Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What Are Your Favorite Books on Writing?

Exciting news, Curtis Brown's brand spanking new website has gone live! Click around to find some of the wonderful books we've represented over the years, our history, agent bios, and even a snapshot of the old royalty book ledgers. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, Lupina had a great idea for a You Tell Me: What are your favorite books on writing?

I'll kick it off with a nod to Robert McKee's STORY. Yes, it's about screenplays, but I haven't seen a better breakdown of how to create a great plot.

What's your favorite?


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GuyStewart/DISCOVERCHURCH said...

Orson Scott Card's HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY. There is no better book -- and it's obvious that what he does is effective as he has TWO best-selling series, ENDERS GAME (Science Fiction) and ALVIN MAKER (Fantasy). It's also short and re-readable.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss was a good book, it made me think a lot about grammar and punctuation. It was an entertaining book as well, not at all textbook boring.

Wendy said...

BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott and ON WRITING by Stephen King.

Luisa Perkins said...

O.S. Card's Character and Viewpoint and Stephen King's On Writing. Also Anne LaMott's Bird By Bird.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

I love Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD too, Wendy, and I also like Brenda Ueland's IF YOU WANT TO WRITE.

Kiersten said...

The books I've read are mostly on grammar (I studied editing--I'm not THAT boring). Still, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is a must-read, in my opinion.

Lady Glamis said...

One of my favorites is THE ART OF FICTION by John Gardner.

Looks like I need to pick up the ON WRITING by Stephen King. Everybody loves that one, it seems

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

Old standard for all writers is Strunk and White "Elements of Style" and to expand on that, I like "The Writer's Art" by James Kilpatrick.

Eva Gale said...

McKee's STORY, Peter Dunne's EMOTIONAL STRUCTURE, Victoria Schmidt's 45 MASTER CHARACTERS and Debra Dixon's GOAL, MOTIVATION and CONFLICT.

Elaine said...

Good Morning (finally)
Other author's books I read - if they got it into print it must have something good going for it!

Erin said...

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

RW said...

There are a couple of books that I have re-read obsessively during the drafting of my novel and blogged about many many times. I use them for guidance, comfort, a kick in the pants, a reminder that I'm not alone and, most of all, clear practical realistic and intelligent advice. They are:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley and Writing In General and the Short Story In Particular by L. Rust Hills.

Kate Pawson said...

De-lurking to highly recommend Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O'Conner. O'Conner manages to tackle the most confusing rules of grammar in a manner that is both straightforward and entertaining. A must-read for any writer.

acpaul said...

O. S. Card's Characters and Viewpoint, A. Rasley's The Power of Point of View, and H. Lilse's online series.

Crystal Posey said...

Stephen King, ON WRITING. I adore this book. It reminds me that I write for fulfillment not money. And that above all the rules . . . tell the story.

Just_Me said...

I couldn't have survived college without A Short Guide to Writing About Biology by Jan Pechanik.

No, it's not about fiction, it's about organization and research. I still use it.

Alan Orloff said...

I've got two:

Stephen King's On Writing

and the very-hard-to-find, out-of-print-I-believe Dean Koontz book on writing (I read it twenty years ago and don't remember the title. But it was good.)

RW said...

How could I forget How Fiction Works by James Wood? I read it when it came out last summer and have re-read all the material about free indirect style several times. It lead to a big breakthrough for me in developing the POV in my story.

Cameron Chapman said...

My favorites are currently BETWEEN THE LINES by Jessica Page Morrell and WORDS OVERFLOWN BY STARS by the professors of the Vermont College MFA program. Not beginner stuff, but if you're past the basics they are fantastic resources.

Matt Sinclair said...

I still go back to King's On Writing, but one I haven't seen noted here that I enjoyed is Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages.

Crystal Posey said...

And I should throw in Grammar Girl, QUICK AND DIRTY TIPS FOR BETTER WRITING. I went through five other books before I finally got this one. I just started it this week and I know more now than I've ever known. It's the first book on grammar that has ever been able to teach me.

Terri Nixon said...

Self Editing For Fiction Writers - invaluable.

Terri Nixon said...

Sorry, that comment went through too soon! I should have said Self Editing For Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Tanya Egan Gibson said...

RON CARLSON WRITES A STORY (by Ron Carlson) is an amazing little book. It's intended for short story writers, but I found a lot of the advice helpful for writing longer fiction as well.

Rick Daley said...

I hate to seem like an echo, but I have to go with THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE and ON WRITING.

It would be cool if the dictionary definition of redundant was: See REDUNDANT.

WORD VERIFICATION: bledueh. A Canadian colloquialism uttered when one has drawn blood from another.

Nona said...

Save the Cat
Blake Snyder

On Writing
Stephen King

The Plot Thickens
Noah Lukeman

Creativity Rules
John Vorhaus

Bird by Bird
Anne Lamott

Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg

Litgirl01 said...

I have been reading Stein on's good! :-)

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Every writer needs to know the nuts and bolts of grammar, style, punctuation, and usage; I cringe whenever I hear “writers” say they’re going to leave that stuff up to their editors. Hello??? How do you know if you have a good editor if you don’t know the rules yourself?

Rewrite Right! by Jan Venolia is the best resource I’ve come across for simple, easy-to-understand explanations of the rules every writer should know. I used to recommend this book back when I taught technical and business writing and continue to recommend it to fellow members of my writers’ group. Everyone seems to agree—it’s a great, accessible resource.

Nicole said...

Between the Lines by Jessica Morrell.
Plot and Structure & Revision And Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.
Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress.

Marsha Sigman said...

On Writing by Stephen King. No one explains it better in layman's terms than the King.

Anonymous said...

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner is the one that I've loved longest and probably most, but Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Donald Maass is a close second.

I thought the first 15-20 pages of The First Five Pages were pretty good, but the rest of it didn't do much for me.

Syd Field's screenplay books are really good even if you're not writing screenplays, as is Alan Moore's Writing for Comics.

E. J. Tonks said...

I never used writing guides or how-to's. I just devoured every book that has crossed my path since I was five years old! :)

Melissa said...

My favorite books on writing: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King and Story by Robert McKee. They cover all the basics and are pretty easy to comprehend.

Loren Eaton said...

Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft, because it actually delves into some technical material.

CindaChima said...

I'll go with Self Editing For Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. These are great books that help you turn that um crappy first draft into a better book.

liz fenwick said...


Dara said...

BETWEEN THE LINES by Jessica Page Morrell and SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Brown and Dave King. I'm also a fan of the Write Great fiction series (by various authors) where each book is devoted to one particular aspect (like dialogue or plot).

I'm thinking I need to re-read these.

Sam said...

