courses?

Oxford Summer Courses invites you to immerse yourself in the enchanting world of creative writing during your time at our summer school. In this blog post, we present a meticulously curated list of 10 classic books that will ignite your imagination and deepen your understanding of the art of storytelling. From Stephen King's practical wisdom in "On Writing" to Ray Bradbury's celebration of the writing life in "Zen in the Art of Writing," these books will serve as your companions on your creative writing journey at Oxford Summer Courses. Through our Creative Writing program, you will have the opportunity to explore these influential texts, share your insights with fellow writers, and refine your craft. Join us on this literary adventure and embark on a transformative experience that will shape your writing skills and inspire your creative spirit during your time at Oxford Summer Courses. Who knows, you might just discover a newfound passion for the art of storytelling and create narratives that resonate with readers for generations to come.

Apply now to join the Oxford Summer Courses Creative Writing summer school and embark on a journey of self-expression and creativity during your time at Oxford Summer Courses. Join a community of passionate writers from around the world and unlock your potential as a storyteller. Apply here.

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Ignite your passion for creative writing at Oxford Summer Courses. Immerse yourself in a carefully curated list of books that will spark your creativity, refine your storytelling abilities, and help you embark on a transformative journey as a writer.

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  • Nov 19, 2020
  • 14 min read

10 Best Books to Boost Your Writing and Creativity

10 Best Books to Boost Your Writing and Creativity

Great writers have two things in common: They practice, always working to get better at it, and they read—a lot. Why not do both at the same time? These are some of the best books to read about writing. The advice, exercises and examples you’ll find will help you become better at your craft.

The books listed below cover different aspects of writing, from creativity and inspiration, to advice from the experts, to grammar and style :

Writing Down the Bones , by Natalie Goldberg

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative , by Austin Kleon

Big Magic , by Elizabeth Gilbert

On Writing , by Stephen King

Bird by Bird , by Anne Lammott

Stein on Writing , by Sol Stein

On Writing Well (30th Anniversary Edition) , by William Zinsser

It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. , by June Casagrande

Dreyer’s English , by Benjamin Dreyer

The Elements of Style , by Strunk and White

Creativity and inspiration

These are my top three picks for books that’ll encourage you to write and live more creatively . If you only have time to read one, I suggest Big Magic —it’s the most inspiring of the bunch. If you’re looking for something with more exercises and concrete tips, start with Writing Down the Bones or Steal Like an Artist . Looking for more books on creativity? Check out The Artist’s Way or anything else by Julia Cameron.

01. Writing Down the Bones , by Natalie Goldberg

Best for: Writers from all backgrounds, genres and levels.

Read it when: You’re feeling stuck with your writing career, need some inspiration, or just have good ol’ writer’s block.

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Fondly called ‘ Bones ’ by other writers, this book is like taking your inner writer to therapy. Explore not just how you write, but why . Become mindful of your unique pain points as a writer, think about what being a writer means to you, and find the best way to move forward from where you are now—even if you’re feeling like you’ll never make it as a writer.

Goldberg herself had her share of rejection: Writing Down the Bones was turned down by seven big publishing houses, before being accepted by a new and small publisher called Shambhala. Now, there’s a 30th edition with a foreword by Julia Cameron.

The author sprinkles writing prompts and creativity exercises throughout the book—the goal is to help you explore and get connected to yourself. One exercise I had a lot of fun with was to take ten minutes and write about a meal you love. In no time, I was deep in nostalgia about my mom’s baked salmon and leafy-green salad. It can be tempting to skip the exercises, especially once you enter “reading mode”, but you’ll get a lot more out of the book by taking a few minutes to try them.

Goldberg’s main mission is to encourage you to simply write . Not to go out and find a writing class, not to force yourself to “just write” for 10 minutes a day—but to really sit down and put your whole self into it. If you’re watching the clock and writing because you heard somewhere that you need to write every single day, then your heart isn’t really in it. So go deep and speak your truth—with your writing and also in your life.

“That is the challenge: to let writing teach us about life and life about writing.”

Buy Writing Down the Bones and read more reviews on goodreads .

02. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative , by Austin Kleon

Best for: Writers looking to jumpstart creative thinking.

Read it when: You’re short on time and feeling unsure of how to start your next project.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon

Kleon, a self-described “writer who draws”, authored multiple best-selling books about creativity. In this New York Times hit, he gives ten tips for getting in touch with your inner artist. It’s quick and fun to read (I read it in about an hour). Even if you’ve already read many books in the genre, this one still delivers.

The author starts out by calling out obstacles that get in the way of being creative—the pressure to be “original” and the all-too familiar imposter syndrome . Kleon wants you to get inspired by work you admire, because there isn’t anything out there that’s truly original. Everything is based on something that already exists. Even if you don’t feel ready, just start making things. “Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.”

What resonated with me the most in this book is the importance of movement and using your hands when being creative. For his first book, the author used a newspaper and a black marker to write a best-selling book of poetry. His writing process was hands-on, engaging most of his senses - touching the newspaper, the sound and smell of the marker, the sight of words being blacked out. Bringing this practice into my own life, I’ve finally taken my new Paint by Numbers kit out of its packaging.

“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done.”

Buy Steal Like an Artist and read more reviews on goodreads .

03. Big Magic , by Elizabeth Gilbert

Best for: Anyone who wants to live a more creative life.

Read it when: Anytime, but it’s an especially great pick-me-up if you’ve just gotten a rejection letter.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

In Big Magic , Gilbert gives her take on what creativity is, how to bring more of it into your life, and how fear of rejection stands in the way. It’s obvious how much Gilbert enjoys writing and putting her work out there—and that’s what makes it so fun to read. I just didn’t want this book to end.

My personal takeaway here is learning how to cope with my own feelings of failure as a writer. Hearing her stories of rejection and success is inspiring, and makes me want to rewire my own reactions to criticism I get at work.

“I decided to play the game of rejection letters as if it were a great cosmic tennis match: Somebody would send me a rejection, and I would knock it right back over the net, sending out another query that same afternoon.”

Speaking of cosmic tennis matches—if you’ve read other books by Gilbert, you may already be familiar with the way she plays with anthropomorphism. It’s one of my favorite things about her writing style. In Big Magic , she gives ideas (artistic, scientific, religious, etc.) their own persona, turning abstract concepts into concrete companions that can go a long way helping writers.

“Ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners…When an idea thinks it has found somebody—say, you—who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit...The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention. And then, in a quiet moment, it will ask, 'Do you want to work with me?'”

Buy Big Magic and read more reviews on goodreads .

Advice from the experts

These are my top four picks for general writing tips from the pros. If you only have time to read one book in this category, I’d go for On Writing Well by William Zinsser because it touches on many different aspects of writing that’s relevant to most writers—or Stein on Writing , if you want to improve your storytelling skills.

04. On Writing , by Stephen King

Best for: (Mostly) fiction writers.

Read it when: You want quality advice from a writer, but also want to read a memoir.

On Writing, by Stephen King

Stephen King’s On Writing is a classic, and was highly recommended to me by other writers. He starts off by telling us about how he got to be a writer, his early struggles, and how he eventually found success.

Personally, I didn’t LOVE the memoir-ish first half of the book. I included it because so many others have enjoyed it, and, you know—classic and all that. If I wasn’t writing an article about writing books, I’m not sure I would have finished it—but I’m glad I did, because the good stuff really comes towards the end.

His advice focuses mostly on how to build a story and develop characters, as well as some more technical, grammar-related tips. I especially enjoyed his passion for grammar: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”

Two lessons I’m taking with me into my writing life are to not show anyone my work until after my first draft (so that I have space to come up with my own feelings about it), and a formula for cutting words: Second draft = First draft - 10%. I already try to remove any unnecessary fluff from my writing when I revise, but I never thought about it in such a structured way. King suggests moving onto other projects before going in for a second draft—the time away helps distance you from the words, making it less “yours”—and that’s what makes it easier to cut.

No one said writing was easy—so it’s comforting to know that even best-selling authors struggle with it.

“Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.”

Buy On Writing and read more reviews on goodreads .

05. Bird by Bird , by Anne Lammott

Best for: Fiction writers, memoir writers.

Read it when: You feel stuck or frustrated with your writing, and want to know you’re not alone.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lammott

As with King’s On Writing , this one came highly recommended by both Google and other writers. And just like King’s book, it was hard for me to get into it—but the rest of the book made it worth it.

Reading this book was like sitting down with an accomplished writer and hearing the real deal about the writing process—the failures, the hopes, that letter from her editor that made her cry, and everything in between. It felt nice to know that even “real” writers don’t get it right the first time.

My favorite advice from Lammot is her wise words about getting feedback on your work from people you trust, before you show it to editors. She compares it to when you’re getting ready for a party: If there’s someone there to gently let you know that maybe that specific dress isn’t so flattering, you might be disappointed for a minute, but then you’re relieved that at least you’re still at home and have a chance to change before showing up in public.

This advice is very timely for me, because I’ve just been thinking about why it’s so easy for me to take criticism from specific colleagues, while the same feedback from others makes me question my decision to even be a writer.

Lammot’s encouraging words throughout the book are here to remind that you’re not alone in your struggle, that many writers struggle with self-doubt, and the importance of not giving up.

“Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t - and in fact, you’re not supposed to - know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”

Buy Bird by Bird and read more reviews on goodreads .

06. Stein on Writing , by Sol Stein

Best for: All writers (fiction and nonfiction) who want to engage readers with a captivating narrative.

Read it when: You want to improve your storytelling.

Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein

The art of storytelling isn’t just for fiction—it’s what makes people interested enough to keep reading, whether you’re writing a novel or reporting on local politics . The key to engaging readers and providing them with an emotional experience is to show, not tell.

Using his experience as an editor and publisher, Stein provides a guide in sharpening your storytelling skills, from creating suspense, developing compelling characters, writing good dialogue, coming up with a title that intrigues readers—and offers a new approach to revising your first draft. He calls it “triage” and advocates for looking at major parts of your story (like characters, scenes, and actions) before doing a thorough revision. Even nonfiction writers can apply this to their work—the idea being that you should find and fix major issues in your work before you start going line by line.

By the time your project is done, you want each word to have a purpose. My professional writing life usually consists of trying to cut words wherever possible—I’m always looking for ways to make sentences shorter, tighter, simpler. But sometimes extra words are necessary to make your writing memorable and give your readers a clear visual. Here’s an example Stein gives:

“Vernon was a heavy smoker” vs. “ When a waitress heard Vernon’s voice she always guided him to the smoking section without asking.”

The second version gives you a tactile experience of what Vernon sounds like, and is more interesting to read. Even though it adds quite a few more words, it engages readers more and brings them into the story. Which is really the whole purpose of writing, isn’t it?

“You wouldn’t feed cardboard meals to guests. Don’t feed cardboard meals to your characters. Make your reader’s taste buds pop, even if he's from outer space.”

Buy Stein on Writing and read more reviews on goodreads .

07. On Writing Well (30th Anniversary Edition) , by William Zinsser

Best for: Everyone, especially nonfiction writers.

Read it when: You’re looking for a straightforward guide to improving your writing.

