33 of the Best Books about Writing Fiction

shelved under Writing

In November, 2007, 5,000 writers from all over the world entered manuscripts into the first-ever Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards competition. As the list of 870 semi-finalists became 100 and then 10, forum discussions grew heated and intense. At one point forum members made a list of the books that were meaningful and/or useful to them as fiction writers.

This is that list — in random order. Names of the ABNA discussion participant(s) who recommended each title, and (where available) their reasons for suggesting the book, are included.

Finally, thanks to Forum member and author Mary Walters for bringing the list to our attention.


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King

Recommended by Melissa Conway; Jeff Fielder; Tracy Walshaw ("What made me love the book was how I felt I was face-to-face with someone whose work I had really admired since I was young, as though we were just sitting in his living room and talking about this craft we both love. The biggest thing I came away with was him saying, 'Just do it'."); Bret Wright ("succinct, approachable, and enjoyable")"


Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

by Anne Lamott

Recommended by R. Kyle ("It's not just a good writing reference, but an excellent life reference as well. I've given this book to friends in various stages of transition, including death of a partner and divorce. And Lamott is FUNNY. A few pages of this book will lift your mood, guaranteed"); Bret Wright ("succinct, approachable, and enjoyable")


Revision And Self-Editing

by James Scott Bell

Melissa Conway says "Great technical guidance."


Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting

by Robert Mckee

Recommended by Mary Walters ("good info about plotting"); Susan Sloate ("I took McKee's workshop and then spent 2 years working with him in a small writing workshop". He is without question the single best writing teacher in the world... No one knows more about the subject or can communicate it as effectively. His book was nowhere near as compelling as his seminars. I recommend them wholeheartedly")


Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

by Francine Prose

Recommended by Victoria Bell; Clarke Peters ("Good for emphasis on getting the right details down and directing writers to Chekhov to prove the point.")


On Moral Fiction

by John Gardner

Recommended by Mary Walters ("I recommended this. On Moral Fiction made me aware of my responsibility as a writer to think about what I am saying.")


The Art of the Novel

by Milan Kundera

Recommended by Victoria Bell.


Techniques of the Selling Writer

by Dwight V. Swain

Recommended by SylvreKat ("I have heard this one mentioned consistently by published authors and by editors. I have gone through my copy numerous times and always find something that didn't really sink in before"); R. Kyle ("Swain IS amazing. My father took classes from him"); Betsy K. ("He particularly enlightened me on how to build some conflict into every scene and how to mesh scenes.")


Solutions for Writers: Practical Craft Techniques for Fiction and Non-fiction

by Sol Stein

Recommended by Indu Nair for the quality of the practical advice.


Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You

by Ray Bradbury

Recommended by Indu Nair (for inspiration); Stevie Darbanville ("This is my hands-down favorite. His advice and analogies are just so on the money. Everybody on the planet should read that book.")


Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

by Dave King, Renni Browne, illustrated by George Booth

Recommended by The Reb ("I found this more informative than On Writing [by Stephen King]"); Victoria Bell ("I'll second and third that. It's very direct and informative. I have their "Resist the Urge to Explain" instruction branded on the brain! They have a website, too, with some good articles on the 'Between the Lines' page.")


Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

by Flannery O'Connor, edited by Robert Fitzgerald, Sally Fitzgerald

Recommended by Richard Martin.


Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

by Natalie Goldberg

Recommended by Mary Walters ("It's very good and not how-to-y. It just gets you writing.")


Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

by Betty Edwards

Recommended by Shai Mendelsohn ("It's truly fascinating, and explains to us right-brained and often left-handed/left-sided types how we function, and - it helps left-brainers get into the 'zone'/right-brained mode. Another must-have. I grew up wondering why I could never time a drawing. Had no idea how much time had passed. Hours, minutes - or moments. This book'll tell you why.")


Write Away : One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life

by Elizabeth George

Recommended by Scotti Cohn ("George writes mysteries, but the book covers all the basics of any kind of novel writing.")


The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction

by John Dufresne

Recommended by Beth A. O'Leary Anish ("It's funny and down-to-earth, and provides practical exercises to get you writing.")


A Broom of One's Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life

by Nancy Peacock

Recommended by Erica E. ("It's a brand new book on writing and it's terrific. Nancy gives good advice on writing sort of subtly hidden in these anecdotes about cleaning people's houses. [Peacock] has written two novels which she thought might bring her fame and fortune but she's still a housecleaner. It's the perfect thing to read for a realistic view of the writer's life.")


Becoming a Writer

by Dorothea Brande

Recommended by Clarke Peters ("Inspirational... re: focus/confirmation of what it means to invest in being a writer." Clarke Peters also suggests The Writer's Voice by Al Alvarez and The Paris Review books of interviews with writers.)


The Elements of Style Illustrated

by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White, illustrated by Maira Kalman

Recommended by Maze ("This should be on every writer's bookshelf. It might not teach one how to write a novel, but it will make any attempt more readable. I like the new illustrated version with Maira Kalman.")

This book also appears on The Essential Books of E.B. White


Letters to a Young Poet

by Reginald Snell, Franz Xaver Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke

Recommended by Mary Walters ("I found it very inspirational. I don't know how anyone can read it without feeling total affirmation about putting writing at the very centre of one's life, and letting the rest fall into place as it may.)


Off the Page: Writers Talk About Beginnings, Endings, and Everything In Between

by Marie Arana, edited by Carole Burns

Recommended by Clarke Peters ("for technical advice. Especially good on point of view." Clarke Peters also recommends Approaches to the Novel by Robert Scholes, Playwriting by Bernard Grebanier [very very helpful advice on structuring a plot's climax], Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster ["character is plot"], The first Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.")


The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel

by Diana Wynne Jones

Recommended by Shai Mendelsohn ("Not a book about writing per se, but it contains many wonderful pointers about Fantasyland — the difference between an amulet and a talisman, for instance — in the sensible range of the spectrum... A must-read for fantasy writers, if only to find out why fantasy horses pollinate...)


The Romantic Manifesto

by Ayn Rand

Susan Sloate said, "I read it years ago and found it hugely amazing. Rand also did a series of lectures that was published as The Art of Fiction, which contains some of the same material."

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The Tolkien Reader

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Miz Ellen recommends an essay included in this book entitled "Fairy Stories/Leaf By Niggle" which is about the purpose of fantasy.


The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

by Stephen Fry

Recommended by Stevie Darbanville ("I dug this book on writing poetry as a hobby.")

This book also appears on Books About Words, Reading, and Readers


How to Write While You Sleep

by Elizabeth Irvin Ross

Recommended by R. Kyle ("This is one of the best books I've read for help with getting over the rough spots in writing, and the priming yourself to dream about your book really did work for me. I'm dusting this book off and using it again.")


On Writer's Block

by Victoria Nelson

Recommended by Susan Sloate ("I found it hugely helpful.")

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On Becoming a Novelist

by John Gardner

Recommended by Victoria Bell and Miz Ellen.


This Year You Write Your Novel

by Walter Mosley

Flashlight Worthy says:
While this list purports to have 33 books on it, suggestions have been pouring in ever since I published the list. This volume #34 on the list, and the next, were both suggested by Michael Morris who says:

"I read the Mosely book recently and though I have drafted three novels, I didn't feel like a real writer until I began to do much of what Mosely states in this slim volume."