All good writers know
the best way to improve your writing is to write. And the second best
way? Study the craft.
Reading books can
take you further -- and faster -- on your journey toward becoming a
better writer. For a few dollars and a few hours of your time, you can
absorb the strategies and "secret sauce" of the master
I've read dozens of
books on writing, and I'm always searching for titles that I haven't read
yet, or new ones that touch on a topic I'm diving deep on at the moment. While
I'm not a novelist, I also enjoy reading books about writing fiction because I
believe there's much that nonfiction writers can learn from the craft of
Here's a handful of
writing-craft books from my shelf (and the Kindle app on my iPhone) that I
believe can help you become a better writer:
1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction,
by William Zinsser
William Zinsser was a
journalist, author, and writing instructor at Yale. His book On Writing Well is a classic among writers and
has sold nearly 1.5 million copies in the 40 years since it was published. It's
one of the first books I recommend to anyone seeking to improve their
writing. Zinsser packs several practical lessons into his book,
including this gem:
All your clear and pleasing sentences
will fall apart if you don't keep remembering that writing is linear and
sequential, that logic is the glue that holds it together, that tension must be
maintained from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next and
from one section to the next, and that narrative -- good old-fashioned
storytelling -- is what should pull your readers along without their noticing
2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
About a dozen years ago,
mega-best-selling author Stephen King wrote a book about the craft of writing
that became an instant bestseller: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. After telling
the story of how he became the writer he is today, King devotes the second half
of the book to sharing his writing strategies, like his suggestion that you
should write for your "Ideal Reader":
I think that every novelist has a
single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story,
the writer is thinking, 'I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this
part?' For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.... Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader.
3. Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W.
never codified his insights on writing into a book, but he did share his
thinking on the topic in commissioned articles; letters to his agents,
publishers, and friends; and through his novels. Ernest Hemingway on Writing is a collection of
his insights on the craft of writing, and includes several practical and
You see I'm trying in all my stories to
get the feeling of the actual life across -- not to just depict life -- or
criticize it -- but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the
thing. You can't do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as
well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can't believe in
4. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
science-fiction author Ray Bradbury collected the lessons he had
learned about the craft during his long and successful career in Zen in the Art of Writing. Bradbury's advice?
If you are writing without zest,
without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means
you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for
the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don't even know
yourself. For the first thing a writer should be
is -- excited.
5. Several Short Sentences About Writing, by Verlyn
Verlyn Klinkenborg is
an author and creative writing instructor at Yale. In the preface to Several Short Sentences About Writing, he argues that
"most of the received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but
harmful", and then devotes the rest of the book to smashing assumptions
and correcting misconceptions about the craft.
Many people assume there's a
correlation between sentence length and the sophistication or complexity of an
idea or thought -- even intelligence generally. There isn't.... You can say smart, interesting, complicated things using short
6. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner
Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
All writers struggle
with writer's block in one form or another, but Steven Pressfield named the
enemy and outlined a strategy for conquering it in The War of Art, the perennially best-selling guide for
writers and other creative professionals. In the first part of the book he
introduces what he calls "Resistance" -- the force within us that
conspires to prevent us from fulfilling our creative pursuits -- and then
spends the next two sections sharing his solutions for overcoming it.
Never forget: This very moment, we can
change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are
without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on
Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.
7. Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is and What You Can Do
About It, by Steven Pressfield
recently returned to writing about writing with a brand-new book, Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t. It's a no-nonsense guide
to writing stories that people will want to read. While the bulk of the book
addresses how to write fiction, Pressfield shows how the same principles of
writing good stories can apply to writing nonfiction.
When you understand that nobody wants
to read your sh*t, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is
indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs -- the ability to switch back
and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller
to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is
this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I
giving the reader enough? Is she bored?
8. The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,
by Julia Cameron
The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity is
the classic book by author and creativity coach Julia Cameron in
which she introduces what she calls "Morning pages." Morning pages is
a powerful stream of consciousness writing exercise that is not intended to
yield publishable material, but which can help you get your pen moving and your
thoughts flowing -- even if you never intend to share them with the rest of the
world. Morning pages is a powerful weapon in the battle against Pressfield's
The morning pages will teach you to
stop judging and just let yourself write. So what if you're tired, crabby,
distracted, stressed? Your artist is a child and it needs to be fed.Morning pages feed your artist child. So write your morning pages.
What books have you read that helped you to
improve your writing? Share your suggestions in the comments!
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