Best Books on Writing (That Aren’t the Same 5 Everyone Else Suggests)

Apr 24, 2017

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. These are grand books full of insights but guess what?

There are other books about writing that are terrific, especially as your need to learn as a writer grows!

Here’s a list of my favorite learn to write books including the best books to learn how to write a novel, all books that I recommend in my writing programs and to my clients and actually bring on my retreats so writers can take them back to their room and peruse.

BUT FIRST A CAVEAT: Reading books about writing books can become a shadow comfort. If reading about writing is what you are doing instead of writing, please 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. This post isn’t going anywhere.

Thank you for honoring your desire to create.


Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
Clark is one of my favorite writing teachers. 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. My huge favorite that I teach again and again is The Five Modes by Dan Pope.

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. Get the Second Edition.

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.

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?

Story Genius by Lisa Cron
The singlest best book to learn how to write a novel. 

Seven Drafts by Allison K. Williams
Jammed packed with excellent help, especially for fiction writers.

The Memoir Project by Marion Roach
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.

Okay, here is the only question that matters.

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!

Jettison Self-Doubt and Lose the Itty-Bitty-Shitty Committee and Make Your Thing Now

From the national best-selling author of The Woman’s Comfort Book and Why Bother.

Made for writers, artists, mail art makers, knitters of sock puppets, creative entrepreneurs, photographers, Tarot readers, and anybody who needs to make stuff they love.

I’m not one of those creepy people who make it hard to unsubscribe or email you again nine years after you’ve unsubscribed. Giving me your email is like a coffee date, not a marriage proposal.