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The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing

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Alice LaPlante

The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing Reprint Edition

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A Los Angeles Times bestseller: wonderfully lucid and illuminating, Alice LaPlante’s guide to writing fiction “recalls Francine Prose’s bestseller, Reading Like a Writer ” ( Library Journal ).

  • ISBN-10 0393337081
  • ISBN-13 978-0393337082
  • Edition Reprint
  • Publisher W. W. Norton & Company
  • Publication date January 11, 2010
  • Language English
  • Dimensions 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Print length 677 pages
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (January 11, 2010)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 677 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0393337081
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0393337082
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.65 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.3 inches
  • #59 in Writing Skill Reference (Books)
  • #61 in Words, Language & Grammar Reference
  • #106 in Fiction Writing Reference (Books)

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creative writing write book

The 20+ Best Books on Creative Writing

If you’ve ever wondered, “How do I write a book?”, “How do I write a short story?”, or “How do I write a poem?” you’re not alone. I’m halfway done my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts , and I ask myself these questions a lot, too, though I’m noticing that by now I feel more comfortable with the answers that fit my personal craft. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing candidate, or even a college graduate, in order to soak up the great Wisdom of Words, as I like to call it. Another word for it is craft . That’s because there are so many great books out there on writing craft. In this post, I’ll guide you through 20+ of the most essential books on creative writing. These essential books for writers will teach you what you need to know to write riveting stories and emotionally resonant books—and to sell them.

I just also want to put in a quick plug for my post with the word count of 175 favorite novels . This resource is helpful for any writer.

creative writing write book

Now, with that done… Let’s get to it!

What Made the List of Essential Books for Writers—and What Didn’t

So what made the list? And what didn’t?

Unique to this list, these are all books that I have personally used in my journey as a creative and commercial writer.

That journey started when I was 15 and extended through majoring in English and Creative Writing as an undergrad at UPenn through becoming a freelance writer in 2014, starting this book blog, pursuing my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts , and publishing some fiction and nonfiction books myself . My point here is not to boast, just to explain that these books have all helped me better understand and apply the craft, discipline, and business of writing over the course of more than half my life as I’ve walked the path to become a full-time writer. Your mileage my vary , but each of these books have contributed to my growth as a writer in some way. I’m not endorsing books I’ve never read or reviewed. This list comes from my heart (and pen!).

Most of these books are geared towards fiction writers, not poetry or nonfiction writers

It’s true that I’m only one human and can only write so much in one post. Originally, I wanted this list to be more than 25 books on writing. Yes, 25 books! But it’s just not possible to manage that in a single post. What I’ll do is publish a follow-up article with even more books for writers. Stay tuned!

The most commonly recommended books on writing are left out.

Why? Because they’re everywhere! I’m aiming for under-the-radar books on writing, ones that aren’t highlighted often enough. You’ll notice that many of these books are self-published because I wanted to give voice to indie authors.

But I did want to include a brief write-up of these books… and, well, you’ve probably heard of them, but here are 7 of the most recommended books on writing:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – With her guided practice on how to rejuvenate your art over the course of 16 weeks, Cameron has fashioned an enduring classic about living and breathing your craft (for artists as well as writers). This book is perhaps best known for popularizing the morning pages method.

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner – If you want to better understand how fiction works, John Gardner will be your guide in this timeless book.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – A beloved writing book on process, craft, and overcoming stumbling blocks (both existential and material).

On Writing by Stephen King – A must-read hybrid memoir-craft book on the writer mythos and reality for every writer.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose – A core writing book that teaches you how to read with a writer’s eye and unlock the ability to recognize and analyze craft for yourself.

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin – Many writers consider this to be their bible on craft and storytelling.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg – A favorite of many writers, this book takes an almost spiritual approach to the art, craft, and experience of writing.

I’m aiming for under-the-radar books on writing on my list.

These books are all in print.

Over the years, I’ve picked up several awesome books on creative writing from used bookstores. Oh, how I wish I could recommend these! But many of them are out of print. The books on this list are all available new either as eBooks, hardcovers, or paperbacks. I guess this is the right time for my Affiliate Link disclaimer:

This article contains affiliate links, which means I might get a small portion of your purchase. For more on my affiliate link policy, check out my official Affiliate Link Disclaimer .

You’ll notice a lot of the books focus on the business of writing.

Too often, money is a subject that writers won’t talk about. I want to be upfront about the business of writing and making a living as a writer (or not ) with these books. It’s my goal to get every writer, even poets!, to look at writing not just from a craft perspective, but from a commercial POV, too.

And now on to the books!

Part i: the best books on writing craft, the anatomy of story by john truby.

creative writing write book

For you if: You want to develop an instinctive skill at understanding the contours of storytelling .

All I want to do as a writer, my MO, is tell good stories well. It took me so long to understand that what really matters to me is good storytelling. That’s it—that’s the essence of what we do as writers… tell good stories well. And in The Anatomy of Story , legendary screenwriting teacher John Truby takes you through story theory. This book is packed with movie references to illustrate the core beat points in story, and many of these example films are actually literary adaptations, making this a crossover craft book for fiction writers and screenwriters alike.

How to read it: Purchase The Anatomy of Story on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The art of memoir by mary karr.

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re writing a memoir book or personal essays .

Nobody is a better person to teach memoir writing than Mary Karr, whose memoirs The Liar’s Club and Lit are considered classics of the genre. In The Art of Memoir , Karr delivers a master class on memoir writing, adapted from her experience as a writer and a professor in Syracuse’s prestigious MFA program. What I love about this book as an aspiring memoirist is Karr’s approach, which blends practical, actionable advice with more bigger-picture concepts on things like truth vs. fact in memoir storytelling. Like I said in the intro to this list, I didn’t include many nonfiction and poetry books on this list, but I knew I had to make an exception for The Art of Memoir .

How to read it: Purchase The Art of Memoir on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The emotional craft of fiction by donald maass.

creative writing write book

For you if: Plot isn’t your problem, it’s character .

From literary agent Donald Maass, The Emotional Craft of Fiction gives you the skill set you need to master emotionally engaging fiction. Maass’s technique is to show you how readers get pulled into the most resonant, engaging, and unforgettable stories: by going through an emotional journey nimbly crafted by the author. The Emotional Craft of Fiction is a must-have work of craft to balance more plot-driven craft books.

How to read it: Purchase the The Emotional Craft of Fiction on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

How to Write Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

creative writing write book

For you if: You need a quick-and-dirty plotting technique that’s easy to memorize .

I first heard of the “Snowflake Method” in the National Novel Writing Month forums (which, by the way, are excellent places for finding writing craft worksheets, book recommendations, and online resources). In How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method , the Snowflake Method is introduced by its creator. This quick yet thorough plotting and outlining structure is humble and easy to master. If you don’t have time to read a bunch of books on outlining and the hundreds of pages that would require, check out How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method for a quick, 235-page read.

How to read it: Purchase How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Meander, spiral, explode: design and pattern in narrative by jane alison.

creative writing write book

For you if: You want to do a deep dive understanding of the core theory of story, a.k.a. narrative.

A most unconventional writing craft book, Meander, Spiral, Explode offers a theory of narrative (story) as recognizable patterns. According to author Jane Alison, there are three main narrative narratives in writing: meandering, spiraling, and exploding. This cerebral book (chock full of examples!) is equal parts seminar on literary theory as it is craft, and it will make you see and understand storytelling better than maybe any book on this list.

How to read it: Purchase Meander, Spiral, Explode on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The modern library writer’s workshop by stephen koch.

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re wondering what it means to be the writer you want to become .

This is one of the earliest creative writing books I ever bought and it remains among the best I’ve read. Why? Reading The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop echoes the kind of mind-body-spirit approach you need to take to writing. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop doesn’t teach you the nuts and bolts of writing as much as it teaches you how to envision the machine. Koch zooms out to big picture stuff as much as zeroes in on the little details. This is an outstanding book about getting into the mindset of being a writer, not just in a commercial sense, but as your passion and identity. It’s as close as you’ll get to the feel of an MFA in Fiction education.

How to read it: Purchase The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Romancing the beat by gwen hayes.

creative writing write book

For you if: You write or edit the romance genre and want a trusted plotting strategy to craft the perfect love story .

If you’re writing romance, you have to get Gwen Hayes’s Romancing the Beat . This book breaks down the plot points or “beats” you want to hit when you’re crafting your romance novel. When I worked as a romance novel outliner (yes, a real job), our team used Romancing the Beat as its bible; every outline was structured around Hayes’s formula. For romance writers (like myself) I cannot endorse it any higher.

How to read it: Purchase Romancing the Beat on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Save the cat writes a novel by jessica brody.

creative writing write book

For you if: You have big ideas for a plot but need to work on the smaller moments that propel stories .

Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel adapts Blake Snyder’s bestselling screenwriting book Save the Cat! into story craft for writing novels. Brody reworks the Save the Cat! methodology in actionable, point-by-point stages of story that are each explained with countless relevant examples. If you want to focus your efforts on plot, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is an excellent place to go to start learning the ins and outs of what makes a good story.

How to read it: Purchase Save the Cat! Writes a Novel on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Story genius by lisa cron.

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re a pantser and are terrified at outlining yet also realize you might have a “plot problem .”

More than any other book, Lisa Cron’s Story Genius will get you where you need to go for writing amazing stories. Story Genius helps you look at plotting differently, starting from a point of characterization in which our protagonists have a clearly defined need and misbelief that play off each other and move the story forward from an emotional interior and action exterior standpoint. For many of my fellow MFA students—and myself— Story Genius is the missing link book for marrying plot and character so you innately understand the contours of good story.

How to read it: Purchase Story Genius on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Wonderbook: the illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction by jeff vandermeer.

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re writing in a speculative fiction genre—like science fiction, fantasy, or horror—or are trying to better understand those genres.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is a dazzling gem of a book and a can’t-miss-it writing book for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers. This book will teach you all the skills you need to craft speculative fiction, like world-building, with micro-lessons and close-reads of excellent works in these genres. Wonderbook is also one to linger over, with lavish illustrations and every inch and corner crammed with craft talk for writing imaginative fiction (sometimes called speculative fiction). And who better to guide you through this than Jeff VanderMeer, author of the popular Southern Reach Trilogy, which kicks off with Annihilation , which was adapted into a feature film.

How to read it: Purchase Wonderbook on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Writing picture books by ann whitford paul.

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re looking to write picture books and/or understand how they work .

This book is the only one you need to learn how to write and sell picture books. As an MFA student studying children’s literature, I’ve consulted with this book several times as I’ve dipped my toes into writing picture books, a form I considered scary and intimidating until reading this book. Writing Picture Books should be on the shelf of any writer of children’s literature. a.k.a. “kid lit.”

How to read it: Purchase Writing Picture Books on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Writing with emotion, conflict, and tension by cheryl st. john.

creative writing write book

For you if: You need to work on the conflict, tension, and suspense that keep readers turning pages and your story going forward .

Mmm, conflict. As I said earlier, it’s the element of fiction writing that makes a story interesting and a key aspect of characterization that is underrated. In Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict , bestselling romance author Cheryl St. John offers a masterclass on the delicate dance between incorporating conflict, the emotions it inspires in characters, and the tension that results from those two factors.

How to read it: Purchase Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Part ii: the best books on the productivity, mfas, and the business of writing, 2k to 10k: writing faster, writing better, and writing more of what you love by rachel aaron.

creative writing write book

For you if: You struggle to find the time to write and always seem to be a chapter or two behind schedule .

If you’re struggling to find time of your own to write with competing obligations (family, work, whatever) making that hard, you need Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k . This book will get you in shape to go from writing just a few words an hour to, eventually, 10,000 words a day. Yes, you read that right. 10,000 words a day. At that rate, you can complete so many more projects and publish more. Writers simply cannot afford to waste time if they want to keep up the kind of production that leads to perpetual publication. Trust me, Aaron’s method works. It has for me. I’m on my way to 10k in the future, currently at like 4 or 5k a day for me at the moment.

How to read it: Purchase 2k to 10k on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The 3 a.m. epiphany by brian kitele.

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re going through writer’s block, have been away from writing for a while, or just want to loosen up and try something new .

Every writer must own an an exercise or prompt book. Why? Because regularly practicing your writing by going outside your current works-in-progress (or writer’s block) will free you up, help you plant the seeds for new ideas, and defrost your creative blocks. And the best book writing exercise book I know is The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley, an MFA professor who uses prompts like these with his grad students. You’ll find that this book (and its sequel, The 4 A.M. Breakthrough ) go beyond cutesy exercises and forces you to push outside your comfort zone and learn something from the writing you find there.

How to read it: Purchase The 3 A.M. Epiphany on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

The 4-hour workweek by timothy ferriss.

creative writing write book

For you if: You think being a writer means you have to be poor .