Along with Writing down the Bones, Story and On Writing (which are all good), I recently finished The Art of Fiction by Ayn Rand. I went in ready to disagree with most of it, but it's pretty spot on. While I find her somewhat of a blowhard in her literature, she makes a great point in how to write effective prose:

Write concretes, not abstractions (IE, love is a many splendored thing, but the word doesn't inherantly say anything. There are many kinds of love, instead of saying 'he loved her', show us what that means.)

Charecters should influence the plot, not vice-versa. She goes on and on about her hatred for 'naturalist' literature, by which she means literature that is supposed to be 'realistic' but ends up with charecters set in motion by a plot, and being dictated by it, with their own actions of little to no consequence. She heavily crticizes Joyce and Sinclair Lewis for that.

She also does a good job of explaining her own literature and how minor changes in a scene can destroy it. How a scene that may superfically look the same as another one, has drastic diferences due to the exact words and actions used.

It is not a very well balanced book on its own, but it is very good at hammering it's points into you. Kind of like her fiction.

Christopher M. Park said...

Goodness, there are so many excellent ones. I'm quite a fan of Orson Scott Card's HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY, as well as his other book on characterization. The advice in those about publishing (as opposed to writing itself) is quite outdated, though.

Stephen King's ON WRITING was quite good, and so was BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott.

I have to say, the book that I found most helpful in recent years was DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, by Chris Roerden. Disclaimer: I am cited in her cross-genre followup, DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION, but I was posting about how much I loved her books on writing long before that came about.

ryan field said...

A small writers manual that was pubbed about twenty years ago by Rita Mae Brown, author of RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE and more.

Heather said...

I kind of hate books about writing. Self-help and how-to books are pretty useless to me in general.

But I do like Ann Lamott (Traveling Mercies was amazing). And my mentor in college had us read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron in our graduate fiction writing class. It was okay, but perhaps a little too emotional/spiritual/psychological than it needed to be.

I'm an editor for a living, so I use style guides as Bibles. But my favorite MLA book is The Little English Handbook by Corbett and Finkle. And I do like Elements of Style. I'm forced to use the Chicago Manual of Style for tech writing stuff, though I think the book itself is overly convoluted and horribly organized.

On Writing read like indulgent narcissism to me. ;) And I'm not a Stephen King fan, so reading about his writing process felt a little counterproductive to me. I think I gave up about halfway through his life story because I was bored.

Eh. I don't mean to be overly negative. I would just rather go to a workshop or seminar on writing than read about it in a book, which is why I spend my money on SCBWI dues and conferences. (Although... way more expensive than buying books, I suppose. ahahaha)

rightonmom said...

All together now:

ON WRITING, the master Stephen King.

Also, Strunk and White.

And now I've got lots of other good ones to check out, thanks to all of you.

Anonymous said...

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing.


Bane of Anubis said...

Definitely Strunk & White & King's On Writing.

Madison said...

Jim Denney's QUIT YOUR DAY JOB! I learned SO much in that book! :D

Mira said...

Cool website, Nathan.

How come you're not listed on the agent's page? Is it UK only?

In terms of books, my favorites were already mentioned:

Grammer: I'm reading Woe is I. A nice accessible lightly written book that's been very helpful.

Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird. Very inspirational.

I have to say I'm surprised at how many people liked Stephen King's On Writing. That book totally pissed me off. 90% is a biography - who cares. The voice is muddy - yes, I know he got in a car accident halfway through, but so? Clarify the voice. And the 10pages that are actually about writing are highly judgmental. I'm glad other people like it, but I can't think of it without wanting to throw something against the wall.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm on there.

Also, we're a separate company from Curtis Brown UK.

Samantha Tonge said...

Wannabe a Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones. It is HILARIOUS and as well as being informative, covers all the important things like the necessity of chocolate and writer's arse:)

Lucy said...

Annnnnd, nobody's noticed our holiday, so here goes:

Nathan, I know when you say to query you by email, you really mean to post it here on the blog so we can educate other readers. I'm confident that my query will be a stupendous example for everyone.

[This letter comes on pink paper with purple handwritten text, scented with ambergris. Small red and blue plastic monkeys will fall out when you open it. Oh, yeah, the dog kind of chewed on one of them. I'm assuming that this personal touch will really appeal to you, and you will suggest that my dog should have someone ghostwrite his fiction novel memoir about the time he buried one of Cormac McCarthy's shoes.]

April 1, 2009

Dear Savage Dude Bransford (you axe-wielding querry killer, you),

That you never expected to get a proposal like this, I can only speculate. But what would happen if space monkeys decided to take control of the world by controlling all our TV networks and taking over The Bachelor? That it would be total chaos? Hah, so what?

That would be nothing compared to what happens when the Secret Society of Rhetorical Questionarians decides to attack litanary agencies all over the world and incapacitate agents by spiking their blood pressure Jupiter-high with 5.8 million rhetorical queries at once. What's a liturgary agent to do? That Curtis Brown, Ltd. must seek out the services of a high school grammar teacher is not in doubt. And also sumbudee hoo kin spel, cuz These sekret sosighety peepl rillee hayt speling and nevr lernd it in skoul.

Do you like making bundles of money? That I do, is true too. Woo-hoo! That we will sell a million of my Bachelor Space Monkeys novel cannot be questioned, can it? What if I send it to you next week? Just as soon as I buy about forty more reams of paper? That you would like an exclusive read of my 10,000,000 word single-spaced novel in Wingdings font, I am sure of.

What if this is my forty-third novel? That I should just wait and send you the other forty-two at the same time, I am wondering now, because maybe it could save postage, especially if I print some of them on the back of the pages of Bachelor Space Monkeys? The forty-fourth novel is called Bachelor Space Monkeys, the Sequel, but it is not done yet, so I will just send you the partial and you can make up your mind, but I know you will love it, so why don't you see if you can get me a deal? That it would make a great movie, you can believe, just look at the date on this letter to see that timing is everything.

Your new client,

Reed N. Lurk


Oh, yeah, the books on writing thing: Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul. Definitely.

Mark Terry said...



THE WELL-FED WRITER by Peter Bowerman

Lucy said...

P.S. Nathan, do you need a barf bag yet? :-) The recycled shopping bag/envelope in which I sent my query could be recycled again.....

I quit, I quit, I'm outa here..... :-)

Margaret Yang said...

PLOT by Ansen Dibell and WRITING THE NOVEL, FROM PLOT TO PRINT by Lawrence Block are my two current favorites. I have hand-sold PLOT to every person in my writer's group because every time I lend it out, my friend loves it so much she buys her own copy.

Nathan Bransford said...

Haha.. Reed N. Lurk sounds like someone with a very bright future.

Jean Wise said...

