Top 5 Books for Writers

Books take a beating in my house. Their spines get creased, pages get dog eared, and their margins get written in. I once dated a young man who scolded me once for bending the spine of one of his books. I couldn’t understand how he could read a book without bending the spine, and he couldn’t understand how I could “damage” my books the way I did. Needless to say, we didn’t work out.

I seriously couldn’t understand how he could keep his books in such pristine condition — bent spines, dog-eared pages, and notes in the margins are how I can tell if a book was well-loved and useful. I read many of my books on my Kindle these days, but first, I often check them out from the library to decide whether or not I want to buy them. It’s when I want to start writing on the pages that I know I need to purchase a book.  The Kindle does let me highlight and make notes, but it’s still not the same as holding a paper book in my hands, so I usually buy books for pleasure reading on my Kindle, and but bound books for reference.

My reference library is pretty small, but packed, some books shelved two-deep with more books stacked horizontally on top of them. At one time, I had my library well organized by general topic, but right now it’s a complete mess. My favorite part of my library is books on writing and craft, and these are my top five [Disclosure]:


5. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – This is an excellent book on recovering your creativity for blocked artists (writers, painters, etc.). Julie explores the various ways we can become blocked and many ways to nurture your creativity. The books is based loosely on the Twelve Step program and although the book does not reference any particular religion, religious practices, or religious texts, she does often mention “God.” As an agnostic, I often just replace “God” with “Universe” or “Creative Force” while I’m reading. Many of the exercises she offers are very helpful, and I highly recommend giving this book a try if you are feeling creatively blocked or just looking for more ways to nurture your creativity.

4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser – I forgot to mention this book in my scope (below), but Zissner’s book on writing and style is another one of my go-to books. His style is very personable, less technical than other books on style. His book is a series of essays on writing, written for non-fiction writers, but Zinsser addresses style and voice in a way that applies well to fiction writers as well.

3. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury – Bradbury’s essays on writing are funny, insightful, and usually dead-on. His book is less on the craft of writing, and more on, as the title says, the art of writing. His passion for writing will likely leave you feeling inspired and fired up to start a regular writing practice. Maybe you’ll even feel inspired to take up “The Bradbury Challenge” to write (and submit) one story every week of the year.

2. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – Vogler’s book addresses the work of Joseph Campbell on mythic story structure often used in storytelling. Vogler makes Campbell’s extensive work accessible and easy to digest in one book. (Please note: This link refers to the 3rd edition of the book, which is newere than the one I presented in my scope, but I assume that the overall work has not changed significantly.)

1. Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande – Dorothea’s book was originally published in 1934, but is written in an easy style with down-to-earth advice that is still accessible today, over eighty years later. Her book was meant to make writing accessible to anybody, and she was the one of the first advocates of writing “Morning Pages” popularized in Julia Cameron’s book (above). I thought I had heard a story about Julia and Dorothea collaborating on an idea like a Twelve Step program for writers, but I can’t find anything to back this up, so I may be mistaken. Possibly what I heard instead was that Julia simply borrowed the idea of Morning Pages into her own book. Either way, I consider Dorothea’s book to be a forerunner to Julia’s work, and one of my top favorites books on writing for writers.


Honorable Mention:  Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart – I have not read this book yet, but it comes recommend by Lendsey Salazar, who is in the process of writing her own memoir.