Best Books for Writers

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

by Kate Sontag and David Graham, editors

Published in 2001 by Graywolf Press

In this collection of twenty-eight essays, poets such as Frank Bidart, Marilyn Chin, Billy Collins, Louise Glück, Kimiko Hahn, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Sharon Olds explore the autobiographical impulse in poetry. As Library Journal writes: "Each weighs in on a different area of the discussion, but all are evocative and engaging. One quickly discovers that the confessional poem's legacy extends further than the expected Plath, Sexton, and Lowell. Sappho, Shakespeare's elusive figures, Milton's daughters, and Mary Wordsworth are as likely to be evoked by these writers, as they demonstrate how poetic voice spans an infinite variety of combinations." 

by Susan M. Tiberghien

Published in 2007 by Da Capo Press

In this guide writer and teacher Susan M. Tiberghien provides advice and writing exercises that help beginning writers develop their voice and enrich their craft. 

by Natalie Goldberg

Published in 2013 by Atria Books

Author of the classic Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg offers another writing guide based on her forty years of teaching small, intensive workshops at a remote center in the rural Southwest. In chapters with titles such as "Why Silence?," "Meditation (Sitting)," "Seven Attitudes of Mindfulness," and "Six-Word Memoir," Goldberg shares her insights about finding truth and clarity on the way to establishing a literary life.

by James Logenbach

Published in 2013 by Graywolf Press

Written by poet and critic James Logenbach, this collection of twelve essays explores various ways that poetry at its most successful delivers meaning. Longenbach uses as examples poems by Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Keats, Dickinson, Yeats, Pound, Bishop, and Ashbery, among other greats.  

by Brian Turner, Jared Hawkley, and Susan Rich, editors

Published in 2013 by McSweeney’s Books

An anthology of essays by poets such as Kazim Ali, Elizabeth Bishop, Naomi Shihab Nye, Nick Flynn, Yusef Komunyakaa, Claudia Rankine, and Alissa Valles whose travels have informed their writing. The book also includes practical resources for finding work abroad, applying for fellowships and residencies, funding a trip, obtaining proper travel documents, and attending to other cultural considerations.

by John McNally

Published in 2013 by University of Iowa Press

In Vivid and Continuousseasoned fiction writer and teacher John McNally, who is also the author of The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide, offers solutions to the problems beginning fiction writers face. Each of the fifteen chapters includes writing exercises meant to reinforce McNally’s guidance.

by David Corbett

Published in 2013 by Penguin

New York Times notable author David Corbett offers a unique and indispensable toolkit for creating characters that come vividly to life on the page and linger in memory. Corbett delves into the human heart of characterization, showing beginning and advanced writers how to plumb the rich source materials of their own lives and the world around them to fashion credible, compelling characters.

by Robert Olen Butler

Published in 2006 by Grove Press

Based on a series of his lectures, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Robert Olen Butler provides in-depth guidance about how to fully develop one's fiction. Butler's advice stems from his belief that "art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where we dream." 

by William Zinsser

Published in 2006 by HarperCollins

Writer, editor, and teacher William Zinsser offers straightforward advice to the beginning writer about the principles of what makes strong nonfiction. Topics include style, voice, audience, and structure, and Zinsser breaks down the art of the interview, the travel essay, and the memoir.

by Margaret Atwood

Published in 2002 by Cambridge University Press

Based on a series of lectures Canadian author Margaret Atwood delivered at the University of Cambridge in 2000, this book comprises six essays that explore the role of the writer—especially the woman writer—in society. Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and nonfiction and is best known for her novels. Her many literary accolades include the Governor General's Award in 1985 for her novel The Handmaid's Tale (McClelland and Stewart) and the Man Booker Prize in 2000 for her novel The Blind Assassin (McClelland and Stewart).