Craft books are an essential part of any writer’s reading regime. Don’t let your ego get you all excited about “being self-taught.” There are instructions. Read them.
Here are 12 classics and widely loved craft books to help you improve your writing.
- The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long. If I could keep only one craft book, I would keep this one. In its calming tone, it teaches you how to love crafting sentences and learn what you need to know to succeed.
- Story by Robert McKee. While McKee wrote this book with screenwriting in mind, the principles apply to all sorts of narratives. I haven’t found a better source for learning what makes a plot work and how to build captivating stories.
- A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver. Not just for poets. You’ll learn how to infuse your words with sounds and intention, no matter what your form.
- Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. A dive into creating meaning in your own work and figuring out how other writers create it in theirs.
- On Writing by Stephen King. A personal look at how King became the writer he is today, with details like how his wife took Carrie out of the trash can and convinced him to keep it.
- Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark. This seasoned writer straddles the line between journalism and literature, but this book provides solid tools to make any kind of story better.
- Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremy Zerfoss. A funky illustrated work that leans toward the fantastic but has lessons for every writer.
- The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson. Essays from Johnson’s long career in art and writing, with lots of discussion of literary techniques that create a daily life of being a writer.
- Naming the World by Bret Anthony Johnston. Tons of interactive exercises from a Harvard creative writing professor and author.
- Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter. Baxter’s collection of essays discussing fiction’s place in the world as well as techniques for getting it right.
- The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. Lessons in allowing your true voice to come through from the author of The Liars’ Club, a memoir that spent more than a year on the best-seller lists.
- The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick. A memoir- writing classic about structuring the circumstances of your story to evoke the emotional experience on the page.
What’s your favorite craft book?