The Books in My Writer’s Arsenal

New writers often ask what is the best how-to book out there, from which they might learn, well, everything. And I am no different.  A lifelong learner and former teacher of English, I naturally look for a book when I need information.  And I have found quite a few, both traditionally published so that I can hold them in my hands, and e-books that are easy to carry around on my iPad.

9 How-To Books for Writers on my iPad

  1. Write Away: One Writer’s Approach to the Novel by Elizabeth George
  2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  3. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
  4. Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Sue Viders et al
  5. The Writer’s Manifesto by Jeff Goins
  6. 20 High Octane Book Writing, Publishing and Marketing Tips by Judy Cullins
  7. Profit, Passion and Partnership: Entrepreneur Success Strategies edited by Gail Martin
  8. Getting Started Writing Children’s Picture Books: A Step-by-Step Miniguide by Laura Backes
  9. Sexy Self Promotion: The Art of Blogger Outreach by Amy Schmittauer

12 How-To Books for Writers on my Book Shelves

  1. How To Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier
  2. How I Write by Janet Evanovich
  3. A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins
  4. How to Get a Literary Agent by Larsen
  5. Get Published! by Driscoll and Gedymin
  6. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Browne and King
  7. Self  Publishing in Canada by Suzanne Anderson
  8. On Writing by Stephen King
  9. Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of  Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg
  10. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (I have both the e-book and the paperback)
  11. This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley
  12. Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

I hesitate to tell readers which of these have been most useful as I believe that each of us comes to the writing desk with individual abilities.  I don’t really need a book about grammar usage as my early education took care of that.  (But I still have Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.)  Conversely my background did not prepare me for the publishing world so you will see a number of books about ways to publish.

Nevertheless, there are books here which have elicited epiphanies from me and I go back to them again and again.  Collier’s book was my first foray into novel writing and I hoovered it, soaking up the one true way (I thought) to write a publishable book.  Since then, I’ve learned much more from such writers as Anne Lamott, with her famous Bird by Bird, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King.  These books assume you know a lot already and take you much farther into your writing journey.

A couple of the books here I have not finished as I’m always reading more than one at a time and just lose sight of one upon the exciting discovery of another.  There are some in my lists which I will never finish as they just don’t suit my individual needs or they are just too elementary.  King’s On Writing is special both for its information and the fact that it’s written by a very successful writer.  Who else should we listen to?

I keep adding to my collection as I’m sure all writers do, both to add to my knowledge and to revel in the words of other people who love the written word.

What is your favorite book on writing?  Is there one good tip you learned which has totally changed some part of your writing?  Consider leaving a comment below.


20 thoughts on “The Books in My Writer’s Arsenal

  1. My favourite book for writing by far is Stephen King’s On Writing. A number of the books you suggested in your post have also been suggested in my various writing classes – I’ll need to pick some of those up.


    • I would love to hear how many books other writers end up with, wouldn’t you, Em? Seems we’re drawn to those shelves in the stores and online. Opposites attract? More like birds of a feather stick together! Thanks for visiting!


  2. This post is great, since as a new writer, I’ve been looking for a comprehensive list of books on story writing. Thank you!
    I have two favorite books on writing. The first is ‘On Writing’ which I think almost every writer must have read by now, and with good reason. It’s succinct and clear and encouraging.
    The second is ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg. I can relate to the joy of filling a spiral notebook with words, as she describes herself doing. Her advice really freed me to reach deep inside my psyche and find the story that is unique to me.
    I’ll be checking some of these out, especially ‘Bird by Bird’ which I’ve been meaning to read for a while now. 🙂


    • I’ll have to look for Goldberg’s book, Kirsten. I love “really freed me to reach deep inside my psyche and find the story that is unique to me.” Awesome. She should have you write a comment for her book jacket! And thanks for your comments on my blog.


  3. Hi Elaine,
    My writer arsenal is in process of expanding. I used the Writing Tools book from Roy Peter Clark extensively right now. I also have two of the style books that Clark recommended. One of my favourite authors, Eudora Welty, wrote One Writer’s Beginnings and I have it sitting on my desk. Besides that I have the APA,MLA and other manuals sitting on my desk as well as online manuals of the Chicago and the AP because I write articles for different people to earn my living. My next purchase is the writing book from Steven Spielberg.

    Finally, I have two books on my desk that don’t pertain to writing, but they keep me focused and kep me going when I want to quit and those are the Bible and a book by John Bevere, Relentless.



    • My list includes excellent references but also some which are forgettable. I just didn’t want to badmouth others’ books in my post. I checked your post and love it. And I have loads of questions for you when I have space in my brain to think about it. From one techie to another, you go, girl!


  4. My Lamott and Hodgins are well-thumbed. Also:
    Writing in General and the Short story in Particular by Rust Hills.
    Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan
    I also own much-tattered:
    Roget’s International Thesaurus (more comprehensive than the alphabetical one.
    The Synonym Finder by J.I Rodale
    American Dictionary of Idioms
    Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang
    Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations
    The last three give dates when the phrase was first used (or more likely when it first appeared in print)


    • What gems you have, Ruth. I thank you for your suggestions and want to add that online there are many resources such as thesauri, dictionaries, etc., as you know. I think, however, that your comment about the last three books giving dates is excellent for writers who want to keep in tune with their setting. These are excellent additions to my list.


  5. Hi Elaine,
    You have assembled a great list. I have read a few of them, heard of others, and will make a point of reading others still some day (particularly the ones on promotion and finding an agent).
    The best writing book I’ve ever read was a now out-of-print Writer’s Digest book published back in 1992 called Practical Tips for Writing Popular Fiction. Words cannot express how much I love this book – so much so, that I gave it away to someone one time, and then later couldn’t stand to be without it and asked to have it back.
    It has been so helpful to me, for true to its title, there is a “practical tip” on almost every page. One of the most useful to me has been the following: “the goal is not to get EVERYTHING in[to your story] but to put in what works best”.


      • It was out-of-print when I first got it as well, but I just found it used on Amazon. That is my go-to for finding any book that is rare or old, as the prices are very good and the selection quite extensive (I’ve found some crazy-old or obscure reference books that way!) It was funny in the case of this writing book because the shipping (about $7) cost more than the actual book.


  6. Early on, I read Word Magic by Cindy Rogers. It’s more about micro-editing, writing fresh sentences, and I found the exercises stretched my creative muscles. I’ve done much of my learning through the monthly workshops offered by the Toronto Romance Writers. They bring in steller authors–Donald Maass was fantastic!


  7. I read Anne Lamott’s book and I was fascinated by the idea of writing one small piece at a time. I tend to think in terms of the forest when I start to write, but Anne is saying write about 1 leaf at a time, or at least that is what I got from her book “Bird by Bird”.
    Thanks for the list of helpful books. I will try to get some of them.


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