Whether you’re looking to fight off productivity demons, or need some real guidance on the process, here’s a list of what I believe to be the best books on writing fiction and why they’re essential.
Writing Down The Bones
by Natalie Goldberg
In the foreword to this book Judith Guest says: “It would be wonderfully efficient and clever for us writers to have to learn our lessons only once; failing that, a copy of Writing Down The Bones on a table nearby could save a lot of grief. It could even save your life.” Well said, Judith.
Pep Talks For Writers
by Grant Faulkner
Concrete writing tips from the Executive Director of National November Writing Month. While so many books on writing wax on the vague and artistic side of things, Faulkner gives actionable tips about everything from career choices to plot decisions.
by Stephen King
Of course the king of horror has a few things to say about the act of writing, as he should considering the guy churns out a book almost every year. This one reads more like a memoir but is my favorite when it comes to advice on living the life of a writer and commitment to your craft. My copy is so heavily underlined it’s ridiculous and I don’t plan on ever parting with it.
The Architecture of The Novel
by Jane Vandenburgh
After hearing a talented writer say she received most of her (informal) writing education from Jane Vandenburgh, I had to pick up a copy for myself. What follows is her take on how to write a novel, which is incredibly accurate.
by Elizabeth Gilbert
If you want to be inspired creatively, this is a must-read. Gilbert, who you probably know as the author of Eat, Pray, Love, talks all about process, getting over your fears, and her thoughts on how ideas work (which is fascinating). I actually didn’t like EPL, but found myself unable to put this book down. A few podcasts were created when the book came out that are also equally worth a listen.
Bird By Bird
by Anne Lamott
Not unlike King’s On Writing, this book gives a wealth of information on craft and more practical matters (like publishing) in a compact volume that reads more memoir than lesson book. It’s widely considered to be one of the best books on writing and worth having in your arsenal.
The Writer’s Chapbook
by a ton of writers you’ve heard of, edited by George Plimpton…
I stumbled upon a used copy of this book in one of my favorite bookstores and I find myself picking it up way more often than anticipated. This great little volume is packed with insights from some of the best writers of our generation on things like work habits, characters, beginnings and endings, reading, and living the life of a writer. You can literally pick it up, read a one-liner quote from an esteemed novelist, then get back to work. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.
How The Light Gets In
by Pat Schneider
You likely haven’t heard of Mrs. Schneider in your research for books on writing, but she is certainly worth a read. This book also reads like a memoir but is packed with her ideas and practice on writing as a form of spirituality. If you enjoyed Big Magic, this book goes even deeper in that same vein of creativity and spirituality all rolled into one.
The Elements of Style
by William Strunk Jr.
Not the most inspiring books on writing, but a requirement nonetheless. This short little volume will only take you a few hours to get through (if you’re a slow reader like me, otherwise even less) and will answer all of your questions about when to use what punctuation and all those other tricky formatting questions you find yourself Googling mid-sentence.
Letters To A Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke
This is the essential and one of the more original books on creativity. It’s short, it’s magical, and it’s meant to be underlined. Summary: A young aspiring poet writes to Rilke, and he responds with some of the best advice you’ll ever hear. Do yourself a favor and get a copy you can mark up and re-read on a day when you’re feeling less than inspired.