The 4-Hour Workweek changed my life. Although not strictly about writing in the traditional sense, The 4-Hour Workweek does an excellent job teaching you about how passive income can offer you freedom. I first heard about The 4-Hour Workweek when I was getting into tarot in 2013. On Biddy Tarot , founder Brigit (author of some of the best books on tarot ) related how she read this book, learned how to create passive income, and quit her corporate job to read tarot full time. As a person with a total and permanent disability, this spoke to me because it offered a way out of the 9-to-5 “active” income that I thought was the only way. I picked up Ferriss’s book and learned that there’s more than one option, and that passive income is a viable way for me to make money even when I’m too sick to work. I saw this come true last year when I was in the hospital. When I got out, I checked my stats and learned I’d made money off my blog and books even while I was hospitalized and couldn’t do any “active” work. I almost cried.; I’ve been working on my passive income game since 2013, and I saw a return on that time investment when I needed it most.

That’s why I’m recommending The 4-Hour Workweek to writers. So much of our trade is producing passive income products. Yes, your books are products! And for many writers, this means rewiring your brain to stop looking at writing strictly as an art that will leave you impoverished for life and start approaching writing as a business that can earn you a real living through passive income. No book will help you break out of that mindset better than The 4-Hour Workweek and its actionable steps, proven method, and numerous examples of people who have followed the strategy and are living the lifestyle they’ve always dreamed of but never thought was possible.

How to read it: Purchase The 4-Hour Workweek on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book by Courtney Maum

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re serious about making a living as a writer and publishing with a Big 5 or major indie publisher .

Courtney Maum’s Before and After the Book Deal addresses exactly what its title suggests: what happens after you sell your first book. This book is for ambitious writers intent on submission who know they want to write and want to avoid common pitfalls while negotiating terms and life after your debut. As many published authors would tell you, the debut is one thing, but following that book up with a sustainable, successful career is another trick entirely. Fortunately, we have Maum’s book, packed with to-the-moment details and advice.

How to read it: Purchase Before and After the Book Deal on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Diy mfa: write with focus, read with purpose, build your community by gabriela pereira.

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re stressed out wondering if you really need an MFA .

The MFA is under this header “business of writing” because it is absolutely an economic choice you make. And, look, I’m biased. I’m getting an MFA. But back when I was grappling with whether or not it was worth it—the debt, the time, the stress—I consulted with DIY MFA , an exceptional guide to learning how to enrich your writing craft, career, and community outside the structures of an MFA program. I’ve also more than once visited the companion site, , to find a kind of never-ending rabbit hole of new and timeless content on the writing life. On and in the corresponding book, you’ll find a lively hub for author interviews, writing craft shop talk, reading lists, and business of writing articles.

How to read it: Purchase DIY MFA on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Mfa vs. nyc by chad harbach.

creative writing write book

For you if: You’re wondering how far an MFA really gets you—and you’re ready to learn the realities of the publishing world .

About a thousand years ago (well, in 2007), I spent the fall of my sophomore year of college as a “Fiction Submissions and Advertising Intern” for the literary magazine n+1 , which was co-founded by Chad Harbach, who you might know from his buzzy novel, The Art of Fielding . In MFA vs NYC , Harbach offers his perspective as both an MFA graduate and someone deeply enmeshed in the New York City publishing industry. This thought-provoking look at these two arenas that launch writers will pull the wool up from your eyes about how publishing really works . It’s not just Harbach’s voice you get in here, though. The book, slim but mighty, includes perspectives from the likes of George Saunders and David Foster Wallace in the MFA camp and Emily Gould and Keith Gessen speaking to NYC’s writing culture.

How to read it: Purchase MFA vs. NYC on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Scratch: writers, money, and the art of making a living – edited by manjula martin.

creative writing write book

For you if: a) You’re worried about how to balance writing with making a living; b) You’re not worried about how to balance writing with making a living .

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living is alternately one of the most underrated and essential books on writing out there. This collection of personal essays and interviews all revolve around the taboo theme of how writers make their living, and it’s not always—indeed, rarely—through writing alone. Some of the many contributing authors include Cheryl Strayed ( Wild ), Alexander Chee ( How to Write an Autobiographical Novel ), Jennifer Weiner ( Mrs. Everything ), Austin Kleon ( Steal Like an Artist ), and many others. Recently a young woman asked me for career advice on being a professional freelance writer, and I made sure to recommend Scratch as an eye-opening and candid read that is both motivating and candid.

How to read it: Purchase Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

Write to market: deliver a book that sells by chris fox.

creative writing write book

For you if: You don’t know why your books aren’t selling—and you want to start turning a profit by getting a real publishing strategy

So you don’t have to be an indie author to internalize the invaluable wisdom you’ll find here in Write to Market . I first heard about Write to Market when I first joined the 20Booksto50K writing group on Facebook , a massive, supportive, motivating community of mostly indie authors. Everyone kept talking about Write to Market . I read the book in a day and found the way I looked at publishing change. Essentially, what Chris Fox does in Write to Market is help you learn to identify what are viable publishing niches. Following his method, I’ve since published several successful and #1 bestselling books in the quotations genre on Amazon . Without Fox’s book, I’m not sure I would have gotten there on my own.

How to read it: Purchase Write to Market on Amazon and add it on Goodreads

And that’s a wrap what are some of your favorite writing books, share this:, you might be interested in.

creative writing write book

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Sarah S. Davis is the founder of Broke by Books, a blog about her journey as a schizoaffective disorder bipolar type writer and reader. Sarah's writing about books has appeared on Book Riot, Electric Literature, Kirkus Reviews, BookRags, PsychCentral, and more. She has a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Library and Information Science from Clarion University, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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The Write Practice

How to Write a Book: The Ultimate Guide (with Free Book Idea Worksheet!)

by Joe Bunting | 0 comments

You want to write a book. Maybe you have a great story idea. Maybe you have a big idea you want to share with the world. Maybe people have told you, “Your life should be made into a book!” But first, you have to learn how to write a book.

creative writing write book

The problem for the first-time author is figuring out how to get started. What are the writing habits you need to finish the actual writing for an entire book? And what comes next for your writing goals: traditional publishing? Self-publishing? Becoming a New York Times bestselling book? A long and illustrious writing career?

Because after coaching thousands of writers to write and finish their books, and also writing fifteen books of my own, I know exactly how much hard work it takes to finish a book.

It's not enough to want to write, you need to know how to write a book.

You need to have the right process. The write process, you might say (sorry, I had to!).

In this guide, we're going to learn everything about how to write a nonfiction book, from how to defeat procrastination and find writing time, all the way to revising and the editing process—and even to the publishing process.

If you've ever wanted to write a book, whether a memoir, a big idea book, or a self help book, you're in the right place.

If, on the other hand, you're a fiction writer and have a main character who you know is going to take the world by storm, we have a complete guide on novel writing here . For you nonfiction writers, though, read on for all our best writing tips.

And that free book idea worksheet ? Here's your FREE download: Book Idea Worksheet

Quick Tip: The Best Tool to Write a Book

Before we get started, here's a quick tip for writing a book, Microsoft Word just doesn't cut it.

My favorite writing tool is Scrivener, a book writing software used by the most successful writers. Scrivener helps you stay organized, set word count goals, and keep better track of your writing sessions. Check out our full review of Scrivener here.

How to Fail Writing a Book

In 2011, I had one of the best years of my life. That year, I wrote my first book, became a full-time writer, got my first book published , became a bestselling author, and had 80,000 people read my writing.

But it didn't happen overnight. I had dreamed about and had been working toward those goals for eight years before that: eight years of failure, of trying to write books and not being able to finish them, eight years of wanting to be a writer but not knowing how to actually do it .

Since then, I've written fifteen books, including one book that recently hit the Wall Street Journal bestsellers list.

You might be thinking, “That's cool, Joe. But you're clearly a talented writer. Writing is hard work for me.”

To be honest, it doesn't come easy to me. In fact, if I told my high school English teachers I'm a writer, they would probably be shocked.

The difference is that I found the right process. It's a step-by-step process that works every time, and it will work for you too.

In this guide, I'm going to share the process that I've used to write fifteen books, become a professional writer, and hit the bestsellers list.

But it's not just me. I've also trained thousands of people in our 100 Day Book program to finish books using this process, too.

It works, and it will work for you, if you follow it.

That being said, if you're still not sure you can actually do this alone, or if you just want some extra help along the way, check out 100 Day Book . In this program, we've helped thousands of aspiring writers turned authors to accomplish their dream of writing a book, and we'd love to help you, too. Click to learn more about 100 Day Book here.

How to Write a Book: 12 Steps to Writing a Book

Here's the process I finally learned after that decade of trying to learn how to write a book and failing, the same twelve steps that have helped me write fifteen books.

come up with a book idea

1. Come Up With a Great Book Idea

If you're here, you probably have a book idea already. Maybe you have several ideas.

And if that's true, great! Pat yourself on the back. You've made it to step one.

Here's what to do next: forget any sense accomplishment you have.

Yes, I'm serious.

Here's what George R.R. Martin said:

“Ideas are useless. Execution is everything.”

Because the thing is, an idea alone, even a great idea, is just the small step to write your book.

There are a lot more steps, and all of them are more difficult than coming up with your initial idea. (I'm sorry if that's discouraging!)

You have an idea. Great! Next, it's time to learn how to execute the way successful authors do. Let's get started with step 2.

(Don't have an idea yet? Check out this article: How to Write When You Don't Have Ideas .)

write a premise

2. Write Your Book Idea In the Form of a 1-Sentence Premise

The next step to taking your idea and turning it into a book is to summarize your idea into a single-sentence premise.

But wait, what's a premise ?

A premise distills your entire book idea down to a single sentence. This sentence becomes the foundation of all your writing efforts and will be helpful even into publishing process.

Your premise is also the most important part of a book proposal, so a good premise can actually help you get published.

Here’s an example of a nonfiction premise from my book The Write Structure , which got half a dozen responses from agents.

The Write Structure utilizes The Write Practice’s ( award-winning methodology to show creative writers how to write their best novels, memoirs, short stories, or screenplays by following story structure principles used and taught by writers for hundreds of years.

Each nonfiction book premise should contain the following three elements:

  • A problem . The problem the book aims to solve (in this case, how to write a good novel, memoir, short story, or screenplay)
  • A person . Who is the person sharing the solution to that problem, e.g. you
  • A solution . What is your unique process to solve that problem

By simplifying your book down to a single sentence, you create a strong, achievable foundation to your entire book. Not only will this simple step help you during the writing process, it will also help you throughout the publishing process, too, which we'll talk about more in a bit.

Ready to write your premise? To make it easier we have a free worksheet template that will guide you through writing a publishable premise: Download the worksheet here.

Or get a copy of our Write Plan Planner , and have a physical tool to guide you through the writing process. Check out the planner here.

3. Choose Your Publishing Path

When you're writing nonfiction, you have to choose your publishing path earlier than creative writers because most nonfiction books are picked up by publishers before they're written.

In fact, it's a red flag in the eyes of traditional publishers and literary agents if you've finished your book before you pitch them. They want to see a book proposal first, and have a hand in the shaping of the book.

That means, if you're writing nonfiction, and you want to get traditionally published, before you go write your own book, you must write a book proposal.

However, if you're writing a memoir, you may need to finish writing the book before you seek publishing. Memoir exists in something of a gray area in the publishing world, with more self-help focused memoirs requiring a proposal, and more creative memoirs acting more like a novel, where the writer would finish them first.

Which publishing path is right for you? Here are the two main requirements for traditional publishing for nonfiction books:

  • Platform . Do you have authority within this topic? Do you have a following, via social media, speaking, podcast, YouTube, an email list, or some other platform of at least 10,000 people?
  • A tested idea with mass market appeal . Does your idea line up with your platform? Does it have mass market appeal?

If you can't answer “yes” to both of these questions, then you might consider self-publishing, working with a small press, or hybrid press after you complete your book. Or taking a break from your book to build your platform and target audience, perhaps by building an author website and starting a blog. (For more on this, check out this guide on how to build a platform via a blog .)

You might be wondering, at this point too, how do you write a book proposal?

Book proposals vary across writers and publishers, but here are some of the major components:

  • 1-Sentence Premise (see above)
  • 2-4 paragraph synopsis
  • Outline (Table of Contents)
  • Tone and Writing Style
  • Platform Description and Marketing Info
  • 2-3 Sample Chapters

For more on this, check out Jane Friedman's excellent guide on how to write a book proposal .

Now, once you've chosen your publishing path and you're ready to begin writing a whole book, how do you actually finish it? The next steps will all but guarantee you reach The End of your book.

outline your book

4. Outline Your Book

Even you if you don't decide to traditionally publish, I still recommend working through most of the elements of a book proposal listed above, especially the book outline because it will make the writing process so much easier.

