Personally, after a few loooong years spent virtually indoors, this summer has proven the perfect time to take a break from the keyboard and FINALLY enjoy the outdoorsy fun and sunshine. I’ve been using this time as a break from writing, and instead have decided to use my free minutes to dig into the stack of craft books that have been sneakily building themselves into a pile on my side table over the past year or so.
Here’s a short list of some of the best I have read, and what they have to offer:
By Matt Bell
Perhaps my favorite craft book of the year, this book (Soho Press, March 2022) breaks down the drafting process into three simple (*nervous laugh*) layers: the exploratory draft, the narrative draft, and the polishing draft. Packed with tips on how to approach each layer, Bell offers hard-won advice for which things to focus on when–and which things NOT to focus on until later on down the road. All told, it’s a great manual for moving from first draft to polished product without agonizing over little detail or getting caught in never-ending revision loops along the way.
By Meg Bowles, Catherine Burns, Jenifer Hixson, Sarah Austin Jenness, & Kate Tellers
Brought to you by the folks of The Moth Radio Hour, How to Tell a Story (Crown Publishing, April 2022) is less a true craft book and more of a series of essays written by storytellers–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t chock-full of excellent advice. It offers tips on how to mine stories from your own life and experiences, and write them in a way that’s sure to leave listeners (or readers!) leaning in for more. Packed with the show’s 25 years’ worth of wisdom, How to Tell a Story illustrates the ways in which our personal narratives hold power and connect us with the outside world.
By Matthew Salesses
This book (Catapult Books, Jan 2021) has been making waves in the writing community with its unapologetic reexamination of the traditional writing workshop and the ways in which it has historically centered certain writers. What makes this book special is that it deals with the critique process in particular, and discusses the way feedback received can help shape a writer’s body of work as well as their career, for better or for worse. It worries at the underpinnings on which the traditional writer’s workshop is built–questioning our willingness to wrangle with identity and perspective–and asking us to examine our goals as both writers and critiquers, and the ways in which we live or fail to live up to them.
By Melissa Febos
Part memoir, part craft book, Body Work (Catapult Books, March 2022) is a hard-hitting master class on approaching the psychological, emotional, and sometimes even physical (body) work of writing. This book is not for the faint of heart–Febos gets incredibly close and personal, giving writers permission to bare their own most intimate parts through personal narrative and encouraging them to explore the depths of their own experience through their writing. For those looking for writing-as-therapy advice as well as those looking to strengthen the connections they make with their audiences through audacious and even brutal honesty, Body Work is guaranteed to offer gem after gem of writing wisdom.
How about you? What are the best craft books you’ve read? Share your favorites–new or old–in the comments!