Most writers will tell you that the number-one thing you can do to improve your writing prowess is to read. A lot.
Read anything and everything you can find, and you’ll become a better writer, according to conventional wisdom.
While you’re packing your brain with knowledge, why not include a few writing-focused books on your reading list? The titles below can add a lot to any writer’s library — from helping you hone your craft to finding inspiration and determining where to pitch your ideas.
1. On Writing by Stephen King
Part memoir, part guidebook, Stephen King’s On Writing will appeal even to those who avoid King’s renowned horror-packed tales. In this book, King discusses how he came to be the writer we know today.
He also includes a toolkit packed with tips for beginners and a reading list with a few of his own favorites. Written in his signature style, this witty read will keep you entertained — and soaking up some great ideas.
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott is known as one of the masters, and her book Bird by Bird is an essential part of any writer’s toolbox. In this work, she shares herself and her craft with readers, including anecdotes that tie the pieces together into all-around great writing.
The title Bird by Bird refers to instructions provided to a Lamott’s brother, who was not sure how to start writing a school report about birds. The task seemed insurmountable. Her father’s advice was simply to take it “one bird at a time.”
That wisdom works far beyond academic reports.
3. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
The author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek shares her words of wisdom in this handy book where she discusses the difficulties of writing. She writes about how hard it is to write and how sometimes it is necessary to destroy and paragraphs, phrases, and words to re-form them as something even better.
She doesn’t pull punches about how difficult writing can be, which is valuable for any writer to hear: Even the most well-regarded pros struggle sometimes. Her book shares this wisdom in enjoyable prose.
4. Writer’s Market edited by Robert Lee Brewer
Long hailed as essential to any writer’s bookshelf, Writer’s Market helps aspiring writers become published ones.
This weighty tome includes articles about writing as well as interviews with authors, editors, and publishers, but the meat of this book is the listings. It contains hundreds of pages of suggested markets for nonfiction writers as well as those looking to sell short stories, including details for how to pitch your work.
Writer’s Market is updated annually and contains incredibly valuable tips — such as what percentage of a magazine’s stories are written by freelancers — that are a huge aid for any writer looking to break into a new market.
5. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
This classic book targets nonfiction writers and includes writing tips as well as the fundamentals of craft. Zinsser discusses many forms of writing, from interviewing and telling stories about people to writing about travel. He even delves into business writing, art criticism, and sharing pieces about family via the art of personal memoir.
Whatever kind of writing you’re into, Zinsser will have at least a few tips for you.
6. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
For years, writing teachers have assigned The Elements of Style to their students. Brushing up on the basics from time to time is critical for continually developing your skills, and this book contains simple truths that every writer needs to know.
From information on grammar and style to tips for sorting out the writing clutter, this classic is an essential add-on to any writer’s bookshelf.
7. How to Write Bestselling Fiction by Dean Koontz
While many books on this list are aimed at nonfiction writers, this one is especially for those who dream up their own stories to tell. If anyone is qualified to tell people how to write bestselling fiction, it’s prolific author Dean Koontz, who’s sold more 450 million copies of his books — 14 of which have topped the New York Times hardcover bestseller list.
This book was written in 1981 and is out of print, but has valuable insight for writers who manage to snag a copy (check the library!).
8. The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work edited by Marie Arana
This book contains columns from a decade of The Washington Post’s “Writing Life” column, with contributors as diverse as Jimmy Carter, Joyce Carol Oates, and Carl Sagan. Essays are paired along with biographical information about each author, helping readers learn more about these skilled contributors and their ideas on writing.
9. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
From time to time, every writer suffers from burnout or writer’s block. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way focuses on the craft of writing and training yourself to be even more creative. She offers valuable techniques like starting each morning with a free-writing exercise, and exploring one subject per week that you find fascinating.
Her tips to reinvigorate the creative juices are a huge help to any kind of writer.
Looking for even more books to read about writing? Check out these recommendations from readers of The Write Life.
What books about writing would you add to this list?
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