17 Books Every Writer Should Read

By Karen Layman, aka Karen man writing in notebook with a stack of books

How do you become a great writer? Write. But, they say to be a good writer you also need to be a reader. Observing and absorbing good writing will inspire you to try new strategies in your own writing. Luckily, some master storytellers have actually written books on the craft of writing and how to get better at it. Here are some of the books every writer should read in order to strengthen their writing:

1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers of our age. He has published over 60 novels, numerous short stories, and many of his novels have been turned into successful film or television adaptations. It’s safe to say he knows the craft of writing and has a lot of advice to offer.

In this 5-part book, King tells his story of becoming a writer and the challenges he faced. He also breaks down what writing actually is and the mechanics of writing. Most importantly, he offers many insights into how to be a better writer. A beautifully written memoir with a goldmine of writing advice, On Writing is one of the best books to read to improve your writing.

2. Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips

Ernest Hemingway is another well-known writer to have offered his thoughts on writing. A famous novelist, Hemingway was known for his unique simple writing style and he influenced many writers who came up behind him.

While Hemingway never put his reflections on writing together in one book, he did, however, share many thoughts on the subject. He shared these thoughts through letters to his agent and friends, in articles, and in his novels. Larry Phillips compiled these pieces of writings into a book, full of Hemingway’s reflections on writing and how to be a writer.

3. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert is a journalist and author, best known for Eat, Pray, Love. She’s a seasoned writer and her expertise shines in this book where she offers thoughts and reflections on writing and creating.

Big Magic offers practical advice on writing as well as how to believe in the power of art. She emphasizes that writers need to be open to the stories happening to them. This book is especially helpful if you have found yourself in a writing rut.

Big Magic will inspire you and lead you back to your craft, which is one of the many reasons it makes the list for books every writer should read.

4. A Writer’s Diary, by Virginia Woolfe

People either love or hate Virginia Woolfe’s novels, but there’s no doubt she was a master at her craft. Her novels and writings have stood the test of time and writers can learn a lot from her.

A common misconception about great writers like Woolfe is that they could simply sit down and construct a piece of writing with a few drafts and some reworking. Woolfe’s diary gives us a look into her process and more importantly, shows the reality of writing.

She shines a light on the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing. Acknowledging the self-doubt and soul searching that writing can bring, Woolfe’s diary is a balm for the weary writer.

5. Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley

Everyone is a writer, whether they realize it or not. If you’re interacting online via social media, you are a writer. And, writing shows people who you are.It shows your personality, what you value, and how you treat others.

In Everybody Writes, Handley highlights that businesses must utilize excellent communication through content, and she walks the reader through how to do it.  Even if you don’t have a business, this book is a great read. Words matter and Handley shows you why.
6. Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott

Full of brilliant writing advice, Lamott talks candidly about the writing process. She introduces the idea of terrible first drafts, which basically means even when you feel like you can’t write, just get the thoughts down on paper. After it’s on paper, you can go back and improve on it.

Lamott reassures that every writer does this. Bad first drafts lead to okay second drafts, which then become excellent third drafts. Lamott even has exercises to follow in this book to help improve your writing skills, along with thoughts on character development, plot, and dialogue.

7. Shut Up And Write, by Mridu Khullar Relph

In this punchy book, you’ll get plenty of direct advice about writing. Relph details his journey of freelancing writing in India, which led to branching out into content marketing and fiction. This book is great if you need motivation to just sit down and write.

8. Make Great Art, by Neil Gaiman

This book is actually crafted from a 2012 commencement address Gaiman gave in Philadelphia. Graphic artist Chad Kipp had the genius idea to create an illustrated book of the speech.

Gaiman’s fiction is about stories. He’s mastered the craft of storytelling and how it informs us. Make Great Artinspires us to make art wherever we are and however we can.

9. The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

>In The Artist’s Way,Julia Cameron offers help with artistic creativity recovery. Cameron shares tips and techniques to bring back your self-confidence in your creativity. She also emphasizes creativity is linked with a spiritual connection.

10. Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey

This book highlights the value of creating writing rituals. These rituals are a great way to start a writing routine that sticks. This book is especially good if you’re struggling to get into the mindset of writing. This book serves its purpose best when picking random sections to inspire you.

Reading it from cover to cover is fine, but it really functions best as a reference guide. If you’re in your head too much about writing, this book will help bring you back down to reality.

11. Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Much like Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, Goldberg drives in the idea that writing and perfectionism do not go well together. She encourages writers to “write down the bones”, meaning write what you can.

Also like Lamott, she speaks highly of bad first drafts, once again telling writers to write. Editing comes later and it’s important to just get the ideas down on paper.

12. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield, American author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, dives deep into the how and why many writers face resistance when writing. He refers to resistance as a force many writers, as well as athletes and other creatives, face when trying to break creative barriers.

While he does offer advice for athletes and other artists, he really speaks to writers as he is one. Many of his examples refer to writing and are effective and applicable. If you find yourself coming up against some resistance while creating, this is a must-read.

13. Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn

Even though self-publishing sometimes has a negative connotation, it can be a valid and successful path for some writers. In this book, Penn clearly lays out how to self-publish. Penn has a very successful podcast with many in-depth episodes explaining the self-publishing process. This book takes all of that information and puts it in one place for an easy-to-follow guide.

14. The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne

If you write, you know a large part of the process involves editing your work. Coyne, an editor, offers practical advice for becoming a great editor. This book will help you figure out what is working in your writing and what is not working.

15. For Words; The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language edited by William Morris

This book is a must-have for any writer or anyone who loves words. An incredible resource, you will be able to find what words mean, their origin, and how to use them correctly and effectively. This book will help you make the most of your writing!

16. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

William Zinsser, a successful journalist, has mastered his craft in a remarkable way. Subtitled “The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction.”, this book covers everything from style, form, usage, audience, business, science, and technology writing, as well as sports, arts, and criticism. He conveys his knowledge succinctly and clearly, making it an enjoyable read for any writer.

17. Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee

A longtime professor of writing at Princeton University, McPhee has taught many students to communicate effectively through writing. Many of his students have been published or have become successful editors.

McPhee’s book is a treasure chest filled with insights into writing, publishing, and editing. He shows you what good writing looks like, explains how to write well, and how to reach the elite levels of writing. He tells you to be good while handing you the tools to follow through.

These are just a few books every writer should read that could also help you tap into your creativity. Hopefully, they will inspire you and help you hone your craft. Because this is just a sampling of the best books out there on the craft and process of writing, don’t be afraid to seek out other material and continue to learn, practice, and improve.

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