Best Books for Writers

In the beginning of July I had some splendid writing-days consisting of me writing my own story over/across/on-top-of a beautiful story I was reading (almost like a palimpsest). I read and wrote side by side, letting the words I read inspire & drive my own thoughts and feelings.

old manuscript containing the earliest surviving writings by Archimedes

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Poets & Writers have made a list of 79 essential books for creative writers. You can find the list here

  • Have you read any of these books?
  • Do you know of books that are not on the list but should have been?
  • Is it possible to become a better writer by reading about writing?

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. birds fly says:

    The only one on the list that I’ve read is Annie Dillard’s book, and that was more because I like her writing so much than from a desire to read a book about writing. I don’t know that reading about writing helps you become a better writer. After a point, all the advice begins to sound the same and reading it ends up feeling like procrastinating what really helps: the actual act of writing. I do sometimes enjoy reading interviews with my favorite authors, and hearing about what inspires them and how they work. I don’t think this helps my writing, per se, but it can make me feel better about my own habits and struggles. The best advice I’ve heard, and possibly the most frequently repeated, is to read a lot, far and wide. Eventually all that reading diffuses into your own writing and makes it stronger. And it seems like, from reading the first part of your post, that you’ve discovered this already.

    1. Sigrun says:

      procrastinating … yes, you’re right, its very easy to stumble off & lose track instead of staying with the writing. Even when I know I have to focus I let myself be distracted, I actually suspect my brain to scan the world for possible disturbances … opening up for almost everything as long as it prevent me for writing – (who needs enemies with a brain like this???)

      1. birds fly says:

        Haha…I know exactly what you mean.

  2. KM Huber says:

    I have more books on writing than is necessary, although many are gifts and past teaching texts. . Perhaps the gifts are hints that I have not taken???

    Seriously, the books on writing that have stayed with me are by Anne Lamont, Natalie Goldberg, John Gardner, Annie Dillard (Living by Fiction as well as The Writing Life), Stephen King. I’m sure there are more on that list but those are the writers that come to mind.

    As for books not on the list: one book that was a gift and proved to be quite a treasure is called Becoming a Writer by Dorothy Brandea; it is a 1934 text with an introduction by John Gardner. When I was still teaching writing, Donald Murray’s Write to Learn was a constant companion.

    I agree that after a certain point, reading books on writing is more about an appreciation for the writer rather than for the information. Overall, reading is essential for every writer for the rhythm of writing is in the words, and every writer’s rhythm is a variation on that theme.


    1. Sigrun says:

      Very wise!
      Thank you!

  3. A good way to learn about writing is to read books by excellent writers. Not just read for enjoyment–that, of course–but also to read closely, to consider why the book or poem or play works. To discern, on your own, how the writer made the writing happen.

    Reading books on writing can be helpful. I have many favorite writers-on-writing books, some of which are on the P&W list: Hugo’s marvelous little essays in The Triggering Town, Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, King’s book On Writing, Bird by Bird–though it isn’t one of my favorites–and Annie Dillard’s book; Addonizzio’s & Laux’s The Poet’s Companion, Donald Hall’s books, especially Life Work, Writing Well, and To Read a Poem, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (for inspiration) and Turco’s book on forms; then there is the classic book If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and the equally classic Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. I also liked Wendy Bishop’s Released into Language (though it is aimed more at teachers, as is Climb into the Bell Tower by Myra Cohn Livingston–but both are still useful). For inspiration and instruction I recommend Tell It Slant by Miller & Paola.

    Those ought to keep anyone busy for awhile!

    1. Sigrun says:

      oh yes – thank you very much!

  4. Rebecca H. says:

    Let’s see — I’ve read the Stephen King, the Francine Prose, and the Charles Baxter, so not that many, although I own a few more than I haven’t yet read. What a great resource! I also liked John Mullan’s How Novel’s Work, which I don’t think was on the list.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you!
      How did you find Francine Prose’s book?

      1. Rebecca H. says:

        I liked it. I enjoyed her insights into other writers and how they work.

  5. Novroz says:

    I have only read by Stephen King. I think for writing purpose, those books are great but still what matter most is idea….that is the hardest part.

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