So, you’ve decided to amp up your writing skills.
You’ve taken the first important step.
And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
If you’re going to succeed, you must be willing: willing to learn, to grow, to change your old habits and strategies, right?
But you’re apprehensive, too.
You don’t want to waste your time—time you could be writing—focusing on the wrong skills, the wrong advice from some has-been’s dated strategy.
You’ve been down that rabbit hole, and it cost you dearly. You know the one: that course, that system, that seminar promising the moon, promising to make all your writing dreams come true.
For $$$, we’ll deliver the insider hack standing between you and the bestseller list.
The problem with hacks is they’re unreliable. They may work once (in an isolated context), but they rarely address the big picture. You need a plan you can take to the bank.
You need solid advice, strategies that have stood the test of time.
Now, you’re getting warm.
There’s a reason why we’re still studying Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics, why we’re still discussing pathos, ethos, and logos in college classrooms.
Classics hold up; they’re reliable.
So, forget about the latest fad, the latest fast track to celebrity.
The following books have captivated and motivated writers just like you. They’ve held up to scrutiny, to spiteful criticism. They’ve earned their way into classrooms and bookshelves, taking ordinary writers to new levels.
And they won’t cost you hundreds, either.
Take a look at these 22 classic books on the art and craft of writing.
Let me know how it goes.
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
William Zinsser’s classic, selling over a million copies, offers multiple strategies to improve the performance of both fiction and nonfiction writers. Providing context, instruction, and real-world examples, Zinsser begins with foundational elements: trimming the fat, reducing clutter.
The goal is sharp, clear prose.
Using carpentry as a metaphor, he tackles style, warning beginning writers to avoid excessive ornamentation, to avoid prioritizing style over substance. Subsequent chapters cover audience, word usage, and voice, with detailed instructions for covering specific markets: personal interviews, memoir, science and technology, business, humor, and sports.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Former Cornell University professor William Strunk’s tiny book became one the most popular reference books for working writers. At 86 pages, The Elements of Style belongs on every writer’s bookshelf. This seminal writing guide covers rules of usage, principles of composition, and common errors in usage and spelling.
If you read only one book about writing this year, make it Strunk and White’s classic. You can pick up the Kindle version for 99 cents.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Ann Lamott’s bestseller opens with four compelling conversations: getting started, short assignments, shitty first drafts, and perfectionism. After soothing your fears and gaining your trust, she tackles character, plot, and dialogue.
Written with kindness, wit, and candor, Lamott pushes you to find, embrace, and share your truth. You’ll leave each chapter changed by her words, ready to embrace your own process. With Bird By Bird, she inspires more than preaches. You’ll feel her presence, not as a taskmaster, but as a beloved friend, coach, or mentor.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
More than a mere how to book on writing, King’s book takes you through his personal history, from wannabe childhood writer to successful novelist. Along the way, he shares his perspective on the art and craft of writing.
He’s generous with details, discussing his struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. He shares the genesis of his stories, how mundane experiences sparked future characters and plot sequences. He takes you inside his process, showing you how he makes connections. This is a book to be read and reread, an essential reference for any aspiring novelist.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Goldberg’s classic book on writing, now in its 30th anniversary edition, combines memoir, instruction, and Zen meditation. She says, “Writing is a uniquely human activity. It might even be built into our DNA.” We all have our stories to tell. Her book celebrates this shared human experience.
While many writing books focus on output and productivity, Writing Down the Bones entices readers to slow down, to find their own rhythm, to forge a new relationship with the page. Goldberg elucidates the show, don’t tell mantra beautifully: “Don’t tell readers what to feel. Show them the situation, and that feeling will awaken within them.”
A short, fascinating read, Writing Down the Bones helps writers at all levels reconnect with inspiration.
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Blogger, thriller writer, best-selling author, and fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine, James Scott Bell shares his vast knowledge about plotting fiction.