Currently I am enjoying and learning from A Syllable of Water, 20 writers of faith reflect on their art. Includes Phillip Yancey, Richard Foster and Keith Miller.
Jean Wise

Bane of Anubis said...

Mira, Nathan's on there - the Rice farmer who made good at Stanford

Funny, the bird by bird full title is: "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" - which strikes me as a bit more pretentious than "On Writing."

I'm in the opposite camp - definitely found King's book much more useful. Sure it's some biography and there's a lot of learning by example, but he sets up some decent basic guidelines that are more fundamentally useful to me (probably for their generality) than the Bird by Bird formulas.

Michelle Moran said...

Definitely STORY. And Victoria Lynn Schmidt's 45 MASTER CHARACTERS does a pretty good job summarizing "types" and giving examples of them for beginning (or not?) creative writers.

Karen said...

WRITING THE MEMOIR - A Practical Guide to the Craft, the Personal Challenges, and Ethical Dilemmas of Writing Your True Stories by Judith Barrington has been useful to me. After the "Million Little Pieces" fiasco, it's going to be an uphill battle to restore credibility to this genre. Barrington's book lays a solid foundation for writing creatively while maintaining authenticity.

Mira said...

Nathan - I'm sorry. I see you now! Right under the VP. Cool. :-)

Marilyn Peake said...

I hope this is O.K. to mention here. The timing is perfect. I'm so excited, I can hardly sit still long enough to type.

Late last night, I found out that a book about writing and acting that I compiled and edited has been selected as a Finalist in two categories of the 2008 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards: Performing Arts/Drama and Writing. The competition was tough. Harvard, Yale, and many other university presses enter this contest. In the Performing Arts/Drama category, we placed along with a book by Federico Fellini, a book that went behind the scenes in the making of an Indiana Jones movie, an official X-Files book, and more. And here are the Finalists in the Writing category.

O.K., I need to go calm down, get some work done, and update my website.

Sea Hayes said...


Mira said...

Rebecca - thanks for mentioning Brenda Ueland's If you want to write.

I love that book! It's outdated, and religious, and you have to look past the fact that she judges everyone who isn't an artistic writer. Also, her examples go on way too long.

But get past all that, it's worth it. Best book I've ever read on writing.

If you want to know why you should write, even if you never get published, this one is the one.

Also Anne Lamott's book is good for that as well.

Lisa Mantchev said...

Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers" (yes, I started in playwriting...)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Aristotle's POETICS


Elizabeth George WRITE AWAY





WRITING FICTION (out of print, I'm sure, it's from 20, er, several years ago).

Mira said...

Marilyn - congratulations!! That's wonderful news. Your awards list just keeps growing and growing.


sex scenes at starbucks said...

OMG, how could I forget:

adrcremer said...

Orson Scott Card

Also, Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice for Writers is a wonderful book, not so much for advice on writing but for insight into the writing (and publishing) life.

Vancouver Dame said...

Favorite writing books: Stephen King's 'On Writing' is a great resource - and tells you about the author's resolve; 'How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy' by Orson S. Card was another great book which carries over to all types of writing. Two others, 'The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, Volume One' by Dave Law & Darin Park with chapters by 16 authors is a very good book, and 'Writing Mysteries', edited by Sue Grafton, is another book that draws on several authors' writing expertise.

I wrote so many of Stephen King's comments down when I read his book, such as 'write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open'. He also said you need a 'writing place' to show others that you're serious. I haven't read many of his novels, but I appreciate where he's coming from now.

I hope to discover some new books with the other readers' comments. Great question, Lupina.

Thanks Nathan, and do you know of any writing books that you could recommended as being useful?

Anonymous said...

John Truby's The Anatomy of Story is excellent.

~Lindsey S

Kate H said...

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott--hilarious, insightful, gets you back into perspective.

The Art of Fiction, On Becoming a Novelist, and On Moral Fiction by John Gardner. He's the best. Period.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass is a great help in tightening up a book that's not quite there.

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Great techniques for tapping into the subconscious and developing the habit of writing.

A Writer's Space by Eric Maisel. Short inspirational chapters, wonderful antidote to writer's block.

Mystery and Manners by Flannery O'Connor. Essential for writers of faith.

Sol Stein on Writing covers all the basics of technique very competently.

Mira said...

Lucy, that was hilarious.

Bane, Nathan went to Stanford? Wow. Wow, Nathan.

Also, that's cool that you like Stephen King's book. Evidentally, you're not alone. I don't mean to rant about it, I was just disappointed. Not what I was looking for.

leigh said...

Indirections, for those who want to write, Sidney Cox (Godine)

and this from Wikipedia on Brenda Ueland...Incredible book--

"Carl Sandburg called If You Want to Write "the best book ever written on how to write." It was republished in 1983 by the Schubert Club of St. Paul, Minnesota, and then picked up by Graywolf Press, for which it remains their bestselling title"

Kate H said...

And how could I forget, two great books on the creative process:

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers

Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle

Anonymous said...


Melanie Avila said...

My #1 favorite is Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel. I was constantly jumping up from the couch to take notes on yet another idea for my wip that his geniousness inspired.

After that, Lamott's Bird by Bird and King's On Writing.

Jen P said...

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss

Writers' and Artists' Yearbook - every year there's something new 'on writing' from authors, editors and other insiders

Questions on the website: How closely or otherwise do the various Curtis Brown(s) work together around the world - as UK, Australia and now the US sites are all uniquely branded and don't mention each other. If, for example, am a UK represented author, would my CB UK agent work with his US office counterparts for contacts etc - or are you all quite independent?

Nathan Bransford said...


We sometimes work together on certain projects, but we're mostly independent.

Thomas Burchfield said...

"The Spooky Art" by Norman Mailer
"The Art of Fiction" by John Gardner
"The Writer's Chapbook" edited by George Plimpton.
"The Plot Thickens" by Noah Lukeman

Any personal accounts of writing by writers I find invaluable, inspiring and consoling.

For the nuts and bolts of writing prose, it's Elements of Style (or as it co-editor said, "Read the Little Book!"

"Simple and Direct" by Jacques Barzun

"Garner's Dctionary of Modern American Usage"

"Writing the Genre Novel" by James Joyce.

Joseph said...

This will sound odd, but:

Isaac Asimov's I, ROBOT is a great study of the technical side of character development.

Robots have 3 heirarchical rules governing their behaviors...what are your character's 3 rules?

Jeni said...

"The Art of Writing True" by Elizabeth Berg is a great one (and even has some reallllly good recipes at the back).

Yat-Yee said...

Zinssner's On Writing Well.

misterovich said...

James Wood: How Fiction Works
David Mamet: On Directing Film
Lynda Barry: What It Is

David said...

