Books about fiction writing

Essays by Shalon Sims on education, creative writing and literacy

Books about fiction writing

In this post, I’ve curated a list of my favourite books on writing craft. 

I’ve split the list into two sections: one is for people who are just starting out in their creative writing, with great books to help you develop your muse and learn some important skills that all writers need. The second section is for writers who have perhaps written a book or two, but who need help refining their craft, plotting or other issues. 

Of course you can choose a book from either category, but if you’re just starting out, you’d be better off skipping the books for advanced writers, tbh. 

I’ve put *** next to my absolute favourites. 

For Beginners

Unblock your muse

  • ***The Artist’s Way. 1992. By Julia Cameron. This book will encourage you to develop a daily writing habit by unblocking your creative muse. 
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. 1998. By Julia Cameron. Similar to The Artist’s Way, this book will help you develop your writing life. 
  • ***Mastering Creative Anxiety. 2011. Eric Maisel. This book is definitely a must for anyone who is blocked creatively, which can happen to anyone, but tends to happen to beginning writers more often. 
  • What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. 2009. This book has a bunch of writing prompts to get your juices flowing. I used this book a lot in my early years of writing. 
  • Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. 1986. Natalie Goldberg. This classic writing book combines meditation and self-care for your writerly self, along with great tips on how to brainstorm. 
  • Oh the Places You’ll Go. 1990. Dr. Seuss. Of course everyone needs a burst of excitement and hope for their bright futures. 
  • Steal Like an Artist. 2012. By Austin Kleon. This coffee table/bathroom book is very inspirational, with lots of tips on how to get over yourself and write. The most impactful tip for me is that all artists steal, and good artists know how to steal well. 

Figure this thing out called plotting

  • ***The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. By Christopher Vogler. This is an excellent book to learn the fine points of plotting, and the necessary ingredients in a novel. 
  • The Seven Basic Plots. 2004. By Christopher Booker. This book blew my mind. It explains that there are basically only seven types of stories, and gives a ton of great examples of those stories and the features of each story. 
  • Writing the Breakout Novel. 2001. By Donald Maass. This book breaks down how to write a novel that modern publishers will love. Donald Maass is an agent, who works extensively in the publishing industry, so he has a ton of tips and tricks. Read my blog post about my pitch session with Don.  
  • Story Genius: How to Outline Your Novel Using the Secrets of Brain Science. 2016. This book is great for learning how to outline and brainstorm. 
  • ***Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. 2005. This is such a great book about story structure with so many concrete, practical tips. I can highly recommend it. If you find it handy, then check out my blog post about plotting. 

Write beautifully

  • Eats Shoots and Leaves. 2006. By Lynne Truss. This book gets into the fine points of grammar and is a must for anyone who wants to take their writing seriously. 
  • ***On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. 2010. By Stephen King. This book is a journey that starts with a very encouraging story about Stephen King’s early writing life, and continues on with some really great advice for beginning writers, including a lot of tips on grammar and how to write in an engaging way. 

For Intermediate and Advanced writers

Develop your craft

  • ***Steering the Craft. 1998. By Ursula LeGuin. This book is about writing craft, from sentence structure to storytelling tips. Ursula is my all time favourite writer. Her prose is so incredibly beautiful and yet unadorned and straightforward.  
  • ***The Hero With a Thousand Faces. 1968. Joseph Campbell. This is not a writing craft book, but it goes very deep into the human experience of storytelling and what all human stories contain. Not an easy read, so be warned. 
  • Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. This classic reference guide is not an easy tomb to comb through, but it belongs on every serious writer’s bookshelf, next to the thesaurus. 
  • Zen in the Art of Writing. 1992. By Ray Bradbury. This book explores how to develop your voice and style as a writer. 
  • Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. This is an excellent resource book that will help you find more eloquent ways to show rather than tell.
  • ***The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface. 2016. Donald Maass. Don wins again with this great book on how to show rather than tell, with so MANY great examples to illustrate his points from very sophisticated literature. 
  • Writing 21st Century Fiction: High-impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling. 2012. Learn everything you need to know about how the publishing industry has changed and tips to improve your craft, from the sentence level to plot. 

Live your best writer’s life

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. 1995. By Anne Lamott. This book is more memoir, but it contains great advice about how to have a balanced writing life. 
  • The Writing Life. 1989. By Annie Dillard. Annie gets real about how difficult it can be to be a writer and this book is gorgeously written. 
  • Living the Writer’s Life. 1999. Eric Maisel, Ph.D. Let’s get even more real about all the obstacles that writers face: depression, rejection, addiction…. This isn’t an easy path to choose, but for real writers, there is no choice. 


Everything else

I can’t recommend these books because I haven’t read them, but this is a list I’ll continually update as I go along. 

  • Writers Inc.: A Student Handbook for Writing and Learning. 1996. By Patrick Sebranek, et al.
  • This Craft of Verse. 2000. By Jorge Luis Borges.
  • The Art of Fiction. 1991. By John Gardner
  • Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story. 1996. By Susan Wittig Albert.
  • A Writer’s Book of Days. 1999. By Judy Reeves.
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 2000. By Janet Burroway.
  • The Art of Fiction. 1992 By David Lodge.
  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. 2001. William Zinsser.
  • A Writer’s Reference. 1992. By Diana Hacker.
  • The Forest for the Trees. An Editor’s Advice to Writers. 2000. Betsy Lerner.
  • Writers on Writing. 2000-2001 New York Times Series
  • Twenty Master Plots and How to Build Them. 1993. By Ronald B. Tobias.
  • The Way of the Journal. 1998. By Kathleen Adams, M.A., L.P.C.
  • Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives. 1999. By Lousie DeSalvo.
  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life. 1990. Natalie Goldberg.
  • Write it Down, Make it Happen. 2000. By Henrietta Anne Klauser.
  • Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice. 2002. By Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon.
  • Writing Life Stories. 1998. By Bill Roorbach.
  • A Voice of Her Own: Women and the Journal Writing Journey. 1996. Marlene A. Schiwy.
  • Writing the Memoir. 1997. Judith Barrington.
  • Writing Without Teachers. 1973. By Peter Elbow
  • The Writer as an Artist. 1993. By Pat Schneider.
  • What If: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. 1990. Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.
  • Everyday Creative Writing: Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink. 1996. Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear. 1995. By Ralph Keyes.
  • Good Advice on Writing: Great Quotations from Writers Past and Present on How to Write Well. 1992. By William Safire and Leonard Safire, editors.
  • If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit. 1987. By Brenda Ueland.
  • On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity. 1993. By Victoria Nelson.
  • Staying Alive: A Writer’s Guide. 1983. By Norman Spinrad.
  • Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft. 2001. By Natalie Goldberg.


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