Writers’ Books for Beginners

I review a lot of books about writing, and occasionally people ask me for recommendations based on that. I suppose I’ve read enough of them that it’s time for me to put together a list of writers’ books for beginners. Keep in mind that there are bound to be others out there that I haven’t read, so this isn’t an exhaustive list. These are just some I’ve enjoyed and found worthwhile. I’ll link to more detailed reviews so that you can get more information on any that sound interesting.

Basic Creativity

For people who aren’t even sure where to start in the creative process, try these books first.

The Creativity Book

The Creativity Book, by psychotherapist Eric Maisel, provides a year’s worth of guided exercises for anyone who wishes to approach their lives in a creative fashion–not just writers.

Pencil Dancing

Mari Messer’s Pencil Dancing is less structured and sillier than Maisel’s book, and every bit as useful. They’re two different approaches to the same exact topic, and I love them both. They’re both aimed at people who really feel stuck and need a creative boost in their lives.

Getting Started

I’ve read only two books that were specifically aimed at getting beginner writers on their feet, but both of them deserve to be on this list.

Discovering the Writer Within

Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane are two New Hampshire teachers who wrote Discovering the Writer Within to help beginners like yourself get a strong handle on where they’re going and what they’re doing. It includes a structured course of exercises including examples, and it’s a bit like having a classroom in your backpack.

The Writer’s Path

The Writer’s Path, by Todd Walton and Mindy Toomay, has more of an emphasis on creativity and less on structure and analysis than Ballenger and Lane’s book. The two books complement each other rather well, in fact.

The Writer’s Life

Many people hold a host of incorrect illusions about what it means to be a writer, or what it’s like to be a writer. Make sure you read at least one of these books so you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into before jumping head-first into writing as a career.

Living the Writer’s Life

Eric Maisel does it again in Living the Writer’s Life, a guide to the problems of living the writer’s life and how you can get through them and overcome them. This is a very realistic and honest assessment of the pitfalls and dangers you’ll face in this line of work.

The Writer’s Survival Guide

Rachel Simon’s The Writer’s Survival Guide is a less clinical approach than Maisel’s, which may appeal more to the artistic types (just as Mari Messer’s “Pencil Dancing” will in the creativity area). Both books have a lot to offer, however. Ms. Simon’s book seems more abstract to me, with fewer concrete strategies and details, but it’s extremely evocative and compelling–particularly for non-fiction!


These are a few incredible books on technique that can vastly improve your skills.

Dynamic Characters

Finally, Nancy Kress’ Dynamic Characters is readily available once again! You probably have no idea how much of a wonder and delight this is. It’s a witty, entertaining read that will teach you how to create and write about engaging fictional characters.

Mastering Point of View

Sherri Szeman’s Mastering Point of View is the only truly comprehensive and easy-to-understand treatise I’ve found on the subject of point of view and perspective. This is a subject that doesn’t get covered very well elsewhere, mostly because it’s so poorly and imperfectly understood. Keep this around as a reference at all times.

Word Painting

Word Painting is Rebecca McClanahan’s delightful work on writing description. I was amazed that anyone could write so much about what seemed like such a simple topic, and even more amazed that there was so much incredibly valuable information on the subject!

Editing, Grammar and Style

A writer who doesn’t have good grammar and doesn’t have a pleasant (for certain definitions of pleasant) and distinctive style probably isn’t going to get very far. Make sure to keep at least one book around to help you edit and polish your work.

The Keys to Great Writing

Stephen Wilbers’ book The Keys to Great Writing is one of the most interesting, comprehensive, and valuable books on grammar, style and editing I’ve yet come across.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is the canonical reference work, and with good reason. It walks you through most of the pitfalls fiction writers typically fall into and helps you to avoid them and pull yourself up out of them.

The Writer’s Idea Workshop

Veteran editor Jack Heffron walks you through developing and polishing your ideas in The Writer’s Idea Workshop. This is a great next step once you have a few ideas to work with and aren’t sure where to go next or how to turn them into publishable writing.

Getting Published

No More Rejections

Alice Orr’s No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells is, so far, the single best resource I’ve found for writers of commercial fiction. Alice Orr has been an editor and writer, and she has a wonderful understanding of the issues that can make or break your manuscript.

The First Five Pages

The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman, is dryer than Orr’s book, but it’s specifically aimed at making your work publishable. It’s also aimed at a wider audience than just writers of commercial fiction.

I’ve tried to give you multiple options in every category, since different approaches and styles work for different people. Hopefully the linked-to in-depth reviews can further help you to pick out those books that will work for you!

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