Best Essay Writing Book
If you’re a working or aspiring writer, you already likely know about the classic best books on writing–King’s On Writing, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style–but for a craft as varied and personal as writing, you’ll always benefit from learning from more voices, with more techniques.
That’s why this list is full of writers not only talking about the bare-bones craft of writing (and there’s plenty of fantastic advice there), but also how becoming a writer changed their lives and what role they believe writers play in an ever-changing world. From craft to writer’s lives, get ready to dig into 100 of the must-read, best books on writing for improving your own work.
1. A House of My Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros
“Written with her trademark lyricism, in these signature pieces the acclaimed author of The House on Mango Street shares her transformative memories and reveals her artistic and intellectual influences. Poignant, honest, and deeply moving, A House of My Own is an exuberant celebration of a life lived to the fullest, from one of our most beloved writers.”
2. A Little Book on Form by Robert Hass
“Brilliantly synthesizes Hass’s formidable gifts as both a poet and a critic and reflects his profound education in the art of poetry. Starting with the exploration of a single line as the basic gesture of a poem, and moving into an examination of the essential expressive gestures that exist inside forms, Hass goes beyond approaching form as a set of traditional rules that precede composition, and instead offers penetrating insight into the true openness and instinctiveness of formal creation.”
3. A Personal Anthology by Jorge Luis Borges
“After almost a half a century of scrupulous devotion to his art, Jorge Luis Borges personally compiled this anthology of his work—short stories, essays, poems, and brief mordant ‘sketches,’ which, in Borges’s hands, take on the dimensions of a genre unique in modern letters. In this anthology, the author has put together those pieces on which he would like his reputation to rest; they are not arranged chronologically, but with an eye to their ‘sympathies and differences.'”
4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
“Virginia Woolf imagines that Shakespeare had a sister—a sister equal to Shakespeare in talent, and equal in genius, but whose legacy is radically different. In this classic essay, she takes on the establishment, using her gift of language to dissect the world around her and give voice to those who are without. Her message is a simple one: women must have a fixed income and a room of their own in order to have the freedom to create.”
5. About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delany
“Taking up specifics (When do flashbacks work, and when should you avoid them? How do you make characters both vivid and sympathetic?) and generalities (How are novels structured? How do writers establish serious literary reputations today?), Delany also examines the condition of the contemporary creative writer and how it differs from that of the writer in the years of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the high Modernists. Like a private writing tutorial, About Writing treats each topic with clarity and insight.”
6. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby
“Based on the lessons in his award-winning class, Great Screenwriting, The Anatomy of Story draws on a broad range of philosophy and mythology, offering fresh techniques and insightful anecdotes alongside Truby’s own unique approach to building an effective, multifaceted narrative.”
7. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
“Explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. The book’s co-authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, are themselves both working artists, grappling daily with the problems of making art in the real world. Their insights and observations, drawn from personal experience, provide an incisive view into the world of art as it is experienced by artmakers themselves.”
8. The Art of Death by Edwidge Danticat
“At once a personal account of her mother dying from cancer and a deeply considered reckoning with the ways that other writers have approached death in their own work.”
9. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
“Gardner’s lessons, exemplified with detailed excerpts from classic works of literature, sweep across a complete range of topics—from the nature of aesthetics to the shape of a refined sentence. Written with passion, precision, and a deep respect for the art of writing, Gardner’s book serves by turns as a critic, mentor, and friend. Anyone who has ever thought of taking the step from reader to writer should begin here.”
10. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
“Karr synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and ‘black belt sinner,’ providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.”
11. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
“The seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life. Still as vital today—or perhaps even more so—than it was when it was first published twenty five years ago, it is a powerfully provocative and inspiring work.”
12. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
“With profound empathy and radiant generosity, Gilbert offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.”
13. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
“Lamott’s miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: ‘Just take it bird by bird.’ Lamott’s suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. “
14. Black Milk: On the Conflicting Demands of Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood by Elif Shafak
“She intersperses her own experience with the lives of prominent authors such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Ayn Rand, and Zelda Fitzgerald, Shafak looks for a solution to the inherent conflict between artistic creation and responsible parenting. With searing emotional honesty and an incisive examination of cultural mores within patriarchal societies, Shafak has rendered an important work about literature, motherhood, and spiritual well-being.”
15. Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors by Louise Erdrich
“Erdrich takes us on an illuminating tour through the terrain her ancestors have inhabited for centuries: the lakes and islands of southern Ontario. Summoning to life the Ojibwe’s sacred spirits and songs, their language and sorrows, she considers the many ways in which her tribe—whose name derives from the word ozhibii’ige, ‘to write'”—have influenced her. Her journey links ancient stone paintings with a magical island where a bookish recluse built an extraordinary library, and she reveals how both have transformed her.”
16. Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson
“An essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. With some one thousand entries that feature real-world examples of questionable usage from an international array of publications, and with a helpful glossary and guide to pronunciation, this precise, prescriptive, and–because it is written by Bill Bryson–often witty book belongs on the desk of every person who cares enough about the language not to maul or misuse or distort it.”
17. Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Morrell
“A truly memorable antagonist is not a one-dimensional super villain bent on world domination for no particular reason. Realistic, credible bad guys create essential story complications, personalize conflict, add immediacy to a story line, and force the protagonist to evolve.”
18. Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo
“In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice.”
19. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
“Former editor Lynne Truss, gravely concerned about our current grammatical state, boldly defends proper punctuation. She proclaims, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are.”
20. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
“You know the authors’ names. You recognize the title. You’ve probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style, the classic style manual. This book’s unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of ‘the little book’ to make a big impact with writing.”
21. The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass
“Veteran literary agent and expert fiction instructor Donald Maass shows you how to use story to provoke a visceral and emotional experience in readers. Readers can simply read a novel…or they can experience it. The Emotional Craft of Fiction shows you how to make that happen.”
22. Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
“A go-to guide to attracting and retaining customers through stellar online communication, because in our content-driven world, every one of us is, in fact, a writer. If you have a web site, you are a publisher. If you are on social media, you are in marketing. And that means that we are all relying on our words to carry our marketing messages. We are all writers.”
23. The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman
“With exercises at the end of each chapter, this invaluable reference will allow novelists, journalists, poets and screenwriters alike to improve their technique as they learn to eliminate even the most subtle mistakes that are cause for rejection. The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher — and more successful — level.”
24. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
“From blank page to first glowing (or gutting) review, Betsy Lerner is a knowing and sympathetic coach who helps writers discover how they can be more productive in the creative process and how they can better their odds of not only getting published, but getting published well.”
25. Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons for Black Authors by Jewell Parker Rhodes
“Free Within Ourselves is is meant to be a song of encouragement for African-American artists and visionaries. A step-by-step introduction to fictional technique, exploring story ideas, and charting one’s progress, as well as a resource guide for publishing fiction.”
26. Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins
“Want to bring characters to life on the page as vividly as fine actors do on the stage or screen? Getting Into Character will give you a whole new way of thinking about your writing. Drawing on the Method Acting theory that theater professionals have used for decades, this in-depth guide explains seven characterization techniques and adapts them for the novelist’s use.”
27. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou
“In The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou leaves California with her son, Guy, to move to New York. There she enters the society and world of black artists and writers, reads her work at the Harlem Writers Guild, and begins to take part in the struggle of black Americans for their rightful place in the world.”
28. If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
“In this book, Ueland shares her philosophies on writing and life in general. She stresses the idea that ‘Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.’ Drawing heavily on the work and influence of William Blake, she suggests that writers should ‘Try to discover your true, honest, un-theoretical self.’ She sums up her book with 12 points to keep in mind while writing. Carl Sandburg called If You Want to Write the best book ever written on how to write.”
29. Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep by Ted Conover
“Conover distills decades of knowledge into an accessible resource aimed at writers of all levels. He covers how to “get into” a community, how to conduct oneself once inside, and how to shape and structure the stories that emerge. Conover is also forthright about the ethics and consequences of immersion reporting, preparing writers for the surprises that often surface when their piece becomes public.”
30. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
“On a post-college visit to Florence, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri fell in love with the Italian language. Twenty years later, seeking total immersion, she and her family relocated to Rome, where she began to read and write solely in her adopted tongue. A startling act of self-reflection, In Other Words is Lahiri’s meditation on the process of learning to express herself in another language—and the stunning journey of a writer seeking a new voice.”
31. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker
“Alice Walker speaks out as a black woman, writer, mother, and feminist, in thirty-six pieces ranging from the personal to the political. Here are essays about Walker’s own work and that of other writers, accounts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the antinuclear movement of the 1980s, and a vivid, courageous memoir of a scarring childhood injury.”
32. It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by June Casagrande
“Great writing isn’t born, it’s built—sentence by sentence. But too many writers—and writing guides—overlook this most important unit. The result? Manuscripts that will never be published and writing careers that will never begin. So roll up your sleeves and prepare to craft one bold, effective sentence after another. Your readers will thank you.”
33. The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig
“The journey to become a successful writer is long, fraught with peril, and filled with difficult questions: How do I write dialogue? How do I build suspense? What should I know about query letters? Where do I start? The best way to answer these questions is to ditch your uncertainty and transform yourself into a KICK-ASS writer.”
34. The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebook by Brian Shawver
“Grand themes and complex plots are just the beginning of a great piece of fiction. Mastering the nuts and bolts of grammar and prose mechanics is also an essential part of becoming a literary artist. This indispensable guide, created just for writers of fiction, will show you how to take your writing to the next level by exploring the finer points of language.”
35. The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction by John Dufresne
“Finally, a truly creative―and hilarious―guide to creative writing, full of encouragement and sound advice. Provocative and reassuring, nurturing and wise, The Lie That Tells a Truth is essential to writers in general, fiction writers in particular, beginning writers, serious writers, and anyone facing a blank page.”
36. The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein
“Editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction―intention, character, plot, and voice―while addressing important topics like diversity, world-building, and the differences between middle-grade and YA novels.”
37. Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
“Making a good script great is more than just a matter of putting a good idea on paper. It requires the working and reworking of that idea. This book takes you through the whole screenwriting process – from initial concept through final rewrite – providing specific methods that will help you craft tighter, stronger, and more saleable scripts.”
38. Memoirsby Pablo Neruda
“In his uniquely expressive prose, Neruda not only explains his views on poetry and describes the circumstances that inspired many of his poems, but he creates a revealing record of his life as a poet, a patriot, and one of the twentieth century’s true men of conscience.”
39. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch
“Stephen Koch, former chair of Columbia University’s graduate creative writing program, presents a unique guide to the craft of fiction. Along with his own lucid observations and commonsense techniques, he weaves together wisdom, advice, and inspiring commentary from some of our greatest writers.”
40. Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay by Adair Lara
“Packed with insights and advice both practical (‘writing workshops you pay for are the best–it’s too easy to quit when you’ve made no investment’) and irreverent (‘apply Part A [butt] to Part B [chair]’). Naked, Drunk, and Writing is a must-have if you are an aspiring columnist, essayist, or memoirist—or just a writer who needs a bit of help in getting your story told.”
41. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood
“In this wise and irresistibly quotable book, one of the most intelligent writers working in English addresses the riddle of her art: why people pursue it, how they view their calling, and what bargains they make with their audience, both real and imagined. To these fascinating issues Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood brings a candid appraisal of her own experience as well as a breadth of reading that encompasses everything from Dante to Elmore Leonard.”
42. On Writing by Eudora Welty
“Eudora Welty was one of the twentieth century’s greatest literary figures. For as long as students have been studying her fiction as literature, writers have been looking to her to answer the profound questions of what makes a story good, a novel successful, a writer an artist.”
43. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
“Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.”
44. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
“Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher.”
45. One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher
“Based on the Zen philosophy that we learn more from our failures than from our successes, One Continuous Mistake teaches a refreshing new method for writing as spiritual practice. Here she introduces a method of discipline that applies specific Zen practices to enhance and clarify creative work. She also discusses bodily postures that support writing, how to set up the appropriate writing regimen, and how to discover one’s own ‘learning personality.'”
46. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland
“Writers often look upon outlines with fear and trembling. But when properly understood and correctly wielded, the outline is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer’s arsenal.”
47. The Paris Review Interviews, Vols. 1-4by The Paris Review
“For more than half a century, The Paris Review has conducted in-depth interviews with our leading novelists, poets, and playwrights. These revealing, revelatory self-portraits have come to be recognized as themselves classic works of literature, and an essential and definitive record of the writing life.”
48. The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
“Presents brief essays on the elements of poetry, technique, and suggested subjects for writing, each followed by distinctive writing exercises. The ups and downs of writing life―including self-doubt and writer’s block―are here, along with tips about getting published and writing in the electronic age.”
49. The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser
“Using examples from his own rich literary oeuvre and from the work of a number of successful contemporary poets, the author schools us in the critical relationship between poet and reader, which is fundamental to what Kooser believes is poetry’s ultimate purpose: to reach other people and touch their hearts.”
50. The Portable MFA in Creative Writing by New York Writers Workshop
“Have you always wanted to get an MFA, but couldn’t because of the cost, time commitment, or admission requirements? Well now you can fulfill that dream without having to devote tons of money or time. The Portable MFA gives you all of the essential information you would learn in the MFA program in one book.”
51. Paula: A Memoir by Isabel Allende
“Irony and marvelous flights of fantasy mix with the icy reality of Paula’s deathly illness as Allende sketches childhood scenes in Chile and Lebanon; her uncle Salvatore Allende’s reign and ruin as Chilean president; her struggles to shake off or find love; and her metamorphosis into a writer.”
52. Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
“In her fifteen years of teaching, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett has found that the biggest stumbling block for aspiring writers (especially women) is not fear of the blank page but frustration with the lack of time. What woman doesn’t have too much to do and too little time? Finding an hour free of work, children, or obligations can seem impossible.”
“Pixar Storytelling is about effective storytelling rules based on Pixar’s greatest films. The book consists of ten chapters, each of which explores an aspect of storytelling that Pixar excels at. Learn what Pixar’s core story ideas all have in common, how they create compelling, moving conflict and what makes their films’ resolutions so emotionally satisfying.”
You have several half-read writing books stacked up on your nightstand, several more squirreled away in a desk drawer and a dozen more on your Amazon wish list.
You scrutinize all the books that “customers also bought” looking for those one-of-a-kind books that will transform you into a great writer. You jump “inside the book” to read the table of contents and credits and page through the free preview.
Searching for the magic formula.
The formula that will erase the silent self-doubt. The nagging thought that you’re not quite good enough as a writer.
Books have an uncanny power to teach us, to transport us, to move us light years beyond our ordinary lives. If we could only find the right books, the tried-and-true books written by trusted masters. So we keep looking.
And once in a while you find a writing book that speaks to your heart and gets to the core of what you’re struggling with right now. It changes you. It changes your writing. It changes your life.
Because mastering the craft of writing depends upon your continuing education as a writer. It means you regularly upgrade and fine-tune your skills.
The 3 Critical Disciplines You Need to Develop as a Writer
1. Brutal Honesty
First, you need to cultivate a brutal, raw honesty. You need to accept that not every word, every emotional thought, every adjective-loaded sentence that flows from your hot fingertips is precious.
I mentored many rookie reporters who had a cocky, almost swaggering pride at where their writing skills landed them out of college. A few weeks in a newsroom with a couple of crusty copyeditors exploded that attitude. Then, they were ready to listen.
Objectively, unemotionally and dispassionately analyzing your writing is one of the most valuable skills you can develop to further your writing opportunities. And as a side benefit, you’ll also be able to handle scathing criticism from ruthless editors.
2. Linguistic Appreciation
Secondly, you need to develop an ear and eye for the flow of language.
Good writing has a rhythm, that deliberate cadence the writer creates in your mind as you read. Marvel at the perfectly placed and exquisitely balanced use of illusion, surprise and metaphor, and crave to imitate it.
Because if you don’t learn to appreciate the music and poetry in other writers’ work, you’ll never cultivate it in your own.
3. Insatiable Curiosity
Thirdly, you have an insatiable desire to learn anything and everything to improve your writing, the openness to accept constructive criticism and the commitment to sit with your bloated prose and edit until it sparkles.
