Books on The Craft of Writing

When I asked my fellow bloggers here at From the Mixed-Up Files what their favorite craft of writing books are, they couldn’t wait to tell me. Many of us admit we’re craft book junkies and our recommendations are wide and varied. How-to books on writing are great for guiding us, inspiring us, and teaching us different techniques for making our novels better.

Here are some great suggestions for books on writing technique:

Karen Schwartz –  I love Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT: THE LAST BOOK ON SCREENWRITING YOU’LL EVER NEED. It applies equally well to novels and helped me so much with plotting my middle-grade novels. I write contemporary realistic, all character-driven, so I needed a solid structure for my characters to play around in.

Tracy Abell – The book that helped me make the biggest leap in my writing was SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King. The
editor-authors address the basics of fiction writing – show and tell,  point of view, dialogue, proportion –  with specific examples. Each chapter ends with a checklist for your work-in-progress and exercises that allow you to practice what you’ve learned.  I had many aha moments when reading this book and, as a result, eliminated many amateur writing mistakes.

Wendy Martin – My go to book is PICTURE THIS: HOW PICTURES WORK by Molly Bang, mainly because I’m an illustrator first and an author second. I think
visually even when writing middle-grade.


Sarah Aronson – WRITING STORIES, by Carolyn Coman. I’m using it now in my writers class. Fantastic and encouraging.

Sayantani – Cheryl Klein’s book SECOND SIGHT is a fantastic book on not just craft but craft for children’s novelists.

Wendy Shang – I have to second Sayantani’s recommendation of Cheryl Klein’s book, SECOND SIGHT.  I would say this is a book for more someone who has been writing for a while, particularly middle-grade or YA.  Ms. Klein really takes the reader deep into the editing process, showing us how to think more deeply about character, plot and structure.  It is quite often the case that while I am reading Ms. Klein’s book, I will find new inspiration or insight for my own manuscript, and then I am torn between finishing the chapter and running off to write.

Kimberley Griffiths Little – ANY book by Donald Maass is absolutely brilliant on how to write well, particularly THE FIRE IN FICTION and WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.

For inspiration, try some of these:

Laurie Schneider – I love reading about the nuts and bolts of writing, but sometimes what I need is a wrench. Writing can be lonely and hard. When
I’m feeling grumpy and uninspired I like to flip open Jane Yolen’s TAKE JOY, A WRITER’S GUIDE TO LOVING THE CRAFT. Even the cover, designed to look like a slice of watermelon, cheers me up.

Kimberley Griffiths Little – My writing and self-confidence went through a particularly rough period when, after selling and publishing three books with my agent of 10 years, we parted ways due to my agent’s change of focus to adult novels only. During the last few years with the agent and for another 4 years beyond “the parting”, 8 years went by without a book sale. I continued writing like crazy, subbing on my own, querying agents, and getting nothing but rejections. I truly wondered if my career was done. Then I found this book: THE WRITER’S BOOK OF HOPE, Getting From Frustration to Publication by Ralph Keyes. It was invaluable, kept me off the ledge of insanity, and it was a great read, too.

Diana Greenwood – Everything that Kimberley said and I will add THE COURAGE TO WRITE, also by Ralph Keyes. I recommend his book when I do presentations, particularly the passages/chapters about fear. I also heard him speak a few years back and he is just as inspiring in person as he is in print. His advice applies to writers of all genres.

Sarah Aronson – FROM WHERE WE DREAM, especially the chapters on Yearning and Cinema of the Mind, by Robert Olen Butler.

Tracy Abell – I’d like to make a plug for THE POCKET MUSE: Ideas and Inspiration for Writing by Monica Wood. This is one of those books I keep at my writing space so I can flip to a page that will either trigger a new idea or inspire me to keep writing. The black and white photos get my brain working in new ways and help me think outside that metaphorical box.

Amie Borst – For me, I found Stephen King’s ON WRITING helpful in his typical arrogant form.

Sayantani – I actually like teaching my fiction writing class with Alice LePlante’s THE MAKING OF A STORY which is a fantastic craft book with short stories, examples (not children’s necessarily) Someone mentioned Stephen King’s ON WRITING, I also like, for inspiration, E.M. Forster’s ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL, Italo Calvino’s THE USES OF LITERATURE, and Umberto Eco’s ON LITERATURE.

Once you’ve finished writing your novel and it’s all polished and shiny, you might want to think about publishing it. I have a couple of recommendations for books to help you figure out where to send your manuscript.

To get all the information you could ever want about the complex world of the children’s publishing industry, get your hands on a copy of Harold Underdown’s THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS. Writers and illustrators can find inspiration and information including the “rules” for finding an agent, getting a contract from a publisher, and even what happens after your book has sold.

Finding the right agent or the right publishing house is daunting, to say the least. But Alice Pope’s book, CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET which is updated every year can help. The 2011 CWIM offers more than 650 listings for book publishers, magazines, agents, art reps and more.

These are just a few of our favorites. We’d love to hear your recommendations. Please share!


Jennifer Duddy Gill