10 Favorite Books for Writers

[Update: See the post 37 Favorite Books on Writing for a list that includes recommendations from readers’ comments.]

I am following with excitement writer Michelle Johnson’s journey toward opening a book store! Yesterday, she posted this announcement:

“I just came back from the City of Virginia Beach offices yesterday, armed with my new business license.

“The store name, ‘Cozy Corner’, is officially mine. Thank goodness! I have spent countless hours designing business cards, store signage and other stationary not even considering that I might not be able to use the name. I also secured the website cozycorneronline (dot) com, which I am working away at designing and hope to have up and running within a week.” Read More

Michelle has asked for ideas for writing reference books to stock in her store, so I am sharing my list, below, and I urge you either to share yours here, as well, or share them on her site.

I limited myself to the first ten that came to mind, so I know I am missing some really good ones, and they are alphabetical, rather than in order of preference (ranking them would be just too hard). Enjoy!

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird with Annie (PBS profile)

Elements Of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card

The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, by Joyce Carol Oates

The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction, Volume 1: Building Blocks

Page after Page: Discover the confidence & passion you need to start writing & keep writing (no matter what), by Heather Sellers

Publish Your Nonfiction Book, by Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco

Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz
Elmore Leonard’s Contribution

Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, by Terry Brooks

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg

Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, by Peter Elbow
Video: “On Writing”

On a separate note, be sure to read Kate Grace’s interview with writer Kelsey Ketch, where Kelsey divulges her favorite curse word (you’ll never guess).

41 thoughts on “10 Favorite Books for Writers

  1. Ooh, here are a couple I really like.

    The Lie That Tells a Truth by John Dufresne.

    The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

    I know there are more, but I can’t think of them right now.

    • Alexandra, thank you! I remember really liking The First Five Pages. I haven’t read the one by Dufresne, but it’s now on my “to read” list. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, Rebecca! I haven’t read that one, but I love the title, and I just put a hold on it at the library. I owe you an email. πŸ™‚

  2. I’ll have to see about picking up some of these books πŸ™‚ . I also like ‘Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal’ by Regina Brook and ‘Starting from Scratch’ by Rita Mae Brown. And the one book that never leaves my tableside – ‘The Little Red Writing Book’ by Brandon Royal.

    Oh, and little successes – I was only online twice for about five minutes each! I spent the day drawing sketchs for Death’s Island (something I haven’t done in a year!). You can see them on my Death’s Island page if you wish.

    • Kelsey, your sketches for Death’s Island are wonderful! That’s my goal, too–to spend a lot less time online when I do go online.

      Thanks so much for the book suggestions! They all sound great, and I’m eager to read them myself.

  3. Wonderful list, Lisa! Some I have, and some I’m going to have to get. I love Peter Elbow! And such exciting news from Michelle! Thanks to you, I just started following her blog, too.

    Here are a couple more from me:

    Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg

    One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft by Susan M. Tiberghien

    The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

    There are probably a few more, but those are the ones that are in easy reach of my desk. Okay, I’m going back to writing now! πŸ˜‰

    • Beth, what great additions! Thank you. I’ve been meaning to read Old Friend from Far Away for awhile now, and you have given me the impetus I needed. πŸ™‚

      Peter Elbow was hugely influential in my early writing, in part because the first graduate program I was in used his Writing Without Teachers for its freshman composition program.

  4. Lisa, you are one of my most cherished Twitter Tutor/Writer/Friends, so I had to respond to the announcement on your blog about writer Michelle Johnson’s journey toward opening a book store.

    What a wonderful business venture! I wish her great success! Her plans sound wonderful–I only wish I lived near Virginia Beach! Many days I could use a cozy corner writing respite away from normal distractions, to really let the muse chat me up.

    I’ve only been writing (officially) since April, so I haven’t even read 10 books on writing to suggest…but I’m currently reading Elizabeth Berg’s “Escaping into the Open” and just started The Passionate Writer chapter–which I can tell is going to be a tremendous help to me. Ms. Berg was the keynote for a writer’s workshop sponsored by the Hub City Writer’s Project in Spartanburg, SC that I recently attended.

