The Very Best Writing Books, Ever

I admit it. I get a little pissy when someone writes a ‘favorite writing books’ post and it always includes the same five books. It’s not that I don’t like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or On Writing by Stephen King. They are great books but guess what? There are other books about writing that are terrific, especially as your need to learn as a writer grows!

Hence my tongue in cheek title, Best Writing Books Ever… not! But here’s a list of mostly new (to me) and a few classic books (I always mention) that I’m leaning on these days, both to write my memoir and to teach writing in Taos at the end of the month (oh so happy that I get to do this!) and later this year at my house and in Vermont.

BUT FIRST A CAVEAT: Writing books can be a shadow comfort. If reading about writing is what you are doing instead of writing, do not read any further. Please go WRITE for the fifteen minutes you would spend clicking on these links and reading about these books and debating whether to buy them. Use the itchy yummy desire that gets all kicked up with reading about writing to actually write.

You can always come back and click the links and read about writing books later!

Thank you.


Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
Clark is one of the best writing teachers in the English language. I like all his books but this one is the one I consistently turn to when I need to dig into something I don’t understand.

Naming the World edited by Bret Anthony Johnston
Most of the time these collections of writing exercises by various writers and writing teachers leaves me cold, but this one has some incredible gems.

The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long
This is one of my favorite books on writing especially aimed at personal essay but also good for short fiction. If you live in Seattle, find Priscilla and study with her. I always gift this book to the writers in my life.

Motivation by Mark McGuinness
Mark’s a poet and a creativity coach but more so a kind human and I like how he breaks down what motivates us as creative people and how to keep the “pinwheel” turning.

What If: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
I bought this book years ago and hated it. But then a writing student, Zee, gave me the collage edition, one published by Pearson, and it’s so good.

Writing with Power by Peter Elbow
While aimed more at teachers and students, there are ideas in this book that changed my writing life and that I encourage all my students to try.

The Art of Description by Mark Doty
I struggle to describe things accurately. Mark is a poet and memoirist who does not.

How Fiction Works by James Wood
Peer under the hood.

The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda
Have only scanned this so it will remain on my pile. I included this book because I love anything that illuminates what voice is.

On Writing by Eudora Welty
Precise opinions. Not much “how to” but oh to be inside her mind!

From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler
This book gives me a headache… but in a good way. So over my pay grade, but then that’s how we learn, right?

The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
A client has used this and and finds it very helpful. As a writing student and teacher who’s obsessed with structure, I had to dig in. My tendency toward simplicity made me plumb the question, is this helpful or complicated? To each his own.

Story Genius by Lisa Cron
I loved her first book, Wired for Story. This is more practical and while it’s aimed at fiction writers, I think memoir writers could get a lot of out of it too.

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman
My favorite cheat book ever!

The Memoir Project by Marion Roach
One of my favorites. She handles so many questions so concisely. Her blog is great, too.

Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart
Another favorite I always have to mention.

You Can’t Make this Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind
The “father” of creative non-fiction. Must have for all memoir and personal essayists.


Are you going to write now?

Or today?

Not read about writing (although that is great!) but write.

Make a clear plan when you will write, for how long, or for how many words or pages. And don’t forget to celebrate afterwards.

I will too!



P.S. Ever had the urge to check out, unplug, and spend 4+ glorious days WRITING with me in a beautiful location? I’m about to open up spots for two of my upcoming retreats, but if you want to hear about them, you have to add your name to my retreat list. These events fill up quickly and the emails are going out early next week. Add your name to the list here.

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