On Writing Well (30th Anniversary Edition), by William Zinsser

Zinsser is a writer, editor, and teacher - and he has great advice for anyone looking to sharpen their writing skills. You’ll learn how to start and end your writing piece, how to revise, and how to write clearly and concisely. Some parts of the book are geared towards nonfictions writers—like the chapters dedicated to specific types of writing (e.g., culture, sports, and travel), but a lot of his advice is helpful to all writers, like his philosophy of revisions:

“I don’t like to write; I like to have written. But I love to rewrite. I especially like to cut: to press the DELETE key and see an unnecessary word or phrase or sentence vanish into the electricity. I like to replace a humdrum word with one that has more precision or color...With every small refinement I feel that I’m coming nearer to where I would like to arrive, and when I finally get there I know it was the rewriting, not the writing, that won the game.”

Two tips from Zinsser that I’m already putting into practice: not visualizing the end result, and removing qualifiers from my writing. The first one resonates with me right now because I’m three years into working on a family memoir, and visualizing the final result has kept me paddling in the “research” and “interviewing” phase—now I put my focus back on the writing itself. As for the second one, I always scan my work now to check for qualifiers that make my words seem less confident, like: a bit , sort of , rather , quite , pretty much , etc. These phrases take away from the impact your words can have on the reader.

“Readers want a writer who believes in himself and in what he is saying. Don’t diminish that belief. Don’t be kind of bold. Be bold.”

Buy On Writing Well and read more reviews on goodreads .

Grammar and style

Your idea of fun probably isn’t to spend your weekends cozying up with tea and a stack of grammar books. Most grammar books are dry and not what I’d describe as light, fun reading. That’s why my goal was to find ones that are educational, but not boring. Only have time to read one book in this category? I’d go for It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. —it’s entertaining, and the author makes grammar fun.

08. It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. , by June Casagrande

Who is this book for: Anyone looking to write better sentences or brush up on their grammar.

Read it when: You want a quick guide to grammar that gets you back to basics.

It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences., by June Casagrande

A journalist and editor, Casagrande breaks down the basics of grammar in a way that’s easy to understand, and explains how to use it to improve each sentence you write. And with a touch of humor and wit, she makes it fun to read, too. For example, as writers we may instinctively know that these sentences are bad, but Casagrande digs into the grammar to explain why:

“Running down the street in high heels, my dog was too fast for me to catch.” (Dangling participle—sounds like your dog was wearing the heels!)

“She was awarded a national book award in fiction as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.” (Faulty parallelism—award and finalist don’t match.)

This book changed how I looked at grammar. Until now, I mostly got my words down and then made sure everything was grammatically correct. Now I think about how I use the principles of grammar as I work, rather than something to just check off my list.

“Yet, all great writing has one thing in common. It starts with a sentence. The sentence is a microcosm of any written work, and understanding it means understanding writing itself - how to structure ideas, how to emphasize what’s important, how to make practical use of grammar, how to cut the bull, and, above all, how to serve the almighty Reader.”

Buy It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. and read more reviews on goodreads .

09. Dreyer’s English , by Benjamin Dreyer

Read it when: You want to indulge in some grammar-snobbery and read about common writing mistakes.

Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer

As a copyeditor, Dreyer has seen it all, and he’s sharing the most common writing mistakes even experienced writers have made. I started reading for the grammar and style advice, and I kept reading for the author’s wit and pop-culture references:

“At some point in your life, perhaps now, it may occur to you that the phrase ‘aren’t I’ is a grammatical trainwreck. You can, at that point, either spend the rest of your life saying ‘am I not?’ or ‘amn’t I?’ or embrace yet another of those oddball constructions that sneak into the English language and achieve widespread acceptance, all the while giggling to themselves at having gotten away with something.”

Insights like that made this book both informative and fun to read. A warning, though: At times his cleverness does get the better of him. His elitist tone can get a bit grating, and sometimes I had to reread sentences multiple times to understand what he was saying (which I felt was ironic for a book about improving your writing skills).

My favorite part of this book was his section on phrases with redundant words. I tend to overexplain and that probably means I use redundant phrases more often than I should. Here’s what he says about “fetch back”:

“To fetch something is not merely to go get it but to go get it and return with it to the starting place. Ask a dog.”

This book doesn’t have the same cult status as The Elements of Style (the next one in the list), but its humor made it a lot more enjoyable to read.

Buy Dreyer’s English and read more reviews on goodreads .

10. The Elements of Style , by Strunk and White

Read this book when: Anytime, but mostly just so you can say you’ve read it.

The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White

This book is a classic, and appears on almost any list of “books that writers should read”. Strunk published the first edition of this guide in 1918, and it’s been a must-have for writers ever since. More recent editions have been edited and updated by White, a student of Strunk.

In a straightforward, no-nonsense style, Strunk and White lay out the basics to grammar and good writing—everything from using hyphens properly to writing concise sentences. Just note that some rules outlined in the book might not apply to writing that’s more informal.

The parts of this book I enjoyed most was when a bit of humor peeked through:

“The hyphen can play tricks on the unwary, as it did in Chattanooga when two newspapers merged - the News and the Free Press . Someone introduced a hyphen into the merger, and the paper became The Chattanooga News-Free Press , which sounds as though the paper were news-free, or devoid of news.”

Tip: If you’re planning to read this one, I recommend getting the version that’s illustrated by Maira Kalman—the beautiful paintings add a nice touch.

Buy The Elements of Style and read more reviews on goodreads .

After reading all of these great books (and a few others that didn’t make it to this list), I noticed one thing that came up over and over again: Learn the rules before you decide whether you want to follow them. Read as much as you can about the art of writing. Once you’ve got the basics down, once you know all the “writing rules”, that’s when you can have fun and start breaking them —with confidence.

What’s your favorite book on writing? Share your top picks in the comments below.

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Lana Raykin, UX Writer at Wix

From New York, now lives in Tel Aviv. Loves good food, good books, and her golden retriever.

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5 best books on writing for beginners and beyond

Whether you’re starting out in creative writing or looking to fine-tune your writing craft, there are a wealth of reference books out there..

Here are five that I find invaluable:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King

The first time I flicked through Self-Editing for Fiction Writers , I was unimpressed. A chapter on Show Don’t Tell? Pleeeeeease. Are you also going to tell me not to use adverbs ?

Then I actually read the chapter on Show Don’t Tell and realised I’d never fully understood Show Don’t Tell before. Every chapter of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is like that.

Renni Browne and Dave King explain the fundamentals of writing in a way that’s clear, comprehensive and yet also concise.

Having a problem with POV? Check this book. Dialogue a bit dodgy? Check this book.

I refer to this book at least once a month. I also recommend it to fellow writers more than any other writing book.

The Story Grid – Shawn Coyne

While Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is about the nuts and bolts of writing, The Story Grid zooms you upwards 26,000ft. Shawn Coyne’s book is all about helicopter-view, big-picture storytelling.

It’s also the solution to the hardest question you’ll have as a writer, “Why don’t people find my fiction compelling?”

(Trust me, I’ve been there.)

Shawn Coyne details narrative arcs and genre beats, and gives writers a framework to begin editing (truly editing, not polishing) their novel.

I am not kidding when I say that The Story Grid method was the only way I was able to make it through the final rewrite of my debut thriller, Dead Ringer .

On Writing – Stephen King

Ever noticed how many creative writing books are by writers you’ve never heard of?

This is the reason I rate Stephen King’s On Writing . Love him or hate him, you can’t argue with his success.

Some of King’s advice I agree with, some I don’t (King is far more of a pantser than I will ever be), but there’s plenty to chew over.

Most cheering, perhaps, is the account of King’s journey to publication and success. It’s a reminder of how much of this life is perseverance .

Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones is the book I return to when I need a shot of inspiration. Creative writing books can be dry. “Do this. Don’t do this.”

Natalie Goldberg, by contrast, is your effervescent fairy godmother. With chapter titles like “Writing is not a McDonald’s Hamburger”, Writing Down the Bones is all about learning to love the creative process.

Goldberg’s philosophy is that writing is a type of meditation and sessions of “freewriting”, where you write and write and write without stopping, can unleash your creativity.

This isn’t the way I write, typically, but it’s a good way of battling writer’s block or forcing a start to a new project when you feel overwhelmed.

2k to 10k: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love – Rachel Aaron

If Writing Down the Bones is airy-fairy, 2k to 10k is just-the-facts-ma’am. It’s also the craft book that best describes the way I write. If ever I find myself floundering, it’s usually because I’ve strayed from Rachel Aaron’s triangle .

Aaron’s story is pretty incredible: as a new mother with limited time to write and deadlines looming, she had to figure out a way to write a lot, fast. I doubt I will ever be cracking 10,000 words a day like Aaron, but by using her strategies, I easily started boosting my daily word count by 500 words or more.

What are those strategies? Write during your most creative hours; plan your stories with a detailed outline; figure out what you’re going to write ahead of time (daydreaming is better done when queueing at the bank, not at your desk; plot holes are better untangled in note form, not when you’re halfway through a scene); and pack your novel full of things you can’t wait to write.

Which writing craft books do you come back to time and again? Let me know your recommendations in the comments.

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100 Must-Read, Best Books On Writing And The Writer’s Life

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Nikki VanRy

Nikki VanRy is a proud resident of Arizona, where she gets to indulge her love of tacos, desert storms, and tank tops. She also writes for the Tucson Festival of Books, loves anything sci-fi/fantasy/historical, drinks too much chai, and will spend all day in bed reading thankyouverymuch. Follow her on Instagram @nikki.vanry .

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If you’re a working or aspiring writer, y ou already likely know about the classic best books on writing–King’s  On Writing,  Strunk and White’s Elements of Style– but for a craft as varied and personal as writing, you’ll always benefit from learning from more voices, with more techniques. 

That’s why this list is full of writers not only talking about the bare-bones craft of writing (and there’s plenty of fantastic advice there), but also how becoming a writer changed their lives and what role they believe writers play in an ever-changing world. From craft to writer’s lives, get ready to dig into 100 of the must-read, best books on writing for improving your own work. 

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Written with her trademark lyricism, in these signature pieces the acclaimed author of The House on Mango Street shares her transformative memories and reveals her artistic and intellectual influences. Poignant, honest, and deeply moving, A House of My Own is an exuberant celebration of a life lived to the fullest, from one of our most beloved writers.”

2.  A Little Book on Form    by Robert Hass

“Brilliantly synthesizes Hass’s formidable gifts as both a poet and a critic and reflects his profound education in the art of poetry. Starting with the exploration of a single line as the basic gesture of a poem, and moving into an examination of the essential expressive gestures that exist inside forms, Hass goes beyond approaching form as a set of traditional rules that precede composition, and instead offers penetrating insight into the true openness and instinctiveness of formal creation.”

3. A Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges

“After almost a half a century of scrupulous devotion to his art, Jorge Luis Borges personally compiled this anthology of his work—short stories, essays, poems, and brief mordant ‘sketches,’ which, in Borges’s hands, take on the dimensions of a genre unique in modern letters. In this anthology, the author has put together those pieces on which he would like his reputation to rest; they are not arranged chronologically, but with an eye to their ‘sympathies and differences.’”

