25 Must-Read Books About Writing

25 Must-Read Books About Writing

September is here, and back to school season is officially upon us.

Even though you may not be heading back to the classroom this fall, as a writer, you should consider yourself a lifelong student.

There’s no better time to start packing your brain with knowledge and study up on some conventional (and not-so-conventional) writing wisdom?.

We’ve gathered a list of our top 25 books on writing, spanning a variety of topics — from honing your craft to making money off your passion — to help get you started.

Add the titles below to your library and start improving your writing prowess today.

Books on overcoming the struggles of writing

1. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

The author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek shares 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 paragraphs, phrases and words to re-form them as something even better.

2. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

From time to time, every writer suffers from burnout or writer’s block. Julia Cameron’s book focuses on the craft of writing and training yourself to be even more creative.

3. Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers

Word Work is packed with practical advice for overcoming procrastination, finding happiness in writing and even conquering writer’s block via useful exercises. It also covers how to handle rejection and success.

Books on honing your craft

4. On Writing by Stephen King

Part memoir, part guidebook, Stephen King’s classic 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.

5. 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.

6. Writer’s Market edited by Robert Lee Brewer

Writer’s Market helps aspiring writers become published ones. Its listings contain 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. The Associated Press Stylebook 2017 by the Associated Press

AP Style is known by many as the “go-to” writing style for journalists and public relations pros. The 2017 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.

10. 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, it’s prolific author Dean Koontz, who’s sold more 450 million copies of his books. 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!).

11. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Goldberg’s 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.

12. Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

Aimed at fiction writers, this book tackles everything from models to help with story structure to a variety of techniques to help with crafting great stories from start to finish. You’ll even find tips on creating plotting diagrams. and tools to overcome various plot problems that can arise.

13. 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 and 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.

writing books

Books on writing as an art form

14. 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.

15. The Paris Review Interviews

The Paris Review offers in-depth interviews with some of the leading names in the literature world, from novelists to playwrights and poets. This series of books features a collection of interviews with past and present writing superstars including Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, among many other famous names.

16. 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 arious obstacles that can discourage people along the way.

17. 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 modern prose, pointing out fantastic writing and offering tips to spruce up lackluster work.

18. 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.

19. 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 for mastering the art of the short story that can help any writer begin to feel more confident about crafting their own works.

Books On Making Money Writing

20. 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 help keep writers at their desks and out of court.

21. 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.

22. Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success by Kelly James-Enger

Divided into five sections James-Enger discusses everything from 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 when working towards a sustainable career as a full-time freelance writer.

23. Get Better Clients and Earn More Money by Nicole Dieker

The Write Life’s own contributor and income-tracking columnist Nicole Dieker has her own book out about writing and money. The book focuses on setting goals for each phase of a writer’s career, including getting rid of lower paying jobs to make way for better work and higher-paying clients.

24. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living edited by Manjula Martin

In her new anthology, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, Martin includes a series of essays from well-known literary icons such as Cheryl Strayed, Jennifer Weiner, and Nick Hornby where they discuss the intersection of writing and money in essays and interviews.

25. 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 web site or social media channels is a writer.

It focuses on how to craft quality writing that boosts business and helps find and retain customers, including writing tips, content help, grammar rules, and more.

What other books would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

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26 comments

  • Ken Johnson says:

    Don’t forget “Newsman’s English” by Harold Evans, 1972. Volume 1 is currently on sale for 1p at Amazon (really: see amazon.co.uk)

    • Thanks for your email. I enjoyed reading the blurbs about the authors, my fellow authors. I am a published author. Only problem is that I have been defrauded by well known cyber criminals. I dint know then. Now I know and I hate being a victim of their cyber crimes! For further details, please do google this title out: “My Treasure Trove, My All! A Collection Of Stories And Romantic Poems!”

