3 Creative Writing Books Every Writer Needs

One Writer

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Who doesn’t need another book on the shelf? I know, you have a lot of books, but these — these are for writers. And writers who love being writers and learning about being writers and writing all the great word-sy things — and well, there are some pretty great books for that.

Here are three you must add to your shelves and to your reading list.

Ray Bradbury; Zen in the Art of Writing

You’ve seen my articles hailing the fabulously quotable Ray Bradbury. But did you know I read this little book every single year? It is the single most influential book I have read by any writer on writing and yes, that includes Stephen King’s On Writing.

Don’t come at me in the comments…until you’ve read both.

A few quotes from the book

“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
We never sit anything out. We are cups, quietly and constantly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

What I love about this book

To make this book even more spectacular, it isn’t a how-to or any kind of instructional manual that reads like preaching to the choir — it’s a tiny little book of eleven expertly crafted essays on creativity. My copy is only 174 pages, but don’t think you’ll read through the whole thing quickly. It’s the kind of material you’ll want to savor, spend a little time with, perhaps in a warm bath ripe with Epsom salts and dribbles of essential oils, or with headphones and meditative music while you’re relaxing on the patio with a glass of wine.

This is a delicious book of sentences that will thrill you as a writer and make you fall in love with the art, the craft, the creative journey of writing — all over again.

Stephen King’s On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft

Now, you knew I wouldn't leave King off this list, right? But he comes in a clear second for my favorite must-have writing books. As far as teaching tools go, this one is about as enjoyable a read as they get.

Part memoir and part instructional, this novel-length book will shape you as a writer and inspire you as a reader. King shares the birth stories of many of his stories, novels, and his career in authentic, straightforward honesty. Come with him as he opens the door to his writing office and take a look around.

A few quotes from the book

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

What I love about this book

Few writers are so open about the writing process and so forthcoming with helpful insights to other aspiring writers as King. Whether or not you are a horror /sci-fi fan or not, King’s writing lessons are timeless and a treasure to all writers.

That inside glance around King’s writing space, through his early, budding years as a writer, and the deeply personal confessions…all make for a juicy, page-turning read. Likely the most authentic conversation about the “writer’s life” I have ever encountered. Read it, then read it all over again!

Mary Oliver: A Poetry Handbook; A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry

But…but...I’m not a poet…shush. You don’t need to be a poet to be moored by the teachings of the great Mary Oliver. Her instruction on the art of language is helpful to any writer, creative or nonfiction or anything in between.

A few quotes from the book

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”
Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
“The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely, or anyway that part of the world he or she has taken for subject. If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers — has not seen them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way.”
Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
“To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like the fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air.”
Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

What I love about this book

Her discussions on imitation, sound, diction, tone, voice, and imagery are sure to liven up any of your writing. Be forewarned, this is not a writing manual for the lazy reader. It is dense with information you may have to read twice to digest. It will remind you that grammar isn’t taught the way it used to be many moons ago. You’ll learn things in this book you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Did you know there are more than just consonants and vowels that make up the English alphabet? Try semivowels and mutes and how some letters are one when combined with certain other letters...and well, suddenly those 26 letters just got a whole lot more complex.

Deeply intertwined with the constructs of poetry, every writer will walk away from this reading experience with greater respect for poetics but also for the craft of writing, in general. Don’t let the short length of this little book fool you; it is jam-packed with wisdom on the art of writing.

One Last Thought

That’s my list of writer’s books every writer needs to read. I wonder if other writers have their own favorites…surely they do? I challenge any writer to find their own favorites and read them, read them with a hunger for this craft. Lust after the words of these great writers as if your work depended on it. In a matter, it kind of does. Learn. Learn, always.

I leave you with one last quote, a poem that I cling to on the days that writing feels so big and I feel so little.

I may never be well-read
and celebrated
for my art.
But I am a chrysalis.
In my mind
I have 26 letters
I can churn into words
and fold into butterflies.
By my art
I am set free.
By NC poet Christina M Ward

For more reading

Reading is Good for You, Especially 'Complex Poetry' and Books

Tilda’s Promise, a Novel by Author Jean P. Moore

The Brilliant Writing Lesson in Harriet the Spy

'Where the Crawdads' Sing by Delia Owens

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