4.  A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

“Virginia Woolf imagines that Shakespeare had a sister—a sister equal to Shakespeare in talent, and equal in genius, but whose legacy is radically different. In this classic essay, she takes on the establishment, using her gift of language to dissect the world around her and give voice to those who are without. Her message is a simple one: women must have a fixed income and a room of their own in order to have the freedom to create.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Taking up specifics (When do flashbacks work, and when should you avoid them? How do you make characters both vivid and sympathetic?) and generalities (How are novels structured? How do writers establish serious literary reputations today?), Delany also examines the condition of the contemporary creative writer and how it differs from that of the writer in the years of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the high Modernists. Like a private writing tutorial, About Writing treats each topic with clarity and insight.”

6. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

“Based on the lessons in his award-winning class, Great Screenwriting, The Anatomy of Story draws on a broad range of philosophy and mythology, offering fresh techniques and insightful anecdotes alongside Truby’s own unique approach to building an effective, multifaceted narrative.”

7.  Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

“Explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. The book’s co-authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, are themselves both working artists, grappling daily with the problems of making art in the real world. Their insights and observations, drawn from personal experience, provide an incisive view into the world of art as it is experienced by artmakers themselves.”

8.  The Art of Death by Edwidge Danticat

“At once a personal account of her mother dying from cancer and a deeply considered reckoning with the ways that other writers have approached death in their own work.”

9. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner

“Gardner’s lessons, exemplified with detailed excerpts from classic works of literature, sweep across a complete range of topics—from the nature of aesthetics to the shape of a refined sentence. Written with passion, precision, and a deep respect for the art of writing, Gardner’s book serves by turns as a critic, mentor, and friend. Anyone who has ever thought of taking the step from reader to writer should begin here.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Karr synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and ‘black belt sinner,’ providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.”

11. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

“The seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life. Still as vital today—or perhaps even more so—than it was when it was first published twenty five years ago, it is a powerfully provocative and inspiring work.”

12. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

“With profound empathy and radiant generosity, Gilbert offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.”

13. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

“Lamott’s miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: ‘Just take it bird by bird.’ Lamott’s suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. “

14. Black Milk: On the Conflicting Demands of Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood by Elif Shafak

“She intersperses her own experience with the lives of prominent authors such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Ayn Rand, and Zelda Fitzgerald, Shafak looks for a solution to the inherent conflict between artistic creation and responsible parenting. With searing emotional honesty and an incisive examination of cultural mores within patriarchal societies, Shafak has rendered an important work about literature, motherhood, and spiritual well-being.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Erdrich takes us on an illuminating tour through the terrain her ancestors have inhabited for centuries: the lakes and islands of southern Ontario. Summoning to life the Ojibwe’s sacred spirits and songs, their language and sorrows, she considers the many ways in which her tribe—whose name derives from the word ozhibii’ige, ‘to write’”—have influenced her. Her journey links ancient stone paintings with a magical island where a bookish recluse built an extraordinary library, and she reveals how both have transformed her.”

16. Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson

“An essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. With some one thousand entries that feature real-world examples of questionable usage from an international array of publications, and with a helpful glossary and guide to pronunciation, this precise, prescriptive, and–because it is written by Bill Bryson–often witty book belongs on the desk of every person who cares enough about the language not to maul or misuse or distort it.”

17. Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Morrell 

“A truly memorable antagonist is not a one-dimensional super villain bent on world domination for no particular reason. Realistic, credible bad guys create essential story complications, personalize conflict, add immediacy to a story line, and force the protagonist to evolve.”

18. Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo

“In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice.”

19. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

“Former editor Lynne Truss, gravely concerned about our current grammatical state, boldly defends proper punctuation. She proclaims, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“You know the authors’ names. You recognize the title. You’ve probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style , the classic style manual. This book’s unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of ‘the little book’ to make a big impact with writing.”

21. The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass

“Veteran literary agent and expert fiction instructor Donald Maass shows you how to use story to provoke a visceral and emotional experience in readers. Readers can simply read a novel…or they can experience it. The Emotional Craft of Fiction shows you how to make that happen.”

22. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley

“A  go-to guide to attracting and retaining customers through stellar online communication, because in our content-driven world, every one of us is, in fact, a writer. If you have a web site, you are a publisher. If you are on social media, you are in marketing. And that means that we are all relying on our words to carry our marketing messages. We are all writers.”

23. The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman

“With exercises at the end of each chapter, this invaluable reference will allow novelists, journalists, poets and screenwriters alike to improve their technique as they learn to eliminate even the most subtle mistakes that are cause for rejection. The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher — and more successful — level.”

24. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner

“From blank page to first glowing (or gutting) review, Betsy Lerner is a knowing and sympathetic coach who helps writers discover how they can be more productive in the creative process and how they can better their odds of not only getting published, but getting published well.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“ Free Within Ourselves is is meant to be a song of encouragement for African-American artists and visionaries. A step-by-step introduction to fictional technique, exploring story ideas, and charting one’s progress, as well as a resource guide for publishing fiction.”

26. Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins 

“Want to bring characters to life on the page as vividly as fine actors do on the stage or screen? Getting Into Character will give you a whole new way of thinking about your writing. Drawing on the Method Acting theory that theater professionals have used for decades, this in-depth guide explains seven characterization techniques and adapts them for the novelist’s use.”

27. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

“In The Heart of a Woman , Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world.”

28. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

“In this book, Ueland shares her philosophies on writing and life in general. She stresses the idea that ‘Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.’ Drawing heavily on the work and influence of William Blake, she suggests that writers should ‘Try to discover your true, honest, un-theoretical self.’ She sums up her book with 12 points to keep in mind while writing. Carl Sandburg called If You Want to Write the best book ever written on how to write.”

29. Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep by Ted Conover

“Conover distills decades of knowledge into an accessible resource aimed at writers of all levels. He covers how to “get into” a community, how to conduct oneself once inside, and how to shape and structure the stories that emerge. Conover is also forthright about the ethics and consequences of immersion reporting, preparing writers for the surprises that often surface when their piece becomes public.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“On a post-college visit to Florence, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri fell in love with the Italian language. Twenty years later, seeking total immersion, she and her family relocated to Rome, where she began to read and write solely in her adopted tongue. A startling act of self-reflection, In Other Words is Lahiri’s meditation on the process of learning to express herself in another language—and the stunning journey of a writer seeking a new voice.”

31. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker 

“Alice Walker speaks out as a black woman, writer, mother, and feminist, in thirty-six pieces ranging from the personal to the political. Here are essays about Walker’s own work and that of other writers, accounts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the antinuclear movement of the 1980s, and a vivid, courageous memoir of a scarring childhood injury.”

32. It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by June Casagrande

“Great writing isn’t born, it’s built—sentence by sentence. But too many writers—and writing guides—overlook this most important unit. The result? Manuscripts that will never be published and writing careers that will never begin. So roll up your sleeves and prepare to craft one bold, effective sentence after another. Your readers will thank you.”

33. The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig

“The journey to become a successful writer is long, fraught with peril, and filled with difficult questions: How do I write dialogue? How do I build suspense? What should I know about query letters? Where do I start? The best way to answer these questions is to ditch your uncertainty and transform yourself into a KICK-ASS writer.”

34. The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebook by Brian Shawver

“Grand themes and complex plots are just the beginning of a great piece of fiction. Mastering the nuts and bolts of grammar and prose mechanics is also an essential part of becoming a literary artist. This indispensable guide, created just for writers of fiction, will show you how to take your writing to the next level by exploring the finer points of language.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Finally, a truly creative―and hilarious―guide to creative writing, full of encouragement and sound advice. Provocative and reassuring, nurturing and wise, The Lie That Tells a Truth is essential to writers in general, fiction writers in particular, beginning writers, serious writers, and anyone facing a blank page.”

36. The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein

“Editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction―intention, character, plot, and voice―while addressing important topics like diversity, world-building, and the differences between middle-grade and YA novels.”

37. Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger 

“Making a good script great is more than just a matter of putting a good idea on paper. It requires the working and reworking of that idea. This book takes you through the whole screenwriting process – from initial concept through final rewrite – providing specific methods that will help you craft tighter, stronger, and more saleable scripts.”

38. Memoirs   by Pablo Neruda

“In his uniquely expressive prose, Neruda not only explains his views on poetry and describes the circumstances that inspired many of his poems, but he creates a revealing record of his life as a poet, a patriot, and one of the twentieth century’s true men of conscience.”

39. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch

“Stephen Koch, former chair of Columbia University’s graduate creative writing program, presents a unique guide to the craft of fiction. Along with his own lucid observations and commonsense techniques, he weaves together wisdom, advice, and inspiring commentary from some of our greatest writers.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Packed with insights and advice both practical (‘writing workshops you pay for are the best–it’s too easy to quit when you’ve made no investment’) and irreverent (‘apply Part A [butt] to Part B [chair]’). Naked, Drunk, and Writing is a must-have if you are an aspiring columnist, essayist, or memoirist—or just a writer who needs a bit of help in getting your story told.”

41. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood

“In this wise and irresistibly quotable book, one of the most intelligent writers working in English addresses the riddle of her art: why people pursue it, how they view their calling, and what bargains they make with their audience, both real and imagined. To these fascinating issues Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood brings a candid appraisal of her own experience as well as a breadth of reading that encompasses everything from Dante to Elmore Leonard.”

42. On Writing by Eudora Welty 

“Eudora Welty was one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary figures. For as long as students have been studying her fiction as literature, writers have been looking to her to answer the profound questions of what makes a story good, a novel successful, a writer an artist.”

43. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

“Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.”

44. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

“Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Based on the Zen philosophy that we learn more from our failures than from our successes, One Continuous Mistake teaches a refreshing new method for writing as spiritual practice. Here she introduces a method of discipline that applies specific Zen practices to enhance and clarify creative work. She also discusses bodily postures that support writing, how to set up the appropriate writing regimen, and how to discover one’s own ‘learning personality.’”

46. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland

“Writers often look upon outlines with fear and trembling. But when properly understood and correctly wielded, the outline is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer’s arsenal.”

47. The Paris Review Interviews, Vols. 1-4 by The Paris Review

“For more than half a century, The Paris Review has conducted in-depth interviews with our leading novelists, poets, and playwrights. These revealing, revelatory self-portraits have come to be recognized as themselves classic works of literature, and an essential and definitive record of the writing life.”

48. The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

“Presents brief essays on the elements of poetry, technique, and suggested subjects for writing, each followed by distinctive writing exercises. The ups and downs of writing life―including self-doubt and writer’s block―are here, along with tips about getting published and writing in the electronic age.”

49. The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser

“Using examples from his own rich literary oeuvre and from the work of a number of successful contemporary poets, the author schools us in the critical relationship between poet and reader, which is fundamental to what Kooser believes is poetry’s ultimate purpose: to reach other people and touch their hearts.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Have you always wanted to get an MFA, but couldn’t because of the cost, time commitment, or admission requirements? Well now you can fulfill that dream without having to devote tons of money or time. The Portable MFA gives you all of the essential information you would learn in the MFA program in one book.”

51. Paula: A Memoir by Isabel Allende

“Irony and marvelous flights of fantasy mix with the icy reality of Paula’s deathly illness as Allende sketches childhood scenes in Chile and Lebanon; her uncle Salvatore Allende’s reign and ruin as Chilean president; her struggles to shake off or find love; and her metamorphosis into a writer.”

52. Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

“In her fifteen years of teaching, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett has found that the biggest stumbling block for aspiring writers (especially women) is not fear of the blank page but frustration with the lack of time. What woman doesn’t have too much to do and too little time? Finding an hour free of work, children, or obligations can seem impossible.”

