Top Five Books For Undergraduate Writers


 Why only five?  Well, I consider myself somewhat of a connisseur of books about writing and believe it’s my responsibility to stay up on what’s out there.  Fortunately, I also enjoy reading these kinds of books.  However, there are only five that I consider absolutely essential to the undergraduate creative writer, to someone dipping his toe in the creative writing world and deciding whether and how to take the plunge.  Five that you MUST read.  So, undergraduates, beginning writers, if you haven’t read these, get thee to a independent bookstore, chain bookstore,, library, whatever your preference, asap.

Page by Page: Discover The Confidence and Passion You Need to Start Writing and Keep Writing (No Matter What)–Heather Sellers

Sellers knows how to encourage and enlighten new writers and how to lay it on the line at the same time.  Plus, her graphics are great.  I wish I had this book when I was a young writer and I hand it to every aspiring wordsmith I know.  Lucky us, she now has a blog, Word by Word.  A good companion to this one for novelists:  Chapter by Chapter.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life–Anne Lamott

For the writer who has been hemmed in for years by all the myths and lore about writing, in addition to whatever arbitrary rules Miss Grundy drummed into your heard, reading Lamott will be nothing short of revelatory.  From “Shitty First Drafts,” to “One Inch Picture Frames,” to the real meaning of writing (psst: it’s necessarily publishing), this book has it all.  I’ve read it several times since it first came out and am always astounded at the new things, the new relevancies, I find in each read.

The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students –Tom Kealey

You may or may not be want to get an MFA after you graduate.  But this book will help you decide.  It will also serve as a no-nonsense introduction to the writing life and to a lot of the realities of undergraduate creative writing.  Another book I recommend so much, you’d think I was getting kickbacks from Mr. Kealey.  But I’m not.  My student’s eternal gratitude is more than enough (snip).


The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students–Heather Sellers

A revolutionary, concept-based method of laying the groundwork for enhancing any genre of creative writing.  Despite it’s “text-booky” format (well, it is a textbook, technically), it’s immensely readable and enlightening.  I’m really picky about texts for my creative writing class–hadn’t used one for years until this one came out.  Now I plan to make it a standing order. 

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers–Betsey Lerner

Another look at the writing life from the editor’s side of the desk.  Highly entertaining and enlightening, Lerner is also a writer herself, with an MFA from Columbia, so she can really see the big picture.   A read you definitely will not regret.

And in other news. . .

WIOTD (Wardrobe Issue of the Day)


The inseam, oh the inseam.  The inseam of his jeans was hanging a bit too low.  We tried several belts but ended up adjusting those red elastic things they put on the inside of jeans these days so that they’re well, adjustable.  This was deemed a tolerable solution, though just barely.

It was also sunglass day.  Dad’s sunglasses were nowhere to be found.  After much cajoling and assuring that Mommy’s sunglasses were just as good, since she got from the gender-less sunglass rack at the dollar store, they were accepted.  But his last words as he got out of the car were, “You’re sure these aren’t girl’s sunglasses?”


Backwards day.  First, the bright yellow pokemon t-shirt was refused, without justification,  for the umpteenth time.  This one’s going to have to go Goodwill (which may have been where it came from).  John asked, “What is wrong with the shirt, since there is obviously something wrong with it?”  But apparently, it is something that cannot be put into words, because we just got a frustrated–“if you don’t know I can’t tell you”–huff. 

Pants really seem to be our main problem.  We ended up with a heap of rejects before plain gray sweats were agreed upon.  I see a trip to Target for about 5 pairs of gray sweats in our future.


Bumps under the shirt.  Bumps “everywhere.”  So, we trudged upstairs for a “bumpless” shirt.  Then the cargo pants were rejected out of hand.  Back upstairs.  Fortunately, there were a pair of innoculous blue sweats that fit the bill.

Also, not so wardrobe related, we went through the “my stomach really hurts.  I might throw up,” scenario.  Duly got out the thermometer, but when you’re hanging upside down on the sofa with the thermometer in your mouth, you kind of give your health away.

(And you thought I was exaggerating about the whole WIOTD thing.)

 Other than that, it has been a cold, rainy, uneventful week.  At Parent Teacher Conferences, every time we began with “Hi, we’re Jackson Vanderslice’s parents,” we were greeted, good naturedly, with “that child just cannot sit down, can he?” Little do they know we’ve been hearing since this kindergarten!  In fact, it’s almost up there with, “Vanderslice? How do you spell that?  (Pause while we spell it)  Oh! Just like it sounds!”

However, we must say we are very grateful for understanding teacher’s who are tolerant of the fact that our son seems to need to think on his feet.


  1. 1

    I have to get that Kealy book. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve really been giving serious thought to pursuing an MFA after I finish my MA. I can do an MA in creative writing here, and I’ve been thinking about that, too, but I don’t know. Seems like there are more job opportunities with an MFA. Or maybe I should go on for a Ph.D. Or maybe, just maybe, I should focus on this degree for now, and think about another one after I’m well insight of finishing the one I’ve started. Any advice?

    I so do want to be Tim Sisk, the poet, as well as Tim Sisk, the gender theorist.

  2. 2

    Go for it, Tim the poet and Tim the gender theorist.
    You can be many things!
    Thanks for checking in. . .

  3. 3

    I’m enjoying the WIOTD tremendously. Also – I want to pick up Heather Sellers’ “practice of…” book. I’d just read Chapter after Chapter (which was fantastic), so I’m sure this one would be helpful as well. Thanks for the list!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>