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 Some are possibly outdated, as I've been reading and collecting these sorts of books since the 1980s.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

Enjoyable

 

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

Good

 

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

Productivity

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

 

Language

 

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