Where better to look for writing advice than from some of the world’s greatest writers? Whether you’re a new and aspiring writer or a published author looking to improve your craft, this article is for you.
Below you will find a list of some of the best books on both nonfiction and fiction writing, from the writing process to overcoming writer’s block to taking care of your mental and emotional health and well-being as a writer.
Whether you’re writing books for pleasure or profit, the books below will show you how to make your work the best it can be.
7 Best books for writers
Ready for inspiration? Check out the books we’ve listed below and read as many as possible. All may not appeal to you, but no matter what kind of writer you are, you’ll find some gems on this list.
1. On Writing – Stephen King, 2000
No list of the best books for writers will be complete without Stephen King’s On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft.
Published in 2000, On writing is classic fiction writer King’s account of his life as an author.
King offers an insightful look into the writer’s life and provides plenty of inspiration for aspiring writers to hone their craft and strike a healthy work-life balance. He writes about the commitment required to become a good writer and how to achieve it.
“If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
King also advises new and veteran writers to read and write as much as possible. “If you want to be a writer,’ King explains, ‘you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
2. Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott, 1995
Anne Lamott is a novelist and nonfiction writer. Some of her well-known work includes nonfiction titles Traveling Mercies and Help, Thanks, Wow, and novels Hard Laughter and Imperfect Birds.
Lamott is known for her unapologetic language and humor around her spirituality. Much of her writing circles around the spiritual aspects of life, but you don’t need to have a particular faith to enjoy Lamott’s work.
In her book on writing, Bird by Bird (1995) offers readers a simple, step-by-step approach to writing. Based on her father’s advice to her younger brother, she was tasked with a daunting report. Throughout the book, Lamott shares personal anecdotes of her life and journey as a writer, dealing with writer’s block, and how to overcome perfectionism.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
Lamott’s Bird by Bird is a safe space for writers. Writing, in general, can be a rollercoaster of a lifestyle, and the hours spent sitting at a desk can bring up feelings and experiences unlike any other.
Lamott reassures aspiring and experienced writers that life as a writer, though challenging, is feasible and can be incredibly eye-opening and enjoyable.
3. The Elements of Style – William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, 1918
Improve your English writing skills with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. In this classic American English style guide, Strunk and White educate readers on essential details in writing and how to communicate more effectively no matter what you write.
The book offers rules and tips on writing with clarity and coherence. There is a significant focus on the importance of eliminating unnecessary words.
“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
The Elements of Style is worth a read no matter what genre you write. It’s a short book, so it doesn’t take long to read, and if you don’t enjoy the reading experience, you’re at least sure to learn a thing or two.
4. Self-editing for Fiction Writers – Dave King and Renni Brown, 1993
How do you write fiction that impacts a reader? How do you edit your work, so it’s ready for publishing before an editor touches it? These days more than ever, writers must take a multipronged approach to their craft.
King and Brown’s book is for you if you want to know how to write bestselling fiction or nonfiction novels, short stories, and even essays. Self-editing for Fiction Writers is a comprehensive guide to writing for fiction and nonfiction writers alike.
The title suggests exclusivity, but the book’s content is far too good to ignore, no matter what type of writer you are. Initially published in 1993, the book has since become one of the best-selling writing guides ever published.
Co-author Renni Brown generously shares the decades of experience and wisdom she gained from editing the work of famous and respected authors. She uses her invaluable expertise to offer readers guidelines on writing strong narratives, cultivating one’s voice as an author, and eliminating bad writing habits to increase one’s chances of getting published.
Dave King bolsters Brown’s advice with his own experience at Brown’s company, The Editorial Department.
King compiles both sources of experience, wisdom, and advice into a straightforward guidebook filled with exercises and examples based on approaches and techniques they deem most effective.
“Instead of saying “Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recoiled in disgust,” describe the room in such a way that the readers feel that disgust for themselves. You don’t want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences.”
Brown and King emphasize the importance of showing, not telling, in narrative fiction.
5. The Writing Life – Annie Dillard, 1989
Renowned author Annie Dillard offers an informative and honest look into a writer’s life. This is not a how-to guide or a workbook; this is an in-depth look at the mystery, the absurdity, and the unparalleled pleasure of writing.
Dillard offers indirect but engaging advice on the craft through anecdotes, memoirs, and personal discoveries. She explores the writer’s relationship to their work and the importance of dedication and commitment, especially when progress seems slow.
“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”
Accessible, funny, and conversational, The Writing Life is a book you won’t forget. You’ll learn a lot from the book’s content, but you’ll learn even more by paying attention to Dillard’s writing style.
Notice how she connects to her reader subtly and engagingly, offering a warm extended hand to anyone who wants to know more about the inner workings of the writing process and lifestyle.
6. Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury, 1990
Known for his classic works Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, and The Martian Chronicles, American novelist and essayist Ray Bradbury is a giant in literature. In his 1990 book Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury reveals the approaches and mindsets he experienced in his life as a writer and offers in-depth, experienced-based advice for those practicing the craft.
The book contains a series of essays drawn from different times of Bradbury’s life, complemented by an autobiographical writing style that immerses the reader in Bradbury’s magnetic and rich technique.
“That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats; you make them follow you.”
Zen in the Art of Writing is an essential read for any writer who wants to improve their craft from one of the world’s most renowned authors.
The only problem with the book is deciding whether to keep reading or to head straight to your desk and practice the solid advice and wisdom Bradbury generously offers.
7. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction – William Zinsser, 1986
William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction is a vital resource for those interested in nonfiction writing.
Zinsser educates readers on the importance of concise and clear writing. Though the focus is advice on writing nonfiction, many of the principles in the book apply to all writers.
Well is full of pointers, anecdotes, and examples about writing.
This book is a valuable resource for writers because Zinsser goes the extra mile for his reader. He explores different writing styles and requirements and offers advice for each, from writing about travel to comedy to the arts.
“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
Zinsser assures his reader that all of us can write. Writing is not meant to be exclusive. With some practice, practical knowledge, and commitment, Zinsser asserts that you can be a great writer, that it’s not easy, but it’s possible.
The books listed above are a small selection of excellent writing craft and lifestyle books. Many more books and authors break down the creative process and offer valuable advice to aspiring writers, so if the books above did not resonate with you, there are plenty more options.
A final tip – if you want to become a better writer, read more. Read books you like by authors you love, and have patience with readers and authors you dislike.
Even when you don’t like a book, consider why you don’t like it. Has the writer failed to engage you? What could they have done to make you more engaged? Can you approach your writing that way?
Assessing your own points of view about specific authors can help you determine your focus area in your own works and eventually mold you into the author you want to be.