Recommended Writing Craft Books

At my first bookstore signing, I had a gentleman ask me what books I've read on writing and what books have influenced my writing. At that moment, I "blanked" out and couldn't seem to remember anything (maybe not even my own middle name) because I felt a little nervous. Graciously,  he helped me out of my conundrum by talking about his favorite writing books (On Writing by Stephen King and The Breakout Novel by Donald Maas).

So, in the hopes that I can remember a few names of books I've read next time I'm asked, and because I thought it might be a help to fellow writers, I've decided to compile a list of books I've read on writing and books that have influenced me as a writer.

My first book I purchased to help with my writing has a special place in my mind - not because it had amazing craft tips, but because it was the first, it seemed expensive ($20 in the 80s), and I saved up my own money for it. Plus, I bought it at the bookstore in my hometown (the one owned by the mother of one of the cutest guys at school) so I remember the very moment when I bought it.

The first book on writing for me: The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale. It's not a book on craft, it's just a really big book of synonyms (with no antonyms). I've always had trouble with repetitive words.

The rest of the books are split into these categories: Writing Practice and Writing Prompt Books; Writing Structure Books: Plot, Characterization, and Rules; Writing life, Writing Motivation, and Writing Advice; Writing Books for the Young at Heart; and Publication and Marketing Guides.


Writing Practice and Writing Prompt Books

Cameron, Julia. The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I thoroughly enjoy this book in some ways, and in others, I don't. I struggle with following the "rules" of three pages a day and artist's dates - even though I usually give myself those things anyway. I love the way that Cameron highlights creativity as a spiritual walk.

Demarco-Barrett, Barbara. Pen on Fire: a busy woman's guide to igniting the writer within. I like the "set the timer" exercises, and the narrative form of writing advice is pretty good. However, guys, I'm sorry, but this is very much a "woman's" book on writing.
Elbow, Peter. Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. One of the first books I read on the writing process, there are some wonderful gems in this book. However, it's no longer one of my favorites and I only pick it up once in a while now.
*Reeves, Judy. A Writer’s Book of Days. This book is dog-eared, moves around the house with me and comes with me on car trips.
Writing Structure Books: Plot, Characterization, and “Rules”


*Athans, Philip and Salvatore, R.A. The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller! An excellent book about writing fantasy and science fiction with a terrible cover. I don't know where my copy went and I suspect my daughters may have thrown it out because of the cover . . . or maybe I took it with me on a road trip and lost it. (I may buy a kindle copy to own it again).

Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. A good craft book in general with some great sections on world creation and character building.

Edgerton, Les. Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go. The complete guide to writing good hooks, either starting with the inciting incident or in media res.

Graves, Richard L. Rhetoric and Composition: A Sourcebook for Teachers and Writers. Each chapter contains insight into university and professional level writing, as well as teaching creative writing to kids as young as kindergarten. (Yes, this is one of my university books that I still keep around.)

Greenbaum, Sidney. A College Grammar of English. Despite a tough university course based on this book taught by an enthusiastic grammarian professor, I still have trouble with my independent clauses and commas. However, I know to go to this book to find answers.
Hart, Jack. A Writer's Coach: The Complete Guide o Writing Strategies That Work. Jack taught a writer's workshop at my local library and the first twenty people to sign up received this book for free. I found several great tips and enjoyed the workshop. Jack does a great job at teaching writers to limit their "theme" for their story/novel/essay to one word, and then write the "lead" line for non-fiction which also has some fiction crossover purpose.

Hemley, Robin. Turning Life into Fiction. This book details the nuances of writing non-fiction memoirs and writing fiction from life. It's been a while since I've read it, but I remember it being good.

Hodges, John C.; Horner, Winifred B.; Miller, Robert K.; Webb, Suzanne S.; Whitten, Mary E. Harbrace College Handbook. A basic book on grammar and style.

Harmon, William and Holmes, Hugh C. A Handbook to Literature. Not technically a writing book, this book has all the handy terms a writer needs to understand their craft.
Jenkins, Jerry B. Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life. Much like Stephen King's famous book On Writing, this book is part memoir and part craft book. Jenkins relates the way he stumbled into writing as a teen and give useful writing craft tips throughout the book. Jenkin's faith is prominent throughout the book.  
*King, Stephen. On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. Part memoir, and part craft book, this book takes the reader on a journey through King's life and writing. Useful tips abound. For conservative readers, beware: this is King and there will are language and horror references. Despite that, I highly recommend sections of this book and King's advice on adverbs and description. (I just don't teach with it at the homeschool Christian co-op)
Maass, Donald. The Fire in Fiction. A craft book that focuses on creating and keeping tension in a novel length work. Great tips, but I didn't like most of the examples used so I struggled with that part.
*Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat: The Last Book of Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. I read this for the first time in 2013 and found plot gems that have helped me structure my novel and short story writing.
*Strunk, William, Jr. and White, E.B. Elements of Style. At just over 100 pages, this little guide is a must-have.
Titus Osborn, Susan. The Complete Guide to Christian Writing and Speaking. A fairly thin book that covers a huge breadth of information from rough drafts through grammar and to publication.
*Truss, Lynn. Eats, Shoots & Leaves. This is a humorous and complete book on grammar usage. However, it is British and Truss points out the differences between American and British grammar.


