Favorite Writing Books

Lisa J. Jackson and I were talking about our favorite writing books recently. There are some books that I have read over and over again because I learn something new every time, and there are books that I have only recently found, but have gotten me excited to go to the page. Those are the books I buy rather than download to my Kindle because they sit on the bookshelves in my office like old friends ready to start a new conversation any time I wish. Lisa feels the same way about her faves, so we thought we’d share them with you.


Diane’s List

  1. Bird By Bird, by Anne LamottBird By Bird, by Anne Lamotte. This is the first writing book I reach for when I’m having doubts about myself as a writer or just need inspiration. It’s so funny and fun, and full of practical tips. It’s worth it for the poem by Philip Lopate on page 11 alone, but the concept of “Sh**ty First Drafts” was also extremely helpful for me when I started writing again as an adult.
  2. Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, by Christina BaldwinLife’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, by Christina Baldwin. This book gave me permission to journal–something I was compelled to do anyway, since the age of 11, but I always felt like I was wasting time until I read this book. It made me realize how valuable my journaling practice has been in my life. My thoughts go in circles when I am just thinking them, but there is something about the implied dialogue of journaling that allows my thoughts to move forward and resolve when I write them down.
  3. No Plot, No Problem, by Chris BatyNo Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. I think this little book is a very practical approach to a first draft. It’s humorous and quirky, and I turn to it when I need inspiration to just get the words on the page. It helps me let go of my perfectionism. I’ve only completed NaNo once (in 2008), but with this book I can take that challenge any month of the year!

Lisa’s ListOutwitting Writer's Block

  1. Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen by Jenna Glatzer. I have this book so marked up with post-it flags that I can barely flip the pages. What initially caught my attention with this book is the word “Outwitting”. For some reason, that really appeals to me and then since it was a book for writers, I had to pick it up. I enjoy the conversational tone, the exercises, and just the fun I have each time I open this book. If the author’s name sounds familiar, you may be familiar with http://www.absolutewrite.com – Jenna is the founder and editor of the site.
  2. File…Don’t Pile! For People Who Write by Pat Dorff, Edith Fine, and Judith File Don't Pile coverJosephson. I don’t even know if you can find it any more, but it’s one I’ve kept for several years. The title says it all. I still have piles, but I feel they are more organized than before I read this book (and I’ve read it a few times to glean new ideas after I get a couple ideas incorporated into my life.)
  3. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (book and associated journal book). I find this an awesome resource for consist journaling. When I first used the book, I also bought the companion book of journal pages – it was large and heavy and I loved writing on the pages. I filled 2 of The Artist's Way coverthe large books before switching to smaller notebooks. It wasn’t the same, but lighter and smaller notebooks are more portable! I admit I haven’t written morning pages in a while, but this is definitely a strong recommendation for spilling out the thoughts in your mind, especially first thing in the morning. Wake up, write to clean out the cobwebs and then have a productive day!
  4. I also recommend Bird by Bird that Diane mentions above.

What are your go-to writing books?


Diane MacKinnon, MD, is currently a full-time mother, part-time life coach. She is a Master Certified Life Coach, trained by Martha Beck, among others. She is passionate about her son, her writing and using her mind to create a wonderful present moment.  Find her life coaching blog at http://www.dianemackinnon.com/blog.

43 thoughts on “Favorite Writing Books

  1. As a former researcher, I tend to do a thorough bibliography and read everything I can before embarking on something as weird and wonderful as writing a novel. So I have read and loved all of your choices – except for the ‘File, Don’t Pile’ one. Here are some other favourites of mine (although they are perhaps not as practical):
    Dorothea Brande: Becoming a Writer
    John Gardner: On Becoming a Novelist
    Stephen King: On Writing
    Susan Tiberghien: One Year to a Writing Life

    • Hi MarinaSofia,
      Thanks for posting your favorites. I was hoping some readers would! I’ve read Stephen King’s book, but the others are new to me, so I’ll check them out!


    • Hi headywriting19 and danielabea,
      I agree, Natalie Goldberg’s book are favorite’s, too. I almost put Writing Down the Bones on my list, but decided to keep it simple. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Totally agree with you, with regards to The Artist’s Way – an awesome book. Three weeks ago I bought The Right to Write by the same author. Can’t wait to get started!

    • Hi plaintain1,
      I think you’re going to like The Right to Write, it’s along the same lines as The Artist’s Way. Happy writing!


  3. I found Australian writer, author of the Tomorrow When the War Began Series, John Marsden’s Everything I Know About Writing an excellent introduction to writing. Very entertaining and full of very helpful advice. It affirms nearly everything I’d learned about writing from other sources. Highly recommended.
    Agree with MarinaSofia above – Stephen King’s On Writing. Also very good.

  4. I too like Stephen King’s “On Writing.” It gave me the motivation and courage to start writing. I also like Betsy Lerner’s “The Forest for the Trees.”

    • Hi Kiwi,
      Thanks for posting your favorites. More books for me to read! Excellent. Love your picture there, by the way. It’s adorable!


      • You’re welcome and thanks for the compliment on my pic! I hope you enjoy the books. Thanks for the post–I too have new books to read.

  5. I have to give a thumbs up for “The Artist’s Way.” No other writing book has made such sense to me. I love the notions of breathing in, the artist’s date and learning to silence that inner critic who just wants to hold me back.

    • Hi Andrew,
      I agree, The Artist’s Way was so helpful for me, too, back when I was getting back into writing and wondering if I dared. It was very comforting.

      Happy writing!


