Writing advice books have been my guilty pleasure ever since I received a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing as a Christmas present when I was still in high school. There’s something deeply reassuring about them: they create a sense of order and hope in the often chaotic and despairing process of writing a novel. When you’re stuck on a draft or plotting your next novel, even a quick break with a writing book can put the wind back in your sails.
The best writing advice books educate, inspire, and motivate all at once. Here are some of my favorites:
For freeing up your creativity
Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
If you’re struggling with writer’s block or riding the emotional roller coaster of rejection and/or publication, Anne Lamott is like the wise mentor who knows exactly what to say to set you back on the right path. Covering everything from “sh*tty first drafts” to dealing with jealousy of other authors, Lamott leaves no writing bugaboo untouched, leaving readers inspired, empowered, and eager to keep going.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
A collection of short essays on the writing life, Writing Down the Bones is the beloved Zen-inspired guide to creative writing. Whether you’re writing for publication or as a spiritual practice, Natalie Goldberg will have you itching to pick up a pen and put words to paper.
For planning your next novel
Before you put pen to paper, take a look at one of these books to help you refine your concept, pump up your plot, and come up with a killer hook:
Writing the Breakout Novel, by Don Maas
Written by a successful literary agent, Writing the Breakout Novel is a classic guide to writing a novel that has the potential to transcend its genre and touch the minds and hearts of millions of readers. Don Maas identifies the key qualities of a breakout novel and shows you how to incorporate them into your own work.
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Third Edition by Christopher Vogler
Tap into the power of myth and archetype to make your next novel as powerful as possible. Based on Joseph Campbell’s myth-making philosophy, The Writer’s Journey outlines the stages of the classic hero’s journey and provides examples of how recent blockbusters have used this template to achieve widespread success.
For helping you through revisions
Overwhelmed by revisions? Not sure where to start? Check out these books to give you guidance, advice, and a swift kick in the pants:
Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon
Written by a professional editor, Manuscript Makeover is the best guide to novel revision I have ever encountered. Covering everything from characterization to conflict, Manuscript Makeover leaves you feeling empowered and motivated to tackle that second draft.
78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might, by Pat Walsh
Penned by a senior editor at MacAdam/Cage Publishing, this is a realistic and somewhat sarcastic guide to overcoming common writing and pitching mistakes and arriving at a manuscript that just might get published. A must-read before you embark on your final revisions.
For helping you snag an agent—or not
The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman
In this handy little tome, literary agent Noah Lukeman lays out exactly what literary agents are looking for in a manuscript—and the writing mistakes that make them reach for a rejection slip. The First Five Pages will teach you to think like an agent, and more importantly, read like one.
How to Be Your Own Literary Agent: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Book Published, by Richard Curtis
The head of a New York literary agency, Richard Curtis reveals the secrets of the agenting business and shows writers how to take matters into their own hands. If you’re determined to break into publishing agent-free, this is the essential guide to finding a publisher, negotiating a book contract, and much more.