Yes, writing is a solitary craft. And learning to improve our writing can feel like solitary confinement without guidance and reassurance. We can learn from teachers, from workshops, from books, but ultimately success is up to us, alone with our notepad or laptop.
The 3 Types of Books You Need to Grow as a Writer
There are three broad types of books about writing:
- Books that teach the mechanics of language – style, grammar, editing, etc.
- Books that teach structure – how to structure your thinking, your frame of mind and approach, and structure a story or other particular literary form.
- Books about being a writer – how to navigate the unique inner life of a writer.
Of course, most writing books will touch upon each type of writing advice. But to improve your writing skills in the fastest and most effective way, you must understand what you need to grow as a writer right now and choose the appropriate book to help.
The 3 Stages of Writer Development (and What to Read Based on Where You’re At)
We have writers of all levels of experience and ability reading Smart Blogger and in our GuestBlogging training program and Serious Bloggers Only community. They typically describe themselves in one of three stages:
1. The Novice Writer
You’re a brand-new writer who felt an inner switch flip on, and now a river of ideas is pouring out of your head. You know your writing needs work – lots of work – but you are compelled to keep writing because you feel powerless to staunch the flow. And even if you could stop, you wouldn’t want to.
What to read: Ideally, you should be reading both books on mechanics and structure. But the books on the mechanics of language will likely bore you to death right now. It’s far better for you to learn structure and good thinking habits early, and work on the mechanics later.
Think of it from an editor’s point of view: A poorly written but well-structured piece of writing can be polished. A poorly structured and poorly written piece is a nightmare, and rarely worth the editing effort it demands. The writer doesn’t understand his topic, hasn’t thought it through with clarity and is clueless on how to engage the reader.
2. The Competent Writer
You’re a decent writer and have lots of ideas, but you often aren’t sure where to begin. If you’re honest with yourself, your writing is okay with occasional stellar moments.
What to read: Start with books on approach and structure that will help you think through your ideas before you put them on the page. Often, with good writers, the best writing happens in your head before you even jot down a sentence.
If you’ve been writing in a certain style or format for a while — such as blog posts — cross train in another genre. (More on this later.) Study the structure of screenwriting, novel writing or poetry for six months or until it feels nearly second nature to shift into this new form. The change in your writing will be dramatic and permanent.
Once you’ve improved structure and approach, pick one or two mechanical fixes to work on as you rewrite and edit with your new eyes.
3. The Seasoned Writer
You’ve written a lot for a long time and have the mechanics mastered. But your writing experience has been centered in business, academia, medicine, law or other utilitarian venues. You’re ready to write fiction, or use the life lessons you’ve learned to help others through your blog, but you’re struggling to share your own ideas in your own voice. You recognize that your writing is solid, but it lacks warmth and sparkle.
What to read: Immerse yourself in books about being a writer and the writer’s life. Leisurely read some writer memoirs, and you’ll be startled by how similar your doubts and struggles are. Try on a few silly new rituals, like writing poetry by candlelight or stream-of-conscious journaling in the pre-dawn hours to change up your point of view.
How to Know Exactly Which Books to Read First
Before we dive into our list of essential books, let’s talk briefly about the best way to use it.
If one of these writing stages resonated strongly with you, jump down to our favorites in the three categories below and start there. If you’ve already read our favorites, you might want to read them again with a fresh mind and notebook handy.
If you don’t feel you fit neatly in one of those stages, grab the book that excites you the most, right now, as you read about it here. The one that jumps up and gently taps you on the cheek like a hungry cat to get your attention.
Start there and take the time to import the ideas and exercises into your current writing immediately. Thinking about it won’t make it so; you must put these concepts into practice. Even 30 minutes a day will make a noticeable difference in a short time.
The Only 9 Books on Writing You’ll Ever Need
Think about this: in the next hour, you have the ability at your fingertips to tap into the world’s best books on writing and begin the next stage of your transformation – if you’re willing to make the commitment of time.
The following books will make the difference, and each is around $10 on Kindle or less, so download and begin.