  6. You are a roll this week! Another good post! I love most of the books already mentioned. This past year I read Ann Patchett’s book THE GETAWAY CAR and like Bird by Bird, it was funny and insightful.

    I’ve read a bunch of technique related books, but the most inspiring are the ones that talk the process of becoming a writer – the internal and external influences. I always feel “if they can do it, so can I.”

    Two other good books in this vein are:

    WRITERS DREAMING by Nomi Epel – 26 writers talk about their dreams and the creative process.

    THE WRITER ON HER WORK (first published in 1981) edited by Janet Sternburg – a colllection of essays by notable women writers including but not limited to Anne Tyler, Joan Didion, Alice Walker and Toni Bambara. The essays are by novelists, poets and writers of non-fiction and explore how they have become writers, why they write, and what it means to be a woman and a writer.

    • Hi Laura,
      Thanks for your comments and for posting your favorites. I recently listened to a short story by Ann Patchett, and I’ve been looking for other books by her. I’ll have to check out The Getaway Car.

      Lisa and I thought this would be a good post. Don’t we all have our favorites? It’s great to be able to share them with each other!


  7. Reblogged this on Daniel Bean and commented:
    An awesome list of favorite writing books. Even if you are not a writer, check out the books on journaling. I believe journaling is one of the keys to being more powerful.

    • Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for reading and for reblogging. I think that journaling is one of the best ways to get to know yourself better and I imagine that would help you own your own power!


  8. I love the suggestions here. Especially because I haven’t read any of them, but now I need to! I agree that journaling is a majoring key to harnessing your creative energy as a writer. Also check out Naked Lens by Michael Sean Kaminsky on Video Journaling, which is much more powerful an exercise for a writer to do than you might think!
    My favorite book on writing of all time is Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. It is a battle cry to us artists to overcome Resistance and follow our dreams.
    I also love The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler on implementing Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey into our stories.
    Write Good or Die was a surprisingly awesome book (surprising because it’s free!) on writing and opened my eyes to many concepts.
    Thanks again, I look forward to your future posts. 🙂

    • Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for your list of favorites. I now have a new list of writing books that all come recommended, just for writing this post! I’m intrigued by Naked Lens–I will put that one on top of my list. Also, this is the third time recently that someone has mentioned the War of Art, so I’ll have to check that one out soon, too.

      Thanks for reading!


      • You’re welcome. Your post was very informative…I’m especially excited to read Bird by Bird (about which I’ve heard many positive things) and Life’s Companion.

        If you like books on journaling, you will love Naked Lens. The author cites several books on the power of journaling (I believe Life’s Companion may be one of them) and then explores using video journaling as another channel for self-exploration.

        And from the name of your blog I can already tell you’ll love War of Art! It’s kind of like a manifesto for writers. It’s the book that inspired me to write every day.

        A friend of mine recommended your blog and I’m glad he did! Thanks again 🙂

  9. I loved “Teach Yourself to Write” by Evelyn A. Stenbock. She personally gave me some writing advice and gave me the idea for the title for a book I was writing on breast cancer.

    • Hi saranell,
      Thanks for your recommendation. I’m curious about your book title, but I understand if you don’t want to share (unless it’s already published, in which case–shout it from the rooftops!)


  10. Oh, one more – an easy read and a great book for anybody who wants a quick reference guide to editing their first draft:

    THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman – reveals the necessary elements of good writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, journalism or poetry and points out errors to be avoid such as weak opening hook, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, flat or forced metaphors or similes, melodramatic/commonplace dialogue, undeveloped characterizations and lifeless settings, uneven pacing…

    A lot of info, straight up, with examples. Will help you rip your own work to shreds then build it back up.

  11. Pingback: Why I Write « simplyjan

  12. Cool list, I will absolutely look into them .”Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen” sounds like my next read :-D.
    My favorite writing book is “The Pocket Muse” by Monica Wood, it has everything from picture prompts to famous quotes, you just open the book anywhere and get inspiration.

    • Hi Sofia,
      Thanks for your recommendation. I’ve seen that book before, I think in a writing group I used to belong to where we all wrote first draft stuff together after a prompt (from that book). It was really fun!


  13. How wonderful! I read Life’s Companion too, lo, so many years ago, and felt validated. My favs, George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ and Mary Oliver’s The poetry hanbook. Thanks for warming my heart this morning, rememering Life’s Companion. paz, Abby

  14. Diane, I had let Evelyn read a chapter when it was really new. I was going to call it “Breast Cancer 101” and she had another suggestion. I have had one chapter published in a local paper will soon post it on my blog. Then I will update you on the title. Thanks for your interest.

  15. Reblogged this on PaleInk and commented:
    Lost the muse? Food for thought on how to find inspiration for writing. I’ve got to get one or two of these books to get me writing again.

  16. The Artist’s Way–and any other writings by Julia Cameron–have seen me through decades of angst and self-effacement and now “coming out of the closet” as a writer. Also, there is a Dream Journal series (of which I don’t have the author’s name handy) that I depend upon to draw me out and guide me.

  17. Pingback: Journaling my Journey number 2 « heavenhappens

  18. Pingback: Morning Pages Challenge « Candid Concourse

  19. I LOVE Bird by Bird and use it in my Writing 101 class. I also LOVE Stephen King’s “On Writing.” The third book I use is Joan Boalk’s “Writing Your Dissertation in 15 minutes a day.” While my students are freshmen, the principles for writing and the ways in which Boalk takes a huge project and makes it manageable are fantastic! Thank you for posting so many great ideas for books. How exciting 🙂 can’t wait to check them out!

  20. Pingback: Don’t Forget to Read About Writing | Live to Write - Write to Live

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