10 Essential books for writers.

Being a writer is not a static state of being, rather it is an ever evolving one and the best way to evolve is to read the work of others. Whether you’re a poet, novelist, short story writer or an essayist, you should read the work of your contemporaries, both those at the top of their game, and those who are emerging. 

The second best way to learn, is from those who have been there, done that and earned the teeshirt. In this article I am listing qo books for writers that I have on my own bookshelves, some I’ve read a number of time, some are new, and the most important of them are books that are never far from my hand. I have included links in the titles of each book.

Ten essential books for writers

1. Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story

Is Structure the Hidden Foundation of All Successful Stories? 

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Why do some stories work and others don’t? The answer is structure. In this IPPY and NIEA-Award winning guide from the author of the bestselling Outlining Your Novel, you will learn the universal underpinnings that guarantee powerful plot and character arcs. An understanding of proper story and scene structure will show you how to perfectly time your story’s major events and will provide you with an unerring standard against which to evaluate your novel’s pacing and progression. Structuring Your Novel will show you:

  • How to determine the best techniques for empowering your unique and personal vision for your story.
  • How to identify common structural weaknesses and flip them around into stunning strengths.
  • How to eliminate saggy middles by discovering your “centerpiece.”
  • Why you should NEVER include conflict in every scene.
  • How to discover the questions you don’t want readers asking about your plot—and then how to get them to ask the right questions.

Story structure has enabled countless bestselling and classic authors. Now it’s your turn!

2. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

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 In her entertaining and edifying New York Times bestseller, acclaimed author Francine Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and tricks of the masters to discover why their work has endured. Written with passion, humour and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire readers to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart – to take pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; to look to John le Carré for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue and to Flannery O’Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail; to be inspired by Emily Brontë’s structural nuance and Charles Dickens’s deceptively simple narrative techniques. Most importantly, Prose cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which all literature is crafted, and reminds us that good writing comes out of good reading.

3 Creative Writer’s Handbook: 1

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 An engaging handbook with all the help you need to write better stories, blogs, scripts and poetry, with lists of inspiring words and tips on editing and grammar. See how well-known writers put techniques into practice, and try out ideas on the jotting pages. This is a book no aspiring writer should be without.

4. The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them 

This is a little left field, but I loved it and recommend it to anyone

Straight from the front line of urban America, the inspiring story of one fiercely determined teacher and her remarkable students.

As an idealistic twenty-three-year-old English teacher at Wilson High School in Long beach, California, Erin Gruwell confronted a room of “unteachable, at-risk” students. One day she intercepted a note with an ugly racial caricature, and angrily declared that this was precisely the sort of thing that led to the Holocaust—only to be met by uncomprehending looks. So she and her students, using the treasured books Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo as their guides, undertook a life-changing, eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding. They learned to see the parallels in these books to their own lives, recording their thoughts and feelings in diaries and dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers” in homage to the civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders.”

With funds raised by a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance,” they arranged for Miep Gies, the courageous Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family, to visit them in California, where she declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes.” Their efforts have paid off spectacularly, both in terms of recognition—appearances on “Prime Time Live” and “All Things Considered,” coverage in People magazine, a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley—and educationally. All 150 Freedom Writers have graduated from high school and are now attending college.

With powerful entries from the students’ own diaries and a narrative text by Erin Gruwell, The Freedom Writers Diary is an uplifting, unforgettable example of how hard work, courage, and the spirit of determination changed the lives of a teacher and her students.

The authors’ proceeds from this book will be donated to The Tolerance Education Foundation, an organization set up to pay for the Freedom Writers’ college tuition. Erin Gruwell is now a visiting professor at California State University, Long Beach, where some of her students are Freedom Writers.

5. A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life.

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 Playwright and editor Judy Reeves has taught writing, led creative writing workshops, and participated in writing groups for years. A Writer’s Book of Days is a compilation of all that she’s learned from getting together to write with other people. She says, “the book came about because I saw the difference ongoing, regular practice could make in a writer’s life.” Practice makes perfect, and this book makes practice easy by providing writers and would-be writers with stimulating topics, helpful instruction, monthly guidelines, dozens of inspiring quotes, writerly lore, and tips for special writing sessions such as marathons, cafe writing, and other ways to make the work of writing more creative and fun.