Books on Mechanics of the Language
*On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
Favorite: Best book on the mechanics of the language
I was fortunate to find On Writing Well while I was working at my first newspaper and realized my editors, excellent grammarians all, could not teach me anything more about significantly improving my writing. This one book changed the trajectory of my career as a journalist from a mediocre, but promising, community reporter at a large twice-weekly paper to an international business reporter at a respected metropolitan business paper.
Originally published in 1976, Zinsser’s tips on mechanics, structure and thinking have stood the test of time for generations of writers of all kinds. His principles are equally sound for today’s bloggers, fiction and non-fiction writers and any kind of digital publisher.
Categories: Primarily mechanics but interwoven with thinking and structure
What’s in it for bloggers: If you read only one book on improving the structure and mechanics of language, make it this one. An added benefit: You’ll learn a lot from Zinsser’s easy, conversational writing voice that you can apply to your own blog.
Buy this book on Amazon.com
Books on Structure and Frame of Mind
*Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder
Favorite: Best Book on Structure
Save the Cat is essentially a formula book, focused on the structure of screenplays. It’s similar to Story Engineering (below) in that it explains the structure and elements of a screenplay, but is more approachable. Think of it as an introductory college course that teaches you the basics.
You’ll learn the main story archetypes, how to structure a good screenplay, and more subtle techniques like how to create a character the audience loves almost immediately.
One of Jon’s favorite writing books, you’ll be able to write a decent screenplay with Save the Cat if that’s your goal. He calls it “Headline Hacks for storytelling – fill in the blanks.”
Categories: Primarily structure and formula
What’s in it for bloggers: A blog is a performance and you’re the main character. Learn how to make an audience fall in love with you.
Buy this book on Amazon.com
Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks
Compelling stories are the undercurrent that propels successful writers and bloggers of all kinds. Whether you are writing blog posts, e-books, magazine articles or novels, having the skills to deftly tell a story will make you both memorable and in-demand as a writer.
Story Engineering is like a master class in storytelling and novel writing. It focuses deeply on the six core elements – or competencies – of successful storytelling, screenplays and novels. An intense, comprehensive book, Story Engineering can help bring your writing to a professional level if you read and consistently apply the concepts in this book.
Categories: Heavy on structure
What’s in it for bloggers: You can master the structure of a good story with this book, whatever topic, niche or length you write. And get all your questions answered about storytelling in one place. It’s worth the time and effort.
Buy this book on Amazon.com
Naked, Drunk and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay, by Adair Lara
While at first glance this book looks like it has nothing to do with blogging, learning how to craft a compelling personal essay is the essence of what most bloggers struggle with today. Whether or not you realize it, you are parading yourself naked and drunk every time you hit “publish” in WordPress.
Naked and Drunk is about two-thirds biographical and about one-third writing lessons. It weaves together Lara’s personal stories with lessons on how to structure a memoir with lessons and language mechanics.
This is the book you also want to read if you want to learn to effectively tell your own story. But don’t read it first.
You need to understand the elements of crafting a good story to fully appreciate and benefit from the lessons in Naked and Drunk. Read it after the storytelling books. Read it after you read Save the Cat.
Categories: Primarily structure with some mechanics
What’s in it for bloggers: You’ll discover how to see beyond the label “blogger” and craft your story to touch the lives of readers.
Buy this book on Amazon.com
How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, by James N. Frey
Damn Good Novel is similar to Save the Cat in that it offers a structure and formula for constructing a novel, but it’s filled with more principles of good writing and examples of excellent storytelling.
If you haven’t figured out by now, structure and storytelling are critical skills to becoming a successful, or even merely competent, writer. The more you can learn about storytelling in all its forms, fiction or non-fiction, short or long, the more tools you have in your writer’s tool box.
With tens of thousands of new blogs created every day, according to WordPress.com, compelling storytelling is the one proven method of setting your writing apart from the masses.
Categories: Primarily structure and storytelling
What’s in it for bloggers: This is cross training in storytelling. Don’t guess, don’t try to make it up and don’t waste time reinventing the wheel. Learn it; then make it work for you.
