Notes from the Masters: Writing Books by Famous Authors

man reading writing books
Image Courtesy of Shutterstock
When you buy something through our retail links, we may earn commission and the retailer may receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.

* Learning to write or improving your skills can be difficult
* Here are 6 writing manuals from award-winning authors
* Books include memoirs, writing exercises and visual aids

In J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter franchise, Albus Dumbledore says that words are our most inexhaustible source of magic. If you’ve ever read a poem that made you cry, a novel that inspired you or a short story that changed the way you see the world, you know exactly what he’s talking about. Words have the power to influence how people think, how they feel and how they act. By picking up a pen or sitting down at a computer to type, you can channel that power in any way you choose. But writing is not easy and becoming a writer involves learning technical skills, building up the habit of writing often and finding ways to come up with ideas.

If you want a little guidance on your journey to becoming a writer, there’s no one better to mentor you along the way than the people who have dedicated their lives to the craft. Don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to try to become the next Shakespeare – you don’t even have to show your work to anyone else. You just have to find a style that works for you. These writing books, all by award-winning authors, will teach you how to write everything from poetry to fantasy literature, and will provide expert tips, firsthand experiences in the publishing industry and writing exercises to hone your skills. Follow the lead of these literary masters and you’ll be harnessing the magic of writing in no time.

1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Arguably the most popular writing manual on the market right now (it has 4.4 out of 5 stars from a whopping 19,940 reviews on Amazon), Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft follows the prolific author’s journey from aspiring writer as a child to massive literary success as an adult. King lays out all of his writing habits, specific technical recommendations, and insights into navigating the publishing world. King writes with honesty, heart and humor, bringing up even painfully personal experiences from his past and making the reader feel like they’ve truly gained a mentor and a friend through his instruction.

Stephen King On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Image Courtesy of Amazon


2. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

New York Times bestseller Jeff VanderMeer, who has been a published author since he was 14, aims to provide the only imaginative fiction guide you’ll ever need with this compilation of artwork, exercises and instructional information. In this recently revised and expanded edition, VanderMeer takes a very visual approach to teaching fantasy with maps and renderings but also includes sidebars and essays from wildly successful authors like George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman and Lev Grossman. Reviewers say that this book is an absolute necessity for anyone interested in fantasy, even highly advanced writers.

Jeff VanderMeer Wonderbook Revised and Expanded Image Courtesy of Amazon


3. Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

Ray Bradbury, most often known for his renowned novel, Fahrenheit 451, presents 11 essays giving a background of his history and methods as an author as well as his advice for people who already have a passion for writing. Bradbury discusses the importance of finding your own voice, living life to the fullest and making time to write every single day – quantity leads to quality in Bradbury’s opinion. All of the essays were written before 1990, but reviewers ensure that Bradbury’s wisdom is timeless.

Ray Bradbury Zen in the Art of Writing Image Courtesy of Amazon


4. Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott, a California Hall of Fame inductee and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, knows what she’s talking about when it comes to writing. The bestselling novelist and non-fiction author of titles such as “Operating Instructions” and “Help, Thanks, Wow” gets honest about the effort it takes to pursue a passion of writing and the beauty that can be found in the struggle. Lamott urges readers to reject perfectionism and embrace messy first drafts through writing exercises. Bird by Bird explores topics like utilizing personal pain in writing, overcoming writer’s block, finding a community of fellow writers and dealing with criticism. Fans of the book appreciate Lamott’s self-deprecating humor and the life lessons she provides through personal anecdotes.

Anne Lamott Bird by Bird Image Courtesy of Amazon


5. Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse

National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver believed poetry shouldn’t be fancy, but rather accessible. Oliver, who recently passed away at age 83, breaks poetry down to its simplest form to help you understand the often-confusing technical aspects of the art. If you’re interested in writing metered verse, or just looking to understand it better, Oliver makes it easy and, readers say, provides some great tools for personal growth through writing as well.

Mary Oliver Rules for the Dance Image Courtesy of Amazon


6. Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice

Don’t let the title fool you, this collection of 52 honest and inspirational essays is for anyone interested in writing, regardless of age. Colum McCann, National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin and professor of creative writing at Hunter College, uses humor to make this book feel like reading letters from an old friend who just happens to be giving great advice, and a call to action, about writing. Colum discusses breaking through writer’s block, finding the best ways to harness inspiration, writing what you don’t know rather than what you do, and a multitude of other topics to encourage readers to stop being scared and start writing.

Colum McCann Letters to a Young Writer Image Courtesy of Amazon


The 8 Best Gifts for Bookworms & Writers (Besides Books)