Books on writing that are actually worth reading

A few books stacked up on my writing desk

A few months ago I reached out to the wonderful writing community on Twitter. I had just finished the messy first draft of a novel and wanted to learn more about narrative structure before tackling an edit. Unsurprisingly, I was inundated with recommendations of books about the craft of writing. The response was so helpful, and so comprehensive, I thought it was worth sharing. I’ve added a few other useful titles as well. I’m well aware that this list barely scratches the surface of the available resources. Please feel free to add your favourites in the comments section below.

Technical manuals — how-to books:

  • ‘The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile’ by Noah Lukeman
  • ‘Self-editing for Fiction Writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King —I’m currently using the checklists in this practical little book to guide an edit.
  • ‘The Emotional Craft of Fiction’ by Donald Maass
  • ‘The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know’ by Shawn Coyne — much of this information is also available on Shawn’s website and podcast

Books to inspire the muse — big-picture books:

  • ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott — an enjoyable read, light on technical detail
  • ‘The Writer’s Room’ by Charlotte Wood — a collection of author interviews with an Australian focus
  • ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King — a worthy classic, relevant for writers in all genres
  • ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert — this slightly corny meditation on creativity encouraged me to finish my first novel manuscript which had stalled
  • ‘The Writing Life’ by Annie Dillard
  • ‘Use Your Words’ by Catherine Deveny
  • ‘The Wave in the Mind’ by Ursula Le Guin
  • ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg
  • ‘How to Write Your Blockbuster’ by Fiona McIntosh
  • ‘The Silver Moon’ by Bryce Courtenay
  • ‘Monkeys with Typewriters’ by Scarlett Thomas

Books with a screenwriting focus — with techniques applicable to novel writing:

  • ‘Writing Subtext’ by Linda Seger
  • ‘Stealing Hollywood’ by Alexandra Sokoloff
  • ‘Making a Good Script Great’ by Linda Seger
  • ‘Story’ by Robert McKee — very comprehensive (if wordy) examination of what makes a good story

Books About Narrative Structure:

  • ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke
  • ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler — essentially a detailed summary of Joseph Campbell’s mythic structure

Reference Books:

  • ‘The Elements of Style’ by Stunk, White, and Kalman — the must-have grammar bible
  • ‘The Emotion Thesaurus’ by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Books About Selling Your Novel:

  • ‘A Decent Proposal: How to Sell Your Book to an Australian Publisher or Literary Agent’ by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth


What other books or resources would you recommend?

By Lisa Kenway

Lisa Kenway is an Australian writer and doctor. Her debut psychological thriller, ALL YOU TOOK FROM ME, is coming in August 2024 from Transit Lounge Publishing. An early version was long-listed for the 2020 Richell Prize. A 2023 Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre fellow, her work has appeared in Island Online, the Meanjin blog, Meniscus Literary Journal and elsewhere. Find her at or on Twitter @LisaKenway.


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