What’s the number one thing you can do to improve your writing?
Read. A lot.
Read anything and everything you can find, and you’ll become a better writer.
Read your favorite genre, whether that’s historical fiction, creative nonfiction or personal essays. Read books that are similar to what you like to write. And when you’re in the mood to learn about craft, read books on writing.
The titles below will help you with all aspects of your writing, from learning to write better to finding inspiration to figuring out where to pitch your ideas. We’ve even included some books about how to make money writing.
Here are some of the best books on writing.
Books on becoming a better writer
1. “On Writing” by Stephen King
Part memoir, part guidebook, this Stephen King classic will appeal even to those who avoid his renowned horror-packed tales. In this book, King discusses how he came to be the writer we know today, plus he shares the basic tools of writing every writer needs.
2. “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
“Bird by Bird” is an essential part of any writer’s toolbox. In this work, Lamott shares herself and her craft with readers, including anecdotes that tie the pieces together into all-around great writing. If you need help finding your voice and passion, Lamott’s advice is sure to spark creativity.
3. “Writer’s Market” edited by Robert Lee Brewer
“Writer’s Market” helps aspiring writers become published. Its listings contain hundreds of pages of suggested markets for nonfiction writers, as well as those who want to sell short stories, including details for how to pitch your work. Because this guide is updated regularly, you’ll always have the most up-to-date information about how to publish and get paid for your writing.
4. “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser
Although this classic book targets nonfiction writers, Zinsser discusses many forms of writing, from interviewing and telling stories about people to writing about travel. In addition to writing tips on consistency, voice, editing and more, he also includes the fundamentals of craft that can help you grow as a writer in any genre.
5. “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 to teach them about grammar, structural writing rules and the principles of composition. 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.
6. “The Associated Press Stylebook” by the Associated Press
AP Style is known by many as the “go-to” writing style for journalists and public relations pros. The Associated Press Stylebook contains more than 3,000 entries detailing rules on grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation and word and numeral usage to help you master news writing.
(Heads up: This stylebook is updated annually, so always be sure you purchase and study the most recent version!
7. “How to Write Bestselling Fiction” by Dean Koontz
While many books on this list are aimed at nonfiction writers, this one is for those who dream up their own stories to tell. If anyone is qualified to tell people how to write bestselling fiction, its prolific author Dean Koontz, who’s sold more than 450 million copies of his books. This book was written in 1981 and is out of print, but it has valuable insight for writers who manage to snag a copy (check the library!). After four decades, it’s still one of the best books on writing fiction.
8. “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg
Goldberg’s insightful book examines the craft of writing including how to start brainstorming, the importance of learning how to listen, the vital role verbs play in writing, and even how to find an inspiring place to write. No matter the stage you’re at with writing, this inspiring read will give you the encouragement you need to keep going.
9. “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell
Written for fiction writers, this book tackles everything from story structure models and methods to a variety of techniques to help you craft great stories from start to finish. You’ll even find tips on how to create plot diagrams, plus the tools to overcome various plot problems that can arise.
10. “Writing Short Stories” by Courttia Newland and Tania Hershman
Broken into three comprehensive parts, this book examines the craft of short stories and teaches writers how to do it successfully. It explores the nature and history of this form, provides useful tips from noteworthy short story writers and how to look deeper into your characters. Plus, if you’re struggling with writer’s block, Newland and Hershman’s book can help you there, too.
11. “I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop” by Mur Lafferty
For writers who should be writing — erm, all of us — this book is like your personal writing workshop condensed into a flexibound journal. Lafferty shares writing exercises to help the strength of your writing blossom, plus writer’s prompts, tips on how to refine your creative process and hone your craft. Most of all, you’ll learn how to ignore your inner writing bully.
12. “Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors” by Brandilyn Collins
Award-winning and best-selling novelist of 30 books Brandilyn Collins created this in-depth guide to help writers understand the psychology of your characters. That way, you’ll know how to express it in your stories and bring your characters to life. Because it draws on popular acting methods that’ve been used professionally for decades, reading this book will teach you techniques and concepts that’ll change the way you look at writing.
13. “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King
When you can’t hire a professional editor to ensure your manuscript is print-ready, pick up this book to learn how to edit yourself into print. Written by two professional editors, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” teaches editing techniques like dialogue, exposition, point of view and more so you can turn your work-in-progress into published novels and short stories.
Books on overcoming the struggles of writing
14. “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “An American Childhood” shares words of wisdom in this handy book where she discusses the difficulties of writing. She writes about how it’s sometimes necessary to destroy paragraphs, phrases and words to reform them as something even better. She also shares advice all writers need a reminder of, like this one: Be more diligent and less self-berating.
15. “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron
From time to time, every writer suffers from burnout or writer’s block, and Julia Cameron understands that. Her book 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 you find fascinating per week. Her tips for gaining the self-confidence to reinvigorate your creative juices could be of help to any kind of writer.
16. “Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer” by Bruce Holland Rogers
“Word Work” is packed with practical advice to help you navigate core elements of the writing process. Whether you want to overcome procrastination, find happiness in writing and even conquer writer’s block, this roadmap is filled with useful exercises to help you achieve your goals. It also covers how to handle rejection and success.
