Author of Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution, etc.



Why? + On Craft + On Creative Process + Literary Travel Memoirs+ War & Peace

Why reinvent the wheel? Don't make the mistake of assuming that you either have God-given talent or not and you're going to find out when, on that gloriously perfect day in the future, you can spent three obligation-free weeks at a cabin in the woods, just you and the laptop.

Would you attempt to learn car repair or, say, become a 5 star chef by going off by yourself?

You need teachers, but they need not be local nor even living, because, happily for us all, so many excellent writers, some long gone, have written books on the craft of writing. I have learned from all these books, and I continue to learn as I reread, again and again.

This list is frequently updated and suggestions are most welcome.
See also A Reading List for Writing Across Borders and Cultures.
See also my many articles and blog posts on craft here.

Boorstin, Jon, Making Movies Work:Thinking Like a Filmmaker
Also helpful for thinking about how and why a reader enjoys a novel or memoir.

Butler, Robert Olen, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

Chiraella, Tom, Writing Dialogue: How to Create Memorable Voices and Fictional Conversations that Crackle with Wit, Tension and Nuance

Expert and thorough.

Field, Syd, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting
Excellent for plot.

Fussell, Paul, Poetic Meter & Poetic Form
More than a little bit crunchy and most of it won't interest the average prose writer, but the chapter on scansion is worth the price of the book, and, for any prose writer aiming to achive vividness in their writing, worth rereading multiple times.

Gardner, John, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
Forget the subtitle, "for young writers". This is a book for writers of any age, and not necessarily beginners. The chapter "On Common Errors" is a gem. Also highly recommended for writers of creative nonfiction.

Gerard, Philip, Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life
Writing a memoir or a longer, more thoughtful piece of journalism? Use this book as your project's road map.

Goodman, Richard, The Soul of Creative Writing

Highly recommended. Especially strong on language.

Hills, Rust, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular
The best book I've found on writing short stories.

Jackson, Bruce, The Story Is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories
Thinking more about the listener (or the reader)... Read my blog post about this fascinating collection of essays here.

McKee, Robert, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

A profound and essential book about narrative structure, also useful for writers in other genres, including the short story, novel, creative nonfiction, and more.

Newport, Cal, So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
Four simple but powerful rules.

Oliver, Mary, A Poetry Handbook
This one is short and sweet. Finally, an articulate answer to the question, Why is a rock not a stone? An excellent resource for poets, as well as prose writers, who should never – ever – underestimate the importance of the poetry in their prose.

Piercy, Marge, and Ira Wood, So You Want to Write: How to Master the Craft of Writing Fiction and the Personal Narrative
The chapter on dialogue is the best I've read yet. My workshop students praise this one highly.

Prose, Francine, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

Ricco, Gabriele Lusser, Writing the Natural Way: Using Right-Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers
The first and biggest barrier to writing quality literature is your Left Brain, or your "Sign Mind." This book shows you how to quiet the Sign Mind and let your Design Mind emerge to play.

Scarry, Elaine, Dreaming by the Book
Essential for understanding how and why specific sensory detail "works" to create a vivid picture in the reader's mind.

Sims, Norman, and Mark Kramer, editors, Literary Journalism: A New Collection of the Best American Nonfiction
A bit dated now, but nevertheless an outstanding selection. The introduction on the art of literary journalism (the more fashionable term these days is "creative nonfiction") is vital.

Smiley, Jane, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel
Includes her reviews of 100 novels. A treasure of a book by one of our greatest contemporary novelists.

Pamela Jaye Smith, Inner Drives: How to Write and Create Characters Using the Eight Classic Centers of Motivation
Esoterically fabulous and supremely practical.

Snyder, Blake, Save the Cat!

A snazzy book that reads like, well, your buddy explaining the ropes. It's for screenplay writers but the basics on story structure are useful for short story writers and novels as well.

Tufte, Virginia, Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style

Wood, James, How Fiction Works
Glorious, delectable, and practical.

Zinsser, William Kowlton, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

See also my blog about reading a novel as a writer.