Your book's outline will vary widely depending on your genre, your writing style, your book's topic, and your method.

However, there are some tried and true structures that exist in nonfiction books. Here are some suggested structures you can use:

Introduction . Most nonfiction books include a short (2,000 to 3,000 words) introduction. They usually outline the main problem you will be focusing on in the book. They may also introduce you as the author and your authority, and outline the unique solution you will be guiding readers through in your book.

8-10 Chapters . Nonfiction book chapters dive deeper into the problem and give principles or steps to solve that problem. Chapters can have a variety of different structures, but here is my personal favorite, used frequently by Malcolm Gladwell:

  • Opening story
  • Analysis of the story
  • Universal principle
  • Closing story (may be the conclusion of the opening story)

Conclusion . Conclusions usually restate the problem and show how you solved that problem, often ending with a concluding story and a call to action to encourage the reader to go out and put the ideas you've shared to use.

Easy right? Not exactly, but creating this outline will make the rest of the writing process so much easier. Even if it changes, you'll have a resource to help you get unstuck when the writing gets hard.

If you want a template for your outline, as well as a step-by-step guide through the book writing process, get a copy of our Write Plan Planner . This is the exact process that I have used to write fifteen books, and that thousands of other authors in our community have used to finish their book all in a beautiful, daily planner . Check out the planner here.

set a deadline

5. Set a Deadline

This one might surprise you. Because most people think that once you've got your idea ready to go, you should just start writing and not worry about the period of time it takes.

Nope. Not even close.

The next step is to set a deadline for when you're going to finish the first rough draft of your book. But you might be wondering, how long does it take to write a book in the first place?

How long should you set your deadline for?

Some people use NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, to set their deadline for them, writing 50,000 words of book in the thirty days of November. That being said, it's very challenging for most people to finish a book in thirty days.

Stephen King, on the other hand, said the first draft of a book should take no more than a season, so three months. With all due respect to Stephen King, I think that's a little fast for most people.

We give people 100 days , which seems to be just long enough to write a first draft without getting distracted by everything else the world wants you to focus on (looking at you, social media).

So for you, give yourself a week or two to prepare, then set your deadline for about 100 days after that.

There you go! You now have a deadline to finish your book!

break up your deadline

6. Break Your Deadline Into Weekly and Daily Word Counts

You can't pull an all-nighter and finish writing a book. Trust me, I've tried!

Instead, you have to break up your deadline into smaller, weekly, and daily deadlines so you can make measured progress over your writing period. This step breaks the work into manageable pieces.

This step also requires a bit of math. Here's how to do it so you can actually stay on track:

  • Figure out your book's ideal target word count goal (check out our word count guide )
  • Figure out how many weeks until your deadline (e.g. 100 days = 14.5 weeks)
  • Divide your book's total word count by the number of weeks (e.g. 45,000 ÷ 14.5 = 3,103 words per week)
  • Next, figure out how many days per week you're going to write (e.g. 5 days a week)
  • Finally, divide your weekly word count goal by the number of days you'll write to get your daily word count goal (e.g. 3,103 ÷ 5. = 621 words per day)

If you can hit all of your weekly and daily deadlines, you know you’ll make your final deadline at the end.

P.S. You're much more likely to actually meet your deadlines if you take a stand and set a consequence, which I”ll talk about next.

take a stand

7. Take a Stand

Deadlines are nice, but it can be too easy to follow Douglas Adams' advice:

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.

There are two tricks that will help you actually meet your deadline, and it's essential to do these before you start writing or you'll never finish your book.

The first one is a little scary, but will make a huge difference.

Once you've set your deadline, go tell everyone you know. Post your deadline on social media, saying something like this:

creative writing write book

Here. We'll even make it easy for you. Just click the share button below to tweet this and fill in the blank with your deadline:

Don't have social media? That's okay. Just email five friends. These friends will become your accountability partners to ensure you finish your book.

Important: I don't recommend talking about your book idea. Talking about the idea can actually remove some of the motivation to actually work on your book.

But I highly recommend talking about your book's deadline because humans naturally avoid letting each other down. When you make a public promise to do something, you're much more likely to do it!

So go ahead. Share your deadline. You can do this right now. Don't worry, we'll be here when you get back.

Then, move on to the next trick to keep your deadline.

set a consequence

8. Set a Consequence

You might think, “Setting a deadline is fine, but how do I actually hit my deadline?”

The answer is you need to create a consequence. A consequence is a bad thing that happens if you don't hit your deadline.

Maybe you write a check to a charity you hate, like the society for the euthanasia of puppies, you give it to a friend, and you say, “You have to send this check if I don't hit my deadline.”

Or maybe you say you're going to give up a guilty pleasure if you don't hit your deadline, like ice cream or wine or TV or your favorite phone game.

Set a really tough consequence for your final deadline, and then set a couple of less severe consequences for your weekly deadlines.

Whatever you choose, make it really hard to not hit your deadline.

Why? Because writing is hard! If you want to write a book, you need to make not writing harder than writing.

By creating a consequence, you make not writing harder than the actual writing, and this simple trick will make you much more likely to finish.

set an intention

9. Set an Intention

This is the last step before you start writing, but secretly one of the most helpful.

Set an intention.

Studies have shown that when you have a goal, like working out more or writing a book, and you imagine where , when , and how much you're going to do something, you're much more likely to actually do it.

So do this with me:

  • Close your eyes, and imagine your ideal writing space , the place you're going to spend your writing time. Maybe it's a coffee shop or your home office or a chair beside your favorite window.
  • Next, imagine what time it is . Is it the morning? Afternoon? Late at night after everyone's gone to bed?
  • Finally, picture yourself writing, and watch yourself reach your daily word count goal . Imagine how it feels to accomplish your goal. Great? A relief?
  • Then, write all of that down, locking your intention in place . Now that you have a set writing schedule, follow it!

Notice that this is the tenth step.

Most people start here, but without the groundwork you've laid in the previous nine steps, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Don't skip the first nine steps!

Once you do begin writing, keep this in mind:

First drafts are universally bad .

Don't try to write perfect sentences. Don't go back and edit endlessly.

No, instead write as fast as you're able. Get to “the end” as quickly as you can. Use writing sprints .

Try to write as imperfectly as you can, not because you want to write a bad book, but because this is how writing always is: you write a bad first draft and then revise it into a better second draft—and finally, three or five drafts later, you've written a good book.

The difference between aspiring writers and published authors is that published authors know you can't do good writing until you write a bad draft first. Get through it as quickly as you can!

If you're not a natural writer , consider dictating your book into a recorder, and transcribing it afterward. There's no reason you have to physically type out your book. Transcribing it is a perfectly viable way to create a good first draft.

revise, rewrite, edit

11. Revise, Rewrite, and Edit

After you finish your first draft comes the real hard part.

I know what you're thinking. The first ten steps weren't hard enough?

Yes, of course they were hard. But for some reason, second drafts can be just as hard, if not harder, than first drafts. I've had some of my biggest mental and emotional breakdowns in my life while working on the second draft of a book. There's just something about second drafts that are much more mentally challenging than first drafts.

Here, it's a good idea to get an editor who can give you feedback. (Need an editor recommendation? We have a team of editors we work with here at The Write Practice. Check out our process and get a quote here .)

Once you've finished your second draft, I also recommend getting beta readers, people who can read your book and give you feedback. For more on this, check out our guide on how to find beta readers and use their feedback effectively here .

Depending on your topic, you might also consider recruiting some sensitivity readers to read your book, too.

After you've done all of this, I have one last writing tip for you to ensure you actually finish writing your book—and it might be the most important of all.

Don't stop

12. Don't Stop

Most people want to write a book. I hear from people all the time that think they have a book in them, who believe that they have a story that needs to be shared.

I very rarely talk to people who have finished a book.

Writing a book is hard.

It's SO easy to quit. You get a new idea. Or you read your writing and think, “This is terrible.” Or you decide, “I'd rather be catching up on Netflix, not spending my nights writing.”

Because of this, you quit.

Here's the thing though: the only way to fail at writing a book is to quit .

If you don't quit, if you just keep writing, keep following this process we've outlined above, you will finish a book.

It might not be a good book (yet). But that's what editing is for.

It will be a first draft, and a finished draft at that . You can't write a second draft and start to make your book actually good, actually publishable, until you write the first draft.

So write. Don't stop. Don't quit. If you follow these steps and don't stop, you'll finish.

We'll be here supporting you along the way.

More Resources on How to Write a Book

Still feeling stuck? Have more questions about how to write a book? We've put together a library of book-writing resources. Take a look at the articles below.

Book Writing Tools and Programs

  • 100 Day Book . Get a mentor, 100+ writing lessons, deadlines, and accountability and write your book in a program that works. Thousands of authors have finished their books in 100 Day Book, and we'd love to help you too. Click to sign up for 100 Day Book here.
  • The Write Plan Planner. Containing everything we've learned about how to write a book over the last 10+ years, this step-by-step guide will walk you through our proven book writing process. Click to get your daily book writing planner.
  • Best Book Writing Software . A variety of the best tools for writing, publishing, formatting, and marketing your book.

How to Write a Book Fast Articles

I shared above why I believe that first drafts should be written quickly, in just a few weeks. Still not sure? In the articles below, dozens of other writers share how they wrote fast first drafts, plus you'll get all the tips and strategies they learned along the way.

  • How to Write a Book in 100 Days: 10 Steps
  • How to Write a Book FAST
  • How to Write a Book in 100 Days
  • How to Write a Novel in 6 Months
  • The First 10 Steps to Write Your Book in 2020
  • How to Right a Book in Nine (Not So) Easy Steps
  • How to Finish a Novel With a Swim Buddy
  • How to Write a Book Using Microsoft Word

How to Write a Book by Genre

Every genre comes with specific expectations that must be fulfilled. Here's how to craft an amazing story in your genre.

  • How to Write a Novel
  • How to Write a Memoir
  • How to Write a Mystery Novel
  • How to Write a Suspense Novel
  • How to Write a Thriller Novel
  • How to Write a Romance Novel
  • How to Write an Adventure Book
  • How to Write a Coming of Age Novel
  • How to Write a Young Adult Novel
  • How to Write a Self-Help Book
  • How to Write a Book That's Based on a True Story
  • How to Write a Book Like Stephen King
  • 20 Sci-Fi Creative Writing Prompts and Story Ideas

Okay, no, Stephen King isn't a genre. But he's well worth learning from!

How to Write a Book When Writing Is Hard

Let's face it: writing is hard . Every single writer struggles at some point in their book. The important thing is not to quit . In the following articles, writers share how they persevered through the hard parts, and how you can too.

  • How to Write a Book While Working Full Time
  • How to Write a Book When You Don't Have Ideas
  • How to Write a Book When You’ve Got Writer’s Block
  • I Never Thought I Would Write a Book. Here's How I Did It Anyway
  • How to Write a Book: The Everest Method
  • 10 Obstacles to Writing a Book and How to Conquer Them

How to Write a Book With a Specific Style

Your book comes with its own unique quirks and challenges, especially if the story you're telling is a series, or is told from multiple perspectives. Here's how other writers have navigated these choices.

  • How to Write a Book from Multiple Perspectives
  • How to Write a Book Series Without Messing Things Up
  • How to Write a Novel That Readers Can't Put Down

How to Write a Book and Publish It

Writing is meant to be shared! In these articles, writers break down the publishing process so you can finish your book and share it with the world.

  • How to Write and Publish a Book for Free
  • How to Write a Book Description That Will Captivate Readers (And Sell Books!)

Publishing Resources

Once you've finished writing a book, how do you get it published. Here are some resources to help.

  • Amazon KDP. Self-publish your book on Kindle to the world's biggest book marketplace.
  • Book Cover Design . Find a book cover designer among our favorite designers.

Commit to the Book Writing Process, Not Your Feelings

Are you ready to commit to finishing your book?

I don't want you to commit to a book idea. Ideas are seductive, but then you get a fresh idea and the idea you've been working on becomes much less interesting.

You probably have had inspiring moments of writing, when everything feels like it's flowing. But I don't want you to commit to a feeling. Feelings are fickle. They change by the hour.

No, instead commit to the process.

If you follow these steps, you will finish a book. It won't be easy. It will still be a challenge. But you'll do it.

Can you imagine how great it will feel to write “The End” on your own book? Think about the people you will touch because you finished that book. Let's get to it together.

Are you going to commit to writing a book? Let me know in the comments !

The first part of Step Three is to create a 1-sentence premise of your book.

Spend fifteen minutes today to rewrite your book idea into a single-sentence premise. Then, share your premise in the Pro Practice Workshop here.  (and if you’re not a member yet, you can join here ).

