The best books by writers on writing

Harriet Griffey Author Of Write Every Day: Daily Practice to Kickstart Your Creative Writing
By Harriet Griffey

The Books I Picked & Why

On Writers And Writing

By Margaret Atwood

Book cover of On Writers And Writing

Why this book?

Atwood’s reputation speaks for itself, but what I love about this book is that it’s derived from a series of six lectures that she gave at Cambridge University in 2000. And because lectures are delivered in person it’s like having a conversation (albeit one-way) with their writer. This is a witty, occasionally self-deprecating, erudite but also pragmatic and accessible book, and all in her inimitable voice. You discover about the process of Atwood’s own writing but also that of other writers, so while it’s quite personal, it’s also wide-ranging and inclusive.

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The Writer's Voice

By A. Alvarez

Book cover of The Writer's Voice

Why this book?

Talking of voice, finding your writer’s voice lies in the confidence that comes from effort and application. Alvarez was a poet, writer, critic, and poetry editor at The Observer newspaper in the 1960s, where he nourished the writing of Sylvia Plath and others. When you think of your favourite writers it’s usually their voice that grabs and sustains interest and trying to figure out your own, as a writer, can take time. Playing with other voices, trying them on for size, making one your own, is something Alvarez explores through his own insights about the work of Plath, Yeats, Jean Rhys, Freud, and others.

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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

By Anne Lamott

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

Why this book?

Not everyone is a fan of Lamott’s literary particularism, writing from the particular details of her experience, but she has written across multiple genres of fiction, nonfiction, essay, and memoir and has something truly enabling to say about the process of writing. This is less didactic than its subtitle sounds, a delicious, intensely personal guide to writing, full of humanity when it comes to false starts, shunning perfectionism, writer’s block and - yet again - finding your (writer’s) voice. Writing is a messy, imperfect process which demands, in her words, that you ‘keep putting down one damn word after the other’ and which, at heart, is what makes you a writer.

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The Art of Description: World Into Word

By Mark Doty

Book cover of The Art of Description: World Into Word

Why this book?

“It sounds like a simple thing, to say what you see.” So begins the poet Doty’s short book on the art of description. The art of something implies subtlety and skill, and Doty explores ideas around uncertainty, figuration, attentiveness, and those habits of conscious observation and specificity that improve description. If this sounds dull it is not, because there’s a subjectivity about Doty’s own prose that draws you in. What’s more (and I’m going to cheat a little here) if it turns out that you love Doty’s prose as I do, there’s another book by him, Still Life With Oysters and Lemon about the painting by Jan Davidz de Heem on view at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, that will enchant you further.

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How to Grow Your Own Poem

By Kate Clanchy

Book cover of How to Grow Your Own Poem

Why this book?

Even if you don’t want to be a poet, there’s something about playing with poetic form that I think is useful to any writer because it enables you to explore the use of rhythm, metaphor, simile and other ways of honing your consciousness into literary and written form. It demands specificity of description and uniqueness of voice, and Kate Clanchy’s book - she is herself a published poet, writer but also a teacher - gets to the nub of it through examples and exercise, to emerge a more fluent and confident writer, and in whichever form you choose.

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