Author Picks
Author Picks


In this special edition of Author Picks, Richard Cohen recommends a list of books by expert authors to help tackle the difficulties of writing from fighting writer's block to finding the perfect ending. 



Reading Like a Writer

by Francine Prose


Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose is subtitled "A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them,” and it lives up to that description. Prose believes passionately that it helps to read the masters, and uses examples from literature to demonstrate how fictional elements, such as narration, character, and dialogue, can be mastered. This is my favorite of all books about how to write fiction. “The advantage of reading widely,” she notes, “as opposed to trying to formulate a series of general rules, is that we learn there are no general rules, only individual examples to help point you in a direction in which you might want to go.”



On Writing:
A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is part memoir and part book of advice. In 2010, it was republished in a tenth anniversary edition, which featured an updated reading list. It’s conversational in tone, highly idiosyncratic, and offers as much insight about King as it does about his craft. But it’s a pleasure to read, and its five sections are sure to help any budding novelist.



The Spooky Art:
Thoughts on Writing

by Norman Mailer


The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer is not the first attempt by "the Mike Tyson of Literature" at giving writing advice—that was Advertisements for Myself (1959). Both are worth reading, never dull, full of aphorisms, advice, exhortations. “Writing is spooky,” he tells us. “There is no routine of an office to keep you going, only the blank page each morning, and you never know where your words are coming from, those divine words.” Whether he is being divine or devilish, he is a great read (there is also an excellent chapter on journalism.)  



The Writing of Fiction

by Edith Wharton


The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton is the best book about fiction by one of America’s major novelists. Wharton (1862-1937) was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize (for The Age of Innocence, in 1921) and was thrice nominated for the Nobel Prize. She is wise about narrative point of view and the uses of dialogue in particular, and also on the moral sense that good fiction must have. Not heavy going at all.



The War Against Cliché:
Essays and Reviews 1971-2000

by Martin Amis


Martin Amis's The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 is a challenging, entertaining, and knife-edge smart book of collected journalism. Okay, he worships Nabokov and Bellow overmuch, and sometimes is too clever for his own good; but I rate his nonfiction writing far higher than his fiction, and anyone interested in writing or reading will profit from Amis’s tart commentaries.





photo by Kathy Robbins


Richard Cohen is the former publishing director of Hutchinson and Hodder & Stoughton and the author of Chasing the Sun, By the Sword, and How To Write Like Tolstoy. Works he has edited have gone on to win the Pulitzer, Booker and Whitbread/Costa prizes, and more than twenty have been #1 bestsellers. For more than 35 years he has written, edited, and lectured on numerous subjects around the world, from talks on the Queen Mary 2 to the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium. For seven years he was a visiting professor in creative writing at the university of Kingston-upon-Thames in London. Among the novelists he has edited are John le Carre, Jeffery Archer, Jean Auel, William Trevor, Kingsley Amis and Fay Weldon. 


For two years he was program director of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, and during his tenure it became the largest book festival in the world. Five times U.K. national saber champion, Cohen was selected for the British Olympic fencing team in 1972, 1976, 1980, and 1984.  He has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Book Review and most British quality newspapers.







How To Write Like Tolstoy



Reading Like a Writer



On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


The Spooky Art



The Writing of Fiction



The War Against Cliché