10 Books on Writing by Women Authors — for Everyone

Writing down the bones and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg

Here are 10 books on writing by women writers — informative, instructive, and inspiring. They’re not necessarily written by women for women — in other words, they’re for anyone needing a dose of inspiration and advice for their writing lives.

But, since these books are written from women’s perspectives, that ensures plenty of compassion, patience, and even humor. If you like this post, you may enjoy exploring our treasure trove of writing advice from classic women authors.

Since this is my site, after all, I’ll start with the 2023 audiobook edition of Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life, revised and updated. The 2011 book is out of print but can still be found in libraries and online. 

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Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life
by Nava Atlas

Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life audiobook cover

From the publisher: Author and artist Nava Atlas presents a treasury of intimate glimpses into the unfolding creative writing process across fifteen brilliant careers in women’s literature and relates their stories to women writers of today.

Through their journals, letters, and diaries, we get to know the struggles and triumphs of Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Gwendolyn Brooks, Octavia E. Butler, Willa Cather, Madeleine LEngle, Edna Ferber, Zora Neale Hurston, L.M. Montgomery, Anais Nin, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf.

Atlas’s own insightful commentary, newly updated, lifts the curtain on these women’s writing lives and provides reassuring tips and advice on such subjects as finding your voice, self-discipline, dealing with rejection, money matters, balancing family with the solitary writing process, and more. This guide will resonate with women writers in today’s world, at any stage of their journey.

Available on AudibleApple, and wherever audiobooks can be downloaded

PLEASE NOTE: When this  title is purchased from Audible, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

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Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

From the Publisher: With insight, humor, and practicality, Natalie Goldberg inspires writers and would-be writers to take the leap into writing skillfully and creatively.

She offers suggestions, encouragement, and solid advice on many aspects of the writer’s craft:

On writing from “first thoughts” (keep your hand moving, don’t cross out, just get it on paper), on listening (writing is ninety percent listening; the deeper you listen, the better you write), on using verbs (verbs provide the energy of the sentence), on overcoming doubts (doubt is torture; don’t listen to it)—even on choosing a restaurant in which to write.

Goldberg sees writing as a practice that helps writers comprehend the value of their lives. The advice in her book, provided in short, easy-to-read chapters with titles that reflect the author’s witty approach (“Writing Is Not a McDonald’s Hamburger,” “Man Eats Car,” “Be an Animal”), will inspire anyone who writes—or who longs to. (—from the publisher)

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Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life
by Natalie Goldberg

Wild Mind by Natalie Goldber

From the publisher: Another writing classic by Natalie Goldberg, author of the bestselling Writing Down The Bones , teaches a method  of writing that can take you beyond craft to the  true source of creative power: The mind that is  ‘raw, full of energy, alive and  hungry.’

From the publisher: Here is compassionate, practical, and often  humorous advice about how to find time to write,  how to discover your personal style, how to make  sentences come alive, and how to overcome  procrastination and writer’s block — including more than  thirty provocative ‘Try this’ exercises to  get your pen moving.

And here also  is a larger vision of the writer’s task:  balancing daily responsibilities with a commitment to  writing; knowing when to take risks as a writer and a  human being; coming to terms with success and  failure and loss; and learning self-acceptance — both  in life and art.

Wild Mind will change your way of writing. It  may also change your life. 

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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

bird by bird - Anne Lamott

From the publisher: Think you’ve got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn’t afraid to help you let it out. She’ll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication.

Readers of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life will be seduced by Lamott’s witty take on the reality of a writer’s life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer’s block and going for broke with each paragraph.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day.

We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my  brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.'”

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Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas

The Literary Ladies' Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas

Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life: Inspiration and Advice from Celebrated Women Authors Who Paved the Way is how the website you’re on got started! 

Nava Atlas explores what it is like to live the writing life through the journals, letters, and diaries of twelve celebrated women writers, including such renowned authors as Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Anaïs Nin, George Sand, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf.

