Like many aspiring writers, my bookshelf is loaded with various books related to the craft of writing. Along with the standard dictionaries, thesauri, and grammar guides, I have books that cover everything from how to write a novel to college textbooks that pick apart short stories.  What I can’t figure out is why I have so many of them! If I’ve discovered anything over the last few years, it’s that the most valuable writing books are the ones which actually inspire the act of writing.

Favorite “How To” Books:

From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen S. Wiesner

When I decided to start writing a novel, it became glaringly obvious that I had no idea what I was doing.  Wiesner’s book gave me a wonderful place to start in plain, simple language that gave me some hope of actually achieving my goal.  She uses a wonderful analogy of how building a house is similar to the process of writing a novel.  For example, the first phase of building a house is laying the foundation just as brainstorming is the first step to writing just about anything.  As an added bonus, the back of the book is filled with appendices that include checklists, graphic organizers, real world examples, and outline layouts.

Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

Maass taught me how to craft a plot line and map out characters with thought provoking exercises and questions. He asks writers to constantly challenge and question every word and every segment of a work in progress.  It’s time consuming and even frustrating at times, but ultimately the blood and sweat leads to a more finely polished novel.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Lukeman gives excellent advice on how to make a novel a page-turner right from the first sentence. He’s a literary agent that explains what makes a manuscript attractive and how to avoid the slush pile. I found this book while in the middle of writing my first novel and it has proven to be an invaluable reference during the revision process.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King

Editing is not any easy task by any means, but Browne & King  make the process a little less painful. They have a great sense of humor as they offer fantastic advice on how to polish a manuscript. Everything from point of view, dialogue, and pacing are outlined with before and after examples that show the difference between good writing and great writing.

Favorite Books For Inspiration:

You Know You’re a Writer When . . . by Adair Lara

This thin little book has made me laugh so many times!  Whenever I have a tough day, I just open up to random page where I’m guaranteed to read something that reminds me I have the soul of writer.

For example, You know you’re a writer when  . . .

. . . You wonder if there’s another word for thesaurus.

. . . There are three empty cereal bowls next to your computer – one for each meal.

(Yes, I’m guilty of both.)

The 3 a.m. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley

This is easily my favorite book of prompts.  Kiteley has put together a collection of unique and unorthodox exercises designed to push at a writer’s boundaries.  Prompts cover a wide range of elements including setting, imagery, characters, description, and dialogue.  Whenever I’m stuck this is the book I pull off my shelf.

Now Write! Edited by Sherry Ellis

Writers often look to each other for inspiration, which is probably why Now Write is such an amazing collection of advice and writing prompts.  A wide array of novelists, short story writers, and writing teachers offer up their best exercises designed to both challenge and inspire.

A Writer’s Space by Eric Maisel, PH.D.

While Maisel offers some very intriguing prompts, his focus on the creative process is what inspires me the most. He encourages writers to pay attention to and foster the muse within by creating a space in which to work, (both internally and externally).

Wild Card Books:

Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith

Recently, I started posting pages from the journal I’m wrecking as it has been an incredible source of inspiration. Actually anything by Keri Smith is bound to loosen the bolts of the imagination. Her books are literally full of dares to step outside the box.   As a result, my writing has become bolder and more honest than ever before.

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace

While not a book on writing, it is one of the most inspiring books I own.  It’s a transcript of a speech he gave at Kenyon College where he posits the notion of seeing the world with idea of choice in mind.  To him, the mundane, day to day existence of humanity is rife with extraordinary beauty.  A trip to the grocery store or even the aggravation of getting stuck in traffic jam can be a fantastic journey, but only if we choose to see it that way. Thanks to Wallace, I try to walk into the world with an almost constant sense of wonder. If that doesn’t given me a reason to write, I don’t know what will.

What books inspire you to keep writing?

c.b. 2011

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