This is a selection of my must-read books for writers. They have each, in different ways, given me something invaluable. Some of these books are about the writer’s life and the process of writing. Others deal with the mechanics of writing: grammar, punctuation, and storytelling. A couple are about creativity, and one might not seem like it belongs on this list, but I believe it deals with an important aspect of what it requires to be a writer.
Have you read any of these books? Leave a comment about what you thought of any of these books and share your own must-reads for writers.
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Writing Well – Mark Tredinnick
Mark Tredinnick’s Writing Well is my favourite book about writing. It is beautifully written, touches on everything from generating ideas and writing habits to the mechanics of writing good sentences, and includes example passages from literature to illustrate his points. I reread this book every year and I get something new from it with each read as I grow as a writer.
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is the boost every writer (and creative) needs from time to time. Full of wisdom, affirmation, and a couple of hard truths, this book is a reminder that creativity isn’t a talent some have and others don’t, but an inherent part of being human. If you have trouble claiming your creativity and owning your offerings, this book is where you start.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was the first book I ever read about writing. Looking back, if I’d never read another book on the topic, I’d still have all I need to know about writing. She writes intimately about the reality of being a writer, how it’s done on a daily basis, and how to overcome the obstacles that all who write face. Lamott is one of my favourite writers; she’s wise, funny, and down-to-earth. I can’t recommend this book enough and I personally return to it often.
The Glamour of Grammar – Roy Peter Clark
Roy Peter Clark’s The Glamour of Grammar is interesting, funny, and jam-packed with need-to-know grammar goodies. He’s a great writer and if you love English, you have to read this book. I found it more useful (and answered far more of my questions) than Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. In fact, The Glamour of Grammar is my Elements of Style. Sorry, not sorry.
It Was the Best of Sentences, it Was the Worst of Sentences – June Casagrande
June Casagrande’s ‘guide to crafting killer sentences’ is one of the most valuable resources I’ve read for writers. It’s up there with the Glamour of Grammar for me, and I consider it essential reading for all serious writers. It’s easy to read, funny, and it focuses on a key element of good writing: the crafting of awesome sentences. Your writing will thank you for reading this one.
The Art of Memoir – Mary Karr
Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir is as much about how to write in general as it is about writing memoirs. Reading this book, I realised that everyone who writes creative non-fiction or blogs is doing some form of memoir writing. We draw from ourselves and our memories to write stories we hope people can connect with and draw meaning from, and memoirists are doing the same thing. Even if you don’t plan to write a memoir, I recommend this book.
Steal Like An Artist – Austin Kleon
Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist will get you thinking differently about how to live a creative life, how to generate ideas, and how to keep the spark burning bright. I’ve gotten so much from this book that I think it should be compulsory reading. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll likely have found a Kleon quote in there somewhere. He’s inspiring, so do yourself a favour and read it.
Still Writing – Dani Shapiro
Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing is in the same vein as Bird by Bird, except it’s different. Her style, insight, and advice are different, but it’s wrapped up in the same kind of great writing you’d expect from a talented author. Still Writing has great advice and Shapiro-esque depth. I always enjoy reading her work.
Writing Down The Bones – Natalie Goldberg
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones is a classic in the world of writing books. It’s the writing life meets the zen life, and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but that’s the problem with expectations – they can ruin perfectly good experiences. I took a lot from this book and I highly recommend it. It’s made up of self-contained, essay-like chapters, so if you’re not feeling a chapter, you can move on.
Eats Shoots And Leaves – Lynne Truss
Lynne Truss’ Eats Shoots and Leaves is all about punctuation and there’s no way you can get away with not reading this one. Truss is funny, and the book is both entertaining and hugely informative. This, right here, is an education in a book.
Wired For Story – Lisa Cron
Lisa Cron’s Wired For Story is like no other. It has taught me so much about storytelling. If you write for humans, you must read this book. End of story.
The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown
Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection isn’t about writing but it has a powerful message about living a wholehearted life which requires courage, compassion, and connection. Writers need these too if they want to write stories and articles that speak to people. Brown also covers what it takes to be authentic and the importance of allowing imperfection in your work (and yourself) and sharing it anyway. It’s an important book for everyone to read, but for writers it’s message has a double impact.
On Writing – Stephen King
Stephen King’s On Writing is another memoir-style book about the writer’s life and the art of writing, but it’s written by STEPHEN KING, master of all masters. I read this one a long time ago, but I still remember specific advice about how to handle dialogue, swearing, and describing a character’s appearance that I think is invaluable. I’m sure you’ll also get a great deal from reading King’s book.