Finally, after you share, make sure to give feedback to three other writers.

Happy writing!

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Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

proust questionnaire


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Language » Writing Books

The best books on creative writing, recommended by andrew cowan.

The professor of creative writing at UEA says Joseph Conrad got it right when he said that the sitting down is all. He chooses five books to help aspiring writers.

The best books on Creative Writing - Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

The best books on Creative Writing - On Becoming a Novelist by John C. Gardner

On Becoming a Novelist by John C. Gardner

The best books on Creative Writing - On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The best books on Creative Writing - The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

The best books on Creative Writing - Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett

Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett

The best books on Creative Writing - Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

1 Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

2 on becoming a novelist by john c. gardner, 3 on writing: a memoir of the craft by stephen king, 4 the forest for the trees by betsy lerner, 5 worstward ho by samuel beckett.

How would you describe creative writing?

But because it is in academia there is all this paraphernalia that has to go with it. So you get credits for attending classes. You have to do supporting modules; you have to be assessed. If you are doing an undergraduate degree you have to follow a particular curriculum and only about a quarter of that will be creative writing and the rest will be in the canon of English literature . If you are doing a PhD you have to support whatever the creative element is with a critical element. So there are these ways in which academia disciplines writing and I think of that as Creative Writing with a capital C and a capital W. All of us who teach creative writing are doing it, in a sense, to support our writing, but it is also often at the expense of our writing. We give up quite a lot of time and mental energy and also, I think, imaginative and creative energy to teach.

Your first choice is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer , which for someone writing in 1934 sounds pretty forward thinking.

Because creative writing has now taken off and has become this very widespread academic discipline it is beginning to acquire its own canon of key works and key texts. This is one of the oldest of them. It’s a book that almost anyone who teaches creative writing will have read. They will probably have read it because some fundamentals are explained and I think the most important one is Brande’s sense of the creative writer being comprised of two people. One of them is the artist and the other is the critic.

Actually, Malcolm Bradbury who taught me at UEA, wrote the foreword to my edition of Becoming a Writer , and he talks about how Dorothea Brande was writing this book ‘in Freudian times’ – the 1930s in the States. And she does have this very Freudian idea of the writer as comprised of a child artist on the one hand, who is associated with spontaneity, unconscious processes, while on the other side there is the adult critic making very careful discriminations.

And did she think the adult critic hindered the child artist?

No. Her point is that the two have to work in harmony and in some way the writer has to achieve an effective balance between the two, which is often taken to mean that you allow the artist child free rein in the morning. So you just pour stuff on to the page in the morning when you are closest to the condition of sleep. The dream state for the writer is the one that is closest to the unconscious. And then in the afternoon you come back to your morning’s work with your critical head on and you consciously and objectively edit it. Lots of how-to-write books encourage writers to do it that way. It is also possible that you can just pour stuff on to the page for days on end as long as you come back to it eventually with a critical eye.

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Good! Your next book, John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist , is described as comfort food for the aspiring novelist.

This is another one of the classics. He was quite a successful novelist in the States, but possibly an even more successful teacher of creative writing. The short story writer and poet Raymond Carver, for instance, was one of his students. And he died young in a motorcycle accident when he was 49. There are two classic works by him. One is this book, On Becoming a Novelist , and the other is The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers . They were both put together from his teaching notes after he died.

On Becoming a Novelist  is the more succinct and, I think, is the better of the two. He talks about automatic writing and the idea, just like Dorothea Brande, of the artist being comprised of two people. But his key idea is the notion of the vivid and continuous dream. He suggests that when we read a novel we submit to the logic of that novel in the same way as we might submit to the logic of a dream – we sink into it, and clearly the events that occur could not exist outside the imagination.

What makes student writing in particular go wrong is when it draws attention to itself, either through bad writing or over-elaborate writing. He suggests that these faults in the aspirant writer alert the reader to the fact that they are reading a fiction and it is a bit like giving someone who is dreaming a nudge. It jolts them out of the dream. So he proposes that the student writer should try to create a dream state in the reader that is vivid and appeals to all the senses and is continuous. What you mustn’t do is alert the reader to the fact that they are reading a fiction.

It is a very good piece of advice for writers starting out but it is ultimately very limiting. It rules out all the great works of modernism and post-modernism, anything which is linguistically experimental. It rules out anything which draws attention to the words as words on a page. It’s a piece of advice which really applies to the writing of realist fiction, but is a very good place from which to begin.

And then people can move on.

I never would have expected the master of terror Stephen King to write a book about writing. But your next choice, On Writing , is more of an autobiography .

Yes. It is a surprise to a lot of people that this book is so widely read on university campuses and so widely recommended by teachers of writing. Students love it. It’s bracing: there’s no nonsense. He says somewhere in the foreword or preface that it is a short book because most books are filled with bullshit and he is determined not to offer bullshit but to tell it like it is.

It is autobiographical. It describes his struggle to emerge from his addictions – to alcohol and drugs – and he talks about how he managed to pull himself and his family out of poverty and the dead end into which he had taken them. He comes from a very disadvantaged background and through sheer hard work and determination he becomes this worldwide bestselling author. This is partly because of his idea of the creative muse. Most people think of this as some sprite or fairy that is usually feminine and flutters about your head offering inspiration. His idea of the muse is ‘a basement guy’, as he calls him, who is grumpy and turns up smoking a cigar. You have to be down in the basement every day clocking in to do your shift if you want to meet the basement guy.

Stephen King has this attitude that if you are going to be a writer you need to keep going and accept that quite a lot of what you produce is going to be rubbish and then you are going to revise it and keep working at it.

Do you agree with him?

He sounds inspirational. Your next book, Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees , looks at things from the editor’s point of view.

Yes, she was an editor at several major American publishing houses, such as Simon & Schuster. She went on to become an agent, and also did an MFA in poetry before that, so she came through the US creative writing process and understands where many writers are coming from.

The book is divided into two halves. In the second half she describes the process that goes from the completion of the author’s manuscript to submitting it to agents and editors. She explains what goes on at the agent’s offices and the publisher’s offices. She talks about the drawing up of contracts, negotiating advances and royalties. So she takes the manuscript from the author’s hands, all the way through the publishing process to its appearance in bookshops. She describes that from an insider’s point of view, which is hugely interesting.

But the reason I like this book is for the first half of it, which is very different. Here she offers six chapters, each of which is a character sketch of a different type of author. She has met each of them and so although she doesn’t mention names you feel she is revealing something to you about authors whose books you may have read. She describes six classic personality types. She has the ambivalent writer, the natural, the wicked child, the self-promoter, the neurotic and a chapter called ‘Touching Fire’, which is about the addictive and the mentally unstable.

Your final choice is Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett .

This is a tiny book – it is only about 40 pages and it has got these massive white margins and really large type. I haven’t counted, but I would guess it is only about two to three thousand words and it is dressed up as a novella when it is really only a short story. On the first page there is this riff: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

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When I read this I thought I had discovered a slogan for the classroom that I could share with my students. I want to encourage them to make mistakes and not to be perfectionists, not to feel that everything they do has to be of publishable standard. The whole point of doing a course, especially a creative writing MA and attending workshops, is that you can treat the course as a sandpit. You go in there, you try things out which otherwise you wouldn’t try, and then you submit it to the scrutiny of your classmates and you get feedback. Inevitably there will be things that don’t work and your classmates will help you to identify those so that you can take it away and redraft it – you can try again. And inevitably you are going to fail again because any artistic endeavour is doomed to failure because the achievement can never match the ambition. That’s why artists keep producing their art and writers keep writing, because the thing you did last just didn’t quite satisfy you, just wasn’t quite right. And you keep going and trying to improve on that.

But why, when so much of it is about failing – failing to get published, failing to be satisfied, failing to be inspired – do writers carry on?

I have a really good quote from Joseph Conrad in which he says the sitting down is all. He spends eight hours at his desk, trying to write, failing to write, foaming at the mouth, and in the end wanting to hit his head on the wall but refraining from that for fear of alarming his wife!

It’s a familiar situation; lots of writers will have been there. For me it is a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is something I have to keep returning to. I have to keep going back to the sentences, trying to get them right. Trying to line them up correctly. I can’t let them go. It is endlessly frustrating because they are never quite right.

You have published four books. Are you happy with them?

Reasonably happy. Once they are done and gone I can relax and feel a little bit proud of them. But at the time I just experience agonies. It takes me ages. It takes me four or five years to finish a novel partly because I always find distractions – like working in academia – something that will keep me away from the writing, which is equally as unrewarding as it is rewarding!

September 27, 2012

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Andrew Cowan

Andrew Cowan is Professor of Creative Writing and Director of the Creative Writing programme at UEA. His first novel, Pig , won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the Betty Trask Award, the Ruth Hadden Memorial Prize, the Author’s Club First Novel Award and a Scottish Council Book Award. He is also the author of the novels Common Ground , Crustaceans ,  What I Know  and  Worthless Men . His own creative writing guidebook is  The  Art  of  Writing  Fiction .

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You’ve got style: Brilliant books on creative writing

From Italo Calvino to Dorothea Brande, Emma Cummins reflects on the books that inspire her as a writer

“There’s nothing mysterious about your prose style,” says the author Kevin Barry, “it’s a direct projection of your personality”. Many writers – myself included – find this out the hard way. Good writing is true and authentic, it reflects who you are.

For a long time, I subconsciously tried to be someone else on the page. I anglicised my Northern Irish accent; I feigned a kind of seriousness, perhaps in the hope I’d be taken seriously. But the more I attended writing workshops and read books on the craft, the more I realised my work paled beside my personality.

I am a friendly Northern Irish woman. I do a good line in anxiety but I’m not overly serious. I’m passionate about art and books. I’m not shy with strangers. Why, then, was I shy about expressing myself in my writing? There’s no easy answer to this question but I find it interesting to think about. For Guardian Masterclasses’s online summer writers’ retreat , I’ll be sharing my thoughts on style and encouraging other writers to embrace their individuality.

This blog post brings together some brilliant books on creative writing , including The Agony and the Ego , a 1993 anthology edited by Clare Boylan. In her introduction, Boylan makes an interesting observation about writing fiction. “Writing is a paradox because all of it comes out of ourselves. There is nowhere else for it to come from. Yet when the characters of a novel have been established the fiction writer’s task is to remove himself and his influence, and let the characters get on with their lives.”

At the online retreat , I’ll invite writers to think about the fruitful tension between expressing their personality in their work and being true to their characters. There are many other tutors taking part in the retreat, which runs from Monday 25 July over the course of three weeks.

From Ross Raisin to Huma Qureshi, acclaimed authors will help you fine-tune your craft and encourage you to dedicate time to writing. By the end of the three weeks, perhaps you’ll be a bit closer to what the great John McGahern described as “that clear mirror that is called style – the reflection of personality in language”.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

If you’re looking for motivation to write, this zesty book by Ray Bradbury is the perfect prescription.

In the opening essay, The Joy of Writing , the acclaimed author of Fahrenheit 451 urges us to write with zest and gusto. “If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is – excited.”

When I first read Zen in the Art of Writing , I felt energised to write. With essays ranging from How to Keep and Feed a Muse to Drunk, And in Charge of a Bicycle , Bradbury’s unforgettable book is a gift to anyone who loves writing. Actually, scratch that: Zen in the Art of Writing is for anyone who loves life.

Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino

Due to be delivered as lectures at Harvard, Italo Calvino’s delightful “memos” on writing were left unfinished at the time of his death.

The drafts explore the concepts of Lightness, Quickness, Multiplicity, Exactitude and Visibility (Constancy was to be the sixth), with Calvino beginning work on them in 1984.

In each of his lectures, Calvino recommends to the next millennium a particular value, quality or peculiarity of literature that is close to his heart. “From my youth on, my personal motto has been the old Latin tag, Festina lente , hurry slowly,” writes Calvino in his second essay, Quickness . “Just as for the poet writing verse, so it is for the prose writer: success consists in felicity of verbal expression, which every so often may result from a quick flash of inspiration but as a rule involves a patient search for the mot juste , for the sentence in which every word is unalterable”.

Calvino believes that writing prose shouldn’t be any different to writing poetry. In both cases, he argues, it’s about looking for “the unique expression”, one that is “concise, concentrated, and memorable” – three words that encapsulate the tone of this wonderful book.

The Agony and the Ego edited by Clare Boylan

In this illuminating anthology of essays, some of the finest writers of all time – from John McGahern to Hilary Mantel – reflect on the process of creating fiction.

According to editor Clare Boylan , Mantel’s reassuring essay Growing a Tale “argues that ideas coaxed rather than bullied will grow naturally into a novel”. I loved Mantel’s essay when I first read it as part of Ross Raisin’s six-week creative writing programme . “If you make your characters properly they will simply do what is within them,” writes Mantel, “they’ll act out the nature you have given them, and there – you’ll find – you have your plot.”

