Top 10 Books on Writing

Over the past few weeks, several people have asked about my favorite books on writing, and I figured perhaps a few of you might be interested in my top books on writing as well. Below are my favorite books about writing and creativity...

My Top Ten Books on Writing
  1. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. This tiny book packs a punch. Not only is it full of solid advice ("Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.") but Dillard also finds a way to breath exquisite prose into a book that is about so much more than just writing. One of my favorite passages reads, "The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged."
  2. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. My copy (which is actually Lucas's copy... shhh...) is dogeared and filled with markings, highlighted passages. It is a classic title which most who have studied writing in some way or another have heard about. Goldberg champions mindfulness, having a (flexible) practice, and a healthy view of writing and relationships between the self and the world around. She writes, "I want someone to know me. We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves, we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us." and later in the same chapter, Artistic Stability, "If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you." Yes, yes, yes.
  3. The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. This is a recent favorite of mine. It's the kind of book that takes you to a little coffee shop with a trusted mentor, someone who tells it like it is, doesn't let you get away with anything, but who smiles kindly and pats you on the shoulder and tells you that it'll all be okay, you just need to work hard and be persistent. In this day and age of social media and likes and followers, Keyes words strike me as timely: "Popularity is a serious brake on artistic expression of any kind. If people like you - and you expect them to like you - the risk of doing anything controversial, or saying anything revealing, is profound." 
  4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Yet another classic, I have yet to meet anyone who dislikes this book! I've read this book several times, cover to cover and also in sections when needed. I read it first at a pivotal point in my life, at a time when I was reading anything and everything by Lamott. I'm not the first person to say it, but through her books she held my hand and walked me through the tender early days of sobriety, but also the early days as a writer when I wasn't quite ready to take myself seriously. In reading this book, it felt like I had someone in my corner cheering for me. 
  5. Stop Worrying, Start Writing: How to Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination by Sarah Painter. I have long loved Sarah Painter's podcast, The Worried Writer, and was thrilled when she put out this non-fiction title. It's full of helpful tips, advice for showing up for your work, and focuses on writing as a practice. I love this gem from Painter: "At some point, if I ever wanted to be free of this continual self-doubt and second-guessing and terrible neediness, I was going to have to decide that I was good enough. That I deserved to be a writer. Not that I was instantly amazing and deserved success, not that I deserved to be universally adored, but that my words, my writing, my voice, my stories were worth creating. For myself."
  6. the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This quick and easy read is a treasure to keep on hand for when you feel resistance lurking around your work space. It's a title that doesn't necessarily focus on writing, per say, but on creativity and the resistance that keeps us from getting to, and doing the work. This is perhaps my favorite section of the book: "Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it's the easiest to rationalize. We don't tell ourselves, 'I'm never going to write my symphony.' Instead we say, 'I'm going to write my symphony; I'm just going to start tomorrow.'" So true!
  7. Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See. Carolyn See gives you a step by step guide to changing your life in the most literary way, from suggestion writing to authors you admire, to writing a thousand words five days a week for the rest of your life. Her suggestions are spot on and her humor is what kept me turning the pages. She tells you flat out you might not like her advice, but you'll love the results. The final words in her book read, "If you love this world and this craft, they will lift you to a place you can't begin to imagine." I've done more for less... so I'll take her advice any day of the week.
  8. Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. Honest, personal, and to the point, Still Writing is broken into three parts: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. Each section contains mini essays pertaining to each of those three writing processes. Middles helped me through some daunting moments mid novel, and made buying the book a second time (because my first copy accidentally got donated...) totally worthwhile! A favorite quote of mine is, "I've learned to be wary of those times when I think I know what I'm doing. I've discovered that my best work comes from the uncomfortable but fruitful feeling of not having a clue - of being worried, secretly afraid, even convinced that I'm on the wrong track." Completely reassuring to hear this one from one of my favorite authors.
  9. Outlining Your Novel by K.M.Weiland. I used this book, and the workbook companion, to plot out my current novel. I didn't use every question or technique, but it helped me in key ways to create complex characters in ways that I haven't been able to achieve in my other works of fiction. There's something to be said about reading a book at the exact time you need it, and that was the case with this book. 
  10. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. This may be my favorite book on writing, ever. Ueland is kind and generous in her writing, and encourages writers to be playful and experiment and to find joy in the work. She writes, "Everyone is talented, because everybody who is human has something to express." and “Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his *true* self and not from the self he thinks he *should* be. ” and “No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.” There is no better book to curl up with if you want a reminder of the benefits of writing, for yourself, from your heart.
There are so many books on writing out there, and so many I haven't read yet! Story Genius, Wired for Story, The Plot Whisperer, and Steven King's classic On Writing, are all on to-be-read list. I hope I've introduced you to a few titles you may not have heard about... what are your favorite books on writing and creativity?

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  1. I enjoyed Bird by Bird very much and also Stephen King's On Writing. I've looked at "If You Want to Write." Maybe that should be my next pick.

  2. It's funny, I don't consider myself a writer and yet I've read three of these books. : ) When I was a teacher my favorite subject to teach was writing and I still love this discipline so much. One of my favorites is Georgia Heard's Writing Towards Home. I am going to have to check out Making a Literary Life. Thanks for the suggestions, Corinne!

  3. thanks for the list, I've read three of them and heard about some of the others. I'm always up for some new reading material :)


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