Strange but true... Screenplay by Syd Field was the single most helpful book I have ever read for writing fiction.

I used the principles I learned in that book for my latest project, and it is by far the best thing I have ever written.

I don't even have any interest in writing screenplays, nor do I think I would be any good at it. But for writing commercial fiction, it is the DEAL.

Ink said...

I'll second the On Writing and Bird by Bird recommendations, as well as anything by John Gardner. And the James Wood book, How Fiction Works, is a wonderful exploration of the craft.

And here's where things get new and interesting...

For the overlooked art of revision: Revising Fiction, by David Madden, and The Artful Edit, by Susan Bell (which was great).

Further memoiry book on writing I admit to liking: Sometimes the Magic Works, by Terry Brooks.

Also: From Where We Dream, Robert Olen Butler.

And most importantly (so I'll capitalize):


These are three collections of the best of the interviews from the renowned Paris Review, in which many of the world's great writers discuss their lives and their craft. Read these. If you don't learn at least something interesting I'll personally buy the books from you.

My best,

PS - all vows and fiscal claims herein are based on pseudo-reality and should be taken as a clever and brilliant rhetorical ploy. Any attempt to take such claims differently will lead to disappointment for all involved.

Anonymous said...

The book that taught me how to plot novels readers tell me they can't put down is Alicia Rasley's Story Within Guidebook.

It's self-published and a bit raw, but those of you who have been involved with RWA know that Alicia as one of the best teachers of writing to ever teach.

If you get stuck half way through books and can't find the rest of your plot, this is the book for you. I have just about worn my copy through, as I go through it step by step every time I work on a story.

Jordan Summers said...

On Writing by Stephen King, Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham, Settings by Jack Bickham, Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan, and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

Does anyone know of any good instructional 'dialogue' books?

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

Bird by Bird--Anne Lamott
On Writing--Stephen King

Bahnree said...

I just read The Writing Life by Annie Dillard and think it's fantastic: I'll definitely read it again and again.
Also, No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty is a fave.

Anonymous said...

Stein on Writing (for Jordan Summers, this book has dedicates a chapter to dialogue and I think it gives great tools.)
O.S. Card's Character and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, also his website has some great responses to various writing questions.

Vancouver Dame said...

A good book on dialogue is 'Write Great Fiction - Dialogue' by Gloria Kempton. Lots of examples and techniques.

Another excellent book (on specifics) is Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress.

Anonymous said...

--agent Betsy Lerner


--Sophie Burnham

2 that have not been mentioned

Furious D said...

Love the new Curtis-Brown web-site, very nice, very nice indeed. And judging by your picture on the site, you need a haircut. ;)

As for favourite writing books... let's see...

Elements of Style - You gotta know the rules before you break them.

Stephen King's On Writing - Very simple and direct discussion of the importance of clarity, simplicity, and rewriting.

John Gardner's The Art of Fiction - The first book about writing I ever read when I got it in university. A must have.

And here is something I think everyone should read: A really bad novel.

Yep, every writer needs something that will make them say to themselves "I can do better than that." To give them not only inspiration, but a cautionary example. I won't say what my examples are, because some folks in Canada hold them up as classics, so I won't offend their delicate sensibilities.

Maidenfine said...

I have to second Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. My mom got it for me when I turned 18 and I've re-read it several times in the 10 years since then. Every once in a while I have to refocus and do her activities for encouraging creativity on demand. But whenever I've read that book within the last couple years, I never get writers block. I'm probably due for another re-read.

Right now, I am also reading Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb. I haven't gotten very far, but my best friend swears that it's the most helpful book she's ever read.

lauren said...

My favorite is Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, edited by Leonard Marcus. It's the collected correspondence of the editor of such children's classics as Charlotte's Web and Harriet the Spy, among many, many others. It's not at all a how-to book, but I get more excited about writing and children's literature from reading that book than any other. Nordstrom's revision letters are the stuff of brilliance, and most writers will likely pick up a few tips for their own work from reading them. Highly recommended for children's and YA writers!

I learned the most about voice and general sentence-by-sentence mechanics from Lolita.

And I'll second Nathan (and forty-fourth the rest of you) with Story, which has been a very valuable and grounding book for a flighty "oh, I just want to write pretty sentences all day!" writer such as myself.

Gabriella said...


by Darden Asbury Pyron (not a book on writing...but covers so much of Ms. Mitchell's thoughts on writing while she wrote GWTW which took her something like 15 years to complete!)

Hilary said...

RON CARLSON WRITES A STORY--he goes through his process using one of his own stories as an example. He was my professor at ASU and he used to say things like "Did it happen? No. Is it true? Yes," and, "Write until your parents tell you to come away from the desk and have a cracker." Reading his book is like being in that class again--very inspiring, and when he uses his own work as examples it makes you feel like you might one day be able to do what he does.

other lisa said...

Among the many things at which I suck, keeping mental lists of favorite things is one of them. The only book on writing I can even remember reading right now is "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. This isn't so much a "how to write" book as a "how to get out of your own way and fulfill your potential as a writer" book. I'm not usually big on the self-help, but while this short book got a little repetitive for me, some of the nuts and bolts advice I found really valuable. Things like, "Treat writing like a job. The first rule of a job is, you show up, whether you feel like it or not."

I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

The book is great medicine for creative, talented people who think "the Muse" or the Fame Fairy (I live in LA) is just magically going to come to them.

other lisa said...

Oooh! The Curtis Brown blog is really cool!

"Nonar." That's like...negative sonar?

Michael Pickett said...

I have to mention two here. First, Ray Bradbury's "Zen in the Art of Writing." Bradbury is my favorite writer ever and there is no better book to get pumped to sit down and write. Second, Stephen King's "On Writing." I don't like King's fiction much, but I love every time he writes about writing.

Scott said...

I liked On Writing by SK, as well. I prefer to get into a writer's head rather than just be given an enumerated set of rules.

However, for the best of both worlds as far as I've seen, I highly recommend writers check out author Dan Simmons' Writing Well section of his website. He quotes great American writers such as Twain and Hemingway, and comments on their comments on writing. It's well-written and leans towards the practical, and for a guy like myself who apparently has a very masculine voice, it's something nice and gritty to chew on. That said, I think any writer would benefit greatly from his words.

coner n. 1. the guy who lays out traffic cones for various road work projects and probably makes $30 an hour doing it.

Heather Harper said...

A Writer's Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work by Jack Hart

the-sea-to said...

Not one to know much about "How to write books" (not a plea for info, just tend to attack any challenge from such a variety of sources no single one seems best)

But did want to say the new website looks lovely, very nicely laid out, very clear and (my personal bugbear as I audit buildings for people with disabilities) extremely accessible.

