Books I Can’t Write Without


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


34 thoughts on “Books I Can’t Write Without

  1. Lissa

    I now have a list of books to find at the library. (With the exception of Wreck this Journal…which has already been added to my Christmas list for the year, lol) I usually don’t like reading on-writing books unless I’ve heard some recommendations because there are so many horrendously dull ones out there and it never fails, those are the ones they find. Thanks for your suggestions!


    • Unfortunately, I own a lot of those dull writing books. Lol. I suppose that’s why the books on my list stand out so much to me. 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading! I hope you get Wreck That Journal for Christmas!


  2. Thanks for including the links to amazon – now I can add these to my collection! The only book I would add to that list is “On Writing” by Stephen King.

    I’m going to check out that David Foster Wallace book sometime soon, I’ve loved everything I’ve read by him.


    • Just yesterday, I had Stephen King’s book in my hand! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about it and now you’ve given me another reason to put it on my book wish list. 🙂

      I probably read “This Is Water” a couple times a month – it’s an amazing little book. The words are few but the message is enormous.


  3. This is a great list! I’m glad to have come across it.
    Some books that I really like –
    “The Writer’s Workbook” by Caroline Sharp
    “Vein of Gold” by Julia Cameron

    In addition “This is Water” is one of the most inspiring pieces I have read – if not just for writing, then also for a positive attitude and outlook, and encouragement to make my own (positive) choices in my behavior.

    Bravo on a compelling, insightful list.


    • The Writer’s Workbook is a great book! I’ve paged through it a few times, but have yet to get one for myself. 🙂

      Vein of Gold is new to me, so I’m excited to check it out. Thanks for sharing it!

      I have This Is Water on audiobook and very often I’ll listen to it on my way to work. Wallace’s words combined with his voice serve as an excellent reminder that its a good day no matter what happens. 🙂 I’m glad he inspires you, too.


  4. Some of these I have, and the rest are going on my list now!

    One of my favorites is Sandy Grason’s Journalution. It’s not a how-to writing book, but a journaling book. The exercises in there get me to that deep-within-myself place that I need to be in order to channel my best writing.


  5. This is an awesome list, CB! I can’t wait to get my hands on these books- I’m not sure where to start because they all sound wonderful! Thanks for the ideas. 🙂 One of my favorite books is Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It’s not a book about writing, but one about story – our own personal stories and the stories that we write and share with others. Very inspiring!


    • I swear all my ideas are inspired from other people, (and they’re on this list). Lol. 🙂 Plus, I’ll bet you’d put together one heck of a writing book! You’re part of the reason I got back into poetry.


  6. Thank you for your list, you mention several books I haven’t come across yet. I also recommend Karen Wiesner’s book, and as you described yourself as very organised I can well understand why you suggest it. It’s very helpful when you’ve got a deadline, need to keep distractions at bay, just get on with your story, and reduce time spent on editing.

    I’d like to add two more items to your list: Holly Lisle’s “Mugging the Muse” (free download). On her site there are also articles and free downloads for instance on flexible plotting with notecards, world building etc. I would suggest her approach to those who enjoy being less organised 😉 Randy Ingermanson article “The Snowflake Method” is – as far as organisation/outlining goes – somewhere between Wiesner’s and Lisle’s approaches. (btw: I’m not affiliated with either)


    • Mugging the Muse – the title alone is intriguing – sounds like something I would just love. As soon as I’m done playing here, I’m going to check that out. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing.

      I’ve never heard of “The Snowflake Method” but I’m always looking for something new to try and I’m getting a little vibe (sort of like The Book Vibe) on this one. I think it’s going to give me exactly what I need. 🙂

      Thanks so much for these recommendations!


  7. Surprisingly, I have none of the books on your list. Checking my bookshelf last night, I found these: Writing Down the Bones, Bird for Bird, Stein on Writing, and Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin. Of these, Lamont’s book is the only one I’ve read cover to cover. The book that I go back to over and over for art inspiration is Robert Henri’s “The Art Spirit.” Lots of color markings on those pages: lead pencil, red pencil, yellow highlight and more. After reading this blog, I did print out David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College speech and read it in the wee morning hours, around 3 am. I’m still mulling over his words……… Thanks for sharing.


    • I will be writing further on This Is Water. It’s a life altering book and I’m still trying to find the words to describe the shift that happened to me. But then, most of Wallace’s work has effected me in very profound ways.

      Writing Down the Bones actually inspired the formation of the writing group I joined a few years ago. It is a fantastic book – though I’m sad to say I don’t own it. One of these days I’ll get my hands on it!

      I’ve paged through Stein on Writing and Steering the Craft, but I have yet to find them at a used book store (I hardly ever buy new!). They are so wonderful and I’m so glad you’ve mentioned them.

      Thanks for sharing such wonderful books! 🙂


  8. Thank you for the list! I currently only have 2 (one of which I lent out to someone), one of which is the 3 am Epiphany. The other is No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty (love it and highly recommend it if you feel like writing a novel in a month).

    I have a feeling I could use a bit of structure from authors who know what they’re doing because I have no clue. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for these titles when I’m in a bookstore. As always, your posts help me out in some way!


    • No Plot? No Problem! is on my shelf, too. I bought it thinking I might do NaNoWriMo, long before I realized my process just doesn’t jive with that program, (I’m a slow writer and proud of it!). However, there are some great ideas in that book to get the creative juices flowing. Thanks for giving that one the spotlight!

      Did you know there is a sequel for 3 a.m Epiphany? . . . The 4 a.m. Epiphany. Naturally! I’ve paged through it and I can’t wait to get a copy. 🙂


  9. I’m glad you mentioned Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel.” My father used to write fiction, and Maass was his agent for awhile, so I got a hand-me-down copy. I’ve found it to be so practical. Sarah Stone’s “Deepening Fiction” is a book that I really like when I’m having trouble with a piece. Some of the exercises sound silly, but if I stop thinking “oh, I’d never do that” and just give it a shot, I’m usually surprised at how much I get out it.


    • How interesting that you have a connection to Maass! I don’t think I would have a completed novel if it weren’t for his wonderful insights into the process.

      I’m very intrigued by your recommendation. It’s not a title I’m familiar with, but it sounds like a wonderful book to loosen up the imagination. I’ll be checking it out!

      Thanks so much for sharing!


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