6.Writers’ Handbook 2020

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 The 2020 edition of firstwriter.com’s bestselling directory for writers is the perfect book for anyone searching for literary agents, book publishers, or magazines. It contains over 1,300 listings, including revised and updated listings from the 2019 edition, and over 400 brand new entries. – 80 pages of literary agent listings – that’s nearly as much as the Writer’s Market (53 pages) and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (39 pages) combined! – 100 pages of book publisher listings, compared to just 91 pages in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. – 88 pages of magazine listings – over 35% more than the 63 pages in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. All in a book that is 40% cheaper than the Writer’s Market ($29.99 RRP), and more than 50% cheaper than the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (25.00 RRP). Subject indexes for each area provide easy access to the markets you need, with specific lists for everything from romance publishers, to poetry magazines, to literary agents interested in thrillers. International markets become more accessible than ever, with listings that cover both the main publishing centres of New York and London, as well as markets in other English speaking countries. With more and more agents, publishers, and magazines accepting submissions online, this international outlook is now more important than ever. There are no adverts, no advertorials, and no obscure listings padding out hundreds of pages. By including only what’s important to writers – contact details for literary agents, publishers, and magazines – this directory is able to provide more listings than its competitors, at a substantially lower price. The book also allows you to create a subscription to the firstwriter.com website for free until 2021. This means you can get free access to the firstwriter.com website, where you can find even more listings, and also benefit from other features such as advanced searches, daily email updates, feedback from users about the markets featured, saved searches, competitions listings, searchable personal notes, and more. “I know firsthand how lonely and dispiriting trying to find an agent and publisher can be. So it’s great to find a resource like firstwriter.com that provides contacts, advice and encouragement to aspiring writers. I’ve been recommending it for years now!” Robin Wade; literary agent at the Wade & Doherty Literary Agency Ltd, and long-term firstwriter.com subscriber

7. Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers

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No serious writer should be without this book

One of the truly essential books for writers. This brisk and pungent guide to the use of words as tools of communication is written primarily for journalists, yet its lessons are of immense value to all who face the problem of giving information, whether to the general public or within business, professional or social organizations. What makes a good English sentence? How should you rewrite a bad one? What clichés and other word-traps are to be avoided? Using a wealth of examples drawn from British and American newspapers, Essential English is an indispensable guide for all who have to convey information by the written or printed word.

8. On Writing by Stephen King

I’m on my third copy of this, don’t think it is just for writers of genre fiction, it is a wonderful, concise, often funny and always invaluable guide.

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 “Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

9. The Book Lovers’ Anthology: A Compendium of Writing about Books, Readers and Libraries

 Can books corrupt? Do badly written books sharpen or dull the minds of their readers? Ought we to take seriously the old saw that excessive reading can damage one’s sight? The Book Lovers’ Anthology offers answers to these questions and many more with a remarkable collection of reflections on books, readers, and libraries— by writers whose books are among the world’s best known and best loved.

Throughout the centuries, books have been a source of fascination— and sometimes frustration—for writers. Between the covers of the Anthology are excerpts from the novels of Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Jonathan Swift, among many others, all of whom paused in their fiction to extol the virtues of the written page. Those who are taken with the smell of books will find a like mind in Charles Dickens, who waxed poetic about the “pleasant smell of paper freshly pressed.” Very avid readers might even nod in knowing agreement with John Donne, who declared, “I shall die reading.” Other poets whose musings on libraries or books are excerpted for the Anthology include Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Milton, and Chaucer. These writings are interspersed by the meditations of essayists and diarists of centuries past—among them, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, John Ruskin, and Michel de Montaigne.

With contributions from major writers across ages and genres, this is an essential anthology for which any bibliophile will want to find space on the shelf.

10. Ernest Hemingway on Writing

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This was the first book on writing I ever purchased, I still have it and have had much use out of it.

 An assemblage of reflections on the nature of writing and the writer from one the greatest American writers of the twentieth century.

Throughout Hemingway’s career as a writer, he maintained that it was bad luck to talk about writing—that it takes off “whatever butterflies have on their wings and the arrangement of hawk’s feathers if you show it or talk about it.”

Despite this belief, by the end of his life he had done just what he intended not to do. In his novels and stories, in letters to editors, friends, fellow artists, and critics, in interviews and in commissioned articles on the subject, Hemingway wrote often about writing. And he wrote as well and as incisively about the subject as any writer who ever lived…

This book contains Hemingway’s reflections on the nature of the writer and on elements of the writer’s life, including specific and helpful advice to writers on the craft of writing, work habits, and discipline. The Hemingway personality comes through in general wisdom, wit, humor, and insight, and in his insistence on the integrity of the writer and of the profession itself.

—From the Preface by Larry W. Phillips

Are there books that helped you grow as a writer? Tell us about them and we will add them to the list.

Do you have something to say? Submit to The Write Life.

Declaration: The Blue Nib participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on The Blue Nib, the site receive a small percentage of its price.

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