Writing has always been part of my life. As a child, my journey began with writing short stories about family summer vacations. As a teenager, I kept a journal for many years, writing about friendships. Today, I am grateful it is a daily part of my life teaching English and working on a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. But I also spend substantial time working on my creative writing. Whether our passion is technical writing, copywriting, creative writing or something else, as writers, we never stop improving our craft. Over the years, I have found this small stack of books to be incredibly useful in the pursuit of writing. I hope you find them helpful too.
1. “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser
Many years ago, when I finished college, I was still looking for ways to improve my writing. During an afternoon of Google searching, I came across Zinsser’s book. I immediately ordered a copy and read it on my subway commute to and from work in Midtown. The one good thing about taking three trains was having a lot of time to read.
Although this book was first published in 1976, it is current, addressing changes in the writing world and making it relevant today. If you want to learn more about writing nonfiction, Zinsser — a lifelong journalist — offers some very sound advice in a tone that I found to be warm and friendly. I learned a lot from him about words, usage, style and different types of nonfiction writing. William Zinsser passed away in 2015, a few years after I read his book. But he remains immortal through his words, leaving the next generation of writers with invaluable advice. His classic guide is timeless and something we can all learn from.
2. “The Faith of a Writer” by Joyce Carol Oats
Joyce Carol Oats, or as I call her, JCO, has been one of my favorite authors since my late teenage years. Her frequently anthologized short story, “Where Are you Going? Where Have You Been?” has left such an impression on me that I still think about it twenty years later. I’ve read several of her books and am in awe of her writing and imagination. Naturally, when I came across her book, “The Faith of a Writer,” about ten years ago, I had to read it. Who wouldn’t want a glimpse into the private writing life of their favorite author? In a collection of essays, she elegantly writes about what makes a story striking and where she finds inspiration. Perhaps I am biased as a super fan, but I think everything she writes is brilliant.
3. “Writer’s Market 100th Edition: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published” by Robert Lee Brewer
In 2020, a fellow MFA student in a fiction writing course suggested picking up a copy of “Writer’s Market.” I’m very happy I took his advice. This big book of nearly 1,000 pages is a highly reliable source for anything and everything a writer will need. It even includes advice on how to format a query letter and a chapter explaining how much to charge as a freelance writer. The pay rate chart continues for several pages breaking jobs down by the hour, project, and industry. This valuable source contains information about where to submit your work and how. Other editions focus on fiction and literary agents for those more interested in creative writing. This trusted guide has been around for over a century — you can’t beat that.
4. “The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field” Edited by Tara L. Masih
During graduate school, I looked further into my shelved writing books and found another excellent source written by various experts in the field. “The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction” offers some interesting prompts, such as one based on the Rorschach Test. There are several steps involved, but the overall goal is to generate a list of images associated with an inkblot created by you. The writing assignment is to draft a flash fiction story using those images and words. Sounds challenging, right? It is, but it’s also fun.
What I like about this book is that it offers an example of a flash fiction story, an essay by the author, and a writing exercise for you to practice. If flash fiction isn’t your thing, Rose Metal Press has also published books on prose poetry and flash nonfiction.
5. “The Freelancer’s Bible” by Sara Horowitz with Toni Sciarra Poynter
I initially read “The Freelancer’s Bible” for a required business class I took while working on my MFA degree. Yet, since then, I have used this book as a road map leading me to a new career that is growing into a small business. This book often reads like a friend offering professional, no-nonsense advice. Even if you aren’t new to the freelancing world, “The Freelancer’s Bible” is filled with suggestions for building your business, such as figuring out taxes, insurance, and all the other intricacies of self-employment. If you are interested in working as a freelance writer, I highly suggest picking up a copy of this informative guide.
There is so much to know about writing; it is an endless journey that extends way beyond school. These books have been like a small group of friends who have helped me along the way, teaching me, encouraging me and giving me the confidence to pursue a lifelong dream.
Jennifer Ward is a writer from Brooklyn, New York. She is working on her debut novel and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree at Southern New Hampshire University. While in the MFA program, she worked as a graduate teaching assistant supporting students in English Composition II. Ward graduated from SUNY, Empire State College with a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master of Arts in Teaching. For nearly a decade, she has taught English classes at a public school in Brooklyn. Learn more at jennifermarieward.com.