Now out of print, The Agony and the Ego is worth tracking down secondhand or in a library. In addition to insightful essays by John Banville, Rose Tremain and Nadine Gordimer, it features a short selection of interviews from the series Writers at Work, which Boylan wrote for the Guardian.

Many of these essays highlight “the mystery” of writing, and perhaps this is why I return to The Agony and the Ego . This warm-hearted book encourages writers to grow naturally into themselves.

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

Mantel’s rules for writers include this recommendation: “Read Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Then do what it says, including the tasks you think are impossible.”

Full of practical advice for time-poor writers, Brande’s book was first published in 1934 and remains a go-to classic. Schedule time to write each day, suggests Brande. “It need not be a very long time; fifteen minutes will do nicely”.

I enjoyed Brande’s simple but powerful advice to take a rough draft of a story “out for a walk” and think about it. After the walk, you’re invited to go to a dim room and lie down. “Quiet your mind,” says Brande. Lie there, not quite asleep, not quite awake.” After a while, she says, you’ll feel “a definite impulse to rise, a kind of surge of energy. Obey it at once … Get up and go to your paper or typewriter, and begin to write. The state you are in at that moment is the state an artist works in.”

On Editing by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price

Writing is re-writing. Learning how to self-edit your work is perhaps the most vital skill any writer can learn and this book, by editors Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price, is something of a godsend.

One of the chapters in On Editing demystifies ‘show don’t tell’, a phrase “often misunderstood” by new writers. “At its simplest, the aim of showing is to bring the reader as close as possible to the action,” write the authors. “By feeling your writing intensely yourself you’ll transmit that emotion to the reader … and when you can make the reader feel, you’ve got them in the palm of your hand”.

Other useful chapters cover structure, description, pacing and much more. The book also includes advice on submitting your novel – from writing synopses to pitching to agents – making it an indispensable guide for writers who take their work seriously.

Writing a Novel by Richard Skinner

“When we talk about a writer’s style, what we are really talking about is their ‘voice’,” writes Richard Skinner in Writing a Novel . “As a tutor, I can do nothing about the tone of your voice as you speak, but what I can engage with is what you say, i.e. your ‘story’”.

Skinner’s book is a thought-provoking and practical guide to the craft of writing. Divided into bite-sized sections – from point of view to story and plot – it encourages writers to bring their whole selves to the page. As Skinner writes in a piece for the Observer , “Writing is about claiming ownership of yourself in order to become the person you know you can be”.

Throughout Writing a Novel , there are thoughtfully selected quotes from authors, such as Gertrude Stein’s, “Sentences are factual, but paragraphs are emotional”. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed going back to this generous, kind-spirited book. It feels fresh each time – and will no doubt inspire many writers to follow their passion.

Being a Writer by Travis Elborough and Helen Gordon

I treated myself to this beautiful gift book when I was low on confidence as a writer.

Lockdown had taken away my beloved book events and writing workshops, and while I attended many online, I was Zoom fatigued and starved of new experiences. That awful winter lockdown had been announced and I was living alone. Being a Writer was brilliant company then, and continues to be a source of insight and wisdom on the art of writing.

From Alice Munro to Gabriel García Márquez, the book features quotations and essays from some of the world’s greatest authors. Márquez reveals how the opening line of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis inspired him to start writing short stories. Australian author Tim Winton says writing a book is a bit like surfing, “Most of the time you’re waiting.”

Being a Writer is a lovely anthology to dip in and out of, to savour in small bursts. This comforting book reminds us that each writer’s approach is unique. Trust in the process that works for you. Read widely, and write what makes you feel most alive. In the words of Anaïs Nin, “We write to taste life twice”.

Save up to 13% on a specially curated selection of creative writing books at the Guardian Bookshop.

Find out more about Guardian Masterclasses’s summer writer’s retreat and enrol now.

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Elements of Creative Writing

creative writing write book

J.D. Schraffenberger, University of Northern Iowa

Rachel Morgan, University of Northern Iowa

Grant Tracey, University of Northern Iowa

Copyright Year: 2023

ISBN 13: 9780915996179

Publisher: University of Northern Iowa

Language: English

Formats Available

Conditions of use.


Learn more about reviews.

Reviewed by Robert Moreira, Lecturer III, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on 3/21/24

Unlike Starkey's CREATIVE WRITING: FOUR GENRES IN BRIEF, this textbook does not include a section on drama. read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

Unlike Starkey's CREATIVE WRITING: FOUR GENRES IN BRIEF, this textbook does not include a section on drama.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

As far as I can tell, content is accurate, error free and unbiased.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 5

The book is relevant and up-to-date.

Clarity rating: 5

The text is clear and easy to understand.

Consistency rating: 5

I would agree that the text is consistent in terms of terminology and framework.

Modularity rating: 5

Text is modular, yes, but I would like to see the addition of a section on dramatic writing.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

Topics are presented in logical, clear fashion.

Interface rating: 5

Navigation is good.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

No grammatical issues that I could see.

Cultural Relevance rating: 3

I'd like to see more diverse creative writing examples.

As I stated above, textbook is good except that it does not include a section on dramatic writing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: One Great Way to Write a Short Story
  • Chapter Two: Plotting
  • Chapter Three: Counterpointed Plotting
  • Chapter Four: Show and Tell
  • Chapter Five: Characterization and Method Writing
  • Chapter Six: Character and Dialouge
  • Chapter Seven: Setting, Stillness, and Voice
  • Chapter Eight: Point of View
  • Chapter Nine: Learning the Unwritten Rules
  • Chapter One: A Poetry State of Mind
  • Chapter Two: The Architecture of a Poem
  • Chapter Three: Sound
  • Chapter Four: Inspiration and Risk
  • Chapter Five: Endings and Beginnings
  • Chapter Six: Figurative Language
  • Chapter Seven: Forms, Forms, Forms
  • Chapter Eight: Go to the Image
  • Chapter Nine: The Difficult Simplicity of Short Poems and Killing Darlings

Creative Nonfiction

  • Chapter One: Creative Nonfiction and the Essay
  • Chapter Two: Truth and Memory, Truth in Memory
  • Chapter Three: Research and History
  • Chapter Four: Writing Environments
  • Chapter Five: Notes on Style
  • Chapter Seven: Imagery and the Senses
  • Chapter Eight: Writing the Body
  • Chapter Nine: Forms

Back Matter

  • Contributors
  • North American Review Staff

Ancillary Material

  • University of Northern Iowa

About the Book

This free and open access textbook introduces new writers to some basic elements of the craft of creative writing in the genres of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The authors—Rachel Morgan, Jeremy Schraffenberger, and Grant Tracey—are editors of the North American Review, the oldest and one of the most well-regarded literary magazines in the United States. They’ve selected nearly all of the readings and examples (more than 60) from writing that has appeared in NAR pages over the years. Because they had a hand in publishing these pieces originally, their perspective as editors permeates this book. As such, they hope that even seasoned writers might gain insight into the aesthetics of the magazine as they analyze and discuss some reasons this work is so remarkable—and therefore teachable. This project was supported by NAR staff and funded via the UNI Textbook Equity Mini-Grant Program.

About the Contributors

J.D. Schraffenberger  is a professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the author of two books of poems,  Saint Joe's Passion  and  The Waxen Poor , and co-author with Martín Espada and Lauren Schmidt of  The Necessary Poetics of Atheism . His other work has appeared in  Best of Brevity ,  Best Creative Nonfiction ,  Notre Dame Review ,  Poetry East ,  Prairie Schooner , and elsewhere.

Rachel Morgan   is an instructor of English at the University of Northern Iowa. She is the author of the chapbook  Honey & Blood , Blood & Honey . Her work is included in the anthology  Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in American  and has appeared in the  Journal of American Medical Association ,  Boulevard ,  Prairie Schooner , and elsewhere.

Grant Tracey   author of three novels in the Hayden Fuller Mysteries ; the chapbook  Winsome  featuring cab driver Eddie Sands; and the story collection  Final Stanzas , is fiction editor of the  North American Review  and an English professor at the University of Northern Iowa, where he teaches film, modern drama, and creative writing. Nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, he has published nearly fifty short stories and three previous collections. He has acted in over forty community theater productions and has published critical work on Samuel Fuller and James Cagney. He lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

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10 Best Creative Writing Books to Read in 2023


The world of creative writing possesses an extraordinary ability to unleash imagination, craft narratives, and evoke emotions that resonate with readers. Whether you're an aspiring writer or simply someone who appreciates the art of storytelling, consider Oxford Summer Courses. Embark on a transformative journey through our Creative Writing summer school, where you will have the opportunity to explore the art of crafting compelling narratives, experimenting with various writing styles, and honing your literary skills.


Please note that the following list of books is recommended reading to broaden your knowledge and deepen your appreciation of creative writing and literature. While some of these books may be included in the Oxford Summer Courses curriculum, the specific content of the summer school can vary. If you wish to study these subjects with us, you can apply to our Creative Writing summer school.

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive helpful tips, tutorials, and thought-provoking articles that can inform and inspire your creative writing journey at Oxford Summer Courses. Sign up here.

1. On Writing, by Stephen King

  • "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work."
  • Published in 2000, "On Writing" by Stephen King is a masterclass in the craft of storytelling. It combines King's personal journey as a writer with practical advice on honing your writing skills during your time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Stephen King's advice on discipline and the writing process benefit aspiring writers at Oxford Summer Courses today?

2. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

  • "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."
  • Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" is an encouraging guide for writers facing the daunting task of putting words on the page. Through humor and personal anecdotes, she offers valuable insights into the writing process during your Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How does Lamott's emphasis on "shitty first drafts" resonate with your own experiences as a writer at Oxford Summer Courses?

3. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

  • "Omit needless words."
  • A timeless classic, "The Elements of Style" is a concise guide to writing well. It provides essential rules of grammar and composition that every writer should know, especially during their time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How do the principles outlined in "The Elements of Style" apply to various forms of creative writing, from fiction to poetry, at Oxford Summer Courses?

4. The story, by Robert McKee

  • "Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact."
  • Robert McKee's "Story" is a comprehensive exploration of the principles behind effective storytelling. It's a must-read for anyone looking to understand the structure and elements of compelling narratives during their time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can the insights from "Story" enhance your ability to construct engaging and impactful stories during your Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses?

5. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

  • "Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart."
  • In "Big Magic," Elizabeth Gilbert delves into the creative process and encourages writers to embrace their creativity with courage and curiosity, a valuable lesson during your time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Gilbert's philosophy on creativity inspire you to approach your writing with a sense of wonder and daring at Oxford Summer Courses?

6. The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner

  • "Fiction seeks out truth. The writer has to go into the dark, quiet spaces of himself and feel around for the truth."
  • John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction" offers profound insights into the art and craft of writing fiction. It explores the intricacies of character development, plot, and the writer's role in conveying truth through storytelling during your Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Gardner's exploration of truth in fiction inform your own creative writing endeavors at Oxford Summer Courses?

7. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

  • "Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open."
  • Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" is a meditative guide to writing practice. It encourages writers to tap into their innermost thoughts and emotions during their Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Goldberg's approach to writing as a form of meditation help you access deeper layers of creativity in your work at Oxford Summer Courses?

8. The Elements of Eloquence, by Mark Forsyth

  • "Rhetoric is the art of dressing up some unimportant matter to fool the audience for the moment."
  • "The Elements of Eloquence" explores the art of rhetoric and language play. Mark Forsyth's witty and informative book will inspire you to experiment with language in your writing during your time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can a deeper understanding of rhetorical devices enhance your ability to craft persuasive and evocative prose at Oxford Summer Courses?

9. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

  • "Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together."
  • Ray Bradbury's "Zen in the Art of Writing" is a collection of essays that celebrate the joy and passion of writing. Bradbury shares his insights on creativity and the writing life during your Creative Writing summer school at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can Bradbury's enthusiasm for writing infuse your own creative process with energy and purpose at Oxford Summer Courses?

10. The Nighttime Novelist, by Joseph Bates

  • "Writing is an exploration of the heart."
  • "The Nighttime Novelist" by Joseph Bates is a practical guide for writers who balance their craft with busy lives. It offers strategies for maximizing your writing time and making progress on your projects during your time at Oxford Summer Courses.
  • Discussion: How can the techniques outlined in "The Nighttime Novelist" help you maintain a consistent and productive writing practice at Oxford Summer Courses?