Well done!

Pure Fiction said...

'How to write a damn good novel' by James n Frey - very cheesy, but I found it helpful, particularly with rewriting.

The First Carol said...

Two of Elizabeth Lyon's books: Manuscript Makeover and A Writer's Guide to Fiction. Third on my list is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, but that's only for painful moments when no other book is in my bag.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm still a fan of Strunk and White.

I like the new website! Very snazzy. Only thing I might suggest after a quick read-through is a sentence on the submissions page indicating that some agents take email queries (which they seem to indicate in their bios).

Rebecca said...

I, too, admire and use McKee's STORY. I even attended his weekend seminar
a couple of years ago.

But last year I came across James N. Frey's HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL and was smitten. So then I found his HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL II and, naturally, HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY. He uses the frame of the hero's journey, but most importantly, he actually creates a story, chapter by chapter, for you to follow along.

I give Jim five stars.

Rebecca Butler

M. Dunham said...

The book I think that deserves a shout-out is "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers." What a fabulous learning tool, and one I wish more users would employ.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

For technical stuff: Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel (and the workbook too). This is currently my go-to book.

For 'let's break down how really great authors accomplish things': Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer.

For 'feeling like a writer': Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.

I also have Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town on this shelf here, which I must reread.

SMD said...

I have a ton of writing books, but the best ones are those that get me writing as soon as I put them down. These are the most effective books for me:

Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldman
What If? Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

Martin Willoughby said...

Like many, I would recommend 'On Writing' by Stephen King. Plain simple advice alongside a mini-autobiography to show how it works.

Maybe a poll of the most listed here to see which one is best?

Mercy Loomis said...

Like so many others, Strunk & White and Orson Scott Card are high on my list.

My personal favorite is James Scott Bell's REVISION & SELF-EDITING. I think it's be best writing book ever. I really liked his PLOT & STRUCTURE too.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. It's hysterical, and so very, very true. 200 classic writing mistakes, with tongue-in-cheek examples.

I'm also very fond of Jack Bickham's THE 38 MOST COMMON FICTION WRITING MISTAKES (AND HOW TO AVOID THEM). Also Lori Perkins's THE INSIDER'S GUIDE TO GETTING AN AGENT has lots of good information as well.

dbgrady said...

"On Writing" by Stephen King, though the part about how easy it is to get a literary agent is worth a chuckle.

I could not write without the Strunk and White and the "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate" by my side. The "New York Times Manual of Style" is often useful for tricky phrases and general arcana.

other lisa said...

O/T, but Harper Studio announces new eBook pricing!

Belynda said...

I just finished reading "Backwards and Forwards" by David Ball, and I must say it was really excellent. It was laugh-out-loud funny at moments, but had some great info on plot, forwards, subtext, etc.

It's actually written for those involved in stage productions, and the examples he uses are all derived from Hamlet, but it has a lot of great information for writers of all genres.

Marilyn Peake said...

The new Curtis Brown website looks fantastic!!

seanachi said...

Really love Debra Dixon's Goal, Moativation, and Conflict. King's On Writing is also a favorite. And for general inspiration, I enjoy Madeleine L'Engle's Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life.

M Clement Hall said...

I'll give three:
a)Chicago Manual of Style is essential to acceptable formatting.
b) Maass "Writing the Beakthrough Novel" explains all the mistakes we make, and how to correct them.
c) Forster's "Aspect of the Novel" was good in 1927, and remains just as useful today (if you can get a copy).

T.D. Newton said...

"How Not To Write A Novel" has to be my favorite.

Anonymous said...

My favorite is "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell.

Dan said...


- How often do agents pass queries to one another within the CB office? Ever? Never? Once a week?


I'm surprised no one mentioned the 3 AM EPIPHANY by Brian Kitely.

Though the best advice I ever received wasn't in a book: just write, write, write.

Connie said...

ON WRITING by Stephen King.

Nathan Bransford said...


Not often, but we definitely pass some things around if we think someone else might be a better fit.

Sam Hranac said...

I'm with Yat-Yee regarding William Zinssner's On Writing Well. That's a long time favorite of mine. But for year-in, year-out reference value, I keep picking up Strunk and White.

Irish B said...


Chris Bates said...

Nice work, Bransfordians.

There's some great how-to books mentioned in the previous posts. Certainly a few that have escaped my attention prior to this, so I should make an effort to chase them up.

I think that some of the best how-to books are actually created by ourselves.

I used to obsess about screenplay story and structure to the point that I would go to the cinema, watch a film for fun, then buy a ticket to the very next screening with my pen and notepad at the ready.

Also those 10 for $10 video rental deals sustained me for a few years. I'd hit 'play' then proceed to pause the film constantly wilst taking notes. My partner at the time couldn't stand to be in the same room.

And, man, how good are those screenplay archives on the net? A budding writer can read and deconstruct for ever and a day.

I haven't been quite as obsessive with novels. Although I do tend to dog-ear hundreds of pages for further reference ... only to re-read those passages later and not have a clue as to why I marked them!

I'm not a particularly well-read person when it comes to books - I read my first complete book, Brave New World, at age 16 - so I am way behind the eight ball compared to many of the posters here. When I look at the reading material people mention in their posts I'm aware that these people are educating themselves by osmosis on a book-by-book basis. The content of this education impresses the hell outta me. Here I am reading 'The Saint' whilst others are probably wading in Finnegans Wake!

What I have come to understand is that there is a ton of how-to stuff residing in those oft cited classic novels. We just gotta read between the lines and take note, so to speak.

Ajax said...

I recommend the audio version of Stephen King's "On Writing". He narrates it himself, and it is like taking a class from the man himself. Pretty good stuff! I have listened to it about 10 times and never get tired of it.

Dawn said...

We should see how many copies of On Writing are sold after this post. I just bought one.

MadTheodore said...

Creating Short Fiction, by Damon Knight. In spite of the title, I think it applies well to writing novels, too. Pehaps I like it because he calls his creative subconscious Fred, which amuses me, because mine is named Fred, too. Orson's books are OK, but I keep going back to Damon's. As for Stephen King, in spite of his success, I would rather quit writing than write like him. I think his writing would be better if he threw half of it OUT.

Chuck H. said...

I was going to say those Dick and Jane books I had to read in first grade. They bored me so much that I started writing my own stories.

I actually only own two books on writing. They are:

Screenwriting From The Soul by Richard Krevolin

Right Brain Write On! by Bill Downey

Other than that it's just dictionary and thesaurus.

Is the King book really that good? I thought about buying it but never could find it at a discount. Yeah, I'm cheap.

Anonymous said...

The Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri. A very straightforward look at the nuts and bolts of what makes a story.


mary beth said...

