Contests · On Writing

Books Every Writer Should Read – December Special Guest Writer Post

Instead of having a guest writer for the month of December, I decided to ask some writer friends of mine to send me a list of ‘must-read’ books for writers.

I am thrilled to offer this list to you now! And also, to ask you to notice the repetition in titles! It’s amazing that some books touch us all similarly. As well, you see that some writers offered reason why they chose the books they listed.

Please, gather up your e-book/book money and invest in some, all or maybe just one of the books on this list. Keep it for yourself or give it as a gift, after all, ’tis the season.

Also, I didn’t make links to all the books in the lists…simple searches at your local bookstore or on your local search engine will lead you to them. 🙂 (Call me lazy, go ahead.)

I’d like to say thank you to all the writers who offered their lists! Thank you!

Penny-Anne Beaudoin, poet/writer

The Artist’s Way (20th Anniversary Edition) by Julia Cameron

The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch by Julia Cameron

Writing Life by Constance Rooke (Ed.)

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

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


Marty Gervais, Poet Laureate, writer, historian

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke


Mary Ann Mulhern, poet

Negotiating with The Dead by Margaret Atwood

Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood

The Journeyman by Timothy Findley

The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver


Kate Hargreaves, poet, writer, Derby Girl

The Writing Experiment by Hazel Lyder

– The only writing “guide” I’ve really found useful as it provides some pretty good exercises as well as some good commentary on writing technique. I tend to not get a lot from “how to” type writing books, but this one is good for setting you up with an exercise that you can take in whatever direction.

Diamond Grill by Fred Wah

– A “novel” by a poet in what appears to be prose poem form. The idea of challenging form in this way I think is really useful, as well as the way the form matches the content which challenges ideas of nationality, race, borders, etc.

Organ Music by bpNichol

– I’m obsessed with the body’s presence in writing, so this has to end up on my list.

The collected poems of Anne Sexton by Anne Sexton

– As much as a lot of people sort of roll their eyes at “confessional poets” like Sexton and Plath, in the context of the time they were writing especially, they were doing something that was really surprising and unexpected, and I think that Sexton’s poems stand the test of time in a lot of ways.

[sic]  by Nikki Reimer

– This is a relatively new book from a Canadian press. When I first read it, I was really excited because I recognized something about the poetic aesthetic that I was attempting to achieve in it. It sort of collages pop culture with the body, as well as engaging with language in an interesting and fun way. Plus, it’s always great to support emerging Canadian writers.


Dorothy Mahoney, high school English teacher, writer/poet

Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Room to Write: daily Invitations to a Writer’s life by Bonni Goldberg

A Writer’s Book of Days, A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves

Lighting the Global Lantern, A teacher’s guide to writing haiku and related literary forms by Terry Ann Carter


Christopher Lawrence Menard, playright, writer

On Writing by Stephen King

Why: Figuring our who you are as a writer, setting goals and creating space

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Why: Mastering economical writing = themes/images instead of lengthy prose

Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

Why: Understanding how to write for all audiences

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood and The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Why: Exploring how much details matter & how profound the mundane can be

Wicked by Gregory Maquire

Why: Fully realize/develop/create a textured/layered world and add new dimensions to something familiar


Vanessa Shields, writer (okay, I’m giving my top 16. It was hard enough to get my list down to this amount!)

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran – poetry, breathtaking, life-changing

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – inspirational, honest, amazing

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – my favourite novel – ever

Forever by Judy Blume – changed my pre-teen life, made me feel in my heart I wanted to be a writer

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – changed my creative life

How to Write a Dirty Story by Susie Bright – my erotica writing was born from this book

The Right to Write by Julia Cameron – amazing lessons and exercises

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – essential for women and writers

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I read this to remember and feel what amazing writing is…

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – makes my heart weep and sing simultaneously

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – poetic, powerful, life-changing

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – I laughed, I cried, I laughed some more. Everyone should read this book even though it’s marketed for young adults – we’re all ‘young’ adults, aren’t we?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (I’m not finished reading this yet, but I know it will be one of my favourites.)

Just Kids by Patti Smith – poetic, beautiful, heart-breaking memoir

On Writing by Stephen King – a master tells his story and reveals keys to the writing craft

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris – hysterical, brave, honest collection of memoir/short stories

Story by Robert McKee – essential for story structure


And of course,  how could I have a list of ‘must-read’ books without a book giveaway? I CAN’T, SILLY!

The FOURTH person to list her/his favourite book in the comment section of this blog will WIN:

The Essential Writer’s Notebook by Natalie Goldberg


14 thoughts on “Books Every Writer Should Read – December Special Guest Writer Post

  1. One favorite book…Are you kidding me? That’s like asking me which grain of sand I like best at the beach.

    That said, candidates for my favorite books about writing would be:

    How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish (

    Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson (

    A Passion for Narrative: A Guide to Writing Fiction by Jack Hodgins (


  2. My favourite book about writing is Bird by Bird by Ann Lamont.- It’s honest, practical and poetic all at the same time.
    My favourite book in general is The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. It is a gentle, real and multilayered account of one woman’s life that is not easily forgotten.

    Thank you for the list of books. It gives me the itch to jump in the car and head on over to Juniper Books.


  3. And “On Writing” by Stephen King–though I’m currently reading it, so I didn’t include it.

    Thanks for putting this post together. Very helpful. I think aggregating all these writer’s favorites together shows how many good books there are for writers!


      1. Night by Elie Wiesel
        The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
        Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman
        We are Witnesses by Jacob Boas
        The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness – Simon Wiesenthal
        I Have Lived a Thousand Years – Livia Bitton-Jackson


  4. I’m aghast that nobody has Orwell on their list! What about “Politics and the English Language”? Where’s “Why I Write”?? Also, what about William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well”?
    A newish one I’d highly recommend is Douglas Wilson, “Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life.”


    1. Thanks for your comment, Ian! Zinsser’s on my bookshelf…Orwell too! Definitely gonna check out Wilson’s ‘Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life”!


  5. A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process
    by Burghild Nina Holzer
    – This one read like a prose poem, a meditation on a writer’s purpose…very cool!

    The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
    – reading and working this book helped me feel normal in all my insecurities as a writer, and this helped me tame my inner critics. It taught me to write crap if that is all I could write, and because it was fun to play with writing crap, and that sometimes the crap progressed to not crap. It also taught me I could be disciplined in my writing.

    Thanks Vanessa for your amazing ideas!


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