I keep three books (besides a dictionary and an old Roget’s thesaurus) near at hand when writing.  These are the three I reach for when the words become a slog, when I lack inspiration, or when my self-confidence flags.


The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Discovering this book a few years ago was an epiphany — a bolt from the blue that served as an explanation for some of my worst habits, in terms I could easily understand.  Pressfield laid out the wily foe all artists and creative sorts face and gave it a name: Resistance.  The enemy is us, our subconscious, and we can only push through the minefield it has prepared for us by hardening our resolve and doing the work.  I go to this book a great deal, sometimes daily.


The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

I don’t really gravitate toward “nuts-and-bolts” writing books, books that show you how to write the actual words.  I prefer those that delve into the psychology of the writing mind.  That try to put into words the why behind writing.  This one does it in spades, and with a very keen and observant eye.  Ms. Lerner has been an editor and an agent and a writer herself.  She can describe what perhaps makes us tick, and the last part of the book is a wealth of information on what happens AFTER the sale.  I recommend this one highly.


The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard

Wait-a-minute!  This isn’t a book on writing!  No . . . and yes.  REH’s iconic barbarian, Conan, is one of the cornerstones of modern fantasy; these stories, written in the 1930s, range from rough gems to polished diadems that are the pinnacle of the fantasist’s art.  From these tales, I learned — and continue to learn — how to spin a good yarn, how to use language and imagery to effect, how to craft fight scenes, how to use dialogue.  In short, this is my go-to book for the nuts-and-bolts of writing.

What three books do you keep handy?


2 thoughts on “Three Books

  1. Besides the OED:
    “The War of Art” is almost always in the back of my mind, and I have it (and 100+ other titles) on my kindle, which I keep nearby. But, I don’t keep a hard copy with me.

    That said, I keep a couple in two locations. When I can write at my desk (which is the lesser of my writing times) The three nearest books are: “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles” translated and collated by Anne Savage, “Zen in the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury, and “Rebel Without a Crew” by Robert Rodriguez. When I’m in bed (where I do most of my writing, unfortunately) I have 2 REH books on my nightstand: “The Conquering Sword of Conan,” and “The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane” (who is my favorite Howard character), and “Stein on Writing” by Sol Stein.

    These are books I have at hand, not the list of writing books I feel opened my eyes the most. Those would be “Character and Viewpoint” by Orsoin Scott Card, “Writing the Blockbuster Novel” by Al Zuckerman, and David Farland’s “Daily Kick in the Pants” e-mails. I haven’t read the “Forest for the Trees”, thous I bought it when you first recommended to me. I’m reading four research books, two novels for myself and one to my youngest child, and listening to James Clavell’s “Tai Pan” on audiobook.

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