Best Books for Writers

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

by Stephen Burt

Published in 2016 by Belknap Press

In this volume, Stephen Burt selects sixty poems as a small representation of the wide scope of contemporary American poetry, ranging from John Ashbery’s “Paradoxes and Oxymorons” published in 1981, to Ross Gay’s “Weeping” published in 2015. Each poem is accompanied by an essay that details the poem’s technique, sensibility, and context to help readers approach and enjoy the work with a new perspective.

by Jordan Rosenfeld

Published in 2016 by Writer's Digest Books

The author of three novels and five books on craft, Jordan Rosenfeld explores how point of view creates powerful narratives and dynamic characters in fiction. Writing the Intimate Character examines “every element of a story, from exposition to interior monologue to plot, through the lens of point of view” with examples and exercises to help writers breathe life into their characters.

by Amy Tan

Published in 2004 by Penguin Books

The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life is a collection of Amy Tan’s essays, interviews, and musings tracing her journey to become a novelist. Throughout over thirty essays, including “My Love Affair with Vladimir Nabokov,” “The Ghosts of My Imagination,” and “Five Writing Tips,” Tan shares inspiring and humorous insights about the connections between life and art, underscores the transformative power of storytelling, and explores the importance of empathy in the life of a writer.

by Benjamin Percy

Published in 2016 by Graywolf Press

The author of three novels and two story collections, who also writes the Green Arrow and Teen Titans series for DC Comics, Benjamin Percy delivers a collection of fifteen urgent and entertaining essays on the craft of fiction—many of which originally appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine. Percy looks to sources including Jaws, Blood Meridian, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage such issues as plot, suspense, momentum, character, setting, and dialogue.

by Graydon Carter, editor

Published in 2016 by Penguin Books

The forty-three essays in this book feature writers focusing on fellow writers—reflecting on their contemporaries, as well as influential and inspirational authors from previous eras. First published in Vanity Fair between 1983 and 2016, the collection includes pieces such as Elizabeth Bishop on Marianne Moore, Martin Amis on Saul Bellow, Jacqueline Woodson on James Baldwin, Meg Wolitzer on Judy Blume, Nadine Gordimer on Wole Soyinka, and Christopher Hitchens on Stieg Larsson.

by Rebecca Smith

Published in 2016 by Bloomsbury

“People love Jane Austen’s work for so many reasons—the comedy, her sparkling dialogue, the unforgettable characters, the accuracy of her observations...how she captures what it is to be in love, lonely, bullied, wrong, disappointed, to be part of a family...” In The Jane Austen Writers’ Club, Rebecca Smith reveals insights into these craft elements and storytelling techniques gleaned from Austen’s novels. The book includes many exemplary passages, practical exercises, as well as writing advice Austen offered to her aspiring novelist nieces and nephew.

by Ellen Bryant Voigt

Published in 1999 by University of Georgia Press

“Looking closely at a hero's mortal parts has always been a risky enterprise. We want our great writers pure of heart.” In The Flexible Lyric, poet and professor Ellen Bryant Voigt compiles nine craft essays examining the art of lyric poetry, beginning with a discussion on the creative process and Voigt's fascination with Flannery O'Connor and Elizabeth Bishop. Each essay that follows examines different aspects of lyric poems, from tone to image to voice and beyond. Through close reading of an array of poets like Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Denise Levertov, Shakespeare, and others, Voigt shows us the nuance and attention it takes to write a fantastic lyric poem.

by Jerome Stern

Published in 1991 by Norton

​“The shapes of fiction inspire by presenting ways to embody your experiences, memories, and imaginings.” ​In this comprehensive volume, Jerome Stern breaks down and reconstructs the component parts that come together to shape a work of fiction. Stern focuses on straightforward insights, exercises, techniques, and a list of don'ts that will help writers of all levels of experience enliven their work with new tension, immediacy, and momentum.

by The League of Canadian Poets

Published in 2016 by University of Regina Press

Measures of Astonishment is a collection of essays by thirteen of Canada’s most notable poets, first presented in lectures from 2002 to 2015 as part of the League of Canadian Poets’ Anne Szumigalski Lecture Series. Poets including Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, Robert Currie, and Gregory Scofield offer their unique and distinctive perspectives on poetry, sharing insights about its craft and exploring its far-reaching meanings.

by Bret Anthony Johnston, editor

Published in 2008 by Random House

“This is what I believe in, what I trust will ultimately distinguish those who want to write and publish from those who do write and publish: work....I believe that the act of writing is itself the muse.” In Naming the World, author and professor Bret Anthony Johnston has compiled a collection of craft advice from a wide range of his favorite writers and teachers of writing, including Dorothy Allison, Dan Chaon, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Robbins, and Vu Tran. Each chapter acts as a short master class filled with insights and experienced perspectives, as well as varied and illuminating exercises and prompts designed to inspire writers seeking to improve their narrative writing skills.