These are my favorite books on the writer, the writer’s spirit and the writing life.


IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: A BOOK ABOUT ART, INDEPENDENCE AND SPIRIT

By Brenda Ueland

Reading Ueland’s book gave me the first glimpse of myself as a writer. She generously shares her own ambitions, love for long walks, and her desire to write, no matter what anyone else thought. I felt I was spending time with a kind and gentle friend with an indomitable spirit. Written in 1938 but still speaks to the beginning writer’s soul.

 

ON BECOMING A NOVELIST

By John Gardner

Often described as the place to start, particularly for readers who want to make the leap to becoming a writer. Gardner was almost as famous as a teacher as he was for his own writing. He illustrates his points with excerpts from classic works of literature, and covers the gamut of techniques of good writing.

 

THE ARTIST’S WAY

By Julia Cameron

Even if if strikes you as corny, anyone making the transition from business writer to creative writing should read The Artist’s Way, and yes, do the twelve-week program Cameron offers. She taught me the concept of an artist’s date with herself, and gave me the courage and permission to take creative risks, explore unfamiliar territory, and try new things, from yoga to night snorkeling, all of which has, in unexpected ways, informed and enriched my life and my writing.

 

WRITING DOWN THE BONES: FREEING THE WRITER WITHIN, 2nd Edition

By Natalie Goldberg

One of the most popular writing coaches, Natalie Goldberg brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice and helps new writers see that the mere act of writing is its own reward.

 

BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE

By Anne Lamott

This is what Anne Lamott says about the inspiration for her well-known book: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

 

ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING: ESSAYS ON CREATIVITY

By Ray Bradbury

“Bradbury, all charged up, drunk on life, joyous with writing, puts together nine past essays on writing and creativity and discharges every ounce of zest and gusto in him.”–Kirkus Reviews

Zen and the Art of Writing is purely and simply Bradbury’s love song to his craft.”–Los Angeles Times

 

ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT

By Stephen King

Even if you don’t read thrillers, Stephen King’s memoir is a master class on the tools of the writer’s craft. A fascinating read, and how writing spurred his recovery from a near-fatal accident fifteen years ago.

 

DIAGRAMING SENTENCES

By Deborah White Broadwater

This is the only book on this list I haven’t read—the nuns taught me too well. I include it because I think knowing how to diagram a sentence helps an author avoid awkward and unintentionally ambiguous sentences. Only 48 pages. With exercises— and answers!

 

THE ART OF FICTION: NOTES ON CRAFT FOR YOUNG WRITERS

By John Gardner

Often described as the place to start, particularly for readers who want to make the leap to becoming a writer. Gardner was almost as famous as a teacher as he was for his own writing. He illustrates his points with excerpts from classic works of literature, and covers the gamut of techniques of good writing.

 

READING LIKE A WRITER: A GUIDE FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE BOOKS AND FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO WRITE THEM (P.S.)

By Francine Prose

From amazon.com: “In Reading Like a Writer, Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the work of the very best writers—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov— and discovers why their work has endured. She takes pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is deeply moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. She looks to John Le Carré for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue, to Flannery O’Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail, and to James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield for clever examples of how to employ gesture to create character. She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted.”

 

HOW TO WRITE A SENTENCE: AND HOW TO READ ONE

By Stanley Fish

I love this book, and the fact that it recognizes that sentences are “good” sentences in their own context, which helps the business writer understand the essential differences in good dramatic sentences. Great illustrations of how every sentence has a plot, and why long sentences and short sentences work to accomplish different effects.

HOW FICTION WORKS

By James Wood

Perhaps a bit high falutin’, but worth the read—and more than once. From amazon. com: In the tradition of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel, How Fiction Works is a scintillating study of the magic of fiction-an analysis of its main elements and a celebration of its lasting power. Here one of the most prominent and stylish critics of our time looks into the machinery of storytelling to ask some fundamental questions: What do we mean when we say we “know” a fictional character? What constitutes a telling detail? When is a metaphor successful? Is Realism realistic? Why do some literary conventions become dated while others stay fresh?

 

By Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter writes as cogently about good writing as anyone out there, and his ruminations on the state of literature help the new writer avoid some of the pitfalls of modern literature while crafting stories where protagonists are active participants and shapers of their stories, rather than victims of their times.

 

THE ART OF SUBTEXT: BEYOND PLOT

By Charles Baxter

One of the hardest things to master is subtext, and Baxter’s work amply illustrates the unspoken, the suppressed, and the secreted in fiction. He is a master of detail and shows how what is displayed illuminates what is not.