Pause, Read, Repeat: A Few Craft Books to Enhance Your Writing Life

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:

Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts

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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.

How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth

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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.

Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping

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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.

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative

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!

8 comments

  1. I pick up the Moth’s How to tell a story every now and then. I always find a gem that sticks in my thoughts.

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  2. Thank you for these titles. I’ve put three of them on hold from my local library. In case anyone would like an additional title, I really like “Get it Done” by Sam Bennett. The premise is that you can get a lot of creative work done by working just a few minutes a day.

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  3. I loved Stephen King’s book on writing. But I recently heard that we need to follow our gut and not try too hard to follow “rules”. I like craft books to get inspired! Thanks for sharing, Rebecca.

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  4. They all sound great. I really want to read the first and third ones. Thank you so much for bringing them to my attention, Rebecca!

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  5. Thanks for reading, Laura! All of these books have been interesting, but I found the first by Matt Bell to be SO HELPFUL!

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  6. Rebecca, thank you for sharing this very interesting list of craft books and giving us a helpful description of each!

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