10 Great Books for Writers
I’ll begin with a caveat: the best book for any writer is the novel, story collection, or essay collection that inspires you to write. Every writer is a reader first. So by the time you begin reading books about writing, you should have been reading voraciously for years. The best education for a writer is reading widely and well.
When you are ready to sit down and write a novel, short stories, or essays, here are some wonderful books to enlighten and inspire. I have all of these books on my shelf and have often recommended them to students in my novel writing class.
Practical Books for Writers
Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, by Patricia Highsmith
You don’t have to be a writer of crime fiction or thrillers to learn a great deal from this slim, to-the-point guide on creating suspense in fiction. Highsmith’s advice on everything from plotting to getting past “snags” is invaluable to novelists in any genre. As a writer of literary fiction, I found that it provided me with a much-needed kick in the pants.
Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different, by Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk offers old advice in an entirely new way. The book is worth reading for the long chapter on Textures alone, featuring numerous ways to add texture to your writing. If you’re looking for ways to improve your writing style, this book is an accessible, entertaining, and practical must-read.
Novel Starter: 50 Days of Exercises and Advice to Get Your Novel off the Ground, by Fiction Attic Press
The title pretty much says it. This workbook includes daily writing prompts as well as a number of craft notes on the fundamental elements of fiction, including dialogue, point of view, setting, description, characterization, structure, and style. It’s a nuts-and-bolts workbook designed to inspire you and quickly get you into writing your novel.
On Writing:A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
By the time I got around to reading this modern classic by one of the most prolific writers of our time, I’d already published three novels. I wish I’d found it sooner! While King’s smart, down-to-earth memoir/writing lesson is a must-read for beginning novelists, fiction writers at any stage of their careers will find much to admire and be inspired by. Consider it a crash course in how to write fiction that people want to read.
First You Write a Sentence, by Joe Moran
This isn’t just a book about what makes a wonderful sentence (although it is that). It’s also a book about how sentences lead us into our writing, how sentences guide us to discovery and help an idea become a story. This book is an inspiration for those of us who geek out on language and a primer for anyone who wants to know how a great sentence is made, and why it matters.
Inspiring Books for Writers
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, by Jeff Vandermeer
This book by the New York Times bestselling author of the Southern Reach Trilogy and a whole bunch of other novels is a feast for the eyes. In additional to being a physically beautiful book, it’s packed with information on world-building, narrative forms and structures, plot devices, and more. It also includes writing exercises. While this doorstop is geared toward science fiction and fantasy writers, it’s so beautiful and joyful, I think every writer should have a copy. Just be sure it’s a hard copy! This is a big, colorful book. Kindle would not do it justice!
Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel, by Elizabeth George
After having huge success as a novelist, George takes you inside the process of how she wrote a particular novel, from the first inspiration (which for her is setting), all the way to the first editorial letter from her editor (who was also my editor at Random House for two books), on through revision. George’s approach is very location-specific and includes a careful building of character before she begins writing the book. An insightful behind-the-curtains look at how one very successful writer crafts a novel. Each chapter includes a suggested writing exercise.
According to Friedman, “Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences, they are the ones who keep writing.” While the other books on this list focus on narrative craft, Writing Past Dark is the book you’ll turn to when you feel gobsmacked by your novel, and you’re not sure how (or why) to continue.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Listen to this audiobook whenever you think, “Why am I doing this? Can I really do this?” It’s truly inspiring!
Letters to a Young Writer, by Colum McCann
This wide-ranging book by Pulitzer Prize winning author and long-time teacher McCann is one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read on writing. McCann talks about how to focus on the work instead of the ego, how to get past envy, how to work with an agent, and why exhaustion is an essential part of the writing process. If you’re in a slump, this brilliant little book will pull you out of it.
Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels and two story collections. She helps writers complete their first novel in the comprehensive nine-month program, Novel in Nine.