Best Books for Writers

From the newly published to the invaluable classic, our list of essential books for creative writers.

by Carl Phillips

Published in 2014 by Graywolf Press

As part of Graywolf’s "Art of" series, award-winning poet Carl Phillips presents seven lyric essays about the importance of taking risks when making art. Through the examination of poems by Ashbery, Bogan, Frost, Niedecker, Shakespeare, and others, Phillips shows the ways in which poetry allows us to explore our humanity.

by Gary Soto

Published in 2013 by Sasquatch Books

Gary Soto's memoir takes the form of over sixty short essays filled with insightful and humorous observations and wisdom gained from his experiences as a poet: giving readings, confronting award nominations and journal acceptances and rejections, and struggling daily with his craft. Soto reflects on both the role and status of the writer in society, and his personal trajectory as a poet.

by Eric Maisel

Published in 2008 by Adams Media

Eric Maisel draws upon his extensive experience as a creativity coach, psychotherapist, and author of over forty books to guide readers through the steps it takes to create the most inspiring and productive space—both physical and mental—for writing. Maisel's practical advice helps writers identify their creative impulses and transform their habits by implementing focus and an organized schedule to their writing lives.

by Sheila Heti, Ross Simonini, and Vendela Vida, editors

Published in 2013 by McSweeney's

This volume collects twenty-two conversations from five years of interviews originally published in the Believer. The often irreverent exchanges between authors such as Don DeLillo with Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Gaitskill with Sheila Heti, and Joan Didion with Vendela Vida reveal insights into their personalities and experiences—both writing-related and not.

by Vladimir Nabokov

Published in 2002 by Mariner Books

In these trenchant and whimsical lectures, Nabokov taps into the craft behind such European classics as Madame Bovary, Bleak House, and Ulysses. With an introduction by John Updike, this collection includes lectures as valuable for their content as they are for their delivery.

by Twyla Tharp

Published in 2003 by Simon & Schuster

"I've learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns. That's why writers, for example, like to establish routines for themselves." Choreographer Twyla Tharp explains how creativity comes from the willingness to work hard and make it a habit. The book includes thirty-two practical exercises to inspire people across the creative spectrum to become more productive.

by Jane Hirshfield

Published in 2015 by Knopf

In the ten essays comprising this collection, Jane Hirshfield explores a wide range of elements that give poetry its transformative power. From examinations of work by poets including Bashō, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Czeslaw Miłosz, to investigations of paradox and surprise in poetry, Hirshfield demonstrates the ability of poetry to gift its readers with "new possibilities of perceiving."

by Mary Karr

Published in 2015 by Harper

The author of the memoirs The Liars’ Club (Viking, 1995), Cherry (Viking, 2000), and Lit (Harper, 2009) draws from decades of experience as a writer, reader, and teacher to spotlight this complex and powerful form of storytelling. “Memoir done right is an art, a made thing,” she writes in the preface. Including unique insights and examples of the author’s personal favorites in the genre, The Art of Memoir provides a humorously candid examination of the literary form Karr has influenced over the past twenty years.

by John Drury

Published in 2006 by Writer's Digest Books

John Drury’s Creating Poetry is a straightforward, comprehensive guide to writing verse. In sections such as “Preparing,” “Sight,” “Movement,” and “Sources of Inspiration,” Drury walks readers through his taxonomy of poetry and process from inspiration to completion, with plenty of examples, prompts, and challenges along the way.

by Patricia Hampl

Published in 1999 by Norton

“A writer is, first and last, a reader." Patricia Hampl's collection of essays explores the depths of writing created from the most personal memories—in works by Anne Frank, Czeslaw Milosz, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and others—and provides insightful reflections on her own writing life as a memoirist.