Anne Bogart's "A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater" is my favorite book on the creative process. It's about making theater but the lessons are applicable to any kind of creative endeavor. I also love Stephen King's "On Writing."

aleesha said...

Stephen King's On Writing. It was much better than I expected. I also love William Zinssner's On Writing Well. Both books are used frequently in my creative writing class.

terryd said...

I've read most of 'em.

Here's one that I found quite helpful when writing my novel:
MAKE A SCENE by Jordan E. Rosenfeld.

Myra said...

James Scott Bell -

Plot and Structure
Revision and Self Editing

Both "you can do it" books, like classes taught by a professor who doesn't even own a red pen. Lots of encouragement and solid advice and a nice place to turn when you get a little bit lost.

Mira said...

Oh my god. The Stephen King thing has taken off and now has a mind of it's own.

I am now on a vendetta. I'm on an anti-Stephen-King's-Book-On-Writing vendatta.

My dislike of that book has now reached red-hot poker proportions. It's become my life mission to stop people from reading that book.

It's not a noble life goal.

It's not even a worthy life goal.

In fact, it's a rather embarassing life goal.

I don't care. It's my goal, and I'm sticking to it.

Melissa McInerney said...


ON WRITING Stephen King

Do they actually work? Well, until I'm an author, the jury is still out. At least I know what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm filled with the desire and motivation to write.

Mara Wolfe said...

I'm a fantasy writer, so my favorite book on writing is How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. He really knows what he's talking about, and I recommend it to all speculative fiction writers.

Anonymous said...

The Writing Soldier by RObert N Stephenson is excellent. You can download it for free here:

there has been a few problems with the site today, so if it doesn't work, try again in awhile.

Lupina said...

Wow, I checked in late today and was stunned to see my idea in play (thanks so much, Nathan) and 133 replies already!

I am so glad because many books I was unaware of are now on my "must buy" list, especially those of Orson Scott Card. I've read his entire Ender series but somehow never knew he wrote help books.

As for me, Strunk and White is indispensable but my favorite nightstand companion is Lawrence Block's "Telling Lies for Fun and Profit; a Manual for Fiction Writers." With great foreword by Sue Grafton. Block's wit and great use of literary example, along with keen insight into the transparent mind foibles of most writers keep me coming back to it.
I like Donald Maas too.

I'm now going to re-read the entries with pen and paper in hand.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions!

RainSplats said...

I prefer to read novels while I'm wearing my writers' spectacles. It's easy to figure out what I like and what annoys me.

There was a series of "He said, She said" posts on the net that I liked once. I think they took it down when they turned it into a book. Too bad I don't know what the book is called :/

Anonymous said...

Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. LeGuin, and On Teaching and Writing Fiction, by Wallace Stegner

April Hollands said...

Actually, Enid Blyton books probably gave me the best ideas about how to write because they got me interested in reading and gave me a great head start with the English language as a result. And anything by David Crystal.

Gabrielle Faust said...

Stephen King, On Writing

Sally Apokedak said...


William Zinsser ON WRITING WELL


I've learned from many more, but these are the ones that keep on teaching me, it seems.

Steve Axelrod said...

In Writing A Novel, his 1974 handbook for aspiring authors, John Braine dispenses a great deal of no-nonsense, working-class advice for carpentering a first book together. Unlike writers as otherwise diverse as E.M. Forster and Ernest Hemingway, he makes no claim (implicit or explicit) that his notions are universally applicable.

“The rules I lay down for the writing of a novel are the ones that suit me,” he says early on. “I don’t assert that my way of writing a novel is the best or only way; only that it works.”

It’s hard to argue with that. He recommends writing a brief synopsis and then charging forward with the goal of a finished draft, however messy. Then you write another outline and start patching holes and making sense of the narrative. A novel should cover no more than a year. 100,000 words is the maximum length. And no digressions:

A straightforward passage in time with no flashbacks is best. It is absolutely legitimate for your characters to remember what happened in the past; they’d be very odd if they didn’t. But they should talk about it or think about it; it mustn’t be presented in the same way as the main action of your novel. And it should be kept brief; go into the past for much over 500 words and the story comes to a dead stop.

Later in the book, he gives some typically blunt and practical advice on narrative viewpoint:

I strongly recommend that your first novel should be in the first person. While you must never avoid what is difficult out of laziness, it doesn’t make sense not to take the easiest way if, provably, it works. And first person narrative works. It’s entirely natural to buttonhole the audience and tell them all the things that happened to you personally. The use of first person gives your tale veracity. You know all the details because you were there; you tell the story because it happened to you … another advantage of the first person: you depict the main character’s thoughts absolutely naturally. When someone is telling you a story in real life, you take it for granted he’ll tell you his thoughts.

Braine is wonderful and I highly recommend this no-nonsense book.

And I don;t think anyone has mentioned E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel, another essantial volume.

Jen C said...

I'm not going to read the comments section too closely today, because I have this... problem, when it comes to books, especially writing books. And I've already spent my book budget for this month AND next month. (Although it's not uncommon for me to dip into my food budget to buy more books..)

I will say that I never ended up reading On Writing by SK all the way through. It's still there on my shelf (borrowed from my sister.. oops!), but I only got as far as his childhood before I moved on to something else. I'm haphazard like that. Perhaps I should give it another shot..

And, ZOMG!! Nathan, your company was responsible for the movie TEX!!!! Man, I freaking love that movie!

Word veri: spesso. The new slang for special, taking over from spesh. i.e. That TEX movie sure was spesso!

Jodi said...

Cameron, King and Lamott, by all means. Also AMY TAN's THE OPPOSITE OF FATE; URSULA K. LE GUIN's STEERING THE CRAFT; URSULA HEGI's INTRUSIONS; MANJUSVARA's WRITING YOUR WAY; for poets...AADDONIZIO and LAUX' THE POET'S COMPANION and for moms trying to make a career of writing (and other people, too) CHRISTINA KATZ' WRITER MAMA.

Bee Hylinski said...

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott; On Writing Well, by William Zinsser; Baseball: The Writer's Game, by Mike Shannon and The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform, by Stephanie Chandler

knight_tour said...

Hmm, I seem to have read, and liked, most of those already mentioned, but my favorite is On Writing by Stephen King.

R.Fife said...

Its more editing than writing, but I love Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. The tips in are really useful in helping to take a step back an look at how a new pair of eyes might see your work.

Anonymous said...

I saw someone actually mention my book 'The Writing Soldier' - I think it has to come with a warning as the book is not for everyone, and in some instances even put someone off writing all together. This book was put together to help with writers who procrastinate, and who think this business is easy. The Writing Soldier has helped many new writers find their way on quite a number of levels

The download file is a pdf, so please make sure your pdf settings are correct - or in IE just save file.

