My Favorite Books on Writing & the Creative Process
I won’t claim these are the best books on writing, but of the dozens of books I’ve read on the subject over the years, these are the ones that have helped me the most.
Books on Storytelling & Story Structure
Invisible Ink – Brian McDonald
This is the single most important book I’ve read on writing and storytelling. Invisible Ink may be concise, but it doesn’t skip any steps in answering the foundational questions for any storyteller: What are stories? Why do they exist? And how can we best shape them? If these questions seem overly theoretical to you, you might be surprised at how practical the book’s insights are. I find myself returning to its wisdom often.
The Lively Art of Writing – Lucile Vaughan Payne
Don’t be fooled – the first few pages of this little manual might come off as a stodgy English class assignment. But it’s so much more. The Lively Art of Writing happens to focus on the structure of essay writing, but its simple methodology of pitting a thesis against an antithesis applies to absolutely every type of writing (short stories, novels, screenplays, nonfiction, etc). It’s a great follow-up to Invisible Ink, as you’ll begin to recognize parallels between the two methods.
Books on the Creative Process & Routines
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
If you’ve ever struggled to sit your ass in a chair and do the work – be it writing, drawing, making music, or any other creative pursuit – this book will teach you how to overcome it. The War of Art focuses on overcoming the resistance we all face when staring down creative work. It’s divided up into bite-size chapters so it can be digested one or two passages at a time, and can be flipped through any time you’re feeling stuck for a motivational kickstart.
Mindset – Carol Dweck
This might seem a strange entry in a list on books about writing and creativity. After all, Mindset is a mix between pop-science and self-help. But the book’s central argument is something every creative person will benefit from. Dweck argues that we should all set our sights on growth, not perfection, in the pursuit of improving as humans and as craftspeople.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
So classic I almost left it off the list, but it really does deserve a spot here. Bird by Bird is less prescriptive than some of the other books on writing. Though there are plenty of great writing lessons to be found in its pages, its most powerful teachings center around surviving the emotional ups and downs of the writing process. Among its most powerful concepts is accepting the “shitty first draft” as a means to unblocking your creativity – allowing something to be bad before it gets good.
Books on Writing for Film & TV
On Directing Film – David Mamet
In On Directing Film, writer/director David Mamet teaches the basics of communicating to audiences through images. Its teachings are simple and effective. It will help you establish empathy with your viewer so you can begin to see your writing through their eyes. If you’ve ever struggled to make your screenplay sing, the tips you glean from this manual will surely help.