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The Write Shelf

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Here is a list of the books I've read on the subjects of reading, writing and creativity. A few are general personal growth and mindset books. Some are possibly outdated, as I've been reading and collecting these sorts of books since the 1980s. I've given a brief comment about the books if I could remember them. There are lots that may not be among my favourites but are still really useful. 


My favourites are highlighted in orange. (But not on mobile devices)

If you have other books in this vein to recommend, please drop me an email!

It's a long scroll so I've added back to top links along the way. (also not on mobile devices)

Reading or Story


13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley

An Exploration of why a novel succeeds or doesn't succeed. (I found it very dry)

A Passion for Books by Harold Rabinowitz

Essays celebrating the joy of reading 


First Fiction - an anthology of the first published stories by famous writers

The title says it all. I enjoyed reading the first published stories of Atwood and Munro among others from the "old guard" of fiction. 


The Greatest Books You'll Never Read by Professor Bernard Richards

A guide to literature's lost and unfinished manuscripts. Rather dry and academic. I skimmed through.

Hooked on Canadian Books by T.F. Rigelhof

Rigelhof was a reviewer for the Globe and Mail. The book showcases his favourite Canlit books from 1984 - 2008. If you like Canlit you may discover several older books you may have missed. By today's evolved standards the list of authors is not particularly diverse. 

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. Interesting for readers, helpful to writers. 


The Storytelling Animal - How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall

The way we use story to make sense of our world. It's a fascinating read for reader and writer alike. 


Writing Craft


A Passion for Narrative - A Guide for Writing Fiction by Jack Hodgins

I'd say this one is a Canadian classic.

Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Useful reference.


Creating Fiction - Instruction and insights from teachers of the Associated Writing Programs edited by Julie Checkoway

Description and Setting by Ron Rozelle


Elements of the Writing Craft by Robert Olmstead


Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern


Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham


The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

I found this immensely helpful.


Startle and Illuminate - Carol Shields on Writing

Warm, inspirational, and good advice.


Story by Robert McKee

Essential for a novelist's shelf, even though it's actually about screenwritng.


Story Genius by Lisa Cron


Wired For Story by Lisa Cron


Writer's Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing

Likely very outdated, but the fundamentals of a good article would still apply. There may be an updated version.


Writing Creative Nonfiction - Instruction and insights from teachers of the Associated

Writing Programs edited by Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard

Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway

This is a go-to book on craft, I read it when I'm stuck to get me excited and motivated again.


Writing Personal Essays by Sheila Bender

A must read if you want to write personal essays.


Creative Inspiration

1000 Creative writing Prompts: Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More by Bryan Cohen

Lots in here, but I'm not really drawn to prompts. I don't think I ever wrote anything much based one. 


A Broom of One's Own - Words on Writing, House cleaning and Life by Nancy Peacock



The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

A classic. I turn back to these creative practice basics from time to time. Morning pages have been part of my writing for years and years.


Beyond Words - the Three Untapped Sources of Creative Fulfillment for Writers by Bonni Goldberg


Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert

I wish I had had this book decades ago. It's another essential for creatives.


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Another Classic book of inspriation. Lamott is known for coining the phrase shitty first draft.


Chicken Soup for the Soul Inspiration for writers

Good to dip into.


The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

Very good. Creative habit from the perspective of a dancer.


Cup of Comfort for Writers by Colleen Sell

Another nice dip-into book when you want to commiserate on the trials of the creative life.


Daily Rituals by Mason Curry

Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod


The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

I've read lots of camerons books, but they are all very simialr in how she suggests you approach a creative life.


Naming the World and other exercises for the creative writer (with ideas from famous writers)


Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg


Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

His upbeat no nonsense approach to creativity and influence is motivating


The Van Gogh Blues by Eric Maisel

This book is essential for the melancholy that seems to be part of the creative temperment. Not meant to address clinical depression.


The Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron

More solid Cameron


Wild Mind - Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg



The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron


Writing Down the Bones - Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Back in the day this book had me filling notebook after notebook with thoughts and observations


The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Morgan and Michael Lennington

Goal setting and planning. It's good, especially if you want to create structure.


168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam

Getting control of your time.


Chapter After Chapter by Heather Sellers

It's about building writing habits that will get you to the end of a book. 

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead by Ariel Gore

Not bad. I just didn't relate to her that much. 


Page After Page by Heather Sellers

Similar to Chapter After Chapter but more focused on building a writing habit in general. 


The Productive Writer: Strategies and Systems for Greater Productivity, Profit and Pleasure by Sage Cohen

A solid book I would reccommend to any beginner.

Productivity for Creative People by Mark McGuinness

This was good. But I didn't find it that fresh. But if you haven't read the gazillion books on writing productivity I have  (you'd think I'd have a handle on it by now!) this book is a decent place to start.


The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray

This was too much of a formula for my taste.


Write Away - One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life by Elizabeth George

This was a good book. It is geared toward mystery writing and thrillers. She has a new book out - From Idea to Novel, Mastering the process, but I haven't succumbed to buying it yet. 


