I have a mug with this quote from the magnificent author of Wild, Cheryl Strayed – it’s drawn from one of her columns writing as ‘Sugar’ for The Rumpus which totally blew my head off when I first encountered it! Cheryl’s letter stands out as one of the most powerful calls to action for writers – especially women writers – I’ve ever seen, but there are so many incredibly powerful books about writing which contain so much wisdom and insight into its craft and psychology of our art. I share my favourite quotes on the creative process daily on Instagram, but I also know that there are some specific works I refer my clients to over and over and which I use myself all the time still, so I thought it might be useful to share them with you this week.  I’d also love to hear what your favourites are – please feel free to pop a comment below so others can look them up too!

Bernays, Anne and Pamela Painter. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

A broad range of practical exercises are presented in this book, pushing writers to improve in all areas of writing, as well as addressing issues of imitating the classics. A good solid workhorse.


Browne, Renni and Dave King. Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

Practical exercises and advice to help with the sometimes tricky editing process. The best book on learning to edit.


Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way, The Right to Write, The Sound of Paper  

I adore Cameron’s warm-hearted, holistic approach to creativity and these are my favourite books. Some may find her spirituality a little twee, but her compassion, encouragement and common-sense have saved me on many a doubtful day. I was also lucky enough to attend a workshop with her and found her hilarious! Her exercises can effectively unlock and unblock us – I gave The Artist’s Way to a friend and she went to art college after ignoring her creativity for twenty years! Cameron’s stuff really works, but you need to open your heart and engage fully with the exercises.


Sage Cohen, The Productive Writer

A wonderfully practical and wise book on how to make more of your writing life. You can read my interview with her here where we discuss her new book on writing, Fierce on the Page.


Cox, Ailsa. Writing Short Stories

A very good introduction, offering tips on craft and exercises which offer exciting starting points for writing stories across the genre.


Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic


Lovely Liz manages to be both an excellent literary writer and the soulful author of the massively successful memoir, Eat Pray Love, that rocked people into transformation all of the world. In this book, she turns her focus to the creative process with all her usual warmth and wisdom.


Goldberg, Bonnie. Room to Write

This book is an encyclopedia of creative ideas. I use it almost as an I Ching, flicking through its pages as a write to find something which will drive my writing somewhere fascinating. Ranging across themes and stylistic techniques and including mesmerizing quotes from major writers, Goldberg’s collection is a valuable source of inspiration.



Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones and Thunder and Lightning.

Like Cameron, Goldberg brings a down-to-earth spirituality and years of experience into play in her books. A Jew who became a Zen Buddhist, Goldberg places emphasis on writing practice (short bouts) and on paying mindful attention to details. Goldberg has backbone and originality and is worth befriending.


Marshall, Evan. Novel Writing: 16 Steps to Success

A little prescriptive at times, but Marshall knows his material. You have to know the rules to know how to break them, you know! Excellent on plotting longer works. Probably the book I recommend the most frequently to new novelists.


Novakovich, Josip. Fiction Writers’ Workshop

A sound, practical book which helps writers improve their skills in areas such as voice and description.


Wood, Monica. The Pocket Muse

A delightful book, full of interesting images and other prompts for inspiration, as well as some absolutely vital and often hilarious advice on how to deal with difficult issues, such as rejection and professional envy. She also places proper emphasis on celebrating our creative achievements. Wood is a writer who has worked hard on her craft, developing patience on the way, and the lessons she shares here are very wise. She has a lovely site full of additional tips and all of her usual charm.


I hope you’ve found this list inspirational in terms of expanding your own writing library. I believe we can never stop learning as writers, so those who have gone before us have much to teach us. Storytelling is, after all, an ancient art, so it’s just sensible to read up on our craft (‘the tricks of the trade’), but it’s also often helpful to absorb some wisdom in terms of the emotional landscape of creativity.

Many of these authors have influenced my awesome free gift, The Hectic Writer’s Handy Workbook, which is designed to help you have a happy and fulfilling writing life, even when time is short.

I’m looking forward to hearing about your favourite writing tomes! Pop them in the comments below!