Ten Must-Have Books On Writing
Best Books On Writing
It seems like every day someone recommends a new book on writing to me. I started to write for fun when I was in kindergarten. I loved telling stories and putting those stories down on paper was the next step for me. Over the years, I wanted to learn more about how the best authors wrote their books and how I could improve my own skills. I read every book on writing I could get my hands on, from books on how to write the first chapter of your novel to grammar manuals.
If I tried to read every book about writing that someone suggested to me, I'd never have the time to sit down and write! So I'm here to share with you my list of the books on writing that I love. My copies are well worn and highlighted, and I turn to them when I need a little inspiration and motivation. I hope you enjoy them too!
Image © NoahGolan - Fotolia.com
My Top Ten Books on Writing - The books I've highlighted and dog-eared the most over the years...
At the moment, this top ten list is in order, beginning with my favorite book. However, which book on writing I love the most changes over time! But I recommend all of these books because they are funny, smart, creative, and inspire me to write.
Keep reading for a mini review of each of my favorite books on writing. Check out why I love each one of them and you just might find the perfect book to help you improve yourself as a writer.
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
- Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg
- No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
- Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob
- How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
- Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz
- Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge
- Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
What makes a book on writing worth reading?
How did these books make the top ten list?
Ask any group of writers if they think that writing can be taught, and the answers will be as diverse as the genres they contribute to. Some, like Poemcrazy, are all about free association of words while others, like Steering the Craft have more formal lessons and cover topics like POV and tense beautifully.
For me, what defines a book on writing as one of the best is it's ability to inspire me. When the deadly "Writer's Block" sets in, I can browse through one of these favorites and find something new to think about. I love books on writing that include exercises or questions to provoke creativity!
With most of these books, I would suggest picking up a simple spiral notebook to record the activities and exercises.
Honorable mentions go to "On Writing Well" by William K. Zinsser and "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. I'd suggest that everyone who wants to improve as a writer get copies of these, along with a good dictionary. While my favorite books on writing tend to be more content and inspiration driven, there is definitely a need for good style references!
Writing Down the Bones
I pick up this book more than any other in my collection. Writing Down the Bones has become my go to book to combat writer's block. This book focuses on the art of writing practice. After all, any skill you use needs to be practiced to improve! It isn't about writing the best novel or perfect article, just about working on the craft of writing.
Whenever I am stuggling for ideas or motivation, I flip throught he highlighted and dog-eared pages until something strikes me. Goldberg never fails to get me writing again!
Bird by Bird
My favorite part of this book is the subtitle. It's amazing how every piece of advice given on writing really can be applied to life. Lamott writes from her heart, and connects with the reader beautifully!
One part of Bird by Bird that stuck with me was the emphasis on writing lousy first drafts. This has become one of my favorite books on writing because it reminds me that ALL writers go through the same process I do, and that I am not alone in feeling like my work is garbage when it first goes down on the page.
I know many writers who feel a little snobbish towards people like Stephen King. I think it comes mainly from jealousy! The book is split in two-- half is autobiography, and half is lessons for writers.
For me, anecdotes and that personal touch are what make books on writing worth picking up. King does that masterfully! You can see how he developed into a writer and what techniques he uses to put together so many bestselling books.
Escaping into the Open
One review said it best describing this book as "chatty". Berg's comfortable writing style isn't pretentious and doesn't talk down to the reader. This includes many pages of writing exercises (and several recipes that look delicious)!
Like On Writing, Escaping into the Open is part autobiography and part writing handbook. She focuses on the passion that you need to be a fantastic writer.
No Plot? No Problem!
Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? The challenge of that competition is to write a 50,000 word (or more) novel in 30 days. In this book, the founder recounts some of the best strategies to try this crazy experiement on your own, or in November with the rest of us!
I participate in NaNo most years, and whether I win or lose, I always learn something about myself. Having a book on writing that focuses on strategies for completing a first draft quickly is great for improving your speed and controlling your inner editor.
More on NaNoWriMo?
Interested in getting a draft of your novel down on paper and becoming part of a large writing community? Check out NaNoWriMo! Whether you are serious about your novel idea or just want to practice getting that many words down on paper, there is a place there for you.
Learn more now!
This one, or that one? - If you could only keep one of these two books, which would it be?
Which one do you prefer?
Will Write for Food
This book covers many of the basics of food writing, from writing clear recipes to researching to working with editors. A must have for writers who have a passion for all things edible!
Not every writer wants to be a novelist. Personally, I write web content and am an avid food writer. My knowledge of writing about delicious things partially came from Will Write for Food. I recently became the ice cream & frozen desserts topic writer at About.com, which has been incredibly rewarding. Subject-specific writing guides are helpful if you know what you love to write about.
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy
I love books by people who have proved that they know what they are doing. Who better to explain science fiction than Orson Scott Card? The book is light on fantasy information, but well worth it to either type of writer!
Although Card can be a divisive figure when you are talking about his personal and political beliefs, he does know how to write an engaging novel. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy is one of my most valuable fiction resources, and one of my favorite books on writing.
Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life
How many times have we seen Snoopy sitting on top of his dog house, pounding away on a typewriter? This book collects articles from 30 authors in response to some of the best that Snoopy has to offer!
While this isn't a guide to writing like many of the other books available, there is so much wisdom sandwiched between great Peanuts comic strips.
Wooldridge has an amazing take on words. One of the things I love best about this book is the exercises and assignments that force you to look at language differently.
Most of the other books on this list focused on fiction, with a little nonfiction thrown in. One review suggests that Poemcrazy is the poetic equivalent of Bird by Bird, so it was no surprise that I fell in love with it.
Steering the Craft
This is another book where the author's credentials prompted me to pick it up off the shelves. When you are choosing a book on writing, it is important to look for ones by authors who actually have success as writers. While the old saying may be "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach," there is no reason why you shouldn't be taught by someone who has had success doing the thing first!
Le Guin did not disappoint me! With her wit and wonderful examples from other talented authors, she shares her opinions on a variety of concerns. Steering the Craft is much more focused on the technical aspects of writing than the other books which have been featured on this list.
The Author's Home Pages
Here are the links to author websites for everyone who I have mentioned. If you are interested in learning more about their work (on writing or any other topic), these sites are a great place to start.
- Natalie Goldberg
The Official Web Site of Natalie Goldberg. Contains a complete listing of Books, Tapes, Workshops and Announcements of her future releases and events.
- Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott - Steven Barclay Agency represents some of our culture's most important and thought-provoking voices. For lectures, readings, workshops, and conferences.
- Stephen King
The official website for Stephen King, including past and future works, a FAQ, message boards, and more.
- Elizabeth Berg
Elizabeth Berg is the New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including Open House, which was an Oprah's Book Club selection in 2000.
- Chris Baty
Website for the NaNoWriMo founder
- Dianne Jacob
Jacob provides not only information about herself, but helpful articles and information for food writers.
- Orson Scott Card
Hatrack River - The Official Web Site of Orson Scott Card - Get writing and publishing tips - Read articles, reviews, essays, short stories, and do research on Orson Scott Card
- Welcome to my Wordpool - Susan G. Wooldridge
Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge's official website, which includes information on her books as well as her workshops
- Ursula K. Le Guin
The official web site of author Ursula K. Le Guin.
What is missing from this list?
If there was going to be an 11th book on this list, what should it be? I've looked through many of the great comments from the guestbook to select these great books on writing that could have made the list. Vote for your favorite!
Is there a book on writing you think people should read? Leave it here and let me know!