Bell offers writers more than mere theories; his book contains plotting diagrams and charts, story-structure models, and brainstorming techniques to uncover compelling, original plot ideas. Using examples from popular novels, Bell takes readers behind the scenes, showing how the pieces fit together, exposing the recycled themes and plot twists that endure over time. Each chapter ends with a thought-provoking exercise.
Pantsers beware: you may never return to your previous methods.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
I remember the flood of inspiration following my first reading of The Artist’s Way. I return to it often when I need a lift. Like Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, The Artist’s Way encourages a spiritual approach to writing and creativity.
Organized like a 12-week workshop/retreat, Julia’s process helps writers identify and strip away creative blocks while establishing a meaningful, daily writing practice. Her morning pages exercise will guide you through the ups and downs of productivity, keeping you grounded and focused.
This is a book you’ll read and share. You’ll need to buy copies for your friends, though. You won’t want to part with it.
Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level by Donald Maass
Donald Maass’s unique perspective comes from his experiences as an author and a literary agent. His New York agency represents over 150 fiction authors. With massive numbers of writers publishing today, this book offers proven strategies to set your novel apart from the competition.
Beginning writers will enjoy fundamental topics covering basics such as time and place, characters, plot, and theme. Seasoned writers will find advanced techniques addressing multiple viewpoints, subplots, pace, voice, and endings.
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method contains ten steps to help beginning writers map out their stories. The methods are revealed in story form. While enjoying the story of Goldilocks/the writer’s journey, the reader learns the ins and outs of plot organization.
If you’re a pantser or you’re turned off by classical story structure, the Snowflake Method may be the jumpstart you need. Readers around the world credit Ingermanson’s system for helping them stave off complex plot problems before they begin.
Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
Take Off Your Pants contains fiction author Libby Hawkins’s personal strategy for organizing a novel.
Why do we need yet another guide for plotting a story?
Plotting a story creates substantial confusion for inexperienced writers. While the pantser’s process may seem liberating, it leads to countless unnecessary problems down the line: plot holes, discrepancies, character inconsistencies. To complicate matters, there’s no single approach that works for everyone.
Libbie’s approach includes putting the character arc first and prioritizing character flaws. Her method represents a hybrid of traditional methods. Readers cite this book as an invaluable resource, for unlocking the secrets of storytelling.
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey examines the pervasive influence of myth on storytelling, the arts, and everyday life. Mirroring Joseph Campbell’s work, Vogler cites blockbuster film examples such as The Wizard of Oz, Titanic, and Star Wars. Through these well-known stories and shared cultural experiences, he examines classical archetypes and the hero’s journey.
His use of film makes this book unique. The pop-culture examples help readers understand and digest the concepts. These illustrations succeed where mere text often fails. If you purchase only one book on the art and craft of fiction writing, this is the book.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Don’t let the simple cover fool you; this little book packs a punch. Treasured American memoirist Annie Dillard takes readers through the complexities of writing and storytelling.
This book contains seven chapters, with the text clocking in at 130 pages. As the name implies, this work is about worldbuilding, about constructing life and meaning through words.
Engaging as well as educational, let The Writing Life take your writing journey to new heights.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Author Ray Bradbury, best known for his classic novel Fahrenheit 451, forever changed his reader, his messages burned into the psyche.
In Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury shares his perspective on the art and craft of writing. Each quirky chapter keeps you turning the page. Who could resist chapters names like “Drunk, and in Charge of a Bicycle” and “The Long Road to Mars?” After this read, you’ll never look at his amazing body of work the same way.
Everybody Writes: Your Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
Who could resist the cover of this text: a simple pair of glasses, inviting readers to look closer at the contents? Once inside, you’ll be surprised by the breadth and depth of the material. Author Ann Handley distills the complex writing process into a series of practical steps anyone can follow.
You’ll learn how to hook readers with your beginning sequences, how to craft those perfect endings–the ones sending readers back to the bookstore, scouring shelves for your next installment. Whether you’re writing ad copy, articles for the internet, or the next great American novel, Handley’s advice delivers.
