Best Books for Writers

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

by Charles Baxter

Published in 2007 by Graywolf Press

Fiction writer and essayist Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot discusses and illustrates the hidden subtextual overtones and undertones in fictional works haunted by the unspoken, the suppressed, and the secreted. Using an array of examples from Melville and Dostoyevsky to contemporary writers Paula Fox, Edward P. Jones, and Lorrie Moore, Baxter explains how fiction writers create those visible and invisible details.

by Christian McEwen

Published in 2011 by Bauhan Publishing

In World Enough and Time, Christian McEwen places emphasis on living simply and in the present moment. Drawing wisdom from writers ranging from Montaigne to Emerson, and from a long list of artists and scholars, McEwen praises the effects of slowing down on creativity and productivity.



by Stephen Dobyns

Published in 2011 by Palgrave Macmillan

Author of Best Words, Best Order, Stephen Dobyns offers a helpful framework for creating poetry and navigates contemporary concerns and practices. Dobyns explores the complex relationship between writers and their work, and in the process, demystifies a subtle art form.

by Henry James

Published in 2011 by University of Chicago Press

This collection of prefaces, originally written for the 1909 multi-volume New York Edition of Henry James’s fiction, first appeared in book form in 1934 with an introduction by poet and critic R. P. Blackmur. In his prefaces, James tackles the great problems of fiction writing—character, plot, point of view, inspiration—and explains how he came to write novels such asThe Portrait of a Lady and The American.

by Frank O'Connor

Published in 2011 by Melville House Publishing

In The Lonely Voice Irish writer Frank O’Connor discusses the techniques and challenges of the short story form and considers his favorite writers (among them Chekhov, Hemingway, Kipling, and Joyce) and their greatest works.

by Mark Doty

Published in 2010 by Graywolf Press

In this book-length essay, poet Mark Doty writes about the art of articulating sensory experience. Looking at poems by Blake, Whitman, Bishop, and others, Doty considers the task of saying what you see, and the challenges of rendering experience through language.

by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

Published in 1997 by W.W. Norton & Company

Poets Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux give guidance to aspiring beginners and those who are already published in brief essays on the elements of poetry and technique. Suggested subjects for writing are followed by writing exercises.

by Ted Kooser

Published in 2005 by University of Nebraska Press

Former poet laureate of the United States Ted Kooser brings together tools, insights, and instructions on poetry and writing that poets—both aspiring and practicing—can use to hone their craft. Using examples from his own work and those from other contemporary poets, Kooser discusses the critical relationship between poet and reader.

by Joan Silber

Published in 2009 by Graywolf Press

The end point of a story determines its meaning, and one of the main tasks a writer faces is to define the duration of a plot. In this book-length essay, Joan Silber uses wide-ranging examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chinua Achebe, and Arundhati Roy, among others, to illustrate five key ways in which time unfolds in fiction. 

by Richard Hugo

Published in 2010 by W.W. Norton & Company

Poet and teacher Richard Hugo has brought together a series of lectures, essays, and reflections, all “directed toward helping with that silly, absurd, maddening, futile, enormously rewarding activity: writing poems.” The book includes pieces on how poets make a living and how to write “off the subject.”