The best books by writers on writing

Why this topic?

Where do writers go for distraction? For me it’s usually into the work of other writers and, when I’m done escaping into fiction, I turn to nonfiction and particularly those writers who write about writing. Why? Because it helps refresh my own writing to read those writing with clarity, insight, and coherence when my own process is in danger of fragmenting. What’s more, many writers write so well about the components of writing - voice, structure, narrative or even something as prosaic as getting started - that I am reassured about what I’m trying to do with my own writing.


I wrote...

Write Every Day: Daily Practice to Kickstart Your Creative Writing

By Harriet Griffey,

Book cover of Write Every Day: Daily Practice to Kickstart Your Creative Writing

What is my book about?

As a published writer, but also an ex-publisher, tutor with the Creative Writing Consultancy and writing retreats facilitator, I have been asked for advice about writing and getting published for years. This book encapsulates what might be helpful and rests on the premise that writing is accomplished by the writing itself. That is, to become a writer you have to write - not necessarily every single day, but a writing practice demands that you write.

That said, the book provides an overview on some of the component parts of writing that both novice and even established writers might find useful, for example, voice, narrative, plot and structure, character, dialogue, point of view, and place. It also covers different forms of writing from fiction to nonfiction, prose, poetry, and memoir, plus that all-important insider information about finding an agent or a publisher if your ultimate aim is to get published.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of On Writers And Writing

Harriet Griffey Why did I love 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.

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Writers And Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the author of THE HANDMAID'S TALE and ALIAS GRACE

What is the role of the writer? Prophet? High Priest of Art? Court Jester? Or witness to the real world? Looking back on her own childhood and the development of her writing career, Margaret Atwood examines the metaphors which writers of fiction and poetry have used to explain - or excuse! - their activities, looking at what costumes they have seen fit to assume, what roles they have chosen to play. In her final chapter she takes up the challenge of the book's title: if a writer is to be…


Book cover of The Writer's Voice

Harriet Griffey Why did I love 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.

By A. Alvarez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Writer's Voice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'For a writer, voice is a problem that never lets you go, and I have thought about it for as long as I can remember - if for no other reason than that a writer doesn't properly begin until he has a voice of his own.' What makes good writing good? In his brilliant new book, Al Alvarez argues that it is the development of the voice - voice as distinct from style - that makes a writer great. A poet as well as a critic, Al Alvarez approaches his subject both as an informed observer and an insider. Here…


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

Harriet Griffey Why did I love 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.

By Anne Lamott,

Why should I read it?

14 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 Art of Description: World Into Word

Harriet Griffey Why did I love 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.

By Mark Doty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Description as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How a writer moves perception to image to written world is at the heart of any literary work. Here, celebrated writer and poet Mark Doty closely examines this essential literary technique and how it varies from writer to writer. Drawing on the sensory experience found in the poems of Blake, Whitman, Bishop and others, Doty gives an insight into this essential craft. Written in clear chapter essays, his book is an invaluable resource for writers, students, critics and anyone with an interest in the art of literature.


Book cover of How to Grow Your Own Poem

Harriet Griffey Why did I love 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.

By Kate Clanchy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Grow Your Own Poem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Do you want to write a poem? This book will show you 'how to grow your own poem' . . .

Kate Clanchy has been teaching people to write poetry for more than twenty years. Some were old, some were young; some were fluent English speakers, some were not. None of them were confident to start with, but a surprising number went to win prizes and every one finished up with a poem they were proud of, a poem that only they could have written - their own poem.

Kate's big secret is a simple one: is to share other…


You might also like...

The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Historical fiction author Lover of hidden stories Research nerd Opera fanatic

Maryka's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Model Spy is based on the true story of Toto Koopman, who spied for the Allies and Italian Resistance during World War II.

Largely unknown today, Toto was arguably the first woman to spy for the British Intelligence Service. Operating in the hotbed of Mussolini's Italy, she courted danger every step of the way. As the war entered its final stages, she faced off against the most brutal of forces—Germany's Intelligence Service, the Abwehr.

The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

What is this book about?

Celebrated model Toto Koopman had beauty, brains, and fame. Born to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother, she took up the life of a bon vivant in 1920s Paris and modeled for Vogue magazine and Coco Chanel. But modeling didn’t satisfy her. Fluent in six languages, she was adventurous and fascinated by world politics.

In London she attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, the William Randolph Hearst of England. She soon became his confidante, companion, and translator, traversing the Continent and finding herself caught in the winds of impending war. Beaverbrook introduced her to influential people, including a director at…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in birds, birdwatching, and animals?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about birds, birdwatching, and animals.

Birds Explore 162 books about birds
Birdwatching Explore 32 books about birdwatching
Animals Explore 205 books about animals