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Books for writers top my summer reading list

Books for writers moved to the top of my summer TBR pile when I discovered several new books for writers on crafting nonfiction. Whether you write creative nonfiction, literary nonfiction, essays or the old plain Jane non-fiction, these books should provide you with solid information as well as plenty to think about.

What about that old dictum we writers are fed about “show, don’t tell?” Is it all show? Is there any place for the art of telling? How about ethics? Are there real ethical concerns that need to be addressed or can writers skip all that stuff and write whatever they want in whatever way they want and still call it truth? All this and more is addressed in the books for writers below.

Books for writers

My top books for writers this summer

To Show and To Tell by Phillip Lopate

I confess, I’ve been waiting for Phillip Lopate to write his book on writing essays and nonfiction ever since I read his fascinating introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present many years ago. When it comes to books for writers, especially those who write creative or literary nonfiction, Lopate’s new book To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction tops my TBR pile. In fact, I’m already past the first fifty pages and am eager to read more.

The art of characterization comes down to establishing a pattern of habits and actions for the person you are writing about and introducing variations into the system. In this respect, building a character is a pedagogic model, because you are teaching the reader what to expect. – Phillip Lopate, To Show and To Tell

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracey Kidder

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction is among the good books for writers published this year on writing nonfiction by Tracey Kidder and Richard Todd. Kidder and Todd have been working together as writer and editor for many years. One of the interesting things Todd reveals is that early on he realized that at times when Kidder would give him unfinished drafts or read something to him over the phone,  “he was being asked for reassurance, not criticism.”

Too often, I think, we jump the gun and offer a critique when a hearty “Good job!” is all that is required.

Like the act of remembering, the art of writing your own story inevitably distorts, if only by creating form where disorder reigns. To make sense of your life or a portion of it is to tell a story, and story often stands at odds with the ferment in which you have lived. That’s one point of a story: to replace confusion with sense. The impulse of memoir is itself a fictive impulse. – Tracey Kidder & Richard Todd, Good Prose

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind

 When it comes to creative nonfiction, Lee Gutkind is definitely an expert. With a hefty title like You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between you might worry that the author might not be able to deliver, but Gutkind is one of the godfathers of the new creative nonfiction and knows his stuff inside-out. He’s been writing and teaching the art of nonfiction for decades. You might find the section The Creative Nonfiction Police interesting.

More than in any other literary genre, the creative nonfiction writer must rely on his or her conscience and sensitivity to others and display a higher moral authority and a healthy respect for fairness and justice. We may harbor resentments, hatreds, and prejudices; but being writers doesn’t give us a special dispensation to behave in a way unbecoming to ourselves and hurtful to others. – Lee Gutkind, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up 

Writing In Flow by Susan Perry

The whole concept of flow captured my attention when I first read the books by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  His books focused on the creative process rather than the craft of writing. Flow is definitely the state writers most hope to attain when they stare at a blank page or screen. Building on those works, Susan Perry takes up the writer’s creative process in Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity.

…entering flow easily and frequently should enable you to write more fluently and prolifically, and thus, potentially, to produce more distinguished and lasting fiction or poetry. – Susan Perry, Writing in Flow

The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by Peter Bowerman


I’ve had Peter Bowman’s book The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living standing on my shelf for quite some time. It’s time I gave it the attention it deserves. There are a lot of books for writers that focus on self-publishing but this one provides a successful and repeatable step-by-step program. Bowman’s primer on self-publishing is based on the process he used to become a successful self-published author who actually earns a living writing.

Understand this: Success as a self-publisher is far more than a function of a process than an aptitude. It’s far less about some way you have to be than it is about a bunch of things you have to do.  And when we’re talking about actions, we’re talking about something you have total control over. — Peter Bowman, The Well-Fed Writer

Okay, that’s my top five books for writers this summer. Instead of ten books I decided to narrow my focus to one genre this week and to five books for writers. We’ll see what happens next week. Do you write nonfiction? What would you like to see? Leave your comments below.

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  • writtenpermission

    I don’t write non-fiction, though I think it is great you are dedicating some of your summer reading time to your craft! Thanks again for stopping by my list!

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Thanks! I confess I have a lifelong habit of reading about writing and about writers. Can’t get enough. Even collect the books. Thanks for coming by and commenting. I always appreciate that additional effort by my readers. It’s nice to “talk.”

  • http://ablightedone.wordpress.com/ Katy

    I don’t write but all of these books sound really interesting! The quote from You Can’t Make This Stuff Up is really interesting, it would be difficult to remove bias and personal feelings but it’s obviously important to be professional!

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    I’m not sure you want to remove personal feelings, etc. in some nonfiction, particularly the creative and literary type but we do need to be aware of potential ramifications in what we do and how. His chapter on ethics was pretty interesting and he pointed to specific cases that have made the headlines in years past.

  • Terri B.

    Interesting list! I have quite a few writing craft books on my list which are what I probably will end up reading this summer (instead of the books I put on my TTT) because I love them too! :-)

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Thanks, Terri. Glad to meet someone else who enjoys reading books on writing. I always find something of interest in every book.

  • Stephen

    When I think of nonfiction, I think of history/science texts, journalistic accounts, that kind of thing. I’ve never even heard of creative nonfiction!

  • http://literaryetc.com/ Jessica-Literary, etc

    Wow! Great choices. Have you read Stephen King’s book on writing? One that I like to recommend is William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. It used it for academic writing, but some author friends have read it and used it.

    Thanks for stopping by Literary, etc!

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Well, creative nonfiction is fairly new as these things go. It’s gained popularity over the last 20-30 years and is now part of many MFA programs. Give it a try.

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    Jessica, thanks for stopping by and sharing your book selections for writers. I have read King’s book and it’s fantastic. I also enjoyed Zinsser’s book. It was a much touted book when I first began to take up the pen. Great advice within those pages.

  • Ashling

    I love your list. I went to college for writing, and I felt like we did not cover nonfiction enough. “Good Prose” sounds perfect for that.

    Thanks for stopping by my TTT at Reading, Writing, & Anything but Arithmetic!

  • http://www.downthewriterspath.com/ Vikk Simmons

    I’m about to start Good Prose this weekend as I’m finishing up Phillip Lopate’s book tonight or tomorrow–highly recommended, too. Thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you found the list useful.