Top 10 Books About Writing
What every writer should read
- The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo (W. W. Norton & Company, 1992) was the first instructional book about writing I can remember reading, and one of the only ones that has stuck with me over the years. Hugo is a poet, but his advice—such as pieces end sooner and begin later than you first think and to write about a subject and then get off the subject into something deeper—ring true for all kinds of writing.
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (Scribner, 2000) is part instructions, part memoir. This intensely personal book gives practical tips (such as avoid adverbs) and inspiration (nobody can write like you; stick with your style) in a highly readable, fast-moving pace. It is also reassuring and refreshing to read about the early struggles of a blockbuster author.
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (HarperCollins, 1988) is a book about paying attention, recording the natural world one season, day, hour at a time. It teaches you to be aware and to be alive, and that the simplest dramas are often the most moving. Dillard’s writing is like a prayer in itself, aching with beauty and longing.
- Townie by Andre Dubus III (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011) models a writing life. A memoir from the author and former professional boxer (and son of the author Andre Dubus II), Townie is a fascinating and beautifully written look into how a writer is made—and, in his case, made from poverty, violence, grit, and love.
- Ann Patchett is one of my favorite writers. A few years ago, she published a nonfiction Kindle Single, The Getaway Car (Byliner, 2011), and a college commencement address What Now? (Harper, 2008), both of which offer solid advice for a creative life. Patchett is open about her own struggles for success—like another resilient writer, J.K. Rowling. (Check out Rowling’s Harvard University commencement speech if you need a jolt of inspiration.)
- Above the River: The Complete Poems by James Wright (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990) is a collection by my favorite poet. He talks about the importance of writing the “pure clear word,” and nowhere is this more evident than in his own poems, which are startling examples of the power of simple stories and stark language. Read his work for a model on how to write with strength and clarity.
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (Longman, 4th edition, 1999) is the classic writing guide by the author of Charlotte’s Web. It covers the basic principles of written English, but it does so in charming and witty language that feels like a conversation with a chatty friend. When it comes to writing, you need to learn the rules before you can break them.
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (L.C. Page & Company, 1908) was the first book I read where a writer was the main character. Anne talks endlessly about books and writing, which made me realize the essentialness of stories. Seeing this fictional girl grow up to be a writer made me realize I could be one, too. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon (Frederick A. Stokes, 1923) is another wonderful example of a girl writer as the main character. These are perfect books for any creative young girl in your life.
- Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Mariner Books, 2007) models the creation of an artistic life, just like Anne of Green Gables and Townie. It’s a memoir in graphic novel form (Bechdel is a cartoonist), telling Bechdel’s coming of age, her sexual awakening, and the story of her father’s life and death. Fun Home shows how art is made, as well as how a young artist finds herself.
- Bluets by Maggie Nelson (Wave Books, 2009) is another book of poems. Bluets is probably the most surprising book on this list. Technically, it’s a book about the poet’s appreciation for the color blue. But in reality, it’s a meditation on art, obsession, and the lengths we go to in order to love and create out of love.
After all this inspiration, why not submit to ESME Showcase Writing Awards?
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Alison Stine, ESME’s Showcase Writing Curator, is the author of the young-adult novel Supervision, three books of poetry, and numerous essays. A Solo Mom, she lives with her son in the foothills of Appalachia. You can follow her on Twitter at @AlisonStine.
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