Nava’s own insightful commentary lifts the curtain on these women’s lives and provides reassuring tips and advice on such subjects as dealing with rejection, money matters, and balancing family with the solitary writing process that will resonate with women writers in todays world. With 100+ vintage photos, illustrations, and ephemera, this book is a splendid gift book for writers.

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Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose

From the publisher: Long before there were creative-writing workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries, says Francine Prose.

In Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the work of the very best writers—Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov — and discovers why their work has endured.

She takes pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is deeply moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot‘s Middlemarch.

She looks to John Le Carré for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue, to Flannery O’Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail, and to James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield for clever examples of how to employ gesture to create character.

She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted. Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer  will inspire readers to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart. 



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One Year to a Writing Life by Susan M. Tiberghien

One year to a writing life

From the publisher:  Whether you are a writer of fiction or essays, or want to explore poetry or memoir, Susan M. Tiberghien’s twelve fundamental lessons will help you discover and develop your own distinct voice.

Tiberghien’s inventive exercises focus on the processes unique to each genre, while also offering skills applicable to any kind of writing, from authentic dialogue to masterful short-shorts.

With vivid examples from literary masters such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Eduardo Galeano, May Sarton, Terry Tempest Williams, and Orhan Pamuk, One Year to a Writing Life is an essential guidebook of exercises, practical advice, and wisdom for anyone looking to embrace, explore, and implement creativity in everyday life. (— from the publisher)

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The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

By Jane Steinberg: Annie Dillard has spent a lot of time in remote, bare-bones shelters doing something she claims to hate: writing. Slender though it is, The Writing Life richly conveys the torturous, tortuous, and in rare moments, transcendent existence of the writer. Even for Dillard, whose prose is so mellifluous as to seem effortless, the act of writing can seem a Sisyphean task:

“When you write,” she says, “you lay out a line of words … Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow or this time next year.”

Amid moving accounts of her own writing (and life) experiences, Dillard also manages to impart wisdom to other writers, wisdom having to do with passion and commitment and taking the work seriously.

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place…. Something more will arise for later, something better.”

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Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

From the publisher:  Even in 1934, Dorothea Brande knew that most writers didn’t need another book on “technique” — and this, before so many more would be published.

No, she realized, as John Gardner notes in his foreword:

“The root problems of the writer are personality problems,” and thus her wise book is designed to simply help you get over yourself and start writing, with techniques ranging from a simple declaration to write every day at a fixed time — no matter what — to exercises that come close to inventing the TM and self-actualization movements that would follow a few decades later. 

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If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

If you want to write by Brenda Ueland

From the publisher:  For most, the hardest part of writing is overcoming the mountain of self-denial that weighs upon the spirit, always threatening to extinguish those first small embers of ambition.

Brenda Ueland, a writer and teacher, devotes most of If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Life — published back in 1938, before everyone and their goldfish got their MFA’s in creative writing–to these matters of the writer’s heart.

Still, the real gift of the book is Ueland herself: She liked to write, she didn’t care what anyone thought, and she had a great sense of humor. You’re simply happy to hang out with her. 

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On Writing by Eudora Welty

On Writing by Eudora Welty

From the publisher: Eudora Welty was one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary figures. For as long as students have been studying her fiction as literature, writers have been looking to her to answer the profound questions of what makes a story good, a novel successful, a writer an artist.

On Writing presents the answers in seven concise chapters discussing the subjects most important to the narrative craft, and which every fiction writer should know, such as place, voice, memory, and language. But even more important is what Welty calls “the mystery” of fiction writing—how the writer assembles language and ideas to create a work of art.

Originally part of her larger work The Eye of the Story but never before published in a stand-alone volume, On Writing is a handbook every fiction writer, whether novice or master, should keep within arm’s reach.

Like The Elements of Style, On Writing is concise and fundamental, authoritative and timeless—as was Eudora Welty herself. 

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10 books on writing by women writers

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