    Thanks, Lisa, for all your posts. It’s always a good day when I can read them.

    • I love the blog post you wrote in response to this! Thank you so much for your thoughts and for the link to Escaping into the Open, which definitely looks like a book I will enjoy.

      You helped to make this a good day for me, Didi. πŸ™‚

  5. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is a MUST for writers in terms of grammatical issues. Also, my all-time favorite writing book is On Writing by Stephen King. LOVE IT!!!

  6. Lots of books here that I haven’t heard of1 Will have to check them out! I think Bird by Bird is my all-time fave, but also really love Natalie Goldberg’s various books, The Lie that Tells the Truth and Stephen King’s. As for something that hasn’t been mentioned, I really love….

    Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and The Fire in Fiction both by Donald Maass

    Creating Character Emotions: Writing Compelling, fresh approaches that express your characters’ true feelings by Ann Hood

    Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin

    Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King

    The Right to Write by Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way)

    and The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes

    I know this convo is just about stocking fave craft books, but I would add that even more important is reading widely (and like a writer…trying to figure out how your fave authors did what they did to get the effect they achieved….and, of course, actually writing. Write, write, write and read, read, read.)


    • Ooooh, thank you! These look wonderful. I have read some of them (I remember especially enjoying Keyes’ book), but certainly not all.

      Your advice about reading widely is so important. I’m really trying lately to read outside my usual comfort zone–different genres, authors, etc. I also really enjoy taking powerful paragraphs and pulling them apart, figuring out the structure, trying to emulate them. You’ve reminded me that I want to do more of that. πŸ™‚

  7. Love your List, Lisa. And love some of the other suggestions in the comments. I’d also add Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.” There is so much wisdom in it, not just for writing, but for life.

  8. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

    Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron

    Don’t Sabotage Your Submission or Don’t Murder Your Mystery, both by Chris Roerden

    The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

  9. On Writing by Stephen King

    Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

    The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

    A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

    • Sandra, thanks! Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott both write in a way that makes me feel they are good friends, just sitting on my shelf, ready to cheer me on. What a gift they have.

  10. Oh, wow! Thank you all so much! I’m going to compile all of these suggestions in a list later this week to share. I wish I didn’t have an index to work on this morning so that I could reply to each of these terrific comments now (not to mention sample some of the suggestions), but I will do so later today.

  11. Hi, Lisa!

    Another GREAT resource is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. I don’t read his books, but i love his take on the writer’s life! And CONGRATS on your progress toward writing each morning! I think you officially have a habit :-).

  12. Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write” is by far my most beloved writing book. Reading it has the same effect on me that V. Woolf does- it just makes me want to run around outside and Create.

    I really want to look up this “Snoopy” one now…

    • The Snoopy book is delightful! I haven’t read Ueland’s book–thanks very much for the suggestion. (I also love Virginia Woolf.) πŸ™‚

  13. Guess I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate, but: if you are not the type of reader who can devour a couple of books a week, how useful do you think reading a book about how to write is, compared to reading the kind of book you want to write? In my opinion, the ratio should weigh pretty heavily towards non-writing books, like 10-to-1 or more. I guess I’m just amazed at the proliferation of writing books out there–reading is time-consuming, and ever more so in our culture of constant distraction. How many writing books is enough?

    • Yes, that’s a very good point. A lot of my favorite writing books are ones I’ve read here and there over the years, and that I keep around for dipping into for inspiration and ide when I need them (and I also teach writing, so I love seeing what other writers suggest in that regard). They are a reference shelf of sorts. I guess I’m also the kind of reader who does devour a couple of books a week, though, so the non-writing books still definitely win out. πŸ™‚ I can definitely see how someone could fall into the trap of focusing on books about writing to the exclusion of other reader.

      Thanks for the good perspective.

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