Oxford Summer Courses invites you to immerse yourself in the enchanting world of creative writing during your time at our summer school. In this blog post, we present a meticulously curated list of 10 classic books that will ignite your imagination and deepen your understanding of the art of storytelling. From Stephen King's practical wisdom in "On Writing" to Ray Bradbury's celebration of the writing life in "Zen in the Art of Writing," these books will serve as your companions on your creative writing journey at Oxford Summer Courses. Through our Creative Writing program, you will have the opportunity to explore these influential texts, share your insights with fellow writers, and refine your craft. Join us on this literary adventure and embark on a transformative experience that will shape your writing skills and inspire your creative spirit during your time at Oxford Summer Courses. Who knows, you might just discover a newfound passion for the art of storytelling and create narratives that resonate with readers for generations to come.

Apply now to join the Oxford Summer Courses Creative Writing summer school and embark on a journey of self-expression and creativity during your time at Oxford Summer Courses. Join a community of passionate writers from around the world and unlock your potential as a storyteller. Apply here.

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Ignite your passion for creative writing at Oxford Summer Courses. Immerse yourself in a carefully curated list of books that will spark your creativity, refine your storytelling abilities, and help you embark on a transformative journey as a writer.

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Last updated on May 31, 2022

The 40 Best Books About Writing: A Reading List for Authors

For this post, we’ve scoured the web (so you don’t have to) and asked our community of writers for recommendations on some indispensable books about writing. We've filled this list with dozens of amazing titles, all of which are great — but this list might seem intimidating. So for starters, here are our top 10 books about writing:

  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig
  • Dreyer’s Englis h by Benjamin Dreyer
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk, White, and Kalman
  • The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
  • A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison
  • How to Market a Book by Ricardo Fayet
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser

But if you're ready to get into the weeds, here are 40 of our favorite writing books.

Books about becoming a writer

1. on writing by stephen king.

creative writing write book

Perhaps the most-cited book on this list, On Writing is part-memoir, part-masterclass from one of America’s leading authors. Come for the vivid accounts of his childhood and youth — including his extended "lost weekend" spent on alcohol and drugs in the 1980s. Stay for the actionable advice on how to use your emotions and experiences to kickstart your writing, hone your skills, and become an author. Among the many craft-based tips are King’s expert takes on plot, story, character, and more.

From the book: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 

2. The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

If you haven’t checked out Wendig’s personal blog, head over there now and bookmark it. Unfiltered, profane, and almost always right, Wendig’s become a leading voice among online writing communities in the past few years. In The Kick-Ass Writer , he offers over 1,000 pearls of wisdom for authors, ranging from express writing tips to guidance on getting published. Written to be read in short bursts, we’re sure he’d agree that this is the perfect bathroom book for writers.

From the book: “I have been writing professionally for a lucky-despite-the-number 13 years. Not once — seriously, not once ever — has anyone ever asked me where I got my writing degree… Nobody gives two ferrets fornicating in a filth-caked gym sock whether or not you have a degree… The only thing that matters is, Can you write well? ” 

3. Find Your Voice by Angie Thomas

Taking advice from famous authors is not about imitation, but about finding your own voice . Take it from someone who knows: Thomas is the New York Times #1 Bestselling author of The Hate U Give , On the Come Up , and Concrete Rose . While she’s found her calling in YA literature , she has plenty of insight into finding your own voice in your genre of choice. Written in the form of a guided journal, this volume comes with step-by-step instructions, writing prompts, and exercises especially aimed at helping younger creatives develop the strength and skills to realize their vision.

From the book: “Write fearlessly. Write what is true and real to you.” 

4. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

Since its publication in 2000, The Forest for the Trees has remained an essential resource for authors at various stages in their careers. As an editor, Lerner gives advice not only on producing quality content, but also on how to build your career as an author and develop a winning routine — like how writers can be more productive in their creative process, how to get published , and how to publish well . 

From the book: “The world doesn't fully make sense until the writer has secured his version of it on the page. And the act of writing is strangely more lifelike than life.”

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5. How to Write Like Tolstoy by Richard Cohen

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From the book: “Great writers can be inhibiting, and maybe after one has read a Scott Fitzgerald or Henry James one can’t escape imitat­ing them; but more often such writers are inspiring.”

6. Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Smith is well-known for her fiction, but she is also a prolific essay writer. In Feel Free , she has gathered several essays on recent cultural and political developments and combined them with experiences from her own life and career. In “The I Who Is Not Me”, she explores how her own lived experience comes into play in her fiction writing, and how she manages to extrapolate that to comment on contemporary social contexts, discussing race, class, and ethnicity.

From the book: “Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world, the self. The first is never wholly mine; the second I can only ever know in a partial sense; the third is a malleable and improvised response to the previous two.”

Books about language and style 

7. dreyer’s english by benjamin dreyer.

A staple book about writing well, Dreyer’s English serves as a one-stop guide to proper English, based on the knowledge that Dreyer — a senior copy editor at Random House — has accumulated throughout his career. From punctuation to tricky homophones, passive voice, and commas, the goal of these tools should be to facilitate effective communication of ideas and thoughts. Dreyer delivers this and then some, but not without its due dosage of humor and informative examples. 

From the book: “A good sentence, I find myself saying frequently, is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end, no matter how long it is, without having to double back in confusion because the writer misused or omitted a key piece of punctuation, chose a vague or misleading pronoun, or in some other way engaged in inadvertent misdirection.”

8. The Elements of Style (Illustrated) by William Strunk, Jr., E. B. White, and Maira Kalman

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A perfect resource for visual learners, this illustrated edition of The Elements of Style has taken the classic style manual to a new, more accessible level but kept its main tenet intact: make every word tell. The written content by Strunk and White has long been referred to as an outline of the basic principles of style. Maira Kalman’s illustrations elevate the experience and make it a feast for both the mind and the eye. 

From the book: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

9. Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale

If you’re looking to bring a bit of spunk into your writing, copy editor Constance Hale may hold the key . Whether you’re writing a work-related email or the next rap anthem, she has one goal: to make creative communication available to everyone by dispelling old writing myths and making every word count. Peppered with writing prompts and challenges, this book will have you itching to put pen to paper.

From the book: “Verbose is not a synonym for literary.”

10. The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

Combining entertainment with intellectual pursuit, Pinker, a cognitive scientist and dictionary consultant, explores and rethinks language usage in the 21st century . With illustrative examples of both great and not-so-great linguistic constructions, Pinker breaks down the art of writing and gives a gentle but firm nudge in the right direction, towards coherent yet stylish prose. This is not a polemic on the decay of the English language, nor a recitation of pet peeves, but a thoughtful, challenging, and practical take on the science of communication. 

From the book: “Why is so much writing so bad, and how can we make it better? Is the English language being corrupted by texting and social media? Do the kids today even care about good writing—and why should we care?”

11. Eats, Shoots, & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

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From the book: “A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. "Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder. "I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up." The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Books about story structure

12. save the cat by blake snyder.

Best known as a screenwriting manual, Save the Cat! is just as often named by authors as one of their most influential books about writing. The title comes from the tried-and-true trope of the protagonist doing something heroic in the first act (such as saving a cat) in order to win over the audience. Yes, it might sound trite to some — but others swear by its bulletproof beat sheet. More recently, there has been Save the Cat! Writes a Novel , which tailors its principles specifically to the literary crowd. (For a concise breakdown of the beat sheet, check this post out!)

From the book: “Because liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story.” 

13. The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

Shawn Coyne is a veteran editor with over 25 years of publishing experience, and he knows exactly what works and what doesn’t in a story — indeed, he’s pretty much got it down to a science. The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know outlines Coyne’s original “Story Grid” evaluation technique, which both writers and editors can use to appraise, revise, and ultimately improve their writing (in order to get it ready for publication). Coyne and his friend Tim Grahl also co-host the acclaimed Story Grid podcast , another great resource for aspiring writers.

From the book: “The Story Grid is a tool with many applications. It pinpoints problems but does not emotionally abuse the writer… it is a tool to re-envision and resuscitate a seemingly irredeemable pile of paper stuck in an attack drawer, and it can inspire an original creation.”

14. Story Structure Architect by Victoria Schmidt

For those who find the idea of improvising utterly terrifying and prefer the security of structures, this book breaks down just about every kind of story structure you’ve ever heard of. Victoria Schmidt offers no less than fifty-five different creative paths for your story to follow — some of which are more unconventional, or outright outlandish than others. The level of detail here is pretty staggering: Schmidt goes into the various conflicts, subplots, and resolutions these different story structures entail — with plenty of concrete examples! Suffice to say that no matter what kind of story you’re writing, you’ll find a blueprint for it in Story Structure Architect .

From the book: “When you grow up in a Westernized culture, the traditional plot structure becomes so embedded in your subconscious that you may have to work hard to create a plot structure that deviates from it… Understand this and keep your mind open when reading [this book]. Just because a piece doesn’t conform to the model you are used to, does not make it bad or wrong.”

15. The Writer's Journey  by Christopher Vogler

Moving on, we hone in on the mythic structure. Vogler’s book, originally published in 1992, is now a modern classic of writing advice; though intended as a screenwriting textbook, its contents apply to any story of mythic proportions. In The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers , Vogler takes a page (literally) from Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces to ruminate upon the most essential narrative structures and character archetypes of the writing craft. So if you’re thinking of drawing up an epic fantasy series full of those tropes we all know and love, this guide should be right up your alley.

From the book: “The Hero’s Journey is not an invention, but an observation. It is a recognition of a beautiful design… It’s difficult to avoid the sensation that the Hero’s Journey exists somewhere, somehow, as an external reality, a Platonic ideal form, a divine model. From this model, infinite and highly varied copies can be produced, each resonating with the essential spirit of the form.”

16. Story Genius by Lisa Cron

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From the book: “We don't turn to story to escape reality. We turn to story to navigate reality.”

17. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

More than just a New York Times bestseller and the winner of the Booker Prize, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a distillation of the MFA class on Russian short stories that Saunders has been teaching. Breaking down narrative functions and why we become immersed in a story, this is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand and nurture our continued need for fiction.

From the book: “We’re going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn’t fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?”

Books about overcoming obstacles as a writer

18. bird by bird by anne lamott .

Like Stephen King’s book about writing craft, this work from acclaimed novelist and nonfiction writer Anne Lamott also fuses elements of a memoir with invaluable advice on the writer’s journey. Particularly known for popularizing the concept of “shitty first drafts”, Bird by Bird was recently recommended by editor Jennifer Hartmann in her Reedsy Live webinar for its outlook take on book writing. She said, “This book does exactly what it says it will do: it teaches you to become a better writer. [Lamott] is funny and witty and very knowledgeable.”

From the book: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

19. Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker 

creative writing write book

From the book: “When it comes to the eternal quandary of pantsing or plotting, you can keep a foot in each camp. But if your goals will require you to write with speed and confidence, an effective outline will be your best friend.”

20. Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith 

And for those who eschew structure altogether, we’ll now refer you to this title from profile science fiction author Dean Wesley Smith . Having authored a number of official Star Trek novels, he definitely knows what he’s talking about when he encourages writers to go boldly into the unknown with an approach to writing books that doesn’t necessarily involve an elaborate plan. It might not be your action plan, but it can be a fresh perspective to get out of the occasional writer’s block .

From the book: “Imagine if every novel you picked up had a detailed outline of the entire plot… Would you read the novel after reading the outline? Chances are, no. What would be the point? You already know the journey the writer is going to take you on. So, as a writer, why do an outline and then have to spend all that time creating a book you already know?”

21. No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty

If you’re procrastinating to the point where you haven’t even started your novel yet, NaNo founder Chris Baty is your guy! No Plot, No Problem is a “low-stress, high-velocity” guide to writing a novel in just 30 days (yup, it’s great prep for the NaNoWriMo challenge ). You’ll get tons of tips on how to survive this rigorous process, from taking advantage of your initial momentum to persisting through moments of doubt . Whether you’re participating in everyone’s favorite November write-a-thon or you just want to bang out a novel that’s been in your head forever, Baty will help you cross that elusive finish line.

From the book: “A rough draft is best written in the steam-cooker of an already busy life. If you have a million things to do, adding item number 1,000,001 is not such a big deal.”

22. The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt

And for those who think 30 days is a bit too steam cooker-esque, there’s always Alan Watt’s more laid-back option. In The 90-Day Novel , Watt provides a unique three-part process to assist you with your writing. The first part provides assistance in developing your story’s premise, the second part helps you work through obstacles to execute it, and the third part is full of writing exercises to unlock the “primal forces” of your story — aka the energy that will invigorate your work and incite readers to devour it like popcorn at the movies.

From the book: “Why we write is as important as what we write. Grammar, punctuation, and syntax are fairly irrelevant in the first draft. Get the story down… fast. Get out of your head, so you can surprise yourself on the page.”

23. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

If you feel like you’re constantly in the trenches of your “inner creative battle,” The War of Art is the book for you. Pressfield emphasizes the importance of breaking down creative barriers — what he calls “Resistance” — in order to defeat your demons (i.e. procrastination, self-doubt, etc.) and fulfill your potential. Though some of his opinions are no doubt controversial (he makes repeated claims that almost anything can be procrastination, including going to the doctor), this book is the perfect remedy for prevaricating writers who need a little bit of tough love.

From the book: “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

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Books about writing as a lifestyle and career

24. steal like an artist by austin kleon.

As Kleon notes in the first section of Steal Like an Artist , this title obviously doesn’t refer to plagiarism. Rather, it acknowledges that art cannot be created in a vacuum, and encourages writers (and all other artists) to be open and receptive to all sources of inspiration. By “stealing like an artist,” writers can construct stories that already have a baseline of familiarity for readers, but with new twists that keep them fresh and exciting .

From the book: “If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”

25. Mouth Full of Blood by Toni Morrison

creative writing write book

From the book: “A writer's life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.”

26. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

No matter what stage you’re at in your writing career, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones will help you write more skillfully and creatively. With suggestions, encouragement, and valuable advice on the many aspects of the writing craft, Goldberg doesn’t shy away from making the crucial connection between writing and adding value to your life. Covering a range of topics including taking notes of your initial thoughts, listening, overcoming doubt, choosing where to write, and the selection of your verbs, this guide has plenty to say about the minute details of writing, but excels at exploring the author life.

From the book: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

27. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

What does it take to become a great author? According to the beloved writer Ray Bradbury , it takes zest, gusto, curiosity, as well as a spirit of adventure. Sharing his wisdom and experiences as one of the most prolific writers in America, Bradbury gives plenty of practical tips and tricks on how to develop ideas, find your voice, and create your own style in this thoughtful volume. In addition to that, this is also an insight into the life and mind of this prolific writer, and a celebration of the act of writing. 

From the book: “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a land mine. The land mine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces back together. Now, it's your turn. Jump!”

28. The Kite and the String by Alice Mattison

One of the most common dilemmas an author faces is the struggle between spontaneity and control. Literary endeavors need those unexpected light-bulb moments, but a book will never be finished if you rely solely on inspiration. In The Kite and the String , Mattison has heard your cry for help and developed a guide for balancing these elements throughout the different stages of writing a novel or a memoir. Sure, there may be language and grammar rules that govern the way you write, but letting a bit of playfulness breathe life into your writing will see it take off to a whole new level. On the other hand, your writing routine, solitude, audience, and goal-setting will act as the strings that keep you from floating too far away. 

From the book: "Don’t make yourself miserable wishing for a kind of success that you wouldn’t enjoy if you had it."

29. How to Become a Successful Indie Author by Craig Martelle

This one’s for all the indie authors out there! Even if you’ve already self-published a book , you can still learn a lot from this guide by Craig Martelle , who has dozens of indie books — “over two and a half million words,” as he puts it — under his belt. With patience and expertise, Martelle walks you through everything you need to know: from developing your premise to perfecting your writing routine, to finally getting your work to the top of the Amazon charts.

From the book: “No matter where you are on your author journey, there’s always a new level you can reach. Roll up your sleeves, because it’s time to get to work.”

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30. How to Market a Book by Ricardo Fayet 

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From the book: “Here’s the thing: authors don’t find readers; readers find books . [...] Marketing is not about selling your book to readers. It’s about getting readers to find it.”

31. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

The full title of Handley’s all-inclusive book on writing is actually Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content — which should tell you something about its broad appeal. Not only does Handley have some great ideas on how to plan and produce a great story, but she also provides tips on general content writing, which comes in handy when it’s time to build your author platform or a mailing list to promote your book. As such, Everybody Writes is nothing like your other books on novel writing — it’ll make you see writing in a whole new light.

From the book: “In our world, many hold a notion that the ability to write, or write well, is a gift bestowed on a chosen few. That leaves us thinking there are two kinds of people: the writing haves — and the hapless, for whom writing well is a hopeless struggle, like trying to carve marble with a butter knife. But I don’t believe that, and neither should you.” 

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Books on writing poetry 

32. madness, rack, and honey by mary ruefle.

With a long history of crafting and lecturing about poetry, Ruefle invites the reader of Madness, Rack, and Honey to immerse themselves into its beauty and magic. In a powerful combination of lectures and musings, she expertly explores the mind and craft of writers while excavating the magical potential of poetry. Often a struggle between giving and taking, poetry is, according to Ruefle, a unique art form that reveals the innermost workings of the human heart.

From the book: “In one sense, reading is a great waste of time. In another sense, it is a great extension of time, a way for one person to live a thousand and one lives in a single lifespan, to watch the great impersonal universe at work again and again”

33. Threads by Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya, and Bhanu Kapil

If you’re looking for something that explores the philosophical aspects of writing, Threads asks big questions about writing and the position of the writer in an industry that has largely excluded marginalized voices. Where does the writer exist in relation to its text and, particularly in the case of poetry, who is the “I”? Examining the common white, British, male lens, this collection of short essays will make it hard for you not to critically consider your own perceptions and how they affect your writing process.

From the book: “It is impossible to consider the lyric without fully interrogating its inherent promise of universality, its coded whiteness.”

34. The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

Despite its eye-catching title, this short essay is actually a defense of poetry . Lerner begins with his own hatred of the art form, and then moves on to explore this love-hate dichotomy that actually doesn’t seem to be contradictory. Rather, such a multitude of emotions might be one of the reasons that writers and readers alike turn to it. With its ability to evoke feelings and responses through word-play and meter, poetry has often been misconceived as inaccessible and elitist; this is a call to change that perception. 

From the book: “All I ask the haters — and I, too, am one — is that they strive to perfect their contempt, even consider bringing it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences (like unheard melodies), it might come to resemble love.”

35. Poemcrazy by Susan G. Wooldridge

If you’ve ever felt that the mysterious workings of poetry are out of your reach and expressly not for you, Wooldridge is here to tell you that anyone who wants to can write poetry . An experienced workshop leader, she will help you find your inner voice and to express it through the written word. Giving you advice on how to think, use your senses, and practice your writing, Wooldrige will have you putting down rhyme schemes before you know it. 

From the book: “Writing a poem is a form of listening, helping me discover what's wrong or frightening in my world as well as what delights me.”

36. Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison

creative writing write book

From the book: “Don't be afraid to write crap — it makes the best fertilizer. The more of it you write, the better your chances are of growing something wonderful.”

Books about writing nonfiction

37. on writing well by william zinsser.

Going strong with its 30th-anniversary edition, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction is an evergreen resource for nonfiction writers which breaks down the fundamental principles of written communication. As a bonus, the insights and guidelines in this book can certainly be applied to most forms of writing, from interviewing to camp-fire storytelling. Beyond giving tips on how to stay consistent in your writing and voice, how to edit, and how to avoid common pitfalls, Zinsser can also help you grow as a professional writer, strengthening your career and taking steps in a new direction. 

From the book: “Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience—every reader is a different person.”

38. Essays by Lydia Davis

Ironically enough, this rather lengthy book is a celebration of brevity. As one of the leading American voices in flash-fiction and short-form writing, Davis traces her literary roots and inspirations in essays on everything, ranging from the mastodonic work of Proust to minimalism. In both her translations and her own writing, she celebrates experimental writing that stretches the boundaries of language. Playing with the contrast between what is said and what is not, this collection of essays is another tool to the writing shed to help you feel and use the power of every word you write.

From the book: “Free yourself of your device, for at least certain hours of the day — or at the very least one hour. Learn to be alone, all alone, without people, and without a device that is turned on. Learn to experience the purity of that kind of concentration. Develop focus, learn to focus intently on one thing, uninterrupted, for a long time.”

39. Essayism by Brian Dillon

In this volume, Dillon explores the often overlooked genre of essay writing and its place in literature’s past, present, and future. He argues that essays are an “experiment in attention” but also highlights how and why certain essays have directly impacted the development of the cultural and political landscape, from the end of the Middle Ages until the present day. At its heart, despite its many forms, subject areas, and purposes, essayism has its root in self-exploration. Dip in and out of Dillon’s short texts to find inspiration for your own nonfiction writing.

From the book: “What exactly do I mean, even, by 'style'? Perhaps it is nothing but an urge, an aspiration, a clumsy access of admiration, a crush.”

40. Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara

creative writing write book

From the book: “Write it down. Whatever it is, write it down. Chip it into marble. Type it into Microsoft Word. Spell it out in seaweeds on the shore. We are each of us an endangered species, delicate as unicorns.”

With a few of these books in your arsenal, you’ll be penning perfect plots in no time! And if you’re interested in learning more about the editing process, check these books on editing out as well!

ZUrlocker says:

11/03/2019 – 19:46

I'm familiar with several of these books. But for new authors, I urge you caution. It is very tempting to read so many books about writing that you never get around to writing. (I did this successfully for many years!) So I will suggest paring it down to just two books: Stephen King on Writing and Blake Snyder Save the Cat. Snyder's book is mostly about screenwriting, so you could also consider Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. Best of luck!

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More From Forbes

Ai and the author: how ai is transforming book writing.

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Miles Rote is the Chief of Author Strategy at KAA, empowering authors through book writing, editing & publishing navigation. See our books.

Many people want to write a book, but few actually do it because of how difficult the process can be. I’ve interviewed thousands of business professionals and thought leaders about their books, and consistent themes resonate through them all.

It’s not a lack of desire or inspiration that keeps them from doing it. It’s lack of time, unfamiliarity with the industry, and the intimidation of a blank page. But in the age of generative AI and modern publishing, the arduous journey from a blank page to a published book is no longer what it used to be.

How To Use AI To Enhance The Book-Writing Process

Many of the titles we know and love are ghostwritten by other people. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t from the author or isn’t their words. On the contrary, a talented ghostwriter amplifies the author’s voice.

AI can do something similar: Help us extract the ideas we have in our head and piece them together for a book. AI's role is therefore less about writing the book and more about enhancing the ability to start and finish one.

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Can it replace high-quality ghostwriters or editors? No, but here are a few strategies to use AI to help with the book-writing process.

• Ideation: AI can help overcome the dreaded blank page syndrome. By inputting a theme or a basic premise, AI can suggest creative ideas, character arcs or even entire story outlines to kickstart the creative process.

• Structuring: Organizing a book can be daunting. AI can help in outlining chapters, suggesting narrative structures and even advising on pacing and plot progression.

• Research: AI can swiftly summarize relevant information, provide historical context or even suggest thematic material, significantly reducing the time spent on research. It can also review your writing and poke holes in your arguments.

• Language And Style: For those struggling with grammar, sentence structure or stylistic elements, AI tools offer real-time suggestions for improvement, enhancing the readability and professionalism of the text.

• Character And Plot Development: Especially in fiction, crafting compelling characters and plots is vital. AI can suggest character traits, plot twists or even dialogue options, enriching the narrative.

AI Tools To Help Write Your Book

The market has become saturated with AI writing aids, each offering unique features. You can do some online research to discover many more, but I'll focus on three of my recommendations below.

Use Perplexity For Research

While Perplexity AI utilizes a combination of its own proprietary and existing AI models to power its services, its real strength is providing the most current information available, making it akin to having an up-to-date news reporter at your disposal. It’s like having a team of virtual assistants Googling and researching on your behalf.

• Pros: Fast and reliable research with citations, real-time information, contextual understanding, versatility.

• Cons: Content creation, rewriting, chain prompting.

Use ChatGPT For Writing

The paid version of ChatGPT continues to be a leading tool for a variety of writing tasks. It’s easy to use and is the most popular tool, in part because of its Custom GPTs feature.

• Pros: Content creation, ideation, rewriting, plot structure, chain prompting, custom GPTs.

• Cons: Can’t analyze large amounts of text, not great at research.

Pro tip: Check out the Creative Writing Coach custom GPT to assist with fiction writing.

Use Claude For Analysis

Claude is unique in that it has a very large context window, allowing you to enter more than 5X the information compared to ChatGPT. This means you can reference significant portions of your manuscript for consistency, coherence and plot holes so you can make improvements on pacing and structure. Claude can also analyze large PDF files (think ebooks) to assist with research.

• Pros: Analyzing large chunks of text, analyzing PDFs, character development, consistency.

• Cons: Content creation, rewriting, less well-known.

Tips for Using AI To Help Write Your Book

Get good at prompting..

The quality of your prompt will define the quality of the output. The better you get at prompting AI with the right questions, the better answers you’ll receive.

Blend AI suggestions with your creativity.

AI tools provide suggestions; it's your job to select, refine and integrate these into your book. Use AI-generated ideas as a springboard for your creativity, not a replacement.

Maintain authenticity.