Vogler, Christopher. The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. A book that uses Joseph Campbell's work, current movies, and best-selling novels, to show writers plot and characterization that works.

Wiesner, Karen S. First Draft in 30 Days. This is the ultimate outline book. I used it to help me iron out some problems with my first book - although I was revising at the time.
Wiesner, Karen S. from First Draft to Finished Novel. This book takes the writer from the ultimate outline produced in book one to a finished novel. I found this one less helpful, but I may give it another try.

*Wooldridge, Susan G. Poemcrazy: freeing your life with words. An excellent guide to writing poetry.
Writing Life, Writing Motivation, and Writing Advice
Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Although this book gives good advice and tips on writing, I only read little bits of it at a time. Goldberg's Buddhism is prominent but the writing practice she encourages is good.
*Lammot, Anne. Bird by Bird. I’ve read this book at least three times all the way through and gone back to re-read my favorite sections.
*White, Bailey. Mama Makes Up Her Mind: and Other Dangers of Southern Living. This book is a book of humorous vignettes that is not technically about writing. However, if you read closely, you’ll find gems about a life filled with writing, reading, and storytelling.
Writing Books for the Young at Heart
*Carson Levine, Gail. Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly. A fun book on writing for teens and lovers of fantasy.

Fishman, Boris. The Creative Writer: Level One: Five Finger Exercises. I love the cover of this book, I think the premise is good. However, somewhere along the way it falls flat and feels uncreative in it's attempt to encourage creativity. However, I have known a few homeschool families that really like it.
*Hanley, Victoria. Seize the Story: A Handbook for Teens Who Like to Write. An excellent book on writing for teens, Hanley's book gives great advice, tips, and exercises.

Kautzer, Kim and Oldar, Debra. Write Shop One and Write Shop Two. These are actually homeschool and private school curriculum books for composition. I've used these in homeschool co-operative classes and they do a decent job of presenting formal paragraph and essay writing. The creative writing lessons were not my favorites, but I'm super picky about those kinds of lessons and I just supplemented with my own material.

*Kemper, Dave; Meyer, Verne; and Sebranek, Patrick. Writers Inc: A Student Handbook for Writing and Learning. A writer's resource for MG and Teen writers that covers essay writing basics to college entrance essays. A fairly fun compilation of what could have been dry material.
*Mazer, Anne and Potter, Ellen. Spilling Ink: a Young Writer’s Handbook. This is an encouraging book for young writers and every writer who needs to learn about messy, rough drafts. It includes essays on writing, tips on writing, writing prompts, and an interview with the authors.
*Olien, Rebecca. Kids Write!: Fantasy & SciFi, Mystery, Autobiography, Adventure & More! I love this book and used it to teach a young Writer's Workshop Adventure class with 8-12 year olds. I also enjoyed getting some jump starts on my own writing from this colorful and fun book.

*Smith, Keri. This is Not a Book. An incredibly fun journal that invites writers to draw, list, divide the page, make mazes, write, collage, and do a variety of activities that encourage writing. My favorite of the series.

Smith, Keri. Wreck This Journal. A fun book that invites writers to draw, write, crumple, make paper airplanes, and do a variety of activities.

*Trelease, Jim. Hey! Listen to This: Stories to Read Aloud. Meant to be a guide for parents, this treasure store includes read aloud excerpts from several beloved children's books. I find it inspiring for writing and storytelling. (This is a companion book to Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook)


Publication and Marketing Guides
*Aycock, Don M. and Goss, Leonard G. The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing: Getting Your Foot in the Publisher's Door. Despite the huge title, this is a little book that mainly focuses on queries and publishing. There is a bit about the writing process, the time involved, and a small section on grammar and style.

Lyon, Elizabeth. The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit. 1997. I think the publisher's date says it all. It's a pretty good handbook for query writing, but I think it's a bit outdated for marketing.

Ortman, Mark. A Simple Guide to Marketing Your Book: What an Author and Publisher Can Do to Sell More Books. A tiny book on marketing published in 2000. The version I have isn't up to date but it still has some useful tidbits in it.

Stuart, Sally E. Christian Writers' Market Guide 2008: The Essential Reference Tool for the Christian Writer. It's a bit outdated, but I still keep this reference around. I check the publishers via the web. I recommend finding books like this at the library.
*Wolfe, L. Diane. How to Publish and Promote Your Book NOW! A book filled with great and current tips for promotion.






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