The Associated Press Stylebook
Why do some folks prefer math to writing? Math relies on rules. If you’d like to add more structure to your writing, the Associated Press Stylebook is the text for you.
Used in the finest newsrooms and universities, The AP Stylebook helps writers figure out what to say and how to say it. Rather than relying on guesswork or imitating the moves of other writers, you can write to an established standard. Offering timeless advice from acclaimed masters of journalism, you’ll want to keep a copy close to your writing desk.
Writing Tools: 55 Essential strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
Most writers will identify with the symbolism on the book cover: the tiny, overworked pencil, sharpened down to its last hour of utility. One can imagine its lifetime achievements. Now in its tenth edition with five new tips, Author Roy Peter Clark’s writing classic contains three main sections:
Part one, “Nuts and Bolts,” discusses the best way to begin sentences, the importance of word order, and how to establish (and break) patterns. Part two, “Special Effects,” delves into wordplay, paying special attention to names, images, and creative language. “Blueprints,” the third section, tackles action, characterization, action, foreshadowing, and suspense. Finally, the fourth section, titled “Useful Habits,” provides practical lifestyle advice, such as completing your homework, avoiding procrastination, and recruiting support.
Writing Tools cuts through the noise, offering practical strategies to elevate each writer’s product and process.
Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
Known for A Passage to India, Howard’s End and A Room with a View, E. M. Forster was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature sixteen times. In Aspects of the Novel, Forster offers his unique slant on writing better fiction, repurposing content from his lectures at Cambridge University.
Aspects of the Novel investigates successful fiction with a keen focus on human nature, covering topics such as people, stories, plot, prophecy, fantasy, pattern, and rhythm.
How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz
How can you write best-selling fiction? Indeed. This bold title begs the question:
What does this author know about writing best-selling fiction?
With fourteen New York Times bestsellers to his credit and 25 million copies sold, author Dean Koontz knows how to write bestselling fiction.
While the cover may look simple (and dated), the book is filled with practical information on grammar, pacing, characterization, dialogue, and structure—key elements for anyone wanting to write fiction. Koontz will help you bring your characters and ideas to life.
Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein
We’ll be the first to admit that the name of this book is a bit of a mouthful (the words of the title take up the entire cover of the book).
However, it’s just your first hint that author Sol Stein has much to say about the writing process.
Author, editor, publisher, university professor, and software creator, Stein edited works by James Baldwin, Dylan Thomas, and Elia Kazan. Stein will assist you in structuring your non-fiction, engaging with your readers, and showing you how editing can turn a good piece of writing into something remarkable.
The Plot Skeleton: Writing Lessons from the Front, Book 1 by Angela Hunt
Christy-Award-wining author Dr. Angela Hunt has sold over five million copies of her books. The Plot Skeleton, the first in a series for writers, focuses on the “bare bones” of good writing. She offers timeless writing strategies beginners can use to organize their stories. She explains her simple, logical process in 31 pages.
A quick, transformative read, The Plot Skeleton appeals to writers wanting to dive in and make rapid progress.
Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean with Precision and Power by William Brohaugh
Author William Brohaugh discovered a secret:
Most writers assume they’ll have trouble writing, so they end up writing too much.
Write Tight, taking its cue from masters like Ernest Hemingway, helps writers tame their prose, helping them fine-tune at the sentence level to deliver lean, powerful prose. Say goodbye to verbose, purple pages. The ultimate combo for writers, you’ll learn how to write less and say more!
Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton
Books on writing often fail by trying to cover too much ground, offering bland, generic information. Edgerton’s book, however, focuses squarely on the title: grabbing the reader’s attention on the first page.
Hooked contains eleven chapters, discussing structure, opening scenes, the inciting incident, backstory, combining elements, introducing characters, economizing language, red flags, and more. If you’re writing fiction, Hooked will help you avoid common problem areas, placing your work ahead of the crowd.
Now, to you.
What do you think? Have we missed an important resource? What’s your favorite book on writing? What book should we add to our list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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