While using AI, it's essential to retain your voice and ensure the story reflects your vision. AI should augment your narrative, not define it. When overused, generative AI tends to flatten your voice, not enhance it.

Integrate with traditional writing practices.

AI tools are most effective when used in conjunction with human intuition, creativity and editorial judgment. Regular writing routines, feedback from peers or mentors and personal reflections are just as crucial in the writing process as AI assistance.

Embracing AI As A Collaborative Partner In Writing

AI in book writing offers a new way to enhance your creative process, break through barriers and bring about more efficiency. However, the heart of your book—its message, emotion and connection with readers—comes from you, the author.

Over-reliance on AI can lead to homogenized content that doesn’t interest or help readers. Even when used appropriately, it’s still important to work with professional editors to elevate your manuscript from good to great. Looking ahead, AI's role in writing is poised to grow. We can anticipate more sophisticated AI tools that offer even more nuanced suggestions and insights. However, the essence of storytelling will still remain a profoundly human endeavor.

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TWQ Mini: Toni Jensen, UM’s James and Lois Welch Distinguished Visiting Native American Writer, to read at Missoula Art Museum

creative writing write book

In this mini episode of The Write Question , host Lauren Korn speaks with author Toni Jensen, author of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land (Ballantine Books; Penguin Random House).

Toni grew up around guns: As a girl, she learned to shoot birds in rural Iowa with her father, a card-carrying member of the NRA. As an adult, she’s had guns waved in her face near Standing Rock, and felt their silent threat on the concealed-carry campus where she teaches. And she has always known that in this she is not alone. As a Métis woman, she is no stranger to the violence enacted on the bodies of Indigenous women, on Indigenous land, and the ways it is hidden, ignored, forgotten. In Carry,  Toni maps her personal experience onto the historical, exploring how history is lived in the body and redefining the language we use to speak about violence in America.

Toni will be giving a reading in collaboration with the University of Montana’s Creative Writing Program on April 12, 2024, at the Missoula Art Museum. The event begins at 5:30PM; doors at 5PM. For more information, go to .

Note: This conversation was edited for clarity and time; Lauren’s full conversation with Toni will be posted here shortly.

About Toni:

Toni Jensen’s Carry is a memoir-in-essays about gun violence, land, and Indigenous women’s lives. An NEA Creative Writing Fellowship recipient in 2020, Toni’s essays have appeared in Orion, Catapult and Ecotone . She is also the author of the short story collection From the Hilltop . She is currently the James and Lois Welch Distinguished Visiting Native American Writer at the University of Montana. She is Métis.

The Write Question  team for this TWQ Mini episode was  Lauren Korn , host, co-producer, and editor; and  Chris Moyles , sound engineer.

The Write Question  logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at  and on Instagram  @iamthemollruss . Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for  The Write Question  comes from  Humanities Montana ; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the  Greater Montana Foundation —encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question  is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Amplifying Malaysian voices in their writing

Friday, 12 Apr 2024

Related News

Igniting passion to read and write local works

Igniting passion to read and write local works

Carmaker contributes to education at local school, maryse conde, prolific 'grande dame' of caribbean literature, dies at age 90.

(From left) University of Nottingham Malaysia Writers’ Society members Lam Ying Xuan, Advitiya Jaggi, Khor and Law hope to provide a supportive community to fellow scribes.

WITH a stroke of a pen or a tap on a keyboard, writers have the power to weave their ideas into stories that can often touch the heart and soul.

Some are content for their words to be a form of self-expression, but for others, sharing their writing is a must.

Beyond getting their works published, the other challenge is ensuring their stories and poems are read and appreciated on a wider scale.

Fortunately, budding writers can take inspiration from several young local authors with published works to their name.

A university-based writers society also aims to provide a sounding board and supportive environment to fellow creatives.

Local settings

Li hopes her books convey a sense of Malaysian identity.

“My parents always encouraged me to write diaries since I was a kid, so I gradually picked up the habit of writing every day.

“I have a vivid imagination, and I wanted to see how it would translate into words, so I started writing stories for fun,” Li recalled.

She published her first book, House of Koi, a story about a Malaysian girl’s relationship with her grandmother, under hybrid publishing.

Li explained that the publisher helped bring out her book but she had to market the work herself.

She decided to self-publish her second book, Duet Me Not, a sports romance on the national synchronised swimming team.

“My journey felt like a roller coaster ride as for various reasons, I had to pull my first book out of stores.

“This happened while I was still trying to pitch my other work so the future was unclear.

“I wanted control, so I wrote Duet Me Not for fun and self-published it,” she said.

Determined to share Malaysian culture, Li incorporates local elements in her stories.

“I want to convey a sense of Malaysianness in hopes that when people read my works, they could see themselves in the characters and feel a sense of belonging.

“I hope young Malaysian writers could work towards writing local stories that encapsulate our culture because there is still so little of it out there,” she said.

Recently, Li won third prize under the fiction category at the 14th edition of the Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Awards (RCA).

“I hope this inspires aspiring Malaysian writers that our stories do matter and are being heard,” she said.

Authenticity matters

Frappes for Three is based on Vidhya’s university experience.

“I grew up reading stories set in the West, but I could not relate to the story, characters and settings that I was writing about.

“I found it easier to write from a Malaysian perspective because I am writing about the things I grew up and am familiar with.”

Frappes for Three is Vidhya’s first shot at long-form fiction, based on her experience studying at a university in the Klang Valley.

“It was a nice way to revisit good, old memories.

“I never imagined that it would come out as a book under traditional publishing.

“I am glad that my overall journey was smooth, even though I did face rejection from some publishers in the beginning,” she said.

Vidhya agrees that young Malaysian writers should be encouraged to write local stories.

“They should not think that writing Malaysian stories will get them low readership.

“People are always excited to read characters that they can relate to,” she said.

Nadiah’s first book features Malaysian black magic elements.

Nadiah said the course of her writing changed after her lecturer pointed out the lack of local elements in her stories during her first year in university.

Farah said her professors pushed her to start writing more Malaysian-oriented fantasy.

Both authors said they felt more connected writing local stories, so they started penning tales that resonate with them.

Nadiah’s first novella, Bane of Widuri, a dark fantasy about a woman manipulating seven orphaned girls to stay youthful is inspired by susuk, a form of black magic.

“I wanted to be one of the few local writers to explore the dark fantasy genre.”

She noted there is a wealth of source material that writers could turn to.

While confined in the cancer ward, Farah wrote her first novel, Be Kind, Rewind, inspired by popular folktale Si Tanggang.

“I started writing more as a distraction from the pain. Be Kind, Rewind is one of the many manuscripts I produced, which explores the moral dilemma of youth.

“Instead of reminiscing about the past, I wanted to write about what could or may happen in the future, inspired by our folktales.

Farah wanted to contribute to local science fiction writing.

Poetry and pictures

For Euan Thum, 25, words flow like lyrics.

He decided to dabble in poetry when he was in Form Three as he found poems to be shorter and easier to write.

“I was encouraged by my brother to submit my poems to an online poetry page.

“I learnt a lot from the feedback I received and continued to write.

“My writing became more blunt and direct, inspired by singer-songwriters like Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey.”

Thum approaches writing by combining pictures and poems, similar to how singers combine their concept photos and lyrics in their albums.

This is evident in his self- published works, After All and What is Forever.

“I do not just want to write one-off stories, but have a body of work.

Thum’s poetry books combine pictures and words.

“Everything is designed with a music album in mind,” said Thum, adding that he has a Malaysian themed collection in mind.

As a literature enthusiast, Thum hoped young Malaysians would write local stories.

“Our stories and culture should be heard. We need more representations of them in literature,” he said.

Thum added that writing in the local scene could be challenging, so it was important to have writing communities that could support authors in their journey.

Supportive community

Driven by a passion for creative writing, a university-based writing society was set up to bring young Malaysian writers together.

University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) Writers’ Society president Phoebe Heather Law, 23, said the society was formed in 2019.

“It can be hard to find a community of people engaged in the writing process.

“This society aims to bring these people together and let them know that they are not alone,” she said.

Member Khor Jinming, 22, said the society allowed him to interact with other writers, show his works and get constructive feedback.

“Through this platform, we are exposed to each other’s thoughts and ideas.

“This inspires us and contribute to the evolution of our writings.”

Law hopes the society can help the public know that there are local writing talents eager to tell their stories.

“We want to share the different facets and aspects of creative writing with others.

“We exist and will continue to tell our stories and culture through our words in the most authentic way,” she said.

Tags / Keywords: Local literature , books , local authors , creative writing , Malaysian stories , university writers society

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Lewis Center for the Arts’ Princeton Atelier presents a concert of original songs by students in the spring course, “How to Write a Song”

Lewis Center for the Arts’ Princeton Atelier presents a concert of original songs by students in the spring course, “How to Write a Song”

Princeton students perform April 23 at 4:30 p.m. at Frist Film/Performance Theatre

Students in Princeton University’s spring course, “How to Write a Song,” offered by the Princeton Atelier at the Lewis Center for the Arts, will present a concert of original songs on Tuesday, April 23, at 4:30 p.m. in the Frist Film/Performance Theatre at Frist Campus Center on the Princeton campus. The students will present selected new songs with music and lyrics written over the past semester. The concert is free and open to the public. No tickets are required. Guests in need of access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at [email protected] at least one week prior to the event date.

A group of people pose for a large group portrait, some standing, sitting on a yellow couch, and 1 lying in front with a mic.

Students and instructor Bridget Kearney who will perform new songs they have written in the spring Princeton Atelier course “How to Write a Song.” Photo credit: Brandon Le

“How to Write a Song” is taught this semester by Bridget Kearney, a founding member of the band Lake Street Dive. Each week the students, all with varying levels of literary and musical backgrounds, split into different groupings of four or five participants and wrote lyrics and composed tunes on an assigned emotional topic, such as gratitude, loss, protest, desire, joyousness, remorse, and defiance. At each class, the students performed their pieces for Kearney and their classmates, who then provided critiques. Guest critics and singer/songwriters joined the class to share their experience and to listen to and provide feedback to the student songwriters. Some of the guests this semester included Arooj Aftab, Cautious Clay and Akie Bermiss.

“The class has really dug deep over the course of the semester and written over 100 songs, honing their craft as lyricists, baring their souls in song and even trying some new instruments for the first time,” said Kearney. “No subject matter has been overlooked, from zooming in on the overlooked beauties of everyday life to zooming out to global and generational stories. We’ll be selecting our favorite songs from the semester to share at the final concert, and it is sure to bring the house down!”

The Princeton Atelier , celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024, was founded by Princeton Professor Emerita Toni Morrison and is directed by Paul Muldoon, Princeton’s Howard G.B. Clark ’21 Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Creative Writing. The Atelier brings professional artists from different disciplines together with Princeton faculty and students to create new work in the context of a semester-long course that usually culminates in the public presentation of the new work. Participating Atelier artists often select a project they want to explore and experiment within the context of a class with Princeton students before developing it for the professional art world. Previous artists have included the choreographer Jacques d’Amboise, cellist Yo-yo Ma, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, multimedia artist Laurie Anderson, theater artist Basil Twist, choreographer Monica Bill Barnes, the theater ensemble Elevator Repair Service, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, and the Wakka Wakka puppet theater.

Kearney, who has co-taught “How to Write a Song” with Muldoon in past years, is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. A founding member of the band Lake Street Dive, she has performed at Radio City Music Hall, The Hollywood Bowl, Red Rocks Amphitheater, and The White House South Lawn, as well as appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, Ellen , and Conan . Her 3rd solo album, Comeback Kid , comes out this month on Keeled Scales. With Lake Street Dive she will release a new album in June and headline Madison Square Garden in September. Kearney holds a Bachelors in Music from the New England Conservatory in Jazz Studies (bass) and Bachelor of Arts from Tufts University in English.

Visit the Lewis Center website to learn more about the Princeton Atelier, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the more than 100 public performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, lectures, and special events presented by the Lewis Center each year, most of them free.

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    In this mini episode of 'The Write Question,' host Lauren Korn speaks with Métis author Toni Jensen, author of 'Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land' (Ballantine Books; Penguin Random House). Toni will be giving a reading in collaboration with the University of Montana's Creative Writing Program on April 12, 2024, at the Missoula Art Museum.

  27. Amplifying Malaysian voices in their writing

    WITH a stroke of a pen or a tap on a keyboard, writers have the power to weave their ideas into stories that can often touch the heart and soul. Some are content for their words to be a form of ...

  28. How to Write a Song

    "How to Write a Song" is taught this semester by Bridget Kearney, a founding member of the band Lake Street Dive. Each week the students, all with varying levels of literary and musical backgrounds, split into different groupings of four or five participants and wrote lyrics and composed tunes on an assigned emotional topic, such as gratitude, loss, protest, desire, joyousness, remorse ...