The best books about the writing life

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a recovering trial lawyer (after 35 years of law practice) who took up fiction writing in my late 50s and became so interested in learning what it’s like to be a writer – and how to write better – that I began a podcast designed to encourage authors to open up about their writing lives. After more than 500+ author interviews, I remain fascinated by the many different ways that writers approach their craft and how they turn their “what-ifs” into interesting stories. The writing books that I am recommending are books I used to guide me in my interviews. I hope they will provide insight and inspiration in your writing journey.  

I wrote...

The Write Quotes: The Writing Life

By Landis Wade,

Book cover of The Write Quotes: The Writing Life

What is my book about?

In this book, authors from 500+ podcast interviews share their honest reflections on what it really feels like to be a writer. These inspirational and practical quotes come from hard-working, award-winning, and New York Times bestselling authors in more than 33 U.S. states and five countries.

Authors quoted include David Baldacci, Therese Anne Fowler, Steve Berry, Lisa Jewell, John Hart, Sophie Cousens, Ron Rash, C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, Wylie Cash, Kristy Harvey, Brad Taylor, Charlie Lovett, Judy Goldman, Chris Fabry, Amber Smith, Tracy Clark, John Gilstrap, Kimmery Martin, A.J. Hartley, Clyde Edgerton, Jill McCorkle, Jason Mott, Mark de Castrique, Cathy Pickens, David Joy, and many more.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Landis Wade Why did I love this book?

Every time someone asks me to recommend a book on writing, this is the first book that comes to mind.

It is a two-part wonder, one part memoir and one part master class on writing. Your first treat is the tale of this expert storyteller’s path to being a writer. And then come the tips. One of my favorite tips involves killing all your adverbs, words he likens to weeds.

Whether you’re a fan of Stephen King’s stories or not, this is the book for you if you want to experience what it feels like to be a writer and you want to learn how to write well. 

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked On Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King


Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the…

Book cover of Brook Trout & the Writing Life: The Intermingling of Fishing and Writing in a Novelist's Life

Landis Wade Why did I love this book?

I was drawn to this book by the title but also the subtitle: The intermingling of fishing and writing in a novelist’s life.

As a fly fisherman and writer myself, I have often thought about the connection between fishing and writing, and more particularly, the similar experiences that come from both, so when I learned about this book, I had to read it. Craig Nova does not disappoint.

Fishing is about good stories, and Nova tells them in this book, but he also reveals how fishing and writing have common needs, such as the need to be in the moment.

He also is honest about the challenges of being a writer and he uses the stream to remind us that when, as he says, “the literary weather is going to take a turn for the worst, what is needed, more than anything else, is the ability to calm down.” 

By Craig Nova,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Brook Trout & the Writing Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this memoir, novelist Craig Nova explores the interconnections between his work as a writer, his personal life, and his passion for fly fishing. Nova leads the reader into his courtship, marriage, the birth of his children, and his life as a father, husband, writer, friend, citizen, and angler. Just as the author observes the life of the elusive and beautiful brook trout in the tea-colored streams, he finds interconnections to his daily life--he teaches his daughter to build an igloo; he deals with the disappointment of a very public mean-spirited review of his much-anticipated novel; he gazes at his…

Book cover of A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life

Landis Wade Why did I love this book?

What better way to experience what it feels like to be a writer than to read the reflections of one of the South’s beloved storytellers?

Pat Conroy was a writer who mentored other writers, quick with a blurb and a word of encouragement. In this book, we find a compilation of his thoughts on writing and publishing from interviews, magazine articles, speeches, and letters.

I loved this book because it shows the personal side of the writer, offering up tidbits about how the internet and technology were mysteries to him, along with his deeper reflections like: “The Great Santini hurt my entire family. But if I didn’t tell the truth the way I saw it, I wasn’t worth anything as a writer.”

Southern writer Rick Bragg’s homage to Pat Conroy at the end of the book is a touching exclamation point. 

