Let me be up front with you: if you’ve read at least a dozen books on writing, you’re not likely going to find anything new in this list. However, these are the seven books that have shaped my writing over the last decade.
You may notice glaring omissions, like Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, but I wanted to adhere closely to showcasing books about the craft of writing, not encouragement to write. That could be another post entirely.
Each subtitle and image below can be clicked so you can add that book to your library. After browsing my list, please consider leaving a comment with the two or three writing books that have shaped your writing. I’m always game to read more books on writing.
If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you have to start with the basics of usage and style. Strunk and White’s [ref]You may recall E. B. White as the author of such children’s classics as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. [/ref] The perennial classic is short, but it’s a necessary reference book for any writer. Sure, you’ll need a Chicago Manual of Style or The AP Stylebook for detailed instructions on usage, but The Elements of Style provides a sturdy writing foundation. There are some stellar quotes in the book too:
My edition is subtitled “The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction,” and a blurb on the back effectively calls it a worthy writing guide in the vein of The Elements of Style. Though more verbose than The Elements, Zinsser’s conversational style relates all the lessons he’s learned as a writer.
Nearly every list of recommended writing books includes Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and with good reason. She’s a smart, funny, and sometimes acerbic writer whose faith and writing can’t help but to collide. It’s a book I need to revisit this year, as it’s been awhile since I’ve read it. She parts the veil and offers us a glimpse into both the hows and the whys of her writing life.
Story is an epic tome that I learned about via the movie Adaptation. I have not finished it, but it relates in minute detail what, precisely, makes for a good story. Subtitled “Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting,” it’s geared toward screenwriters, but every writer can benefit from McKee’s work, even nonfiction writers.
L’Engle’s short book on her Christian life and how that plays into her creative process may fall under the theme of “writing encouragement,” but it offers great insight into writing from a faith-based perspective. I was so taken by it that I blogged about it a few times.
Written to his editor while writing East of Eden, Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel is a transparent, close look at the mind of a master.[ref]Disclosure: East of Eden is one of my top five favorite books.[/ref] Though the short book sometimes flits about regarding personal details about his life, his thoughts on the discipline of the writing life are gold. East of Eden was one of Steinbeck’s later novels, after he’d already enjoyed great success as an author, so it’s supremely interesting, and encouraging to self-publishers everywhere, to read this:
“I am not writing for money any more now than I ever did. If money comes that is fine, but [if] I knew right now that this book would not sell a thousand copies, I would still write it.” — John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel
The book might be its most encouraging because it shows Steinbeck as a man who wrestles with his words and his story the same way any beginning writer would. In some ways, every new book makes one a writing novice.
When a multi-genre, bestselling author of 50+ books pens a work on how to write, you should probably just go ahead and buy that book. King’s On Writing gets top billing in my list for being a very practical book on writing. Like Journal of a Novel, On Writing contains some memoir, but always in the service of answering the question, “How can I be a better writer?”