The best books for writers

John Gaspard Author Of The Ambitious Card
By John Gaspard

The Books I Picked & Why

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

By William Goldman

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

Why this book?

If you don’t know William Goldman, trust me, you know his work on screen: The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery, and Marathon Man, to name just a few.

William Goldman knows about writing, and although much of this book focuses on his Hollywood (mis)-adventures, there’s plenty of gold nuggets for writers of all stripes. In particular, the critique his Hollywood pals give him on a short screen story is a master class in dramaturgy and criticism. Come for the Robert Redford stories, stay for the lessons in writing.


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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why this book?

This may seem like an obvious choice and it is: It’s obvious King knows a thing or two about writing. But doing it and explaining the process are two completely different beasts. King excels at both.

Part autobiography, part instruction manual, On Writing is not only a personal journey but also a handy guide for how to get things right. While there are countless lessons to be found in the book, the section where King demonstrates the editorial process (here’s what I wrote, here’s what the editor cut or changed) may be an eye-opener for many. If you’re going to read only one book before you start your first (or next) novel, make it On Writing.


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It Would Be So Nice If You Weren't Here: My Journey Through Show Business

By Charles Grodin

It Would Be So Nice If You Weren't Here: My Journey Through Show Business

Why this book?

Rejection is a big part of the writer’s life (less so now that self-publishing has taken off, but it still rears its ugly head more times than you might expect).

Actors know all about rejection and the late Charles Grodin had more than his share. While this is technically a memoir, it’s also a handbook on how to deal with and process all the forms of rejection you might encounter on your journey. As an additional incentive to read it, please know that Charles Grodin is a terrific writer and a funny, funny man. You’ll learn while you laugh.


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Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel

By Lawrence Block

Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel

Why this book?

To be honest, I sort of threw a dart at Lawrence Block’s books on writing and hit this one. You’d benefit from the others just as much (Write for YourLif Life, Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, The Liar’s Bible). 

Or read any of his fiction. I started down the Block path with his Matthew Scudder series, but it’s his “Burglar” books that had the greatest influence on my Eli Marks mystery series. But don’t overlook his darkly funny Keller series, about a hitman with a heart (and a love of stamp collecting). And, if you’re into audiobooks, grab any of his books that Block narrates himself. He’s pretty good at it!


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The West Wing Script Book

By Aaron Sorkin

The West Wing Script Book

Why this book?

Why this book? Two words: Aaron Sorkin. This book collects six of his teleplays, but I think you could get just as much by watching the first four seasons of “The West Wing.” Osmosis, do your thing!

Dialogue, character development, how to get into a scene, how to get out of a scene, juxtaposition … it’s all there, and more in Sorkin’s writing. This book contains some of my favorite episodes (although it doesn’t have my favorite, “Noel”), and some of his best speeches. In particular, Bartlett’s rant in “Two Cathedrals” and Toby’s frustration in “17 People” (“I will bet you all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets…”) Sorkin’s mantra (intention and obstacle) is probably the shortest and best advice you can get about how to keep characters alive in a scene. Read this book (and watch the show) to see that mantra in action.

One last Sorkin fun fact: All these scripts (with the exception of The Pilot) were written on a deadline. And not a “we need it in a month” deadline. No, this was a “we’re shooting this in two days” deadline. And during the first two seasons, he was also writing “Sports Night” on weekends. This might be the greatest collection of first drafts ever assembled.


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