I thank the person who did suggest the book. But my own favourite was by Orson Scott Card and I suppose part of him rubbed off on me.

Again it was a surprise to see my book on the list - and yes download free at

Robert N Stephenson

Lucinda said...

Besides the usual resources (dictionaries, thesaurus, internet, etc), I have learned from Strunk’s Elements of Style about simple grammar problems and how to correct them.

Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, by David Morrell changed my life, my writing and my attitude. He has a revised edition of this book now out. It is called, The Successful Novelist. He first became a teacher of literature, and then wrote books. He is the author of the infamous Rambo series. His books on writing cover everything from what goes on in our minds to what goes on the paper, advice on getting published, and in the revised edition, he covers marketing. He seems to love to teach as well as write. And, he even answers his emails.

I bought On Writing by Stephen King, but like Heather, I didn’t finish reading it. First, he recommends that we eliminate all useless words and phrases (similar to Strunk), then clutters his writing with unnecessary adjectives. I already know how to cuss.

One other writer that, even though his books are not "on writing," his writings make one think beyond their private little worlds. I have just begun reading books by Robert Fulghum. (Yes, I am behind in my reading by a couple decades)

Thank you Nathan for posting this topic. I wanted a better list of recommended books to read during my quest to write books that others will want to read.

Tamara said...

Wow. There are some great ideas here. I have to put in another vote for Stephen King's ON WRITING and Robert McKee's STORY. Thanks for posing the question, Nathan.

L.C.McCabe said...

Well, I'm a bit late to this game, BUT maybe this will be beneficial.

My friend Jordan Rosenfeld, author of the fabulous Writers Digest book MAKE A SCENE: Craft a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time has a limited time offer.

She is moving and would like to unload her inventory of author copies of that book and also of WRITE FREE: Attracting the Creative Life that she co-wrote with Becca Lawton.

She is willing to sell them for $10 each, free shipping.

Normally each book sells for $14.99.

Send her an email at if you'd like to try to snag yourself a copy.

Supplies are limited. Act now!

So this isn't totally a commercial for a friend of mine, I'll add a different title to the mix that has not been mentioned before. My favorite book that I use to inspire my dramatic writing is Michael Shurtleff's AUDITION: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part.

I love that book. He explains so much, including the reason why alcohol is written into scenes. It is not to withdraw, but to lower inhibitions and take risks that you might otherwise be too fearful. My favorite line from that book is "Conflict is Drama."

Jo said...

I'm stunned to see Stein on Writing mentioned so often. I never see anyone talk about it. The best book on writing ever.

Also good:
Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors byBrandilyn Collins

Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton

Hooked also by Les Edgerton

Eva Ulian said...

These are the 15 books I found most useful and still use at times, so they are not for sale:

1. How to Write Realistic Dialogue
(Can’t do without this even now)
by Jean Saunders also by same
2. The Craft of Writing Romance
3. The First Five Pages
by Noah Lukeman
4. Writing the Blockbuster Novel
by Albert Zuckerman
5. Twenty Master Plots
by Ronal B. Tobais
6. The Fiction Writers’ Handbook
by Nancy Smith
7. Conflict, Action & Suspense
by William Noble
8. Beginnings, Middles & Ends
by Nancy Kress
9. How to Write for Children
by Tessa Krailing
10. How to Write Stories for
Magazines by Donna Baker
11. Creating Characters
by Dwight V. Swain
12. How to Get Published and make
a lot of Money by Susan Page
13. Writing to Sell
by Scott Meredith
14. How to Write & Sell True Crime
by Gary Provost
15. Cause of Death... a writer’s
by Keith D. Wilson, M.D.

Anonymous said...

Stephen King's On Writing, because it has good observations and for other possibly obvious reasons.

Richard Lewis said...

I read some place last year that ELEMENTS OF STYLE and STORY have done more to stifle genuine creativity that the whole host of MFA programs put together.

I can't recall who said it, and the post was sarcastic in tone, but if you stop to think about it, there's some truth in that.

The trouble is, the exceptional writers to whom these great books would be stifling are the geniuses, which you and I most assuredly not.

Richard Lewis said...

"are not"

Although we wish we were.

Jen C said...

The trouble is, the exceptional writers to whom these great books would be stifling are the geniuses, which you and I most assuredly not.

Speak for yourself! I'm pure genius in everything I do...

Robin Constantine said...

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I love her sense of humor. The chapter Radio Station KFKD is hilarious (and so true!)

A classic.

JD Spikes said...

I'm with Wendy. Both Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD and Stephen King's ON WRITING were the only craft books I've located so far that speak to the pantser in me.

Kathleen Ryan said...




Scott said...

Anyone interested in my new book On On Writing? It's all about this great book by Steven King. :)

Casey McGill said...

Bird by Bird Anne Lamont definitely. You're coming to my school on April 7 & 8th! See you there. And at The Collective you should definitely try the sandwich called the Center of the Universe.

Rick Daley said...


The new Curtis Brown website is excellent. It look sharp and it's easy to navigate. I've had my turn at website design, and it is not small task. For whatever it's worth, please pass along my accolades to those responsible for its development, they really did a great job!

Gina B. said...

I can't believe no one has mentioned: THE LIE THAT TELLS A TRUTH, by John Dufresne.


Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Books about writing books?
If writers are writing about something they have never seen, heard, felt or done - then the 'how to' book would be a must - is anyone actually doing that?
(Talk to the person who did it - or buy the book written by the person who did it - or as close as you can find ) then visualise it - plan the 'journey' (space, time, physically, mentally, emotionally and socially) - and write; let them live - play God.

Anonymous said...

I want your babies!!

Lydia Sharp said...


Mira said...

Scott - can you just kill me now. It would be kinder.

Anon - I have no babies to give you - sorry.

Anonymous said...

Techniques of the Selling Writer (Swain),
Anatomy of Story (Truby),
Writing to Sell(Meredith),
The Art of Dramatic Writing (Egri), The Plot Thickens (Luckman),
Story (McKee),

abc said...

My screenwriting teacher in college introduced me to Natalie Goldberg and I was lucky enough to see her speak at Prairie Lights in Iowa City when she came out with fiction book. I love her personality! And she gets me excited about writing.

Ed Miracle said...

Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain. Hokey title; wonderful guide for the fictioneer.
Hardly a page on which I didn't underline something vital, important or simply enlightening.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Debra Dixon's GOAL, MOTIVATION and CONFLICT. I've read bits and pieces of several books I keep as references: Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg,ON WRITING by Stephen King. I've got several reference books I still use from college. I also like Give "em What they Want, Camenson & Cook.

