9 outstanding books about writing

These tomes can help you brush up on fundamentals, gain insights from prolific novelists or learn how and where to peddle your prose.

Most writers will tell you that the No. 1 thing you can do to improve your writing prowess is to read—a lot.

Read anything and everything you can find, and you’ll become a better writer, according to conventional wisdom.

While you’re packing your brain with knowledge, why not include a few writing-focused books on your reading list? The titles below can add a lot to any writer’s library—from helping you hone your craft to finding inspiration and determining where to pitch your ideas.

1. “On Writing” by Stephen King

Part memoir, part guidebook, Stephen King’s “On Writing” will appeal even to those who avoid King’s renowned horror-packed tales. In this book, King discusses how he came to be the writer we know today.

He also includes a toolkit packed with tips for beginners and a reading list with a few of his own favorites. Written in his signature style, this witty read will keep you entertained-and soaking up some great ideas.

2. Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is known as one of the masters, and her book “Bird by Bird” is an essential part of any writer’s toolbox. In this work, she shares herself and her craft with readers, including anecdotes that tie the pieces together into all-around great writing.

The title “Bird by Bird” refers to instructions provided to Lamott’s brother, who was not sure how to start writing a school report about birds. The task seemed insurmountable. Her father’s advice was simply to take it “one bird at a time.”

That wisdom works far beyond academic reports.

3. “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

The author of “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” shares her words of wisdom in this handy book, in which she discusses the difficulties of writing. She explains that sometimes it’s necessary to destroy and paragraphs, phrases and words to re-form them as something even better.

She doesn’t pull punches about how hard writing can be, which is valuable for any writer to hear: Even the most well-regarded pros struggle sometimes. Her book shares this wisdom in enjoyable prose.

4. Writer’s Market” edited by Robert Lee Brewer

Long hailed as essential to any writer’s bookshelf, “Writer’s Market” helps aspiring writers to become published ones.

This weighty tome includes articles about writing as well as interviews with authors, editors and publishers, but the meat of this book is the listings. It contains hundreds of pages of suggested markets for nonfiction writers as well as those looking to sell short stories, including details for how to pitch your work.

“Writer’s Market” is updated annually and contains incredibly valuable tips—such as what percentage of a magazine’s stories are written by freelancers—that are a huge asset to any writer looking to break into a new market.

5. “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser

This classic book targets nonfiction writers and includes writing tips as well as the fundamentals of craft. Zinsser discusses many forms of writing, from interviewing and telling stories about people to writing about travel. He even delves into business writing, art criticism and sharing pieces about family through memoirs.

Whatever kind of writing you undertake, Zinsser will have at least a few tips for you.

6. “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

For years, writing teachers have assigned “The Elements of Style” to their students. Brushing up on the basics from time to time is crucial to continually developing your skills, and this book contains simple truths that every writer should know.

From information on grammar and style to tips for sorting out the writing clutter, this classic is an essential additon to any writer’s bookshelf.

7. ” How to Write Bestselling Fiction ” by Dean Koontz

Many books on this list are aimed at nonfiction writers; this one is ideal for those who dream up their own stories to tell. If anyone is qualified to tell people how to write bestselling fiction, it’s prolific author Dean Koontz, who’s sold more 450 million copies of his books—14 of which have topped the New York Times hardcover bestseller list.

This book was written in 1981 and is out of print, but it offers valuable insights for writers who manage to snag a copy. (Hint: Check the library.)

8. “The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work” edited by Marie Arana

This book contains columns from a decade of The Washington Post’s “Writing Life” column, with contributors as diverse as Jimmy Carter, Joyce Carol Oates and Carl Sagan. Essays are paired with biographical information about each author, helping readers learn more about these skilled contributors and their ideas on writing.

9. “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron

From time to time, every writer suffers from burnout or writer’s block. Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” focuses on the craft of writing and training yourself to be even more creative. She offers valuable techniques, including starting each morning with a free-writing exercise and exploring one subject per week that you find fascinating. Her tips to reinvigorate the creative juices are a huge help to any writer.

What books about writing would you add to this list?

A version of this article first appeared on The Write Life.

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