Books on craft

There are literally thousands of books out there on writing; what follows serves only as a kind of literary hors d’ouevres to whet your appetite for more.

Hooked, Les Edgerton. This is hands-down my favorite book on writing. Ostensibly about how to write compelling leads—to scenes, chapters, and entire books—by the time Edgerton is done, he has lead the reader through an entire mini-seminar on the craft of writing fiction. I recommend it to every writer with whom I work.

Finding Your Voice, Les Edgerton. I’m not as in love with this book as I am Hooked, but try his exercise on writing the same descriptive passage from the viewpoint of several different characters. It’s a great technique to help you find what makes each of your characters unique..

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. This book should be on every serious writer’s reference shelf. I re-read it each time I start a revision.

On Writing, Stephen King. However you may feel about King’s books, the man knows his craft. And this title, which is part memoir, gives a bracing dose of tough love to aspiring writers. He is especially relentless about the need to master grammar; and I’m delighted to note that he shares my allergy to adverbs.

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott. This book isn’t so much a treatise on craft as it is a warm, funny, generous, and ultimately inspirational book on what it’s like to be a writer. Read this when you the “panic bird” of doubt, as the poet Sylvia Plath called it, is trying to convince you that you are stupid to even try to write.

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg. Her freewriting technique is definitely worth trying when your creative juices have gone dry. And due to her insistence that writers do their best work in cafes and coffeehouses, I think Starbucks ought to pay her some kind of commission.

The Power of Point of View, by Alicia Rasley. Rasley is not only a romance writer but also an MFA, and this book shows her academic roots. I happen to like that tone, but it may not be for everyone. She also parses viewpoint differently than I do, and we have different perspectives on how to apply POV to children’s literature. Nevertheless, I think this is an excellent analysis of point of view that can help you decide how to use POV in your book to achieve a specific effect.

Advanced Plotting, Chris Eboch. This book by my fellow instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature is admirably straightforward. Follow her clear-cut advice and you will be able to rescue your book from the plot doldrums.

The Midnight Disease, Alice Flaherty. This is an odd book by a Harvard neurologist about the compulsion to write, and whether or not it’s pathological. It won’t help you with plot or characterization, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless.

The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp. Tharp is a famous Broadway choreographer, but what she says in this book about how to structure your life to nourish your creativity applies to artists in any field, writers included. Keep this one on your bedside table.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss. British writer Truss is passionate about the Oxford or serial comma, of all things. And in this New York Times bestseller she not only argues her case persuasively for why commas are essential, she makes you laugh out loud at the same time.

On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner. The late John Gardner was as famous for his teaching as for his novels. This is a different kind of how-to book. In it, he doesn’t talk about how to write, but rather about how to live as a writer. And for those of us struggling to explain to our families why we’re banging away on the computer instead of putting dinner on the table, this book can help us remember, when no one else seems to agree, that writing is important, too.

The Elements of Style, William Strunk. This book is a classic for a reason. Every writer should read it, and more than once.

What are your favorites? Email me at and share them with me. I’d love to get some leads on new titles to read. [Replace the AT with the standard @ symbol when emailing; sorry for the confusion, but this is to try and foil the spambots.]

[Note: For your convenience, I’ve placed direct click-through links to Amazon should you care to purchase any of the books I mention on this website. If you do buy a book through these links, whether print or Kindle version, it won’t cost you any more, but it will contribute in a small way to support this website. And for that, I thank you.]

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