Best Books for Writers

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

by Christian Wiman

Published in 2007 by Copper Canyon Press

Ambition and Survival is a collection of personal essays and critical prose by Christian Wiman, the editor of Poetry magazine. Wiman recounts his path to becoming a poet, his struggle with a rare form of incurable cancer, and how mortality reignited his religious passions.

by Daniel Alarcon, editor

Published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Drawing back the curtain on the process of writing novels, The Secret Miracle brings together well-known practitioners of the craft to discuss how they write. Paul Auster, Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Minot, Rick Moody, Haruki Murakami, George Pelecanos, Gary Shteyngart, and others take readers step by step through the alchemy of writing fiction, answering everything from nuts-and-bolts queries—“Do you outline?”—to questions posed by writers and readers alike: “What makes a character compelling?”

by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French

Published in 2010 by Longman

Novelists Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French and essayist Ned Stuckey-French provide a guide for the novice story writer from first inspiration to final revision by providing practical writing techniques and concrete examples. The text also includes exercises to spur writing and creativity.


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.