Five Unexpectedly Valuable Books for Writers

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Writers are expected to read a certain type of books. Beyond reading within their own genres, there are writing guides that seemingly every writer has read and raved about. (Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is amazing, but I’ve read it a few times!)

There are so many other wonderful, thoughtful books for writers available to us, though. There is so much more to discover! I thought I would share some of the books that have been helpful to me on my journey as a writer.

Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen

I first read this book in one of my college acting classes (theatre major, y’all.) I  immediately saw it as a book for writers. Hagen’s book is based on her acting studio classes. She teaches emotional and sense memory as ways to connect to characters. Respect for Acting gave me a way to understand my own characters in a way that writing classes hadn’t. If you are interested, some of Uta Hagen’s acting classes are available to watch on YouTube.

The Reason I Jump By Naoki Higashida, translated by K.A. Yoshida and David Mitchell

the reason i jump book cover by naoki higashida

In writing fiction, you must put aside yourself to step into the heart of another. Research and empathy make this possible. The Reason I Jump is part FAQ, part memoir of 13-year-old Naoki Higashida, who was diagnosed with autism at age 5.

With great tenderness, Higashida shares his observations of his world, and how it works for him. For a writer wanting to find voice or thought pattern different from their own, this book is an incredible read.

The Writer’s Tale: the Final Chapter by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook

Yes, “writer” is in the title, but this is not exactly a book for writers.  The Writer’s Tale is a conglomerate of emails, cartoons, text messages, and half-finished scripts between journalist Benjamin Cook and former Doctor Who show runner Russell T. Davies. Their correspondence covers Davies’s final year writing and producing the show. This book gives a humorous and inspiring account on the ins and outs of writing for television. For Doctor Who fans, The Writer’s Tale is an invaluable backstage pass.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

between the world and me

This is a vital book for white American writers. Written as a letter from father to son, the book covers Coates’s experience of growing up as a black man in America. From drawing parallels in history to sharing his own terror growing up poor, Coates’s writing is brutal and poetic. To be able to read this book is a mark of safety, of privilege. As a writer, understanding your own privilege is part of becoming a better, more empathetic writer.

The Dream Dictionary From A to Z by Theresa Cheung

I think most dream dictionaries will work perfectly for this purpose, but Cheung’s is one I happen to own. My plethora of strange and structured dreams were the motivation for buying this dictionary, but it soon became part of my writing process.  The dictionary is made of symbols that are found in folklore and mythology, and have been written about by Freud and Jung. Whether you are writing about dreams or using imagery, a quick understanding of symbols can help you in your research.  I love being able to quickly scan through image ideas to see where they lead.

Looking for more structured writing help? Check out the Best Books for Writers and 100 Must Read Books on Writing and The Writer’s Life!