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Readings on Writing–Friendly Suggestions in the Interim

April 22, 2012

It’s been about ten days since my last post, for which I do apologize. You see, I have a baby girl on the way and part of  preparing for her entrance into our household involves dismantling my old office space and moving it into the bedroom. Which means most of my books and notes are currently boxed up and the PC is dismantled. So making a passable entry has been well nigh impossible.

I expect it to be another week yet before I’m fully uncrated. So in the meantime, I thought I’d list some of the more insightful craft and criticism books/essays I’ve read in the off-chance you might find something new and worthwhile and had an inkling to explore on your own. (Note: This isn’t all that I’ve read, by any means. Nor am I listing any of the more ‘theoretical’ and generally high-end  academic criticism. Most of the stuff here is quite approachable at the very least by the inquisitive undergrad and lay reader. And of course, if there’s something you’d like to suggest, post a recommendation in the comments.)


  • On WritingStephen King: Practical and worthwhile advice on writing as a career and as a craft. Better than most of his novels.
  • The Art of Fiction–David Lodge: Essays on various aspects of craft using various examples drawn from well-known and established authors. A bit stuffy, but worthwhile.
  • How Fiction Works–James Wood: Like Gardner, Wood is a bit stiff and precriptivist, but this one is worth a look just for the section on free indirect style.
  • American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman–F. O. Matthiessen: Matthiessen breaks down the major works of Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman and traces their influences and influence as well as their successes and weaknesses as writers. Great companion book to read side-by-side with their masterpieces.
  • Reading Like a Writer–Francine Prose:  Terrific for learning how to draw technique from a text.
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft–Janet Burroway:  Burroway discusses creative non-fiction, poetry, fiction, and drama and the core concepts common to all of them.
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft For Young Writers–John Gardner:  Gardner is an incorrigible prescriptivist with a severe distaste for experimental fiction. But there are more than a few gems here.


And of course, if you’re a writer or want to be, there’s no better way learn than by reading.

Read the good stuff. Read critically. Read to expand your boundaries. Read often.


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  1. That is a solid list, I call reading craft books appeasing Apollo…I want to add the art of dramatic writing and making a good script great…I’m a 3 Act Nazi. I agree with Brian, Burroway is pretty good.

  2. This is a good list, Randy, especially for fiction writers. I especially enjoyed On Writing by King. I liked the memoir aspects of it, and some of the humor. I also enjoyed the Francise Prose book a lot, and I use the Burroway book when I teach Intro to Creative Writing. It is filled with wonderful prompts and solid writing samples for students to look at.

  3. Thank you so much for linking to these essays. I’m going to have to save them all on evernote and read them as I can. I love Francine Prose. You should have Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott up there. She’s amazing and powerful.

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