It’s Never Too Late to Learn Something New

I’ve been writing novels for a long time now. I can say that I’ve learned how to write a novel and I’ve learned how to meet a deadline.

But I get stuck. I lose my way even though I have an outline. I have to rewrite. I struggle sometimes with imagery and just plain bad writing. And I sometimes lose confidence. I have accepted that these things are just part of the job.

I’ve also discovered over the years that when I’m feeling doubtful about my writing it helps to go read a book on writing craft, or storytelling, or character development and try out new techniques or new processes. Going back to basics and/or learning something new frees me from self-doubt and the writing doldrums.

So, since we’re in the midst of the Winter Writing Festival, and I figure lots of you are struggling with self-doubt, have lost your way, or are stuck on a scene, it might be helpful to provide a list of great books on the craft of storytelling and writing.

Below you’ll find a list of my favorite books on the craft of writing. Some of these books changed my life. Others are used all the time as I plot or troubleshoot.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler

The book discusses mythic structure and the hero’s journey as first outlined by Joseph Campbell. My take: This was the first book I ever read on story structure and it was an enormous eye-opener. It probably should be on every novelists shelf. But, a word of caution, romance authors will be left scratching their heads. The hero’s journey explains a lot of stories out there, and a lot of popular movies, but it doesn’t work for romance novels.



The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening by Kim Hudson (with a forward by Christopher Vogler)

This book discusses fairytale structure and can be viewed as a companion book to the Writer’s Journey. My take: I’ve been waiting for this book for years. It was published in 2010 and it discusses stories that don’t fit mythic hero’s journey structure (like romances!) If you’re writing stories about characters learning to live a fulfilled life, then this book will help you understand that structure. I truly think every romance author should own this book and study it.


Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack M. Bickham

This book discusses scene and sequel structure. My take: This is a book that will help you improve pacing, regardless of what kind of genre you may be writing. The book focuses on thrillers and suspense novels, but romance authors can get a lot out of it as well.




Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

This is a seminal book that provides hands-on help in crafting three-dimensional characters and understanding what people mean when they talk about conflict in a story. My take: This book changed my life. Seriously. I had no idea what conflict was, and I kept writing stories that got rejected with the words “no conflict” written all over them. If you have been told that your manuscript is lacking in conflict, you should read this book.



Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas

Written by a well-known literary agent, Donald Mass’ workbook provides advice and exercises to make your novel stand out in a crowd. My take: The exercises in this workbook are so useful, whether you are trying to fix a scene you’ve already written, or plot a novel from start to finish. The exercises are also very useful during brainstorming sessions with other writers. A lot of the questions I ask during the WWF brainstorming sessions on Wednesday mornings come right out of this workbook.


Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K Le Guin

Beloved author and poet Ursula K. Le Guin provides her take on the craft of writing. My Take: If you’ve ever read one of Le Guin’s books, you know that she writes beautifully. Her book on writing craft (including such issues as comma placement) was utterly liberating for me.

These are my go-to books when I’m looking for inspiration or when I’m stuck. What books on craft or storytelling are on your shelves?

13 responses to “It’s Never Too Late to Learn Something New”

  1. Thanks for the great book list, Hope! I see some reading in my future. 🙂
    My current favorite writing book is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. It talks about what’s actually happening in your brain when you’re lost in a story, the evolutionary purpose of story, and how writers can tap into that to engage readers.

  2. There’s some real keepers here, Hope and Ava. I also enjoyed Steven James’s Story Trumps Structure. It’s a Pantser’s guidebook, and I loved it.

  3. Rita Henuber says:

    I do love my craft books. You’ve listed two of my favorites GMC and The Breakout Novel. Here are some of mine.
    Hooked by Les Edgerton help understanding those all-important page and chapter hooks.
    How I Write by Janet Evanovich has basic and easier to understand info for the new author.
    James Scott Bell has several very good books and he shares a lot of info on his web page.
    102 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes and Who Dares Wins by Bob Meyer.
    Any of the instruction books by Mary Buckham are very good for the bones of writing.
    Larry Brooks is another who has a wonderful web page,, that he shares a boat load of writing info.

  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    Great list, Hope! I think Dixon’s “GMC” is essential reading, and I second Rita’s recommendations for Bob Mayer’s “Who Dares Wins” and anything/everything by James Scott Bell.

    I also consult Larry Brooks’s “Story Engineering” and Angela Knight’s “Passionate Ink: A Guide to Writing Erotic Romance” over and over again. Despite the title, I find Knight’s book to be an awesome general romance writing primer. There’s also a great segment on writing fight scenes!

    Can’t wait to see which books others find valuable!

  5. Vivi Andrews says:

    I haven’t read many craft books, but I probably should read many more. 🙂 Great list, Hope. Thank you!

  6. Thanks, Hope. That’s a great list along with the other suggestions. I have several of those books, but it reminded me that I need to pull them out and read them again.

  7. Elisa Beatty says:

    Goal, Motivation, Conflict was certainly HUGE one for me.

    I want to check out the Mythic Journey book, too…I find Joseph Campbell’s theory fascinating.

    I could definitely use something mind-clarifying right now.


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