Anonymous said...

I'm with most of the people in this post, I really enjoyed On Writing by Stephen King. Yes, I do see what some are saying about how he took up a lot of space with non-writing issues (although one could say that the non-writing parts of life are writing parts but anyway). But the sections that were clearly about writing were lucid and, I think, applicable to the average person. High level stuff for the average Nathan-blog reader? Maybe not. But for someone who dabbles in writing, writing students, yes, and he does offer some good advice for some of the folks here, too. My two cents.

Jen C said...

I knew I shouldn't have even opened the comments section today. Of course, after skimming what everyone had to say, I thought I would go to the bookshop at lunch, just to check a few of the titles out. Now I'm approximately $100 poorer.

Word Veri - thnorb. Sums up how I'm feeling right now very nicely.

Laura said...

On Writing by King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Both are brilliant and encouraging.


I know I'm behind on this, but thank you for not participating in queryfail. I won't query the ones that did. I'm nervous about querying -- it's hard to boil down your baby in a few sentences without sounding goofy. It's nice to know there are agents out there with enough respect for others not to publicly mock their heart and soul via twitter.

You're one of the good ones.

Beatriz Kim said...

My favorite book on writing..."On Writing" by Stephen appears to be a popular choice on this comment stream.

I have read many books on writing, but usually only find 1 or 2 useful tips in a book. "This is a waste of time".

Then I found..."The Complete Idiot's Guide to...Writing a Novel". It has just the basics and a little information on the "getting published part". I like the general overview. It's my new reference book.

I use this reference book to help me find books on the details. Wow!

Since I'm not an English major...Idiot's guide seemed appropriate.

clindsay said...

First, the website looks great! Thumbs up!

Second, for non-fiction, I would recommend Susan Rabiners THINKING LIKE YOUR EDITOR.

For fiction, if you can find one (it is sadly out of print), the late Scott Meredith's WRITING TO SELL. Also, for just breaking down the creative barriers, WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg is very good.

Gerri said...

My favorite one, so far, is ANATOMY OF A STORY by John Truby. Although he teaches screenwriting classes his book focuses on building a solid plot foundation for any kind of story form.

Laura said...

p.s. to anyone upset about the fact that half (and it was half, not 90%) of King's book being an autobiography-- that was precisely the part that encouraged me. I felt a kinship with King. He'd had his share of rejection letters and look at him now! And didn't talk down to the reader/fellow writers, he gave us a walk through his childhood and his writing lessons, successes, and failures before getting to the nuts and bolts.

I read his chapter "What is Writing" to my comp classes every year. Because he's right, it's magic.

YvettesGoneFishing said...

Uh oh. I was excited to see Curtis Brown had a live site and I immediately went to check it out.

It looks like queries are accepted only by snail mail. Though it doesn't specifically say 'snail mail only,' there's only a mailing address on the submissions page, and under Ginger Clark (the agent I queried on 08 FEB 09) there is no email address.

I got her email address from the AgentQuery site, and it says she accepts email queries. Has Curtis Brown or changed its submissions policy?

What's the least obnoxious way to find out if my query was deleted and if I need to resend it by post? Do I need to ask these questions directly of Ginger Clark by snail mail?

The submissions policy also states a sample chapter should accompany the query. The guidelines I got off the AgentQuery site for this agent specify query only, which is all I sent.

Am I screwed? said...

Everyone has already mentioned many of my favorite writing books, but here's a couple I didn't see (or missed) in the list:

Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block

Cory Doctorow & Karl Schroeder
(Horrible title, but helpful book for new writers in the field)

The following are my favorite books to reach for when I feel writer's block coming on:

Jerrold Mundis
(out-of-print, which is unfortunate)

Ralph Keyes

Ralph Keyes

Dorothea Brande

Alps said...

THE WRITING LIFE by Annie Dillard.

Writer from Hell said...

Great question! I'll be checking out some of these books that others have mentioned in their msgs.

Can someone pls guide me (sorry this blogpost is not about that, I know but.. taking the creative liberty here) if you send a book proposal to someone, can the cover letter just say normal human stuff like 'enclosed pls find...' or does that also have to have some sex appeal? Though try as I might, I can't figure out how to write an exciting cover letter! Any help wd be appreciated. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. It's great nuts and bolts on writing effective paragraphs and stories. It's the sort of book I didn't even think I needed to read until I started it.

Anonymous said...

WORD PAINTING by Rebecca McClanahan changed the way I read books and my work. Fantastic.

Anonymous said...

whoo hoo to the new website!

redqueen1 said...

I have two because they address two different aspects of writing.

Orson Scott Card's HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY. That book is amazing.


Morning Scribbler said...


Damyanti said...

Hi Nathan,

Great post here, and a terrific resource in terms of book suggestions from your readers.

I was making a copy of the books and authors, and thought why not make a list?

So I've made a list of the books posted so far in the comments and posted them here:

Here are a few books I've been reading:

# Fiction Writer's Workshop Josip Novakovich
# Write is a Verb Bill O' Hanlon
# Writing Tools Roy Peter Clark

MrTact said...

I have found both Some Writers Deserve to Starve by Elaura Niles and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman invaluable.

Dorinda Ohnstad said...

There is one book that sits on my desk at all times within reach, which is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers - How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Vodka Mom said...

Stephen King- On Writing. HAND'S DOWN.

OscarB said...

I'd like to delurk to second Kathleen Ryan and recommend THE MODERN LIBRARY WRITER'S WORKSHOP: A GUIDE TO THE CRAFT OF FICTION by Stephen Koch. It definitely gave me a kick in the pants.

THE PARIS REVIEW INTERVIEWS are also gold for an insight into the writing process of some big literary names.

I only read the non-autobiographical parts of Stephen King's ON WRITING and certainly appreciated a lot of the wisdom but was not blown away by it like some others...but then I'm an unpublished nobody so what do I know?

Thanks Nathan for another great post and everyone else for expanding my reading list to even more outlandish proportions!

Ari Lestariono said...

Bruce Lee by Bruce Lee

Eva Ulian said...

Just posted a picture of the books I mentioned in my list above here-
just in case someone didn't believe me... ah yes I forgot to add number 16. Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond G Frensham

Judy Schneider said...


If your story has all the elements he suggests and you spend the time to write well and revise, you'll gain notice. It's a great guide for writing the plot- and/or character-driven story.

Ink said...


I'm reading On Writing right this very minute... Oooh, nice pages! Pretty words! Look, I'm turning the page! I'm going to read it ALL DAY!



AMB said...

All of the Poets on Poetry Series books from University of Michigan Press. I work there so maybe I'm a little (or a lot) biased but they really are beautiful, insightful, and instant classics.

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