53. Pixar Storytelling: Rules for Effective Storytelling Based on Pixar’s Greatest Films   by Dean Movshovitz

“ Pixar Storytelling is about effective storytelling rules based on Pixar’s greatest films. The book consists of ten chapters, each of which explores an aspect of storytelling that Pixar excels at. Learn what Pixar’s core story ideas all have in common, how they create compelling, moving conflict and what makes their films’ resolutions so emotionally satisfying.”

54. Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell 

“How does plot influence story structure? What’s the difference between plotting for commercial and literary fiction? How do you revise a plot or structure that’s gone off course? With Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure , you’ll discover the answers to these questions and more. Award-winning author James Scott Bell offers clear, concise information that will help you create a believable and memorable plot.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“In this essay of literary autobiography, V. S. Naipaul sifts through memories of his childhood in Trinidad, his university days in England, and his earliest attempts at writing, seeking the experiences of life and reading that shaped his imagination and his growth as a writer.”

56. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

“Long before there were creative-writing workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries, says Francine Prose. In Reading Like a Writer , Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters.”

57. Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (How to Write Kissing Books) by Gwen Hayes

“ Romancing the Beat is a recipe, not a rigid system. The beats don’t care if you plot or outline before you write, or if you pants your way through the drafts and do a ‘beat check’ when you’re revising. Pantsers and plotters are both welcome. So sit down, grab a cuppa, and let’s talk about kissing books.”

58. Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

“This ultimate insider’s guide reveals the secrets that none dare admit, told by a show biz veteran who’s proven that you can sell your script if you can save the cat!”

59. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin 

“In the literary world, the debate around writing and commerce often begs us to take sides: either writers should be paid for everything they do or writers should just pay their dues and count themselves lucky to be published. It’s an endless, confusing, and often controversial conversation that, despite our bare-it-all culture, still remains taboo. In Scratch , Manjula Martin has gathered interviews and essays from established and rising authors to confront the age-old question: how do creative people make money?”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script, here are easily understood guidelines to help aspiring screenwriters—from novices to practiced writers—hone their craft.”

61. Singing School: Learning to Write (And Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters by Robert Pinsky

“Quick, joyful, and playfully astringent, with surprising comparisons and examples, this collection takes an unconventional approach to the art of poetry. Instead of rules, theories, or recipes, Singing School emphasizes ways to learn from great work: studying magnificent, monumentally enduring poems and how they are made— in terms borrowed from the ‘singing school’ of William Butler Yeats’s ‘Sailing to Byzantium.’”

62. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick

“Taking us on a reading tour of some of the best memoirs and essays of the past hundred years, Gornick traces the changing idea of self that has dominated the century, and demonstrates the enduring truth-speaker to be found in the work of writers as diverse as Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, or Marguerite Duras.”

63. Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games by Robert Denton Bryant and Keith Giglio

“Writing for the multibillion-dollar video-game industry is unlike writing for any other medium. Slay the Dragon will help you understand the challenges and offer creative solutions to writing for a medium where the audience not only demands a great story, but to be a driving force within it.”

64. Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez

“From the internationally acclaimed author of the bestselling novels In the Time of the Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents comes a rich and revealing work of nonfiction capturing the life and mind of an artist as she knits together the dual themes of coming to America and becoming a writer.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“This handbook is a short, deceptively simple guide to the craft of writing. Le Guin lays out ten chapters that address the most fundamental components of narrative, from the sound of language to sentence construction to point of view.”

66. Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein 

“With examples from bestsellers as well as from students’ drafts, Stein offers detailed sections on characterization, dialogue, pacing, flashbacks, trimming away flabby wording, the so-called ‘triage’ method of revision, using the techniques of fiction to enliven nonfiction, and more.”

67. Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron

“Takes you, step-by-step, through the creation of a novel from the first glimmer of an idea, to a complete multilayered blueprint—including fully realized scenes—that evolves into a first draft with the authority, richness, and command of a riveting sixth or seventh draft.”

68. Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James

“All too often, following the ‘rules’ of writing can constrict rather than inspire you. With Story Trumps Structure , you can shed those rules – about three-act structure, rising action, outlining, and more – to craft your most powerful, emotional, and gripping stories.”

69. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall

“Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. Now Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems–just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“When it comes to writing books, are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? Is one method really better than the other? In this instructional book, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write.”

71. TED Talks Storytelling: 23 Storytelling Techniques from the Best TED Talks by Akash Karia

“Essentially, the best speakers on the TED stage were the ones who had mastered the art of storytelling. They had mastered how to craft and present their stories in a way that allowed them to share their message with the world without seeming like they were lecturing their audience.”

72. This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

“Blending literature and memoir, Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, Run, and Bel Canto , examines her deepest commitments—to writing, family, friends, dogs, books, and her husband—creating a resonant portrait of a life in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. “

73. This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley

“No more excuses. ‘Let the lawn get shaggy and the paint peel from the walls,’ bestselling novelist Walter Mosley advises. Anyone can write a novel now, and in this essential book of tips, practical advice, and wisdom, Walter Mosley promises that the writer-in-waiting can finish it in one year.”

74. Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

“In fifteen essays on the craft of fiction, Percy looks to disparate sources such as Jaws , Blood Meridian, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage issues of plot, suspense, momentum, and the speculative, as well as character, setting, and dialogue. An urgent and entertaining missive on craft, Thrill Me brims with Percy’s distinctive blend of anecdotes, advice, and close reading, all in the service of one dictum: Thrill the reader.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Combining more than forty years of lessons from his storied career as a writer and professor, Lopate brings us this highly anticipated nuts-and-bolts guide to writing literary nonfiction. A phenomenal master class shaped by Lopate’s informative, accessible tone and immense gift for storytelling, To Show and To Tell reads like a long walk with a favorite professor—refreshing, insightful, and encouraging in often unexpected ways.”

76. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel by Diana Wynne Jones

“Imagine that all fantasy novels—the ones featuring dragons, knights, wizards, and magic—are set in the same place. That place is called Fantasyland. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is your travel guide, a handbook to everything you might find: Evil, the Dark Lord, Stew, Boots (but not Socks), and what passes for Economics and Ecology. Both a hilarious send-up of the cliches of the genre and an indispensable guide for writers.”

77. Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing by Roger Rosenblatt

“The revered novelist, essayist, playwright, and respected writing teacher offers a guidebook for aspiring authors, a memoir, and an impassioned argument for the necessity of writing in our world.”

78. Upstream by Mary Oliver

“Throughout this collection, Oliver positions not just herself upstream but us as well as she encourages us all to keep moving, to lose ourselves in the awe of the unknown, and to give power and time to the creative and whimsical urges that live within us.”

79. Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques by Evan Skolnick 

“Game writer and producer Evan Skolnick provides a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow guide to storytelling basics and how they can be applied at every stage of the development process—by all members of the team.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“In this classic book, Madeleine L’Engle addresses the questions, What makes art Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essay, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.”

81. The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson

“Johnson shares his lessons and exercises from the classroom, starting with word choice, sentence structure, and narrative voice, and delving into the mechanics of scene, dialogue, plot and storytelling before exploring the larger questions at stake for the serious writer. What separates literature from industrial fiction? What lies at the heart of the creative impulse? How does one navigate the literary world? And how are philosophy and fiction concomitant?”

82. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

“While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Haruki Murakami’s decided to write about it as well. The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer.”

83. What Moves at the Margin by Toni Morrison

“Collects three decades of Toni Morrison’s writings about her work, her life, literature, and American society. The works included in this volume range from 1971, when Morrison was a new editor at Random House and a beginning novelist, to 2002 when she was a professor at Princeton University and Nobel Laureate. These works provide a unique glimpse into Morrison’s viewpoint as an observer of the world, the arts, and the changing landscape of American culture.”

84. Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan 

“By delving into vivid memories of her traumatic childhood, confessions of self-doubt in her journals, and heartbreaking letters to and from her mother, she gives evidence to all that made it both unlikely and inevitable that she would become a writer. Through spontaneous storytelling, she shows how a fluid fictional state of mind unleashed near-forgotten memories that became the emotional nucleus of her novels.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object.”

86. Woolgathering by Patti Smith

“A great book about becoming an artist, Woolgathering tells of a youngster finding herself as she learns the noble vocation of woolgathering, ‘a worthy calling that seemed a good job for me.’ She discovers―often at night, often in nature―the pleasures of rescuing ‘a fleeting thought.’ Deeply moving, Woolgathering calls up our own memories, as the child ‘glimpses and gleans, piecing together a crazy quilt of truths.’”

87. Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis

“One of the most popular writers in modern comics, Brian Michael Bendis reveals the tools and techniques he and other top creators use to create some of the most popular comic book and graphic novel stories of all time.”

88. Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success by Jennifer Probst

“Learn how to transform your passion for writing into a career. New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Probst reveals her pathway to success, from struggling as a new writer to signing a seven-figure deal. Write Naked intermingles personal essays on craft with down-to-earth advice on writing romance in the digital age.”

89. Write Your Novel in a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next by Jeff Gerke

“Author and instructor Jeff Gerke has created the perfect tool to show you how to prepare yourself to write your first draft in as little as 30 days. With Jeff’s help, you will learn how to organize your ideas, create dynamic stories, develop believable characters, and flesh out the idea narrative for your novel–and not just for the rapid-fire first draft.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Explores the powerful relationship between mythology and storytelling in a clear, concise style that’s made it required reading for movie executives, screenwriters, playwrights, scholars, and fans of pop culture all over the world.”

91. Writer’s Market 2018: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published by Robert Lee Brewer

“Want to get published and paid for your writing? Let Writer’s Market guide you through the process with thousands of publishing opportunities for writers, including listings for book publishers, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards, and literary agents. These listings feature contact and submission information to help writers get their work published.”

92. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

“For more than thirty years Natalie Goldberg has been challenging and cheering on writers with her books and workshops. In her groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice—’it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind.’”

93. Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma by Melanie Brooks

“What does it take to write an honest memoir? And what happens to us when we embark on that journey? Melanie Brooks sought guidance from the memoirists who most moved her to answer these questions. Called an essential book for creative writers by Poets & Writers, Writing Hard Stories is a unique compilation of authentic stories about the death of a partner, parent, or child; about violence and shunning; and about the process of writing.”

94. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

“Slender though it is, The Writing Life richly conveys the torturous, tortuous, and in rare moments, transcendent existence of the writer. Amid moving accounts of her own writing (and life) experiences, Dillard also manages to impart wisdom to other writers, wisdom having to do with passion and commitment and taking the work seriously.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Culled from ten years of the distinguished Washington Post column of the same name, The Writing Life highlights an eclectic group of luminaries who have wildly varied stories to tell, but who share this singularly beguiling career. Here are their pleasures as well as their peeves; revelations of their deepest fears; dramas of triumphs and failures; insights into the demands and rewards.”

96. Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Caron Levine

“Gail Carson Levine shows how you can get terrific ideas for stories, invent great beginnings and endings, write sparkling dialogue, develop memorable characters—and much, much more. She advises you about what to do when you feel stuck—and how to use helpful criticism. Best of all, she offers writing exercises that will set your imagination on fire.”

97. Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark 

“Ten years ago, Roy Peter Clark, America’s most influential writing teacher, whittled down almost thirty years of experience in journalism, writing, and teaching into a series of fifty short essays on different aspects of writing. In the past decade, Writing Tools has become a classic guidebook for novices and experts alike and remains one of the best loved books on writing available.”

98. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

“This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes —from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.”

99. Your Creative Writing Masterclass by Jergen Wolff

“If you dream of being a writer, why not learn from the best? In Your Creative Writing Masterclass you’ll find ideas, techniques and encouragement from the most admired and respected contemporary and classic authors, including Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Anton Chekhov.”

100 Must-Read And Best Books On Writing |

“Part memoir, part philosophical guide, the essays in this book teach the joy of writing. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of putting words on paper, Bradbury’s zen is found in the celebration of storytelling that drove him to write every day. Imparting lessons he has learned over the course of his exuberant career, Bradbury inspires with his infectious enthusiasm.”

Writing is a big messy topic, so obviously I’ll have missed some of your favorite and best books on writing. Make sure to hit the comments to talk about your favorite books about the writing life and craft. Find more of our posts on the writing life here .

best way to learn creative writing books

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The Best Books On Writing—From A Writer


I can’t tell you how many books and blogs I’ve read on writing and the creative process. Since knowing I wanted to pursue writing more seriously in my 20s, I’ve devoured (okay, skimmed) too many books that go over all the ins and outs of how to write a story—from craft and story structure to the best writing platforms and how to revise your drafts. Some advice says to write every day no matter what; others recommend to take breaks. Some authors suggest fancy writing software; others swear by pen and paper. At a certain pont, all the advice blurs together and it’s impossible to retain let alone practice every single recommendation. Eventually, you have to figure out what works best for you and—yes, the hardest part—sit down and write your story.

That said, there are a few wonderful writing books out there that I swear by for my own practice. While this list isn’t comprehensive, it includes a few gems I believe are fresh, unique, and short or small enough to carry with you. Most importantly, these books are more concerned with examining the writer’s life than the writing itself (something I’ve come to learn must be figured out at the individual level). Hopefully they offer you a bit of wisdom as well.

For more writing recommendations, check out these 99 creative writing prompts and these writing classes you can take online .

1. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

This is one of my all-time favorite essay collections for creative inspiration or for whenever I feel like I’m in a writing rut. I first read it during grad school in a single afternoon (it’s only 111 pages) and was captivated by Dillard’s ability to articulate the joys and pains of life as a working writer. Each micro essay includes metaphors, anecdotes from her experiences, and probing questions for the reader to examine their own writing life. It’s a quick and breathless read, but one that stays with you forever. Here is one of my favorite passages:

“Who will teach me to write? A reader wanted to know.

The page, the page, the eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity…” (Dillard, 58-59)

the writing life annie dillard

2. My Trade Is Mystery by Carl Phillips

This little writing book is such a gem! I first started reading it this past winter and had to force myself to slow down so that I could savor every single word from the accomplished writer, poet, and teacher Carl Phillips. The book jacket describes this as the “ultimate companion for writers at every stage of their journey,” and it truly is such. It’s also a fresh take on writing advice in a market saturated by how-to writing books and instruction manuals. Here is a passage I continue to revisit:

“To write poems that make a meaningful difference, that do the transformative work of showing readers (and myself as the writer) the world in a new way—this is difficult, yes. But the chance for surprise makes the work inviting. Difficulty, surprise—maybe that’s all a career comes down to. Difficulty meets surprise, and—without having thought to choose to—they mate for life.” (Phillips, 27)

my trade is myster carl phillips

3. Body Work by Melissa Febos

Melissa Febos has long been one of my favorite authors and essayists. Her work is raw and profoundly human. When I learned she was publishing her own book on writing, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, knowing it would offer a fresh and intimate take on personal narrative. It has, of course, exceeded my expectations and become a regular companion to my own writing practice. In a little more than 150 pages, Febos transforms the way writers consider the page and how we use it to explore our truest and most personal stories—which often include desires and physical bodies. Author Alexander Chee calls it “one of the most liberating books on the subject of writing.” I suggest every writer snag a copy to keep on their desk.

body work melissa febos

4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Is a writing book roundup complete if it doesn’t include Bird by Bird? While an older book on the market (first published in 1994), there’s a reason Anne Lamott’s work continues to be praised and quoted by writers everywhere—my own copy is dog-eared, weathered, and hardly decipherable from highlighter and margin notes.

Lamott has long been known for her honest writing and ability to put things plainly for readers, and she does just that in this instruction manual, too. If I’ve taken anything from my reading (and re-readings) of her words, it’s that there is nothing more sacred than finding your inner voice and allowing it to live on the page. “Train yourself to hear that small inner voice,” she writes. (113, Lamott)

bird by bird

5. Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum

If you’re writing a book (or want to), this is essentially the bible you’ll want to memorize and reference again and again. Courtney Maum offers insider advice from the book publishing world, whether you’re trying to finish your novel, find an agent, or navigate the terrifying waters—and jargon—of the pub industry. I reference my copy weekly, if not more, and recommend it to anyone who tells me they are writing a book. You can also subscribe to Maum’s substack newsletter for regular writing advice delivered to your inbox.

before and after the book deal

Forthcoming: How We Do It by Jericho Brown and Darlene Taylor

This one isn’t out in the world until summer, so while I can’t give my personal recommendation just yet, I can say I think it’s going to be very, very good . It includes experiences and expertise from more than 30 acclaimed writers and celebrates the Black creative spirit. Preorders are super important for authors and the success of books, so consider ordering a copy before pub date to express your interest. (Plus, it’s always fun to get a book in the mail that you purchased months ago!)

how we do it

Kayti Christian (she/her) is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside , a newsletter for sensitive people.



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A Case For Giving Your Creative Ideas Away

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SJ Watson

What a creative writing course taught me

I spent six months of 2009 on the Faber Academy's inaugural Writing a Novel course. During that time I wrote a novel that became Before I Go to Sleep . Now, almost four years later, that book is an international bestseller and about to be turned into a film, and …

One of the questions I'm most often asked at events and in interviews is, would I have written Before I Go to Sleep had I not been on a creative writing course? Of course I can understand why. The question is usually asked by those who are writing themselves, and within it is wrapped its unspoken twin: do you think I should do a creative writing course, in order to do what you've done?

They're tricky questions for me to answer. Usually I'll reply that I'd have written my novel had I not been on the course, but I think it might have taken a lot longer. I compare it to skiing – by myself I'd probably learn to ski eventually, but taking lessons speeds up the process. My answer is glib and also disingenuous; it implies the course did little more than provide me with a shortcut to publication.

In fact, the course did so much more. When I began it writing was something I took seriously, and though it had never crossed my mind that I might one day be capable of writing a bestseller, I thought I could write reasonably well. But I wasn't a writer. Writers were professional, they wrote every day and they took notes everywhere they went and – well, I wasn't sure what they did. I just knew I wanted to be one and saw the course as a way of finding out whether that might one day be possible.

Then something odd happened. On the first night of the course Louise Doughty gave us a pep talk. "You're all good," she said. "But that's the last nice thing I'm going to say to you. If you want to get better you'll have to start taking it seriously." And then she said, "For the next six months, I give you permission to think of yourselves as writers."

For me, it was a pivotal moment. "Fuck it," I thought. "I will!" And I did. I wrote until my fingers bled and read until I could no longer focus. I drank many coffees and sank many pints while discussing books and language, and writing, and words, with people who cared as deeply about those things as I did. I carried a notebook everywhere I went and stopped being embarrassed to whip it out and take notes in public. At parties, when asked what I did, I said, "I write," and when asked what I'd had published, I said, "Nothing. I work in the NHS, too. But I still write." Gradually, it started to feel comfortable. During our lessons I learned about dialogue and character and the importance of conflict. I learned never to start a book with someone being woken up by an alarm (oops!), and to carefully avoid adverbs and cliches like the plague (ahem). But the more important lessons were deeper and more fundamental, and they were related to Louise's comment. In calling myself a writer I learned that that's what I am. A writer. I love language. Writing is how I make sense of my world. It's part of me. I worked harder than I'd ever worked before during those six months, and they were among the happiest I've known, because finally I was sure what I really wanted to do with my life. I learned who I am, and began the process of learning how I work best.

Mostly, though, the course gave me focus. Through it I learned that writing is hard work. Writers write. They don't sit around thinking all day, or lounge about in their pyjamas with a bowl of Coco Pops, watching daytime television while they wait for the muse to descend (though a little bit of that is permissible). Lessons about plot and setting and structure and voice can help, but the only way to become a better writer is by writing. Discussing your work with a wonderful tutor can help, but your tutor can't write it for you. For that, you're on your own. Just you and a pen, your courage, and the whole world of your imagination. It's terrifying, and exhilarating. Could I have written Before I Go to Sleep before learning those lessons? No, I don't think I could. Did I need to go on a course to learn them? Yes. At that point in my life at least, I think I did.

SJ Watson is the author of Before I Go to Sleep (Black Swan)

Anne Enright

Anne Enright

For years, when I was asked about the success of the Creative Writing MA in the University of East Anglia , I had no answers or insights. It seemed to me that we weren't "taught" how to write at all – so perhaps that is the way to do it. The students hung out and talked and responded to each other's work. The tutor, Malcolm Bradbury , made sure we weren't too mean to each other. He shifted approvingly when key points were made, and deflected the negative with airy remarks about Tolstoy or Shakespeare. I had one-to-one sessions with Angela Carter , who said nothing about the work either – but she treated me like a fellow writer, and that made all the difference.

It is amazing how much you learn when other people read your work. They don't have to say anything, your words seem to morph under their scanning eyes. A creative writing course gets the stuff out of your head and into the room. It turns your story into a "thing", that can be dismantled and remade. It can not, however, tell you how to remake it. Writing remains a process that only goes one way: from the inside out.

A few years ago I heard someone say that Malcolm's great trick was to spot talent at the application stage – so maybe that is the real secret of a good creative writing course. The other is to find a teacher whose ego isn't bigger than their students' – not as easy as it sounds. Scholarships are also good. Nothing helps a writer like paying their rent. We don't, in the early stages, need food.

Joe Dunthorne

Anne Enright is the author of the Booker-prizewinning The Gathering and The Forgotten Waltz (Vintage)

Joe Dunthorne

As a first-year undergraduate creative writing student, I remember one lesson in particular. A tutor at UEA explained that, by placing physical description in the middle of a line of dialogue, I could make my characters walk and talk, rather than walk then talk. It was magical. Suddenly my creations were alive. I had hoped that learning creative writing would continue along those lines – three simple rules on how to make a reader cry, top tips on communicating a revelatory human truth – but it didn't work out that way.

By the time I was studying for a masters in prose fiction, the easy lessons had dried up and I was faced with 12 of my peers who each had a different opinion on how my novel should progress. They all gave convincing, contradictory suggestions. This provoked the last of my great creative writing epiphanies: that there is no majority, no safe path, and in the end we all travel alone.

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Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on May 31, 2022

The 40 Best Books About Writing: A Reading List for Authors

For this post, we’ve scoured the web (so you don’t have to) and asked our community of writers for recommendations on some indispensable books about writing. We've filled this list with dozens of amazing titles, all of which are great — but this list might seem intimidating. So for starters, here are our top 10 books about writing:

  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig
  • Dreyer’s Englis h by Benjamin Dreyer
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk, White, and Kalman
  • The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
  • A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison
  • How to Market a Book by Ricardo Fayet
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser

But if you're ready to get into the weeds, here are 40 of our favorite writing books.