      Medardo K. Chalata

  • Donald McMiken says:

    You could do a lot worse than to try my hefty book aimed at nonfiction writers, but it’s also useful to fiction authors and editors:

    Secrets of writing killer essays & reports
    Available from Amazon.com

  • Terrific list! Under the “Making Money” category I’d add Carol Tice’s book, ‘Small Blog, Big Income: One Niche Blogger’s 7 Step Success Formula.’ Carol blogs regularly on freelance writing at http://www.makealivingwriting.com/

  • I would also add “Becoming A Writer” by Dorothea Brande and “If You Want To Write” by Brenda Ueland. Both books were published in the 1930s, but still very relevant today. They would be under any category.

  • Sara says:

    The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

  • Thank you for this list on so many aspects. I would put at the top of the list, additionally and with blue ribbons flying, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. Also, If You Want To Write, by Brenda Ueland.
    Please, please read these books, whoever comes upon this comment. You will be amazed and so happy.

  • Phylls Chubb says:

    Story Physics by Larry Brooks is speaking to me.

  • Ann L. Coker says:

    Good list; satisfying to check off those I’ve read/own. My writing has been enriched by reading Grace Is Where I Live by John Leax, Write His Answer by Marlene Bagnull, and A Step in the Write Direction (for practical helps) by Donna Clark Goodrich. Shimmering Images by Lisa Dale Norton helped me with memoirs and finding my voice.

  • PJ says:

    Writer Mama by Christina Katz has great writing tips for busy moms and anyone with time challenges.

  • E. David Barkley says:

    Highly recommended, “Write to Influence,” Carla L. Bass, a AF Ret AF COL. She is very passionate about writing.www

  • Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. Absolutely excellent, revolutionized my outlining for great novels and really punched home how to create things like Theme and 3-dimensional characters.

  • James Wood, How Fiction Works.
    Sarah Bryant, How to Tell Stories to Children.
    Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit.
    Lajos Egri, The Art of Dramatic Writing, Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives (not as convoluted as its title).
    E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel.
    Verlyn Klingkenborg, Several Short Sentences About Writing.
    Lisa Cron, Wired for Story.

  • Rosie says:

    I’d like to add: “Naked, Drunk and Writing” by Adair Lara. It’s about writing memoir and personal essays. I had the privilege of taking a class from her many years ago and it launched my writing/publishing career.

  • That is one of my favorites! Also love that it was packaged by being wrapped in plastic so you had to buy the copy to see the inside. (I bought it at a bookstore years ago.)

  • I’m honored to make this list; thanks for including Writer for Hire. (I’m the former Kelly James-Enger.) I also recommend Six-Figure Freelancing, which includes the experiences of more than two dozen successful freelancers about how they make money.

  • Cedric de la Nougerede says:

    A good starting point could be “How to write a short story, get it published and make money” by Christopher Fielden.

  • Amber says:

    The Forest For the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers. Read it this year and thought it was excellent.

  • John Fries says:

    I would also suggest Bob Bly’s writing books, most of which are geared to copywriting.

    • djreed09 says:

      2 recommended starting books or writing profession overview books, by Robert W. Bly :
      Getting Started As A Freelance Writer, Robert W. Bly.
      Secrets Of A Freelance Writer: How To Make $100,000 A Year Or More, by Robert W. Bly.

      Like John Fries stated. This authors books are mainly about business or commercial writing, nonfiction. He has published many more books that are more specialized & more in depth about topic. Most topics are about copy writing & effectiveness.

      (Note – this is the commercial business writer Robert W. Bly; not the poet Robert Bly.)

  • I know Henry Miller has a book, “On Writing.” I don’t remember it well, but everything else of his I recommend. So I suggest it here, to have a look, why not.

  • The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long. For writers who have learned the basics and want to write compelling fiction or creative nonfiction stories.

  • TG Patterson says:

    Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is solid. It’s especially practical, with lots of exercises and advice.

    http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Index-SteeringCraft-2ndEd.html

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