You can’t spend time writing if you’re spending it all reading craft books about writing. At some point, it’s time to put the advice books down and sit down in front of your keyboard or notebook.
That’s why I’ve curated a short list of the best books about writing, so you can find what you need and get back to your manuscript.
I prescribe reading from a much longer list for my own clients, putting a fine point on resources that will resonate with individual work styles, genre focus, and writing needs. By contrast, this list is short—a lean, mean list designed to get you off to a solid start and get back to writing.
Best craft books about writing
These are the books I turn to again and again for help shepherding new novelists down the road.
Story Physics by Larry Brooks A cool idea isn’t enough to sustain a salable novel. Plainspoken story coach Larry Brooks has a sharp sense for creating saleable concepts and premises for commercial fiction. You’ll take away the skills for getting at the kernel of your story.
Anatomy of a Premise Line by Jeff Lyons Few writing experts acknowledge the value of a smart situation-based plot. Not script and story consultant Jeff Lyons. He explains the difference between story-based and situation-based novels and how to write each. Also includes a wonderful explanation of your main character’s growth and change and how to bring these elements to the page in a genuine, unforced manner.
Plot and story structure
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story by K.M. Weiland This book is a great introduction to classic story structure. You’ll get all the essentials, and if you’ve run a Plot Accelerator with me, it’ll be a brilliant review. Even better, the second half of the book helps you put all of that on the page via effective scenes. The companion Structuring Your Novel Workbook is helpful before, during, or after writing. (Bonus recommendation: To dig even deeper, try Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success and its companion workbook.)
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure by Janice Hardy Get this book before you begin to write. Divided into “workshops,” this guide will help you plan, develop, and write your story from the earliest stages.
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass The companion workbook to Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel is the real star, although the book itself’s a good read too. Use this workbook to take your first draft to the next level—story tuning taken to the nth degree.
The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman I’m a big fan of the entire thesaurus series for novelists, but this title distinguishes itself by helping you connect the dots of character motivation and response throughout your story.
Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft by Janice Hardy Revising your book means more than fiddling with commas and spelling. If you’re looking for a guidebook to lead you through the revision process, this book is the answer. You’ll learn to spot weaknesses from the story level through narrative technique and all the way back to fiddling with commas and spelling.
Writing & narrative technique
Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy Stop blindly chanting “show, don’t tell” and learn when to dramatize and when to use exposition.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King This unassuming book shows you specific ways to strengthen your narrative technique, including handling show and tell, dialogue mechanics, interior monologue, beats, and point of view.
The Best Punctuation Book, Period by June Casagrande Proper punctuation isn’t as simple as knowing what’s right and what’s wrong. Your choices should be inflected by the context of your writing. This books helps you see why the best punctuation choice for your novel isn’t the same choice you’d make for your writing at work or what you read in newspapers and magazines.
The Magic of Fiction by Beth Hill If you buy one craft book about fiction writing, this is the one you want. With this book on your shelf, it’s not necessary to do anything crazy like reading a shelf full of writing craft books or attempting to memorize the entire Chicago Manual of Style. All that you need is right here.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition Sure, you could use the free version online, but every writer needs a copy of the real thing. This is the resource recommended for fiction by the Chicago Manual of Style.
The writing life
Atomic Habits by James Clear You don’t need writing goals; you need a process. And to build a process, you need to build habits to carry you there. This book demystifies the process of building habits that stick—including the habits of the creative arts.
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp Know how anyone discussing books about writing and the writing life raves about Stephen King’s On Writing? I’m a Constant Reader too, but if you’re looking on concrete help becoming a productive creative professional, this is the book you want—and this one’s written by a choreographer, not a novelist.
Looking for an editor for your novel? That editor could be me!