9 Dog-Eared Books on Writing

by | Jun 20, 2014 | Books, Writing

Last April, while attending Jumping Tandem: The Retreat, I listened to Michelle DeRusha’s talk on writing and I don’t remember looking at her. Eyes were locked onto the notebook in my lap, my hand pushing ink fast on the pages. She was piquing my interest. My ears were doing some good work.

While Michelle shared her experience as a journalist and author, engaging conversation through writing prompts, my friend Lynn leaned into my shoulder and whispered, “Do you have that book she just mentioned.”

“No, I’m unfamiliar with that one,” I responded, shaking my head.

I wrote down the title and then something extraordinary happened.

After the workshop ended and the room swelled with conversation, Lynn turned to me and said, “Wait here a minute, I have something I want to give you.”

She came back with a gift-wrapped package from her suitcase. Something she’d picked out weeks earlier and carried from Missouri to Nebraska. It was the book Michelle mentioned in her talk, The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. It is now one of my favorites and has a permanent place on my writing desk.

And this is how I feel about books on writing. Each one is divinely appointed for a specific season or particular moment in my writing journey. They all hold unique voice and broad perspective when I’m stuck in a port hole. And most important, each one inspires creative growth.

I’m sharing books on writing that I return to often like wearing an old sweatshirt in air conditioning. Many are dog-eared and tattered and so comfortable, I can’t wait to sink into them.


The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

Helpful, down-to-earth, full with creative thought and practical exercises. I took her advice of an artist date and it ended up being a divine appointment.

Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle

This is a mainstay in my suitcase every summer when we travel to our cottage in Canada. I learn something new every time I read it. Her wisdom, honesty and insight are timeless and good reminders.

The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett

Kate Morton, one of my favorite fiction writers, recommended this one. She told me it was a quick read but worth it. And of course, she was right. Psst, it’s only $2.99 on Kindle.

The Memoir Project by Marion Smith Roach

I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve read this. It’s my absolute favorite, most helpful book on writing memoir. She is a genius, perhaps that’s why she’s made a career of teaching those who write in the genre.

Rumors of Water by L.L Barkat

I read this in two days, couldn’t put it down.  Barkat’s voice is hauntingly unique in a way that endears you to her stories and inspires you to write. Perhaps that why the subtitle is Thoughts on Creativity and Writing, ya think?

Writing About Your Life and On Writing Well by William Zinsser

When I was hired as a feature writer before I knew how to write features, I immediately bought On Writing Well and read it from cover to cover. It was my first “text book” on writing non-fiction and I still revisit the content seven years later. Writing About Your Life is an insightful, thought-provoking read on writing memoir, I highly recommend it.

Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott

I think almost every writer I know has this one on the top of their stack. I’m re-reading it now with new eyes. Her blunt honesty and self-deprecating humor about the highs and lows of writing is continually relevant and inspiring.

On Writing by Stephen King

It was this book that inspired me to make writing a discipline, not an afterthought or something I fit into the cracks of my schedule. While I’ve never read any of his books because I don’t like stories that make me fearful, King’s memoir on the craft gives an authentic glimpse into the essence of a writer that brings helpful perspective.

Join me next week for my favorite books on Sabbath. For previous posts in other genres check out these links:

Fiction — 8 Books I Can’t Put Down

Non-fiction – 12 Authors Who Influence Me

Memoir – 8 Memorable Memoirs that Move Me

What titles would you add to this list of books on writing?

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  1. Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    I haven’t read too many books on writing – I think it’s because I’m afraid I’ll somehow “spook” myself if I look too closely at what I’m doing. When I do read them, though, it feels like finding parts of myself I lost somewhere – I guess I must read them looking for understanding about what it is to BE a writer rather than HOW to write. Thankyou for sharing your list, Shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      I know what you mean about being spooked Kelly, its why I shy away from writing conferences. But I haven’t found that with books, I’m usually inspired by them instead of intimidated. Hopefully God will lead you to the ones that encourage your writing gift.

  2. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Shelly, I just finished Annie Dillard’s ‘The Writing Life’, serendipitously found on the $1.00 shelf at a friend’s church. Underlined a BUNCH in there. Also, Phyllis Theroux’s ‘The Journal Keeper’ is a thoughtful reference. Phyllis is the person who said that ‘journals are a place to collect the light’ (Poets and Writers Magazine, umpty some years ago.) I named my blog Three Way Light because of that. (p.s. Margaret Roach, Marion’s sister, is a garden writer formerly of Martha magazine, who published ‘I Shall Have Some Peace There’–not exactly a writing book, per se, but powerful. Those sisters are gifted!) Will add Marion’s to my ‘to buy’ list.
    So many books, so little time……….

    • Shelly Miller

      I got The Writing Life at the used bookstore in my town a few years ago, like that one too. I didn’t realize Marion has a sister who writes too, sheesh, they got an overdose of gifts as writers huh? Thanks for sharing that.

  3. Diane Bailey

    Okay I have ordered five of them, and the rest I’ve already read. I really need this. I feel so stuck with writing right now. Maybe these books will light a fire under me. Thank you for the recommendations.

    • Shelly Miller

      FIVE!!! Oh my goodness. I hope they are each an inspiration and encouragement to you Diane. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Lynn D. Morrissey

    What fun to read this, Shelly. I just *knew* that you would love Cameron’s book! I’m so glad that it met you in a significant way. I loved it when I read it, and thought of you before heading off to dreaming in Nebraska. I’m so glad that BN had one copy, which I swooped up just in time. I think you would also love her book on writing calledThe Sound of Paper. Of course, most know Cameron for The Artist’s Way (which I’ve had for years, but never get around to reading, somehow). But you are so right: God puts in our path the books we need when we need them. . . and the friends, too. I know He put you in my path in the most serendipitous way for a reason . . . many reasons, really. I love you! You always inspire me!
    PS It’s late; but hopefully, I can honor your request tomorrow, and list some other books on writing that God has placed in my path! I love when you share these books with your readers.

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh, I’ll have to look into the Sound of Paper Lynn, that sounds good. You always have great advice!

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