By Pat Conroy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Lowcountry Heart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Final words and heartfelt remembrances from bestselling author Pat Conroy take center stage in this winning nonfiction collection, supplemented by touching pieces from Conroy’s many friends.

This new volume of Pat Conroy’s nonfiction brings together some of the most charming interviews, magazine articles, speeches, and letters from his long literary career, many of them addressed directly to his readers with his habitual greeting, “Hey, out there.” Ranging across diverse subjects, such as favorite recent reads, the challenge of staying motivated to exercise, and processing the loss of dear friends, Conroy’s eminently memorable pieces offer a unique window into the life…

Book cover of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Landis Wade Why did I love this book?

I and many other writers think of this book based on the title alone.

There is more to the book that the title, of course, but it is the clue to the meat of the book, which is, and I am paraphrasing: writing is hard to do, so take it one step at a time, sentence by sentence, word by word, bird by bird.

Lamott’s practical writing advice is filled with stories about writing. She is witty and funny and above all, practical. Because writing is difficult, she shines the light on that elephant in the writing room.

Part memoir and part writing advice, it’s nice to read a book that shows that someone who became such a talented writer can remain humble about what it takes to make it happen.    

By Anne Lamott,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Bird by Bird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An essential volume for generations of writers young and old. The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this modern classic will continue to spark creative minds for years to come. Anne Lamott is "a warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps" (Los Angeles Times). 

“Superb writing advice…. Hilarious, helpful, and provocative.” —The New York Times Book Review

For a quarter century, more than a million readers—scribes and scribblers of all ages and abilities—have been inspired by Anne Lamott’s hilarious, big-hearted, homespun advice. Advice that begins with the simple words of wisdom…

Book cover of The Writing Life

Landis Wade Why did I love this book?

While some writing books offer nuts and bolts–the so-called rules of writing–this book from Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard teases the writer with essays that make you think.

We are invited into the world of writing with metaphor and we learn by comparison. Like the story of the inchworm stuck in the long grasses, frozen to the tall blades. Perhaps you should just jump, Dillard quips, and put yourself “out of your misery.”

True, writing can be miserable at times, but also, it can be wonderful. I like this book because it is a way to experience what it feels like to be a writer through the craft of prose. 

By Annie Dillard,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Writing Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"For nonwriters, it is a glimpse into the trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words. For writers, it is a warm, rambling, conversation with a stimulating and extraordinarily talented colleague." — Chicago Tribune

From Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie Dillard, a collection that illuminates the dedication and daring that characterizes a writer's life.

In these short essays, Annie Dillard—the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood—illuminates the dedication, absurdity, and daring that characterize the existence of a writer. A moving account of Dillard’s own experiences while writing her works, The Writing Life offers deep insight into one…

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Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

Book cover of Rewriting Illness

Elizabeth Benedict

New book alert!

What is my book about?

What happens when a novelist with a “razor-sharp wit” (Newsday), a “singular sensibility” (Huff Post), and a lifetime of fear about getting sick finds a lump where no lump should be? Months of medical mishaps, coded language, and Doctors who don't get it.

With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling artistry of an acclaimed novelist, Elizabeth Benedict recollects her cancer diagnosis after discovering multiplying lumps in her armpit. In compact, explosive chapters, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity, she chronicles her illness from muddled diagnosis to “natural remedies,” to debilitating treatments, as she gathers sustenance from family, an assortment of urbane friends, and a fearless “cancer guru.”

Rewriting Illness is suffused with suspense, secrets, and the unexpected solace of silence.

Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

What is this book about?

By turns somber and funny but above all provocative, Elizabeth Benedict's Rewriting Illness: A View of My Own is a most unconventional memoir. With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling skills of a seasoned novelist, she brings to life her cancer diagnosis and committed hypochondria. As she discovers multiplying lumps in her armpit, she describes her initial terror, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity as she indulges in "natural remedies," among them chanting Tibetan mantras, drinking shots of wheat grass, and finding medicinal properties in chocolate babka. She tracks the progression of her illness from muddled diagnosis to debilitating treatment…

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