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*CA$HVERTISING: How to Use More than 100 Secrets of Ad-Agency Psychology to Make Big Money Selling Anything to Anyone, by Drew Eric Whitman
Title turn you off? Too money-grabbing for you? Skip this copywriting book at your blogging peril.
Face it: Successful blogging is persuasive writing in another suit of clothes. It doesn’t even matter if you want to make money from your blog or not. You need to connect with people (through stories) and persuade them you have a message worth reading or products worth buying (through copywriting).
Jon recommends this book for most bloggers because it has the most modern approach and best summary of the key points covered in the fundamental copywriting books.
Categories: Structure and using the mechanics of language
What’s in it for bloggers: Whether you’re a beginner or more experienced writer, take the time to learn what successful bloggers know about using psychology in your writing. At least, it will open your eyes to how you respond to the persuasive writing all around you without even knowing it.
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Books on Being a Writer
*On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Favorite: Best book on being a writer
Even if you’ve never read any of King’s gory thrillers, read this book. Then reread it at least once a year.
Very much a memoir, King uses stories of his wild childhood to illustrate the making of a writer. Besides memorable stories, you’ll get insight into structure, key takeaways on mechanics and his opinions on what’s important to writing and writers. You get to peer inside his head and see how his mind formulates those bizarre ideas and crafts unworldly plots. You’ll be both awed and inspired to suddenly see story elements all around you.
Categories: Primarily writing life with frame of mind and structure insight
What’s in it for bloggers: The craft of storytelling to engage readers and keep them coming back for more (from the author of more than 50 worldwide bestsellers), and how to constantly think about what your readers are thinking so you can crawl inside their heads and freak them out.
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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
Lamott’s small book may be one of the best-loved on how to structure your writing frame of mind and the writer’s life. She so adeptly and invisibly reflects her thoughts and experiences back on the reader that you feel an intimate part of her personal stories – a rare and long-acquired storytelling skill.
This is another book to read at least once a year. And along with King’s On Writing, to copy by hand on paper to absorb some of the rhythm, cadence and magic of these classics.
Categories: Being a writer interwoven with frame of mind and approach
What’s in it for bloggers: Lamott could be a role model and idol for bloggers who want to use their personal stories to illustrate fundamental truths about life. You’ll so resonate with her stories, you won’t even notice when she talks about herself.
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Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Goldberg’s fresh observations will reintroduce you to the wonder, magic, curiosity and excitement that lured you into writing in the first place. Although published nearly 30 years ago, Goldberg would be a hugely popular blogger today if she filled a blog with her Zen-inspired posts on how to be a writer, how to beat procrastination, the beauty of language and how to be focused and spontaneous at the same time.
Back in my newspaper days, I read from the chapter, “Man Eats Car,” when asked to talk to elementary school classes about creative writing. Inspired by Goldberg’s example, I once wrote poems on demand for $1 during a church festival. Children stood there and stared at me, wide-eyed, as I wrote poems on their ideas – ballet, wrestling, the rain – in the pen color of their choice.
Categories: Frame of mind and being a writer
What’s in it for bloggers: If you need something gentle to jar you out of your same-old same-old writing rut and inspire you to see the world with fresh eyes, read this book.
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Read Your Way to Becoming a Better Writer
Your writer’s education is never complete.
And if you stay curious, the world is a generous teacher.
Every day, your mental kaleidoscope is filled with images and impressions you can use to create mesmerizing stories.
Books can bring structure and insight, but the constant search for exactly the right book keeps you from the job at hand – the act of writing.
So call off your search and focus on the nine books mentioned here.
Start by asking yourself a question:
“What do I need as a writer – right now?”
To sharpen the tools of your trade? Grab Zinsser’s book.
To get fresh inspiration on life as a writer? Pick up King, Lamott or Goldberg.
To learn a proven approach to structuring your writing? Read Save the Cat.
That you start is more important than where you start.
So get reading. Pick a book and start.
And then get writing. Because that’s what real writers do.
About the Author: Marsha Stopa is senior instructor and coach for all Smart Blogger courses. She’s living her dream in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, where she just bought a fixer-upper among the bears on a quiet mountain with a stunning view
“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
— Mary Heaton Vorse