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Amy LeTourneur

Five Must-Have Books for Writers

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Mr. Hemingway said it best: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” As a writer who’s only a few years into the journey, I find it oddly comforting to know that even Ernest Hemingway, arguably one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, never felt like he had it all figured out.

Writers, especially new writers, must always keep learning and growing in their knowledge. Since I started studying writing, I’ve read well over a dozen books on the craft. A couple of them were a waste of time (and money), most were helpful (or at least interesting), but a handful of them were pure gold. Today, I’m going to share the cream of the crop with you as I tell you my top five must-have books for writers.

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And the winners are…


The Art of War for Writers – James Scott Bell


Bestselling author James Scott Bell has written several amazing writing books, but The Art of War for Writers is my favorite. This book is as much about the craft of writing as it is how to be a writer, making it an invaluable resource for new writers of any genre.

Though it’s one of the smaller books on the shelf, don’t let it’s diminutive size fool you; this book is packed full of useful information, writing tips and strategies, and short exercises to get your brain juices flowing. The font is pretty small, so if you’re past a certain age, have your reading glasses at the ready. 😉

The Art of War for Writers is separated into 77 bite-sized chapters. With chapter headings ranging from “The key to reader bonding is falling in love with the Lead” to “In the hunt for an agent, take aim at more than one,” this book offers advice and insight from one of America’s best authors. (And I feel the need to point out that the choice not to capitalize all of the words in the headings was Mr. Bell’s, not mine. #hardcoregrammarnerd)

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success – K.M. Weiland

When my kids were young, I dabbled in writing stories, but I was never able to actually finish one, partly because I was a busy, homeschooling mom of four and party because I knew next to nothing about plotting and outlining a novel. So when I started writing again in 2016, my first serious attempt to write a book was a qualified disaster, lacking anything remotely resembling a plot, a hook, or a theme.

So when the time came to revise my first draft, I knew I needed help. I found K.M. (Katie) Weiland’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, through a Google search, and her weekly posts – which focused largely on plot points, character development, and theme – were eye-opening for me.

Just days after discovering Katie’s blog, I purchased Outlining Your Novel, and I am so glad I did. Her emphasis on the importance of the novel’s theme to the entire plot had me pulling my hair out for weeks, but she was right: nailing down my theme was the key to creating a cohesive plot for my novel and led it in an entirely new direction.

And if you like the book, you can also purchase the companion Outlining Your Novel Workbook or the Outlining Your Novel software program, available for both PC and Mac. Both guide you step by step through Katie’s outlining process. And definitely go check out Katie’s blog! She is one smart cookie, and she goes WAY more in-depth about plotting than I ever will here.

BONUS: Structuring Your Novel : Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story – K.M. Weiland

To me, this book and the outlining book go hand in hand. I started with Outlining Your Novel then moved on to Structuring Your Novel. There is also a companion Structuring Your Novel Workbook to guide you through the process.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction – Donald Maass

As Mr. Maass says, “If you want to write strong fiction, you must make your readers feel.” And with this book, he teaches you exactly how to do that. With a blend of his teaching, examples from literature, and thirty-four “Emotional Mastery” writing exercises, this book will help you tap into the emotion in your writing.

Does the phrase “writing exercise” bring joy to your heart? Or does it make you groan?

It makes me groan. Loudly. I hated school. (#ADDbrain, remember?) But, trust me, you do not want to skip the writing exercises in this book. I can’t overstate how much The Emotional Craft of Fiction improved my writing. Within the first three exercises, this book had me writing stuff that brought tears to my eyes as I proofread it. Mr. Maass not only gives you permission to tap into those deep emotions (all the better to pluck at your readers’ heartstrings, my dear), but he also teaches you how to do it.  

If you want to write novels that make your readers feel all the things, then this book is a must.

The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction – Jeff Gerke

Writing a novel is hard enough; writing one for a Christian audience is even harder. And if you’re writing a novel with an underlying Christian message for the general market…whew, honey, you need this book!

Christians are all called to minister to others. Some of us are called to minister to those within the Christian community, and some are called to minister to those outside of it. If writing is the way you express your calling – regardless of which audience you’re drawn to – then this book is perfect for you. 

Much of the book focuses on the craft of writing, but it also covers topics such as: understanding your calling as a Christian author, the profanity debate in Christian publishing, glorifying God without getting “preachy,” how to handle profane characters and situations, and more.

If you’re a Christian writer, then The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction is a must-read!

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

I own four of the six guides in the “Thesaurus” series, but The Emotion Thesaurus is the one I keep at my fingertips at all times as I write. I’m not kidding; if I take my laptop downstairs to write on the couch, this book comes with me!

This guide is an invaluable resource for those who want to “show” rather than “tell” (and if you’re not sure…you do!). The thesaurus opens with a couple of chapters explaining character emotion, psychology, and “show vs. tell.” You may be tempted to skip this part, but I recommend you read it through because it offers some really good insight. The book then moves into the main section, which includes one hundred and thirty emotions along with dozens of internal and physical responses for each, so you’ll easily find one that’s just right for your scene.  

NOTE: In my research for this post, I discovered that this is the 2nd edition of this guide, and the list of emotions has almost doubled. If you own the 1st edition, you know how valuable this resource is, so consider upgrading to the latest edition. Mine is in my Amazon cart as I type this! 

BONUS: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi can be invaluable when you’re creating your characters. Featuring dozens of emotional wounds – everything from being the victim of a rumor to causing the death of a child – The Emotional Wound Thesaurus explains the psychological effects of each wound as well as how they influence a character’s behaviors, motivations, and more. With this guide, you’ll be able to choose just the right wound for your character – and your story – in no time. While The Emotion Thesaurus is my top pick of the series, this one is a close second.

To be continued…

Well, there you have it: my top five must-have books on writing. These picks come straight from my own bookshelves, but there are many more writing books on my Amazon wish list that are clamoring to join my library. So as I purchase and study them, I’ll be sure to let you know if I find any more gems like the ones above.

Do you have a favorite writing book? Leave a comment below to tell me what you recommend. I’d love to check it out! 


PS: Thank you for joining me for launch week of Work in Progress! Beginning next week, I will be posting every Wednesday. If you subscribe to the email list, you’ll get an email reminder on Wednesday morning with an excerpt from the post.

PPS: And how could I forget the giveaway?? The giveaway closes tonight (July 17, 2020) at midnight, and entries will be counted over the weekend. If you have not confirmed your email address through the confirmation email that was sent when you subscribed, then your entry has not been counted yet! Please check your junk folder for an email either from “ConvertKit” or from headzookeeper@live.com. Then just click the link and your subscription will be confirmed.

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