Creative Writing by the Books

I didn’t realize how many creative writing textbooks I have until I started to pull them off the shelf. Most I got through Athabasca University courses, others I’ve purchased, and some were gifted to me from a family friend. It takes time to find a text that works for you, one that speaks to you. But I compiled a list of some of my favourites. Some of these are for creative nonfiction, others speculative fiction, but regardless of their intended use I have found them all to be beneficial for other genres.

About Writing
by Samuel Delany
On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
The Elements of Style by Stunk and White
Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm
Writing Fiction ninth edition by Janet Burroway; Elizabeth Stuckey-French; Ned Stuckey-French
The Writing Process by John M. Lannon and David B. Parsons
Writing For Your Life by Deena Metzger
Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paula

Each of these books has affected the way I think about writing. They are books that I go back to when I am struggling with a concept, scene, or emotion. There are samples of sentences and scenes that show why one method of writing may work better than another. There are exercises in most of these books that give you a place to practice that is outside of your current creative work. Practising these ideas and concepts is so important to learning the craft. But beyond that, within these, I have developed ideas and crafted entire stories from a lesson within these pages.

Doing the practice sections of these gives you a place to let loose, to try new things. If I am working on a novel or short story, I am hesitant to try some of these techniques within the body of my work, because I’m unfamiliar with them, and it somehow feels irreversible (which, of course, it isn’t). So, open a new document, grab a notebook, or a scrap of paper and try some of these things. It doesn’t matter how far along you are in your creative writing development, going back to these is a key step in keeping things sharp.

I also included on this list a text that isn’t exactly about how to write fiction, but it is no less important. The Elements of Style is one of the best books on grammar. It is easy to find what you are looking for, provides lots of samples and explanations, it has a simple breakdown of easily confused words. Best of all the book itself is small, it could fit in my back pocket. There is no excuse to not take it along if you are writing at the cabin, coffee shop, or hiding in the closet to find some quiet. While your first draft doesn’t need to be (won’t be) perfect, having a quick reference to look something up that is stalling you is, I have found, essential in not becoming stalled in the process.

And you don’t need all of these textbooks, one or two would be enough to get you started, get you thinking and push your writing. I would suggest checking them out at the library, if possible, and finding the one that speaks to you. I have found some are too dry to get my attention, and, while they hold great information, they don’t work for me. And what works for me may not work for you, so before investing in the books try to get a sneak peek and make sure the style of the book is going to connect with you.

Deanna Roney is an AU graduate who loves adventure in life and literature. Follow her path on the writing journey at

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