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21 Essential Books on Writing

No need to hide the fact, I love writing. And I love learning about my craft–so when I asked a number of my friends, who have between them like a gazillion books in print, their all-time favorite books on writing, I discovered some new faves and of course the ones I consider some of the best. So here it is, the 21 Essential Books on Writing in no particular order.

1. Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See. I have not read this one, but when I asked Liza Palmer her favorites, this title was out of her lips without any hesitation. Now on my TBR.

2. On Writing by Steven King. This is the audio version, because face it, it is Steven King reading Steven King.

3. How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat. Another book on Liza Palmer’s must read list. As she explained, “Don’t we all want elements of suspense in our novels to make them page turners.” True that!

4. Bird by Bird by Annie Lamont. This was Megan Crane/Caitlyn Crewes first choice out of the gate, and she’s picked a true classic, one that is on everyone’s list. But have to admit, I have never read it. Time to change that.

5. Save the Cat by Blake Synder. I love this book. It helps you see fiction through a screenwriter’s focused eye and keeps you on target. Love it!

6. The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. Another book on Megan’s list. Another for my TBR.

7. Writing from the Inside Out by Dennis Pulumbo.

8. The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. I adore this book. The perfect pick up and read a short chapter for your daily kick in the pants. JoAnne Ross says it is a perfect book for “quick encouragement.” Can’t we all use that from time to time? Keep this book within reach.

9. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Another one of those books that is always on the top of writer’s lists of inspiring and helpful books.

10. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

11. The Writers Journey by Chris Vogler. If you haven’t read this book, make this the first one you pick up. The best book on novel writing out there. And as Christina Dodd said, (and rightly so) “Not boring.”

12. Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose.

13. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland.

14. Writing Dialogue for Scripts by Rib Davis. Lori Wilde recommended this book and called it an “eye opener.” Another for the list.

15. Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy. This book is another one for quick inspiration and daily affirmations and exercises.

16. The Writing Life by Annie Dilliard.

17. How to Write Your Best Story by Philip Martin. This and the Annie Dilliard book both came with the recommendation: “Good advice, well written.” What more could you ask for?

18. Goal Motivation & Conflict by Deb Dixon. I will be honest. This book has never sung to me. But on the other hand, I know so many writers who rave and love it. I mean LOVE it. So I could hardly leave it off.

19. Break into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love Snell. Love Mary Buckham–and her workshops are so popular. So if you can’t get to a workshop, then the book is the next best thing.

20. Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. The quintessential and essential nuts and bolts book for every writer. Love this book.

21. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. One of my all-time favorite books–a great nuts and bolts read for honing and making your novel standout.

Are there books missing from the list? Add your own in the comments.

4 comments to “21 Essential Books on Writing”

  1. Lisa Cooke
    May 19th, 2013 at 12:50 pm · Link

    Thank you for this great list! I also love craft books. Two of my favorites are “Got High Concept” by Lori Wilde and “Wired For Story” by Lisa Cron. The high concept book gives great step by step ways to make a high concept premise and how to write that perfect logline we’re always looking for. In Wired For Story, Lisa shows authors how to use brain science to write a book the reader can’t put down. Both books are wonderful!
    Lisa Cooke

    • Linda Watson
      June 5th, 2013 at 6:11 am · Link

      Thanks, Lisa! I’ve come to realize that I’d rather write a page turner than the book taken to the beach each year but never read.

  2. Linda Watson
    June 5th, 2013 at 6:07 am · Link

    Thanks for filling up my must-read list! I love Stephen King’s book on writing. Two of my favorites not listed are Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel and Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker, which will help with your writing as well as with your interviews and book events.

  3. Tai
    July 29th, 2013 at 3:51 pm · Link

    Will try a few of these. Thanks for the ideas. I like what you said about the book not singing to you. I would definitely need a few that do sing to me.

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