This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.
Being a writer is tough. For most of us, it’s a solitary profession or calling, and while we need time alone to write, we also sometimes need guidance. Starting a writer’s group or even exchanging writing for comments and critiques with fellow writer friends can be helpful, but some of the best resources out there are published in paper and digital formats.
Of course, not all references are created equal, and not all resources are equally useful for all types of writers. While some general references about grammar, composition and publishing can be beneficial to pretty much every kind of writer, others focus on a specific type of writing. For example, Carolyn See’s “Making a Literary Life” focuses on novels and nonfiction books, whereas Linda Formichelli’s “The Renegade Writer” focuses on writing for companies and magazines.
Here are some of my favorite books for writers, organized by type of writing, plus a couple of books about getting what you write published and out into the world.
For Long Format Prose Writers
- Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers by Carolyn See
Ms. See gives common sense advice about writing daily (1,000 words) and improving your karma in the literary world by sending out charming notes, short missives to authors and writers you admire. She’s also pretty funny, which makes for a better read.
- Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg
This book is full to overflowing with writing exercises and sound advice about the creative process—keep your hand moving, lose control, be specific, and don’t think. That said, it’s also packed with the author’s ramblings on religion, philosophy and life, and if you’re not interested in zen, can become tedious at times.
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Many writers consider this book therapy and it does a good job of encouraging insecure writers with anecdotes and writing tips. Anne Lamott is pretty hilarious but some readers may not appreciate her particular sense of humor, or use of swear words.
- The Writer’s Adventure Guide by Beth Barany
Beth Barany takes would-be writers in a step-by-step journey through a long-format writing project, from brainstorming to final edits. This is an ideal reference for someone just starting a book.
- Bullet-Proof Book Proposals by Pam Brodowsky and Eric Neuhaus
Over 200 pages of user-friendly advice and examples of proposals that have gone on to be published. This book will help would-be-authors write a non-fiction book proposal with a real chance at publication.
For Magazine and Copywriters
- You Are a Writer: So Start Acting Like One by Jeff Goins
This is a quick, no-nonsense read about why (and how) you should suck it up, internalize your identity as a writer, and get to work not only on the business of getting words on the page, but also on building a platform and growing an audience.
- The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
Linda and Diana focus on the business of writing more than writing itself, but give useful tips on how to get better-paid gigs writing for companies and magazines as well as helpful advice on query letters, time management and deadlines.
- 102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less by I.J. Schecter
The short-form writer’s guide to making money in 1,500 words or less, this book highlights traditional and nontraditional streams of income for writers. Among the more surprising suggestions are writing copy for fast-food tray liners and restaurant menus.
For Poetry Writers
- The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes
Who knew the author of Under the Tuscan Sun is also a published poet? Mayes explains the nuts and bolts of how poetry “works” and includes a selection of poems and writing exercises that help readers to write and comprehend their own poetry.
- The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
Two poetry teachers communicate the elements of poetry, technique and subjects for poetry as well as writing exercises, descriptions of the ups and downs of the writer’s life, publishing and marketing tips, and share a good selection of contemporary poetry in a series of well-written essays.
- Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Although Koch includes writing exercises, this is more a manual on types of poetry, and how to read them than how to write and publish poetry. Of course, the argument can be made that reading and understanding poetry is absolutely essential to writing your own.
- In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit
Kowit uses excerpts from over 100 poems to illustrate what can seem like abstract or hard-to-understand concepts in poetry writing. If you complete the activities as suggested by the author, at the end of the book you’ll have drafts of 69 poems, more than enough for a chapbook.
- The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser
This former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner shares his insights on the unique relationship between readers and poets, as well as writing and revising poetry, gained from decades of experience.
For Children’s Writers
- The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating for Children: From Creating Characters to Developing Stories, A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Magical Picture Books by Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thornton and Yadzia Williams
For all intents and purposes, this is a practical guide to creating loveable characters and telling a story in pictures that young readers will enjoy using examples from renowned children’s literature to inspire would-be writers and illustrators. Advice on tailoring to specific age groups and about a wide variety of genres, as well as promotional tips.
- Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy
Two children’s publishing veterans share their expert advice on writing for children, and understanding the ins and outs of the publishing industry and promoting your book.
- Writer’s Market
This phonebook-sized resource is published annually. While it usually includes some articles with advice on pitching agents, finding funding, and promoting and protecting your work, the main purpose of this book is found in the seemingly endless listings of book publishers, literary agents, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards with submission and contact information. The deluxe edition usually includes a year-long membership to Writer’s Digest online where you can search for markets for writing projects and book ideas.
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2013: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over!
The title pretty much says it all. This is a very complete guide to navigating the publishing industry for all kinds of writers, but is directed at people who want to write books, as opposed to shorter pieces for anthologies or magazines.
Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.