Here are my top 10 books for writers — listed in no particular order since they’ve all been formative for me — except that I’ve saved the best for last:
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland
Even the chapter headings in this book are inspiring. Chapter I: “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” Chapter VIII: “Why you are not to be discouraged, annihilated, by rejection slips.” Chapter X: “Why Women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing.”
Fearless Creating: A Step-By-Step Guide to Starting and Completing Your Work of Art by Eric Maisel
This book is “for writers, visual artists, musicians, actors, and creators in any field,” moving through the creative process from “hushing and holding” through “belligerent commitment” to “completing your work,” with practical exercises and quotes from writers and other artists along the way. “In the beginning to throw pots, I worked for a long time to get the clay centered. I soon discovered that if I were not centered myself, the clay would not become centered.” – William Galbreath (152).
How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen
Now in its 4th edition, this book was a useful guide when I wrote my first book proposals, and I’ve turned to it for reference since then as needed. Here’s one of its Hot Tips: “If you come up with an idea for a book that has never been done, it means one of two things:
- You’ve created a great opportunity.
- There’s a reason it’s never been done before.
Taking the three steps explored in this chapter will enable you to figure out which one it is.”
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
Like most of the books on my list, this one by Madeleine L’Engle is just as much about life as it is about writing. A friend recently tweeted this quote from the book, and I happily re-tweeted: “Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living.”
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
As novelist and theologian, Sayers’ discussion of God as Creator and human creativity has been formative in my own understanding of faith, work, writing, and art. Click on the title for her text as it was published in 1941, but you’ll miss Madeleine L’Engle’s more recent introduction.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The text of this classic is also available by clicking on the title. I first read Walden when I was in university, drawn to its simplicity in form and content, imagining myself as a writer even though I was living in the city and not alone in the woods as Thoreau was. I took his words to heart: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
“Writing a book, full time, takes between two and ten years. The long poem, John Berryman said, takes between five and ten years. Thomas Mann was a prodigy of production. Working full time, he wrote a page a day. That is 365 pages a year, for he did write every day–a good-sized book a year. At a page a day, he was one of the prolific writers who ever lived.” (14)
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.” (225f.)
Writers’ Market by Robert Brewer
Before I sent out my first magazine article, I spent hours pouring over the pages of this annual publication from Writer’s Digest. Besides the listings of publishers and what they’re looking for, each edition also includes helpful articles on publishing, promoting, and protecting your writing.
Your own blank journal
Reading books about writing is not the same as writing, so as formative as the above books have been for me, this is the most important book of all. I use my journal as a safe place to test out ideas, as a warm-up for other writing, as a source book for memories, conversations, and other notes that might turn up in my writing one day.
There are so many other great books on writing, faith, creativity, and art, that this list could go on a lot longer, but the rest of my day is calling me. How many of these have you read? What others could you recommend?