I’m not a big fan of self-help. I think it’s generally very predatory part of our industry, hanging like a vulture over the vulnerable and disillusioned. Most creative writing books are similar; self-help for the person more interested in being told what to do than writing. But over the years, first as a student and then as a teacher, I have read/assigned the occasional text or essay on craft. I prefer to assign actual poems over writing about poems, but when I do, I mostly try to keep things focused on the tools in the toolbox, not the mindset, yogafication, and “spiritual journey” stuff. I figure people have that down or they don’t, and they’re coming to me for the nitty-gritty files and awls of writing. So, for instance, I would 100% assign Fussell’s Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, but would steer clear of Poet X’s MFA-oriented cash-grab vanity work Finding Your Sacred Self in Each and Every Line You Channel From the Godhead Muse and Loving Yourself While You Do It. In the end, if you’re actually interested in reading someone else’s riffing on writing, my suggestion is you keep it to one or two books max (Guardian has suggestions), because like parenting books, they’ll all tell you something different and you’ll end up spending more time trying to decide which one to follow than you do trying to lead by actually writing.
Writers writing about writing can become a supercilious endeavour; I’m more interested in the process of making work and the writer’s perspectives that substantiate the framework.
There’s no single authority, anything is possible. All that’s required are some words and an idea – which makes the art of writing enticing but also difficult and daunting. The books listed below, diverse in their central arguments and genres, guide us towards more interesting and lateral ways to think about what we want to say, and ultimately, how we choose to say it.