The Writer Within - How to discover Your Own Ideas, Get them on Paper and Sell Them for Publication by Larry Bloom

This is an old one and to be honest I don't remember much about it.


The Writer's Workout - 366 Tips, Tasks, & Techniques from Your Writing Career Coach by Christina Katz

I liked the structure of this book. It has a tip a day approach divided into the season of a writer's career. 


You've Got a Book in You by Elizabeth Sims

An overall look at everything you'll need to manage to write a book. It's about the practical and the craft. Very readable. 

Getting Down to Work

Deep Work by Cal Newport


Growing Gills - How to find creative focus when you're drowning in your daily life by Jessica Abel


Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod


Writing a Novel by Richard Skinner


Writing in Flow by Susan K. Perry Ph.D.


A Writer's guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld


I'd Rather Be Writing by Marcia Golub


Writing Past Dark - Fear Envy and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life by Bonnie Friedman


The Writer's Book of Hope - Getting From Frustration to Publication by Ralph Keyes


Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel


Finish by Jon Acuff


Fearless Creating by Eric Maisel

Start by Jon Acuff


Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield


The War of Art by Steven Pressfield


Wired to Create by Scott Barry & Carolyn Gregoire


Personal Growth

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown


Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans


Drive by Daniel Pink


Embracing Uncertainty by Susan Jeffers Ph.D.


Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds by Scott Berkun


A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink


No Excuses - The Power of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracy


The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson


The Big Leap - Take your Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks


Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin


Advice & Inspiration from Other Writers


Living the Dream, an outline for a life in fiction by Michael Seidman


Novel Voices - 17 award-winning novelists on how to write, edit and get published


Startle and Illuminate - Carol Shields on Writing


The Notebooks - Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers edited by Michelle Berry and Natalee Caple


The Writer's Quotation Book - A literary companion


Robertson Davies - Selected Works on the Art of Writing


Who's Writing This? Fifty-five Writers on Humor, Courage, Self Loathing, and the Creative Process


Rotten Rejections - a Literary Companion


The Long Quiet Highway - Waking Up in America by Natalie Goldberg


Inspiration for Writers - A Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology


If you Want to Write by Brenda Ueland


Writing Life - Celebrated Canadian and International Authors on Writing and Life


The Writing Trade - A Year in the Life by John Jerome


Writer's and Company - in conversation with CBC Radio's Eleanor Wachtel


A Writer's Life - The Margaret Laurence Lectures


Why I Write - Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction Edited by Will Blythe


Walking on Alligators - a Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy

The Writer's Mentor - Secrets of success from the World's Great Writers


And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft by Mike Sacks




Dreyer's English by Benjamin Dreyer

(on my shelf but haven't actually read it yet)


Punctuation Without Tears by Dominic Selwood and Delia Johnson


The Copywriter's Handbook by Robert W. Bly


The Random House Guide to Good Writing - The Essential Handbook for Writers


Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty


​Language in Thought and Action by S.I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa


The Grammar Devotional - Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty


The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

A Classic

Eats, Shoots & Leaves - The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss



Editing and Revising


Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish with Confidence by Roz Morris


Naked, Drunk and Writing by Adair Lara


Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King


Writer Biographies & Memoirs


What makes so many of these books favourites, is that I really admire the writers they are about. If you don't have a particular affection for any of them, the books won't necesarily speak to you in the same way. But even so, there is something to be learned from all of them.


One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty


Still Writing - The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro


Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande


Page Fright - Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers by Harry Bruce


View from The Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman


Inside Memory - pages from a writer's workbook by Timothy Findley


Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau


Negotiating with the Dead - A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood


On Writing by Stephen King


Lives of Mothers and Daughters - Growing up with Alice Munro by Sheila Munro


The Red Shoes - Margaret Atwood Starting Out by Rosemary Sullivan


The Life of Margaret Laurence by James King


Dance on The Earth: a Memoir by Margaret Laurence


Escaping into the Open by Elizabeth Berg


Steinbeck - A life in Letters


Stories about Storytellers by Douglas Gibson


Journal of a Novel - The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck


The Travelling Feast - On the road and at the table with my heroes by Rick Bass


The Business of Writing &

Indie-Publishing Advice


How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More by Joanna Penn


Successful Self-publishing by Joanna Penn


The 7 P's of Publishing Success by Mark Leslie Lefebvre


​The Writer's Toolbox: Book Marketing, Business and Public Speaking by Joanna Penn


Writer For Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success by Kelly James Enger


How to Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier with Frances Spatz Leighton


Secrets of a Freelance Writer - How to make $85,000 a Year by Robert W. Bly


My So-Called Freelance Life - How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire by Michelle Goodman


Damn, Why didn't I Write That? How Ordinary People are Raking in $100,000 or more Writing


How to Sell More Than 75% of Your Freelance Writing by Gordon Burgett


Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook


Writer Mama by Christina Katz


Starting Your Career as a Freelance Editor by Mary Embree


Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz


Real Artists don't Starve by Jeff Goins

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