48 Books on Writing for Writers

Thank you to everyone who has helped to add to this growing list. Please leave more ideas in the comments, and happy reading and writing!

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, by Charles Baxter

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

Creating Character Emotions: Writing Compelling, Fresh Approaches that Express your Characters’ True Feelings, by Ann Hood

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

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

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

Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure, by Jack M. Bickham

The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by by Donald Maass

Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, by Elizabeth Berg

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

The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass

The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman

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

Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver

Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Lie that Tells a Truth, by John Dufresne

The Little Red Writing Book: For Writing Aficionados from all Walks of Life!, by Brandon Royal

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

On Writing, by Stephen King

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

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

Page after Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing (no matter what), by Heather Sellers

A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver

Publish Your Nonfiction Book, by Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco

The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron

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

The Scene Book, by Sandra Scofield

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

Shut Up & Write!, by Judy Bridges

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

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

Starting from Scratch, by Rita Mae Brown

Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

Wonderbook:The Illustrative Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, by Jeff VanderMeer

Words Are My Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Writer’s Little Helper, by James V. Smith, Jr.

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, by Hallie Ephron

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

Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal, by Regina Brooks

The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

Writing Picture Books, by Ann Whitford Paul

Writing Spiritual Books, by Hal Zina Bennett

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass

Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, by Peter Elbow


This post is part of the Summer Writing Reset blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

5 Resources on Keeping Writing Notebooks

How to Keep a Writing Notebook: A Peek into the Notebooks of Famous Writers & Thinkers

Links and info galore.

“In Joan Didion’s essay on why she keeps a notebook, she writes, ‘How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook…Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.’

Ultimately, a notebook is a portable laboratory where we can record our own unique perspective on the world, jot down the things in our lives that awaken our Muse, and experiment with new ideas.” Read more

Morning Pages (from Julia Cameron)

“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” Read more (with video)

Never Be Blocked: Keep a Writer’s Notebook

“Such a notebook may include observations, ideas, notes about projects, emotions, overheard dialogue, dreams, ‘what-I-did-today’ accounts, notes kept during a trip or to record a particular harrowing experience such as a home renovation. Whereas in our pre-teens we might have written, ‘Today I went to the doctor,” a writer’s notebook may contain a description of the attendant at the parking lot, the medical assistant’s odd questions, the doctor’s attitude, physical details about the office itself, and/or an account of the discomfort of the procedure performed. Read more

On Keeping a (Writing) Notebook (or Three)

“In my ‘official’ writing notebook I jot down ideas for writing projects, make lists for writing projects, and write sketches of writing projects. Often I’ll start writing towards a draft but without any sense of where I’m headed. Writing by hand takes the pressure off: I can’t send ripped-out notebook pages to The New Yorker. But when a piece moves from my notebook to my computer and eventually (sometimes) to publication, I can see that long passages are often exactly the same as when I wrote them by hand the first time.” Read more

The Writer’s Notebook: A Place to Dream, Wonder, and Explore

This pdf from the National Council of Teachers of English is designed for classroom teachers but offers plenty of inspiration for writers of all ages. The main article is by my hands-down favorite author about encouraging young writers: Ralph Fletcher.

“The first few days of school I model with my own notebook, showing students my pages covered with words, quotes, drawings, and lists. I keep it close by for easy jotting. I also surround my students with wonderful literature —poetry, memoir, and nonfiction. As we do our read-alouds, students might pull out their notebooks to write down a line they love, an idea that’s been triggered, a snip of conversation, or just about anything.” Read more


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Tell yourself the audacious thing: that what you notice matters

Header photo by maegen02 via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“[N]otice what you noticed. No, go further: tell yourself the audacious thing that because you noticed, it matters.” ~ Linda LaPlante

Back when I was a classroom teacher, I overheard a conversation during those minutes before class when students wait with varying degrees of patience for the clock to signal the time to begin.

“I think parts of my brain are missing.” This came from a tousle-haired, thoughtful young man in the second row. I said something about that being more true for me all the time, thinking he was talking about poor memory or lack of attention.

“I don’t feel envy. Not ever. I don’t think I ever have. That’s not normal.”

This was not what I expected to hear. The students in front of him were silent, as was I.

“You’re lucky,” another student told him. “It’s not a good feeling.”

The second hand struck twelve.

Why did those 30 seconds or so stay with me to the point that I’ve remembered the scene and the words and the faces long after I’ve forgotten the topic of the class that day or even the names of the students involved?

Alice LaPlante offers an answer in The Making of a Story:

“[C]reative work comes from noticing. You are being given a warning, an intimation of something, and that something is the creative urge, sometimes buried quite deep in your subconscious, telling you that something matters, there’s information and intelligence there to be considered, material to uncover there, memories and associations to explore.” (p. 36).

This is why many successful writers keep notebooks, to record those intimations, to write ourselves a reminder of what we’ve noticed. LaPlante tells us that, as writers, we’ve “always noticed”:

“There have always been things that caught your attention, piqued your interest, or otherwise caused you to pay closer attention to something than perhaps someone else would. Indeed, the very individual nature of noticing is your greatest strength as a writer.” (p. 35, emphasis added)

Do you ever find that you can’t explain to others why a conversation or an event or even the look in the eyes of the person crossing the street in front of you is interesting, memorable, even important? When you try to share the import of what you notice, do others look at you as though you are speaking in Klingon?

What if your drive to notice is a strength, not something that’s weird, and, what if instead of trying to talk about it, you write it down?

What have you noticed recently?

Did you tell yourself it matters, even if you don’t know why?

Did you write it down?

Perhaps one of the best, small changes we can make during a self-styled writing retreat is to begin to keep a notebook of what we notice. To be continued...


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

On Overstimulation (and writing longhand)

“The worst thing for me is overstimulation. Checking e-mail manically can do it. Getting on the phone really can do it. I have learned that I must protect myself from that overstimulation and get to the page…” ~ Dani Shapiro

The words above are by author Dani Shapiro from “How I Write” in The Writer (Feb. 2011). Some distractions are just that: momentary detours from our main focus. But others are sources of overstimulation. They not only lead the mind astray, they also rev it up in unproductive ways.

My guess is that what is overstimulating for one person (a phone call, for example) may be just what is needed for someone else to get motivated, so it is useful to pay attention to our energy highs and lows throughout the day, to see what precedes them, what is overstimulating.

Writing that has “no business looking neat”

Here’s another quotation from the same piece:

“In recent years, I have started writing longhand when I’m embarking on something. There’s something about writing longhand in spiral-bound notebooks where you have to allow it to be messy. You have to cross something out as opposed to cut and paste it. There’s something about writing on the computer that can make something look neat when it has no business looking neat. I like the process of writing longhand. There’s a freedom to it…”

You can learn more about Dani Shapiro at her website (loaded with essays and interviews) and on her blog, Moments of Being.

Questions for Reflection

  • What is your experience with being under- or overstimulated in terms of writing and creativity?
  • Do you find the experience of writing longhand to be different from writing on a computer?
  • Do you ever suffer from wanting writing to be or look neat when it has no business being so?

DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Writing Retreat Reading Material

What are your favorite books on writing?

I’ve been slowly doing some blog housekeeping, and one post I came across recently was a list of 37 favorite books on writing, culled from both my own list at the time (2011) and readers’ comments. Help me to update the list by adding your own favorites in the comments, below, and I’ll add them—and those mentioned in the “37” post comments—to a new list. Can we reach 50?


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.