4 Writing Craft Books that Changed My Life

Like many of you, I'm a self-taught writer. My degrees are in a whole different field, and I never took a writing class while I was in college. So I have gotten my education through conferences and critique groups and my agent/editors -- and books. Here are four that revolutionized my writing life at the time I found them.

1. STEIN ON WRITING by Sol Stein
I found this book when I was revising with an editor my first novel for children: LEAVING GEE'S BEND. This book taught me about suspense, and how you can strengthen your characters by giving them dialogue tags. In the chapter devoted to "Show-Don't Tell," I finally understood exactly what that means, and how to do it in my own writing.

2. SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder
This book is for screenwriters, so it is very visual. It taught me to plot my own novels in scenes. And it gave me perhaps the greatest outlining tool ever known: The Beat Sheet. I use this on every project now. It's the most basic way to help you know where your story starts, and where you're headed.

I found this book at a time when I was really struggling. I had written a number of novels, and none of them had sold. I was questioning everything about my writing life. When I got to the pages early in the book about premise, and how to "write a book that will change your life," I might have wept with gratitude. These were the words I needed to hear. This was the direction I so desperately needed. Since then I have written and sold at least five new books!

4. WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron
This book is my most recent find. Some important things clicked for me when I was reading this book -- particularly about stories needing to be about the character - that the CHARACTER must drive the plot. And also about how the reader doesn't care much about "well written." The reader wants intrigue! It suggests (among so many other things!) that we shift our focus a bit, and start by letting the reader know right from the start that something's rotten in the state of Denmark. Most importantly, this book has given me the courage to give that manuscript that I've written oh about 978 times another go.

Has there been a life-changing writing craft book in your life? If so, please share in comments!

p.s. Happy National Poetry Month! Join the celebration.

IRENE LATHAM is the author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming books, including two novels for children Leaving Gee's Bend and Don't Feed the Boy. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, her poetry books for children include Dear Wandering Wildebeest, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica, Fresh Delicious and Can I Touch Your Hair? (co-written with Charles Waters). Irene lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her family where she does her best to “live her poem” every single day by laughing, playing the cello, and walking in the woods. irenelatham.com


  1. For me, the change-my-writing book was Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. The dialogue chapter alone was worth ten times the book's cost.

  2. Great list! Haven't read all of these, so off to download on my kindle!

  3. A great one for tapping into creativity in various ways is ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN by Elizabeth Berg. Great recipes included as well.

  4. Thanks for sharing how these books hit home for you! I go back and forth with using "Second Sight, by Cheryl B. Klein. I have to check out her latest book also.

  5. LOVED WIRED FOR STORY, and I'm reading ANATOMY OF STORY right now.

  6. Just ordered THE ANATOMY OF STORY. I want to write a book that will change my life!


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