On Writing

I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.

‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, Wallace Stevens

As with looking at blackbirds, so with writing: there’s no ‘right’ way to write. You want to write well. You probably keep a pile of well-thumbed writing guides by your elbow for those days when the writing genie is on holiday … but you can never have too many books. Below, I’ve selected some books, essays, deliberations, and practical tips filled with insight and experience to inspire and/or provoke you.

blackbird rspb
RSPB (c.)

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin; Negotiating with the Dead

John Casey, Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

Clive James, Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language

Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing

Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk

Donald Maass, The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

Henry Miller, Henry Miller On Writing

Joyce Carol Oates, The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art

George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer: A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them

Philip Roth, Ghost Writer

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

Jack Smith, Write and Revise for Publication: A 6-month plan for crafting an exceptional novel and other works of fiction

Muriel Spark, Mary Shelley

Elif Shafak, Black Milk: On Motherhood and Writing; The Forty Rules of Love

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook

Alexander Steele, Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School

Robert Louis Stephenson, Essays in the Art of Writing

Graham Swift, Making an Elephant: Writing from Within

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

John Yorke, Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them


Always Apprentices: The Believer Presents Twenty-Two Conversations Between Writers, Sheila Heti, Ross Simonini, and Vendela Vida, editors

The Eleventh Draft: ​Craft and the Writing Life from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, edited by Frank Conroy

New York Times Author Series

The Paris Review Interviews