Books about becoming a writer

1. on writing by stephen king.

best way to learn creative writing books

Perhaps the most-cited book on this list, On Writing is part-memoir, part-masterclass from one of America’s leading authors. Come for the vivid accounts of his childhood and youth — including his extended "lost weekend" spent on alcohol and drugs in the 1980s. Stay for the actionable advice on how to use your emotions and experiences to kickstart your writing, hone your skills, and become an author. Among the many craft-based tips are King’s expert takes on plot, story, character, and more.

From the book: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 

2. The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

If you haven’t checked out Wendig’s personal blog, head over there now and bookmark it. Unfiltered, profane, and almost always right, Wendig’s become a leading voice among online writing communities in the past few years. In The Kick-Ass Writer , he offers over 1,000 pearls of wisdom for authors, ranging from express writing tips to guidance on getting published. Written to be read in short bursts, we’re sure he’d agree that this is the perfect bathroom book for writers.

From the book: “I have been writing professionally for a lucky-despite-the-number 13 years. Not once — seriously, not once ever — has anyone ever asked me where I got my writing degree… Nobody gives two ferrets fornicating in a filth-caked gym sock whether or not you have a degree… The only thing that matters is, Can you write well? ” 

3. Find Your Voice by Angie Thomas

Taking advice from famous authors is not about imitation, but about finding your own voice . Take it from someone who knows: Thomas is the New York Times #1 Bestselling author of The Hate U Give , On the Come Up , and Concrete Rose . While she’s found her calling in YA literature , she has plenty of insight into finding your own voice in your genre of choice. Written in the form of a guided journal, this volume comes with step-by-step instructions, writing prompts, and exercises especially aimed at helping younger creatives develop the strength and skills to realize their vision.

From the book: “Write fearlessly. Write what is true and real to you.” 

4. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

Since its publication in 2000, The Forest for the Trees has remained an essential resource for authors at various stages in their careers. As an editor, Lerner gives advice not only on producing quality content, but also on how to build your career as an author and develop a winning routine — like how writers can be more productive in their creative process, how to get published , and how to publish well . 

From the book: “The world doesn't fully make sense until the writer has secured his version of it on the page. And the act of writing is strangely more lifelike than life.”

best way to learn creative writing books

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5. How to Write Like Tolstoy by Richard Cohen

best way to learn creative writing books

From the book: “Great writers can be inhibiting, and maybe after one has read a Scott Fitzgerald or Henry James one can’t escape imitat­ing them; but more often such writers are inspiring.”

6. Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Smith is well-known for her fiction, but she is also a prolific essay writer. In Feel Free , she has gathered several essays on recent cultural and political developments and combined them with experiences from her own life and career. In “The I Who Is Not Me”, she explores how her own lived experience comes into play in her fiction writing, and how she manages to extrapolate that to comment on contemporary social contexts, discussing race, class, and ethnicity.

From the book: “Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world, the self. The first is never wholly mine; the second I can only ever know in a partial sense; the third is a malleable and improvised response to the previous two.”

Books about language and style 

7. dreyer’s english by benjamin dreyer.

A staple book about writing well, Dreyer’s English serves as a one-stop guide to proper English, based on the knowledge that Dreyer — a senior copy editor at Random House — has accumulated throughout his career. From punctuation to tricky homophones, passive voice, and commas, the goal of these tools should be to facilitate effective communication of ideas and thoughts. Dreyer delivers this and then some, but not without its due dosage of humor and informative examples. 

From the book: “A good sentence, I find myself saying frequently, is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end, no matter how long it is, without having to double back in confusion because the writer misused or omitted a key piece of punctuation, chose a vague or misleading pronoun, or in some other way engaged in inadvertent misdirection.”

8. The Elements of Style (Illustrated) by William Strunk, Jr., E. B. White, and Maira Kalman

best way to learn creative writing books

A perfect resource for visual learners, this illustrated edition of The Elements of Style has taken the classic style manual to a new, more accessible level but kept its main tenet intact: make every word tell. The written content by Strunk and White has long been referred to as an outline of the basic principles of style. Maira Kalman’s illustrations elevate the experience and make it a feast for both the mind and the eye. 

From the book: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

9. Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale

If you’re looking to bring a bit of spunk into your writing, copy editor Constance Hale may hold the key . Whether you’re writing a work-related email or the next rap anthem, she has one goal: to make creative communication available to everyone by dispelling old writing myths and making every word count. Peppered with writing prompts and challenges, this book will have you itching to put pen to paper.

From the book: “Verbose is not a synonym for literary.”

10. The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

Combining entertainment with intellectual pursuit, Pinker, a cognitive scientist and dictionary consultant, explores and rethinks language usage in the 21st century . With illustrative examples of both great and not-so-great linguistic constructions, Pinker breaks down the art of writing and gives a gentle but firm nudge in the right direction, towards coherent yet stylish prose. This is not a polemic on the decay of the English language, nor a recitation of pet peeves, but a thoughtful, challenging, and practical take on the science of communication. 

From the book: “Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing—and why should we care?”

11. Eats, Shoots, & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

best way to learn creative writing books

From the book: “A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. "Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder. "I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up." The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Books about story structure

12. save the cat by blake snyder.

Best known as a screenwriting manual, Save the Cat! is just as often named by authors as one of their most influential books about writing. The title comes from the tried-and-true trope of the protagonist doing something heroic in the first act (such as saving a cat) in order to win over the audience. Yes, it might sound trite to some — but others swear by its bulletproof beat sheet. More recently, there has been Save the Cat! Writes a Novel , which tailors its principles specifically to the literary crowd. (For a concise breakdown of the beat sheet, check this post out!)

From the book: “Because liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story.” 

13. The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

Shawn Coyne is a veteran editor with over 25 years of publishing experience, and he knows exactly what works and what doesn’t in a story — indeed, he’s pretty much got it down to a science. The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know outlines Coyne’s original “Story Grid” evaluation technique, which both writers and editors can use to appraise, revise, and ultimately improve their writing (in order to get it ready for publication). Coyne and his friend Tim Grahl also co-host the acclaimed Story Grid podcast , another great resource for aspiring writers.

From the book: “The Story Grid is a tool with many applications. It pinpoints problems but does not emotionally abuse the writer… it is a tool to re-envision and resuscitate a seemingly irredeemable pile of paper stuck in an attack drawer, and it can inspire an original creation.”

14. Story Structure Architect by Victoria Schmidt

For those who find the idea of improvising utterly terrifying and prefer the security of structures, this book breaks down just about every kind of story structure you’ve ever heard of. Victoria Schmidt offers no less than fifty-five different creative paths for your story to follow — some of which are more unconventional, or outright outlandish than others. The level of detail here is pretty staggering: Schmidt goes into the various conflicts, subplots, and resolutions these different story structures entail — with plenty of concrete examples! Suffice to say that no matter what kind of story you’re writing, you’ll find a blueprint for it in Story Structure Architect .

From the book: “When you grow up in a Westernized culture, the traditional plot structure becomes so embedded in your subconscious that you may have to work hard to create a plot structure that deviates from it… Understand this and keep your mind open when reading [this book]. Just because a piece doesn’t conform to the model you are used to, does not make it bad or wrong.”

15. The Writer's Journey  by Christopher Vogler

Moving on, we hone in on the mythic structure. Vogler’s book, originally published in 1992, is now a modern classic of writing advice; though intended as a screenwriting textbook, its contents apply to any story of mythic proportions. In The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers , Vogler takes a page (literally) from Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces to ruminate upon the most essential narrative structures and character archetypes of the writing craft. So if you’re thinking of drawing up an epic fantasy series full of those tropes we all know and love, this guide should be right up your alley.

From the book: “The Hero’s Journey is not an invention, but an observation. It is a recognition of a beautiful design… It’s difficult to avoid the sensation that the Hero’s Journey exists somewhere, somehow, as an external reality, a Platonic ideal form, a divine model. From this model, infinite and highly varied copies can be produced, each resonating with the essential spirit of the form.”

16. Story Genius by Lisa Cron

best way to learn creative writing books

From the book: “We don't turn to story to escape reality. We turn to story to navigate reality.”

17. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

More than just a New York Times bestseller and the winner of the Booker Prize, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a distillation of the MFA class on Russian short stories that Saunders has been teaching. Breaking down narrative functions and why we become immersed in a story, this is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand and nurture our continued need for fiction.

From the book: “We’re going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn’t fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?”

Books about overcoming obstacles as a writer

18. bird by bird by anne lamott .

Like Stephen King’s book about writing craft, this work from acclaimed novelist and nonfiction writer Anne Lamott also fuses elements of a memoir with invaluable advice on the writer’s journey. Particularly known for popularizing the concept of “shitty first drafts”, Bird by Bird was recently recommended by editor Jennifer Hartmann in her Reedsy Live webinar for its outlook take on book writing. She said, “This book does exactly what it says it will do: it teaches you to become a better writer. [Lamott] is funny and witty and very knowledgeable.”

From the book: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

19. Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker 

best way to learn creative writing books

From the book: “When it comes to the eternal quandary of pantsing or plotting, you can keep a foot in each camp. But if your goals will require you to write with speed and confidence, an effective outline will be your best friend.”

20. Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith 

And for those who eschew structure altogether, we’ll now refer you to this title from profile science fiction author Dean Wesley Smith . Having authored a number of official Star Trek novels, he definitely knows what he’s talking about when he encourages writers to go boldly into the unknown with an approach to writing books that doesn’t necessarily involve an elaborate plan. It might not be your action plan, but it can be a fresh perspective to get out of the occasional writer’s block .

From the book: “Imagine if every novel you picked up had a detailed outline of the entire plot… Would you read the novel after reading the outline? Chances are, no. What would be the point? You already know the journey the writer is going to take you on. So, as a writer, why do an outline and then have to spend all that time creating a book you already know?”

21. No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty

If you’re procrastinating to the point where you haven’t even started your novel yet, NaNo founder Chris Baty is your guy! No Plot, No Problem is a “low-stress, high-velocity” guide to writing a novel in just 30 days (yup, it’s great prep for the NaNoWriMo challenge ). You’ll get tons of tips on how to survive this rigorous process, from taking advantage of your initial momentum to persisting through moments of doubt . Whether you’re participating in everyone’s favorite November write-a-thon or you just want to bang out a novel that’s been in your head forever, Baty will help you cross that elusive finish line.

From the book: “A rough draft is best written in the steam-cooker of an already busy life. If you have a million things to do, adding item number 1,000,001 is not such a big deal.”

22. The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt

And for those who think 30 days is a bit too steam cooker-esque, there’s always Alan Watt’s more laid-back option. In The 90-Day Novel , Watt provides a unique three-part process to assist you with your writing. The first part provides assistance in developing your story’s premise, the second part helps you work through obstacles to execute it, and the third part is full of writing exercises to unlock the “primal forces” of your story — aka the energy that will invigorate your work and incite readers to devour it like popcorn at the movies.

From the book: “Why we write is as important as what we write. Grammar, punctuation, and syntax are fairly irrelevant in the first draft. Get the story down… fast. Get out of your head, so you can surprise yourself on the page.”

23. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

If you feel like you’re constantly in the trenches of your “inner creative battle,” The War of Art is the book for you. Pressfield emphasizes the importance of breaking down creative barriers — what he calls “Resistance” — in order to defeat your demons (i.e. procrastination, self-doubt, etc.) and fulfill your potential. Though some of his opinions are no doubt controversial (he makes repeated claims that almost anything can be procrastination, including going to the doctor), this book is the perfect remedy for prevaricating writers who need a little bit of tough love.

From the book: “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

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Books about writing as a lifestyle and career

24. steal like an artist by austin kleon.

As Kleon notes in the first section of Steal Like an Artist , this title obviously doesn’t refer to plagiarism. Rather, it acknowledges that art cannot be created in a vacuum, and encourages writers (and all other artists) to be open and receptive to all sources of inspiration. By “stealing like an artist,” writers can construct stories that already have a baseline of familiarity for readers, but with new twists that keep them fresh and exciting .

From the book: “If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”

25. Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison

best way to learn creative writing books

From the book: “A writer's life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.”

26. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

No matter what stage you’re at in your writing career, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones will help you write more skillfully and creatively. With suggestions, encouragement, and valuable advice on the many aspects of the writing craft, Goldberg doesn’t shy away from making the crucial connection between writing and adding value to your life. Covering a range of topics including taking notes of your initial thoughts, listening, overcoming doubt, choosing where to write, and the selection of your verbs, this guide has plenty to say about the minute details of writing, but excels at exploring the author life.

From the book: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

27. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

What does it take to become a great author? According to the beloved writer Ray Bradbury , it takes zest, gusto, curiosity, as well as a spirit of adventure. Sharing his wisdom and experiences as one of the most prolific writers in America, Bradbury gives plenty of practical tips and tricks on how to develop ideas, find your voice, and create your own style in this thoughtful volume. In addition to that, this is also an insight into the life and mind of this prolific writer, and a celebration of the act of writing. 

From the book: “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a land mine. The land mine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces back together. Now, it's your turn. Jump!”

28. The Kite and the String by Alice Mattison

One of the most common dilemmas an author faces is the struggle between spontaneity and control. Literary endeavors need those unexpected light-bulb moments, but a book will never be finished if you rely solely on inspiration. In The Kite and the String , Mattison has heard your cry for help and developed a guide for balancing these elements throughout the different stages of writing a novel or a memoir. Sure, there may be language and grammar rules that govern the way you write, but letting a bit of playfulness breathe life into your writing will see it take off to a whole new level. On the other hand, your writing routine, solitude, audience, and goal-setting will act as the strings that keep you from floating too far away. 

From the book: "Don’t make yourself miserable wishing for a kind of success that you wouldn’t enjoy if you had it."

29. How to Become a Successful Indie Author by Craig Martelle

This one’s for all the indie authors out there! Even if you’ve already self-published a book , you can still learn a lot from this guide by Craig Martelle , who has dozens of indie books — “over two and a half million words,” as he puts it — under his belt. With patience and expertise, Martelle walks you through everything you need to know: from developing your premise to perfecting your writing routine, to finally getting your work to the top of the Amazon charts.

From the book: “No matter where you are on your author journey, there’s always a new level you can reach. Roll up your sleeves, because it’s time to get to work.”

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30. How to Market a Book by Ricardo Fayet 

best way to learn creative writing books

From the book: “Here’s the thing: authors don’t find readers; readers find books . [...] Marketing is not about selling your book to readers. It’s about getting readers to find it.”

31. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

The full title of Handley’s all-inclusive book on writing is actually Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content — which should tell you something about its broad appeal. Not only does Handley have some great ideas on how to plan and produce a great story, but she also provides tips on general content writing, which comes in handy when it’s time to build your author platform or a mailing list to promote your book. As such, Everybody Writes is nothing like your other books on novel writing — it’ll make you see writing in a whole new light.

From the book: “In our world, many hold a notion that the ability to write, or write well, is a gift bestowed on a chosen few. That leaves us thinking there are two kinds of people: the writing haves — and the hapless, for whom writing well is a hopeless struggle, like trying to carve marble with a butter knife. But I don’t believe that, and neither should you.” 

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Books on writing poetry 

32. madness, rack, and honey by mary ruefle.

With a long history of crafting and lecturing about poetry, Ruefle invites the reader of Madness, Rack, and Honey to immerse themselves into its beauty and magic. In a powerful combination of lectures and musings, she expertly explores the mind and craft of writers while excavating the magical potential of poetry. Often a struggle between giving and taking, poetry is, according to Ruefle, a unique art form that reveals the innermost workings of the human heart.

From the book: “In one sense, reading is a great waste of time. In another sense, it is a great extension of time, a way for one person to live a thousand and one lives in a single lifespan, to watch the great impersonal universe at work again and again”

33. Threads by Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya, and Bhanu Kapil

If you’re looking for something that explores the philosophical aspects of writing, Threads asks big questions about writing and the position of the writer in an industry that has largely excluded marginalized voices. Where does the writer exist in relation to its text and, particularly in the case of poetry, who is the “I”? Examining the common white, British, male lens, this collection of short essays will make it hard for you not to critically consider your own perceptions and how they affect your writing process.

From the book: “It is impossible to consider the lyric without fully interrogating its inherent promise of universality, its coded whiteness.”

34. The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

Despite its eye-catching title, this short essay is actually a defense of poetry . Lerner begins with his own hatred of the art form, and then moves on to explore this love-hate dichotomy that actually doesn’t seem to be contradictory. Rather, such a multitude of emotions might be one of the reasons that writers and readers alike turn to it. With its ability to evoke feelings and responses through word-play and meter, poetry has often been misconceived as inaccessible and elitist; this is a call to change that perception. 

From the book: “All I ask the haters — and I, too, am one — is that they strive to perfect their contempt, even consider bringing it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences (like unheard melodies), it might come to resemble love.”

35. Poemcrazy by Susan G. Wooldridge

If you’ve ever felt that the mysterious workings of poetry are out of your reach and expressly not for you, Wooldridge is here to tell you that anyone who wants to can write poetry . An experienced workshop leader, she will help you find your inner voice and to express it through the written word. Giving you advice on how to think, use your senses, and practice your writing, Wooldrige will have you putting down rhyme schemes before you know it. 

From the book: “Writing a poem is a form of listening, helping me discover what's wrong or frightening in my world as well as what delights me.”

36. Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison

best way to learn creative writing books

From the book: “Don't be afraid to write crap — it makes the best fertilizer. The more of it you write, the better your chances are of growing something wonderful.”

Books about writing nonfiction

37. on writing well by william zinsser.

Going strong with its 30th-anniversary edition, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction is an evergreen resource for nonfiction writers which breaks down the fundamental principles of written communication. As a bonus, the insights and guidelines in this book can certainly be applied to most forms of writing, from interviewing to camp-fire storytelling. Beyond giving tips on how to stay consistent in your writing and voice, how to edit, and how to avoid common pitfalls, Zinsser can also help you grow as a professional writer, strengthening your career and taking steps in a new direction. 

From the book: “Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience—every reader is a different person.”

38. Essays by Lydia Davis

Ironically enough, this rather lengthy book is a celebration of brevity. As one of the leading American voices in flash-fiction and short-form writing, Davis traces her literary roots and inspirations in essays on everything, ranging from the mastodonic work of Proust to minimalism. In both her translations and her own writing, she celebrates experimental writing that stretches the boundaries of language. Playing with the contrast between what is said and what is not, this collection of essays is another tool to the writing shed to help you feel and use the power of every word you write.

From the book: “Free yourself of your device, for at least certain hours of the day — or at the very least one hour. Learn to be alone, all alone, without people, and without a device that is turned on. Learn to experience the purity of that kind of concentration. Develop focus, learn to focus intently on one thing, uninterrupted, for a long time.”

39. Essayism by Brian Dillon

In this volume, Dillon explores the often overlooked genre of essay writing and its place in literature’s past, present, and future. He argues that essays are an “experiment in attention” but also highlights how and why certain essays have directly impacted the development of the cultural and political landscape, from the end of the Middle Ages until the present day. At its heart, despite its many forms, subject areas, and purposes, essayism has its root in self-exploration. Dip in and out of Dillon’s short texts to find inspiration for your own nonfiction writing.

From the book: “What exactly do I mean, even, by 'style'? Perhaps it is nothing but an urge, an aspiration, a clumsy access of admiration, a crush.”

40. Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara

best way to learn creative writing books

From the book: “Write it down. Whatever it is, write it down. Chip it into marble. Type it into Microsoft Word. Spell it out in seaweeds on the shore. We are each of us an endangered species, delicate as unicorns.”

With a few of these books in your arsenal, you’ll be penning perfect plots in no time! And if you’re interested in learning more about the editing process, check these books on editing out as well!

ZUrlocker says:

11/03/2019 – 19:46

I'm familiar with several of these books. But for new authors, I urge you caution. It is very tempting to read so many books about writing that you never get around to writing. (I did this successfully for many years!) So I will suggest paring it down to just two books: Stephen King on Writing and Blake Snyder Save the Cat. Snyder's book is mostly about screenwriting, so you could also consider Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. Best of luck!

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25 Best Books on Writing Fiction: Learn How with These Essential Reads!

Kathy Edens

Kathy Edens


Many people have opinions about what craft books fiction writers need to read to take their game to a new level.

We've looked at suggestions from New York Magazine, Poets & Writers, Penguin Random House, Goodreads, author Jerry Jenkins, and others to create our top 25 best craft books for fiction writers. Here, in no particular order, are the results.

Final thoughts

1. the elements of style by william strunk, jr..

The Elements of Style

Surely this tops everyone’s list of must-have books on their shelves for perfecting their craft. First published in 1918, it is the style manual everyone consults when they want to improve their writing skills. This book was the first one to promote writing in plain English with your readers in mind.

2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing

An often-quoted treatise on writing by a best-selling author, you get part memoir, part instruction on how to write well according to the King of Horror. King reveals how he emerged as a writer and offers his best advice and tools of the trade for writers.

3. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Story by Robert McKee

Not only for screenwriters, this book includes all the inspiration and experience McKee puts into his wildly popular screenwriting workshops. Writers, producers, development executives, agents, and more attend his lectures and read his book to learn the "magic" of story construction and the relationship between structure and character.

4. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird

With a wonderful family story behind the reason for the title, Lamott uses her platform to give you a step-by-step guide on writing and managing the writer’s life. This book instructs you to keep your eyes open and inspires you through writing and life.

5. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew by Ursula K. Le Guin

Steering the Craft

Le Guin compares writing to "steering a craft" down a river of words. She challenges your definition of a story, requiring you to see a story as "change." This can result from conflict, per Le Guin, but also "relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, [or] parting."

6. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Writing the Breakout Novel

Both author and literary agent, Donald Maass offers practical guidance for the first-time novelist as well as already-published authors. He claims breakout novels contain the same elements regardless of genre and he can show you writing techniques to write the next big hit.

7. Story Genius: How to Outline Your Novel Using the Secrets of Brain Science by Lisa Cron

Story Genius

Using science-based insights, this book shows you how story structure is built into your brain and how to plumb the details to generate a story scene by scene. In fact, by the end, you’ll get a blueprint of how to write your best novel yet.

8. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers : How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Two professional editors teach you the techniques of editing that turns manuscripts into published novels or short stories. You learn the same processes an expert editor goes through to perfect your manuscript. You’ll also find plenty of examples from hundreds of books they’ve edited.

9. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones

Bringing together Zen meditation and writing uniquely, Goldberg believes that your writing practice is no different from your Zen practice. It’s backed by "two thousand years of studying the mind."

10. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Save the Cat

Told by a showbiz veteran, this book reveals the secrets you need to know to sell your script… if you can save the cat. This is just one of his immutable laws for making your idea more marketable and your script more compelling.

11. 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

45 Master Characters

Here you’ll find the most common male and female archetypes and instructions on how to use them to create original characters. Schmidt also includes how other authors used these archetypes to bring life to their novels, films, and television.

12. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

Stein on Writing

This book is subtitled "A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies." For both fiction and nonfiction writers, Stein’s advice is good for newcomers or seasoned authors, amateurs and professionals.

13. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Zen in the Art of Writing

This book of must-read essays on writing and creativity is full of inspiration from a master storyteller. Get practical tips on everything from finding original ideas to developing your own style and voice. You’ll also get a peek into Bradbury’s remarkable career.

14. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman

The Emotion Thesaurus

If one of your biggest problems is conveying your character’s emotions, read this book to learn how in a unique and compelling way. With 130 emotions highlighted, you’ll learn about possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each emotion.

15. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

The Writer's Journey

Says Vogler, "all stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies." Based on psychological ideas from Carl Jung and myth ideas from Joseph Campbell, authors use this book to understand what sells and to uncover a blueprint to create their own stories.

16. Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster

Aspects of the Novel

This collection of Forster’s lectures given at Cambridge University in the 1920s helped writers discuss craft elements like flat and round characters, elements of plot, and others still in use today. You’ll find these essays particularly useful for thinking about plot.

17. Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann

Letters to a Young Writer

National Book Award-winning author McCann shares his thoughts on craft, dialogue, characters, and even finding an agent and selecting an MFA program. This is today’s generation of writers’ fatherly guidance on living as a writer.

18. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

The Artist's Way

Have you ever heard of "Morning Pages"? This book guides you through a twelve-week process of building and strengthening your creative life by using her two tools—morning pages and the artist date. She also includes hundreds of inspiration exercises and activities to get you pumped.

19. The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman

The Business of Being a Writer

Everything you need to know about the publishing industry, you’ll find in this book. Especially if you want a long-term career of writing, read this book for in-depth and current information to help position yourself. You’ll learn fundamental business principles as well as how to use digital tools and take advantage of online media.

20. Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner

Pep Talks

Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and he offers concrete writing tips. Unlike other books that give vague and artistic explanations, this book give you actionable advice on everything from career choices to plot decisions.

21. 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron

2,000 to 10,000

Rachel Aaron explains exactly how she boosted her daily writing from 2,000 words to over 10,000 each day without sacrificing quality or increasing the time she had to write. Get practical writing advice to increase your daily output, among other areas like creating characters, plot structure, and more.

22. Write. Publish. Repeat: The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

Write. Publish. Repeat

Whether you’re an experienced writer or a beginner, you can learn exactly how these two authors became wildly successful indie publishers. They show you how to turn what you love into a logical, sustainable business.

23. Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K. M. Weiland

Structuring Your Novel

Besides her best-selling book Outlining Your Novel , Weiland lays out an understanding of proper story and scene structure. This book helps you identify common structural weaknesses and flip them into amazing strengths.

24. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist

You don’t need genius; just be yourself. Kleon claims creativity is everywhere and for everyone, and he gives you examples, exercises, and more to help you get in touch with your creative side. He also shares the 10 things he wishes someone had told him when he was starting out.

25. Your favorite dictionary/thesaurus

No list would be complete without your favorite dictionary/thesaurus combination. Whether you adhere to Oxford Dictionary all the way or you prefer Merriam-Webster, you can choose from tons of dictionaries/thesauruses online and in print to make sure you have the right word for every situation.

There are so many other great craft books out there that this list could conceivably double. What’s your go-to craft book that didn’t get mentioned? Let’s start a list in the comments below.

Looking for more Essential Reading lists? We've got you covered!

  • The Best Mystery Novels of All Time
  • The Best Dystopian Novels of All Time
  • The Best Sci-Fi Novels of All Time
  • The Best Historical Fiction Novels of All Time
  • The Best Horror Novels of All Time
  • The Best Thriller Novels of All Time
  • The Best Romance Novels of All Time
  • The Best Books Ever Written in Each Genre

Are you prepared to write your novel? Download this free book now:

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

So you are ready to write your novel. excellent. but are you prepared the last thing you want when you sit down to write your first draft is to lose momentum., this guide helps you work out your narrative arc, plan out your key plot points, flesh out your characters, and begin to build your world..

best way to learn creative writing books

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.

Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

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best way to learn creative writing books

Create a form in Word that users can complete or print

In Word, you can create a form that others can fill out and save or print.  To do this, you will start with baseline content in a document, potentially via a form template.  Then you can add content controls for elements such as check boxes, text boxes, date pickers, and drop-down lists. Optionally, these content controls can be linked to database information.  Following are the recommended action steps in sequence.  

Show the Developer tab

In Word, be sure you have the Developer tab displayed in the ribbon.  (See how here:  Show the developer tab .)

Open a template or a blank document on which to base the form

You can start with a template or just start from scratch with a blank document.

Start with a form template

Go to File > New .

In the  Search for online templates  field, type  Forms or the kind of form you want. Then press Enter .

In the displayed results, right-click any item, then select  Create. 

Start with a blank document 

Select Blank document .

Add content to the form

Go to the  Developer  tab Controls section where you can choose controls to add to your document or form. Hover over any icon therein to see what control type it represents. The various control types are described below. You can set properties on a control once it has been inserted.

To delete a content control, right-click it, then select Remove content control  in the pop-up menu. 

Note:  You can print a form that was created via content controls. However, the boxes around the content controls will not print.

Insert a text control

The rich text content control enables users to format text (e.g., bold, italic) and type multiple paragraphs. To limit these capabilities, use the plain text content control . 

Click or tap where you want to insert the control.

Rich text control button

To learn about setting specific properties on these controls, see Set or change properties for content controls .

Insert a picture control

A picture control is most often used for templates, but you can also add a picture control to a form.

Picture control button

Insert a building block control

Use a building block control  when you want users to choose a specific block of text. These are helpful when you need to add different boilerplate text depending on the document's specific purpose. You can create rich text content controls for each version of the boilerplate text, and then use a building block control as the container for the rich text content controls.

building block gallery control

Select Developer and content controls for the building block.

Developer tab showing content controls

Insert a combo box or a drop-down list

In a combo box, users can select from a list of choices that you provide or they can type in their own information. In a drop-down list, users can only select from the list of choices.

combo box button

Select the content control, and then select Properties .

To create a list of choices, select Add under Drop-Down List Properties .

Type a choice in Display Name , such as Yes , No , or Maybe .

Repeat this step until all of the choices are in the drop-down list.

Fill in any other properties that you want.

Note:  If you select the Contents cannot be edited check box, users won’t be able to click a choice.

Insert a date picker

Click or tap where you want to insert the date picker control.

Date picker button

Insert a check box

Click or tap where you want to insert the check box control.

Check box button

Use the legacy form controls

Legacy form controls are for compatibility with older versions of Word and consist of legacy form and Active X controls.

Click or tap where you want to insert a legacy control.

Legacy control button

Select the Legacy Form control or Active X Control that you want to include.

Set or change properties for content controls

Each content control has properties that you can set or change. For example, the Date Picker control offers options for the format you want to use to display the date.

Select the content control that you want to change.

Go to Developer > Properties .

Controls Properties  button

Change the properties that you want.

Add protection to a form

If you want to limit how much others can edit or format a form, use the Restrict Editing command:

Open the form that you want to lock or protect.

Select Developer > Restrict Editing .

Restrict editing button

After selecting restrictions, select Yes, Start Enforcing Protection .

Restrict editing panel

Advanced Tip:

If you want to protect only parts of the document, separate the document into sections and only protect the sections you want.

To do this, choose Select Sections in the Restrict Editing panel. For more info on sections, see Insert a section break .

Sections selector on Resrict sections panel

If the developer tab isn't displayed in the ribbon, see Show the Developer tab .

Open a template or use a blank document

To create a form in Word that others can fill out, start with a template or document and add content controls. Content controls include things like check boxes, text boxes, and drop-down lists. If you’re familiar with databases, these content controls can even be linked to data.

Go to File > New from Template .

New from template option

In Search, type form .

Double-click the template you want to use.

Select File > Save As , and pick a location to save the form.

In Save As , type a file name and then select Save .

Start with a blank document

Go to File > New Document .

New document option

Go to File > Save As .

Go to Developer , and then choose the controls that you want to add to the document or form. To remove a content control, select the control and press Delete. You can set Options on controls once inserted. From Options, you can add entry and exit macros to run when users interact with the controls, as well as list items for combo boxes, .

Adding content controls to your form

In the document, click or tap where you want to add a content control.

On Developer , select Text Box , Check Box , or Combo Box .

Developer tab with content controls

To set specific properties for the control, select Options , and set .

Repeat steps 1 through 3 for each control that you want to add.

Set options

Options let you set common settings, as well as control specific settings. Select a control and then select Options to set up or make changes.

Set common properties.

Select Macro to Run on lets you choose a recorded or custom macro to run on Entry or Exit from the field.

Bookmark Set a unique name or bookmark for each control.

Calculate on exit This forces Word to run or refresh any calculations, such as total price when the user exits the field.

Add Help Text Give hints or instructions for each field.

OK Saves settings and exits the panel.

Cancel Forgets changes and exits the panel.

Set specific properties for a Text box

Type Select form Regular text, Number, Date, Current Date, Current Time, or Calculation.

Default text sets optional instructional text that's displayed in the text box before the user types in the field. Set Text box enabled to allow the user to enter text into the field.

Maximum length sets the length of text that a user can enter. The default is Unlimited .

Text format can set whether text automatically formats to Uppercase , Lowercase , First capital, or Title case .

Text box enabled Lets the user enter text into a field. If there is default text, user text replaces it.

Set specific properties for a Check box .

Default Value Choose between Not checked or checked as default.

Checkbox size Set a size Exactly or Auto to change size as needed.

Check box enabled Lets the user check or clear the text box.

Set specific properties for a Combo box

Drop-down item Type in strings for the list box items. Press + or Enter to add an item to the list.

Items in drop-down list Shows your current list. Select an item and use the up or down arrows to change the order, Press - to remove a selected item.

Drop-down enabled Lets the user open the combo box and make selections.

Protect the form

Go to Developer > Protect Form .

Protect form button on the Developer tab

Note:  To unprotect the form and continue editing, select Protect Form again.

Save and close the form.

Test the form (optional)

If you want, you can test the form before you distribute it.

Protect the form.

Reopen the form, fill it out as the user would, and then save a copy.

Creating fillable forms isn’t available in Word for the web.

You can create the form with the desktop version of Word with the instructions in Create a fillable form .

When you save the document and reopen it in Word for the web, you’ll see the changes you made.


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