Books to Help Writers Get Better

I have a weakness.

I mean, besides books. That’s obvious.

My other weakness is craft books. I love them. I love learning how people think about story, seeing how I can think differently or better about my writing, to be inspired by how others engage in the creative process. If you know me in real life, it won’t surprise you to know that analysis makes me super happy.

Which is why I have a shelf that looks like this:


And amid the great novels loaded on my kindle are the following:

  • Creativity Inc.
  • A Writer’s Guide Story Structure and Beyond
  • The War of Art
  • John Gardner’s Collection on Writing
  • The Art of Work
  • The Anatomy of Story
  • The Right to Write
  • All of the Emotional Thesaurus books
  • Crafting Unforgettable Characters
  • Getting Published in the 21st Century
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
  • Million Dollar Outlines
  • Save the Cat

But still, I found myself wondering what books people went to when they wanted to study their craft more. Below are some of the dozens of suggestions I received (several I’ve never heard of!):


New Craft Books:

  • Author In Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published Paperback by Therese Walsh
  • The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass
  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Books to Improve Overall Writing:

  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them by Sol Stein
  • Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
  • Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack M. Bickham
  • Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark
  • Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
  • Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry

Books to Nurture the Writer:

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Fierce on the Page by Sage Cohen
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller
  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Books to Help with Editing:

  • The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques by Sol Stein
  • 77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected Paperback by Mike Nappa

Even MORE Great Writing Books:

These are new to me, so if you know more about them, please share! 

  • The Crosswicks Journals by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art Paperback by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
  • This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
  • If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
  • Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

Lifetime Achievement Awards:

Face it: these books are so good, we still need to talk about them.

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Elements of Style by by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

Did I miss any? Do you have some favorites? 

profileTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Nurturing your Genius

Have you heard of TED talks?  I LOVE them – they are an intellectual guilty pleasure for me.  As I was preparing to teach a class this year, I stumbled on this one, watched it and then re-watched it immediately after.  It is about 18 minutes and I know everyone is busy, but it doesn’t have visuals that require watching, so you can just listen if you are so inclined.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how, in ancient cultures, it wasn’t believed that the creativity, the brilliance of a person came from within them. It was a part of them, be it daemon or genius or even muse, a relationship between two cohesive beings that collaborated to create things of greatness.

This works well because if it is horrible, well your genius that day was sulking in the corner instead of helping you and if you were brilliant, you couldn’t take all the credit because the genius helped.  It really is a very sane way of thinking about it and Gilbert explains with much more eloquence than that paragraph.

But if that is how you choose to think about your creativity, you have to remember that the genius has to be cared for and nurtured and loved.  This is done through feeding the genius and devoting quality time.

See, if your creative *gas tank* is empty, you don’t have anything left to give.  Sure, we would all love to sit down and just write all day, but that would have the same impact on us as driving for 10-12 hours would have on the car.  Lights are flashing and we are stuck on the side of the road, watching others fly past us with full tanks of creativity.  We have to immerse ourselves in the creative, be it art or music or dance or whatever, so that when we go to write, we have something there to pull from.

But we still need to spend the time.  A while ago, I wrote a blog post where I compared the writing relationship to a marriage relationship, and I think that is absolute truth.  But if you have every watched or experienced down points in a long term relationship, you will know that often happens when the effort to spend time with each other fizzles.  Same with writing.  No, you can’t spend all day every day writing, it would zap you, but if you don’t spend some quality time, in some portion, every single day, when you need that genius most, he/she/it won’t recognize you, won’t know how to spend that time with you.

What do you do to nurture your genius?  Have you created a look for it yet?  How do you like to keep your creative tank full?