Recently, while chatting with a couple of fellow writers, I was reminded once again about a gaping hole in my education: Bird by Bird by Anne Lammot, which every self respecting creative swears by. (Note to self: read that book!)
In my study, a corner of shelf space is devoted to these types of how-to manuals, books I read with a red pen and highlighter in hand. These are my life savers, the guides I return to whenever I'm floundering.
Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway - the closest thing to a creative writing text book you can get and fully worth the price tag.
From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler - immensely helpful when I was first starting to work on The Boat People. Butler advocates a system of imagining individual scenes, jotting them down on cue cards, then once you have sufficient cards, organizing them into an outline. And then putting pen to paper to write a first draft. I fell down on the outline part but being able to take each scene as they came, one at a time, really made the prospect of writing a first draft less overwhelming.
Aspects of the Novel by EM Forster - short and sweet, illuminating for readers as well as writers.
How Fiction Works by James Wood - teaches you how to take apart literature as you would a clock so you can understand what works, what doesn't, and most importantly why. Wood taught me how to read like a writer, critically and carefully.