AnnMarie MacKinnon is a CNFC member and board member. She shares a thoughtful list of books on the craft of writing creative nonfiction, for yourself or as a gift for another writer in your life.


In just a week, winter will be upon us. The short days and long evenings of the season practically beg us to embrace the hygge mood and curl up with a book. And what better way to spend a few of those darker hours than honing our craft? For those seeking inspiration (and for those with dear ones fishing for gift ideas — ’tis the season!), here’s a brief list of craft books both old and new to keep the creative impulse flowing through the hibernatory days of winter.

The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo – For any writing challenge, DeSalvo has a sage and compassionate way to solve it. No matter where you are in the writing process, she can help get you through to the next stage with a gentle nudge.

Body Work by Melissa Febos – Tackling personal narrative can be fraught with questions, doubts, and fears. Febos’ book guides the reader through many of them in this book that’s part memoir, part mentor. Inspiring and confidence boosting, particularly for writer who’ve asked themselves, “Why me?” Febos’ resounding answer is: Why not you?

Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses – This book talks about fiction and fiction workshopping, but hear me out: the discussions in Salesses’ book—fresh looks at plot, character, structure with an eye to stepping outside the narrow conventions of the dominant culture—still apply to nonfiction. It’s also full of advice for teachers of creative writing, from creating syllabi to providing ways (writing exercises!) to look at written work with fresh eyes.

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp – This book has been around a while with good reason. Tharp’s writing about creativity is energetic, imbued with an experimental attitude, and comes from years of experience, along with all the creative ups and downs that entails. A great book for breaking out of rut or for getting started.

Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte – For the close reader and lover of sentence parsing (that’s everyone, right?), Tufte’s volume breaks down some of the most interesting, beautiful and effective lines produced in the English language and digs deep into what makes them work. A masterclass in using syntax to produce effective prose with musicality in what feels like thousands of different ways.

Meander, Spiral Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison – This is just plain fun to read—not necessarily what one might expect from a book on structure! Alison’s writing is enlivening, spirited, and a little transgressive, encouraging the reader to think about structure outside the Aristotle/Freytag’s Triangle/Hero’s Journey formula and to instead get in touch with patterns found in nature—waves, fractals, branches. Written about fiction but still applies to CNF, particularly those interested in memoir.