26 Jul

The Essentials

Posted in Book Reviews, Writing, Writing Exercises

The way I see it, there are three basic types of writing books.  You have books on craft, books of writing exercises and prompts, and books about the writing life.  A well-balanced writing library should probably represent all three types.  Yet, not all writing books are created equal and as someone with limited shelf-space at my disposal, I’ve had to pick and choose which writing books I add to my collection.  That’s when I came up with this list of The Essentials.  If I had to pick only one or two books in each category, these are the books I would choose.


 If you must own only one book on the craft of fiction, I would recommend Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction.  This book gives you the basics on character, plot, dialogue and description.  There are many books on craft that are similar, but I’m partial to this one because each chapter is written by a different author.  This means that as a reader you gain a variety of perspectives and approaches to writing, rather than just one author’s view.

Similarly, if poetry is your preference, the book on craft that I would  recommend is Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius which I reviewed previously on this site.  This book explains the craft of poetry without losing the beauty of it as well.  In addition, the writing is so fluid and engaging that we don’t even realize we’re learning about craft.  This is the sort of book you could read cover-to-cover, like a novel.

Writing Exercises

There are lots of great books with writing exercises and prompts, some of which I’ve already reviewed on this blog.  I find, though that if I were forced to choose only one, it would be The 3am Epiphany by Brian Kiteley.  While there are many other books that offer interesting exercises, this one is my favorite because the prompts not only get you writing, but they force you to consider elements of craft as well.  In fact, you could learn as much about craft from this book as you would from the craft books listed above.  There is also a sequel to this book called The 4am Breakthrough, but considering that there are 201 exercises in The 3am Epiphany, I suspect this book alone could keep a writer busy for a very long time.

Writing Life

This category was the most difficult one for me to limit my choices, but I have managed to trim down my selections to two books.  The first, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, is one of my favorite books ever.  This book gives a warm and honest view of the writing life as experienced by Lamott.   

Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is my other favorite in this category.  Though a little more didactic than Bird by Bird at times, this book guides writers through all aspects of their writing life.  Topics range from writing in restaurants to writing marathons to fighting tofu.

In the end, The Essentials may vary from one writer to another.  If I had to limit my writing library to five books, these would be the ones I would choose.  What books do you consider your Essentials?


Comments on this post

  1. Sharde(Shar-day) says:

    Great post and thanks for the recommendations.


    1. L'Aussie says:

      Enjoyed your post. I am drowning in how-to books but as my current obsession is short stories, I am enjoying How to Write and Sell Short Stories by Della Galton. I hope I manage to sell more after studying this tome..:)On general writing, I love Donald Maas..

      1. Michelle Davidson Argyle says:

        I'm not a big fan of writing books. There's very few I like, but Bird by Bird is one I've wanted to pick up. I own John Gardner's The Art of Fiction, and it's a must-own, I think. Thanks for these great recommendations!

        1. gabi says:

          Thanks everyone for your feedback and recommendations!

          Sharde: Glad you enjoyed. If you have any recommendations of your own, please do share. I'm always looking for interesting books to use in my teaching.

          L'Aussie: I totally agree about short stories. The best way to learn about writing is to read. My current favorite is The Art of the Short Story, in which authors discuss their writing alongside some of the greatest short stories. If you're on a short fiction kick, I definitely recommend that one. For the Donald Maas, is there a particular title you would recommend?

          Michelle: I know what you mean. I find sometimes that it's easy to get carried away reading about writing rather than actually writing. 🙂 Now I'll have to check out the Gardner book, though. I just can't resist!

          1. Janice says:

            I have most of these except the 3am Epiphany, but I'll have it in a few seconds thanks to Kindle! (I'm a big Kindle fan – instant gratification.) Now, when I say I have these books, doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve read them. ;/

            I have Portable MFA for Creative Writing which I want to read along with DIY MFA. The Gotham book has been on my shelf for a while, but I’ll break it out and keep it near.

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