17. “A Writer’s Guide to Persistence” by Jordan Rosenfeld
This book focuses on how to be a happy and successful writer throughout your career. It covers everything from finding joy as a writer to avoiding burnout to the all-important challenge of balancing writing with a busy life. It also discusses how to fine-tune your craft, get in touch with your creative flow, revise your work, find critiques, and learn how to be resilient.
18. “War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield
Published in 2012, this book helps writers and creators of all kinds overcome the biggest obstacle of all: our inner naysayer. The Amazon description says this book is “tough love…for yourself,” so if something inside of you keeps you from your biggest accomplishments, this is the right book to pick up.
PS: If you’re a Steven Pressfield fan, be sure to check out SelfPublishing.com’s podcast interview with the author! You’ll love it!
19. “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon
“Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” will help you understand that nothing is original. To discover your true artistic side and build a more creative life, read this book to be inspired by Kleon’s transformative principles about the power of embracing influence. Instead of writing what you know, this read will give you the courage to write what you want and be imaginative in your work.
Books on writing as an art form
20. “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. Each essay is paired with biographical information about each author, which helps readers learn more about these skilled contributors and their timeless ideas on the craft of writing.
A notable magazine, The Paris Review offers 16 in-depth interviews with some of the leading names in the literature world, from novelists to playwrights and poets. If you want insight into how superstars like Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison and more penned their esteemed works, check out this book to learn from their revelations.
22. “Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles & Ted Orlando
This book reflects on the artistic side of being a writer. Making art is no easy feat, and Bayles and Orlando — both artists themselves — explore the challenges of making art and the various obstacles that can discourage people along the way.Originally published in 1994, “Art & Fear” is now an underground classic, dishing out relatable, valuable advice about what it means to create.
23. “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century” by Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker offers a new take on some of the classic writing manuals. Inside “The Sense of Style”, he analyzes examples of modern prose, pointing out fantastic writing styles from those he considers awful. To help you improve, Pinker also provides tips to spruce up lackluster work.
24. “Zen in the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451,” put together this book of essays portraying his passion for the craft. It was published in the 90s, but this collection still offers wise advice for aspiring and practicing writers.
25. “The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story” by Frank O’Connor
World-renowned Irish author Frank O’Connor takes on the short story in this favorite book on writing. Short stories are challenging, but O’Connor shares tips and tactics that can help any writer begin to feel more confident about mastering the art of the short story and crafting their own works. According to many readers and writers, this is one of the best books on writing short stories.
26. “Consider This” by Chuck Palahniuk
In this memoir-like read, Palahniuk reflects on the art of storytelling through advice he shares about what makes writing and sharing stories powerful. In between anecdotes and decades-worth of postcards from his time on the road, you’ll find a love story to the world of fiction paired with concrete examples of strong storytelling.
27. “The Emotional Craft of Fiction” by Donald Maass
Readers shouldn’t just read your story; they have to feel it as well — that’s what makes strong fiction, according to “The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface.” A former literary agent, Maass breaks down story elements to show you how to write fiction that creates an emotional experience for your readers.
Books on making money writing
28. “Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to the Legal Issues of Self-Publishing” by Helen Sedwick
Attorney and self-published author Helen Sedwick uses her 30+ years of legal experience to help aspiring self-publishers navigate the business side of writing. This first-of-its-kind guidebook covers everything from business set up to spotting scams to helping keep writers at their desks and out of court.
29. “How to Make a Living With Your Writing” by Joanna Penn
Joanna Penn’s “How to Make a Living With Your Writing” and her companion workbook can help any writer examine their current writing situation and make a plan for the future. Penn discusses her multiple income streams and shares the breakdown of her six-figure writing income, which includes book sales, affiliate marketing commissions, a series of courses she offers and speaking fees.
30. “Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success” by Kelly James-Enger
Divided into five sections James-Enger ’s book dives into critical topics, such as when it makes sense to ignore per-word rates, how to ask for more money, how to set goals and even how to fire troublesome clients. This book is a valuable read if you want to build a sustainable career as a full-time freelance writer.
31. “Published.: The Proven Path From Blank Page To Published Author” by Chandler Bolt
Published. equips readers with the key to unlock the story that has been burning inside them, calling them to share their wisdom with the world. Published. turns writers into authors. Don’t wait. Read this book and unlock the benefits of being an author today.
32. “Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living” edited by Manjula Martin
In her new anthology, Martin includes a series of essays and interviews from well-known literary icons such as Roxanne Gay, Cheryl Strayed, Jennifer Weiner, and Jonathan Franzen where they discuss the intersection of writing and money.
33. “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley
This content-creation book, “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content,” drives home the point that anyone with a website or social media channels is a writer.
It focuses on how to craft quality writing that boosts business and helps find and retain customers. Plus, it includes writing tips, content help, grammar rules and much more. Despite the growing world of hashtags and abbreviations, writing matters more now than ever.
34. “The Breakout Novelist: How to Craft Novels That Stand Out and Sell” by Donald Maass
This must-have reference for novel writers provides innovative and practical information about how to turn your writing into engaging and marketable fiction that stands out. With more than 70 exercises to help you evaluate your writing and lessons from Maass’ 30+ years in publishing, you’re sure to walk away with knowledge and strategies to become an author with a successful career.
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