Last week, I left off my post about the lessons we can learn about writing from Top Gun with a challenge to educate yourself on improving your craft. I gave an invitation to email me for recommendations and was thrilled when several people sent me questions about what writing books they should check out.
I think this is terrific. As I’ve mentioned, there are multiple ways to become a better writer, and reading books from authors who are masters of their art form is a great way to do it.
In graduate school, I learned just as much from reading books about writing as I did in the classroom. The right books can provide in-depth lessons in creating the stories you’re aiming for.
Since that question at the end of last week’s blog was so thought-provoking, I thought I’d give you a list of my favorite books about writing.
I’ve broken this list into a few different categories. First, you’ll find my favorite book for each of the three main general genres (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry). Then, I’ll outline a few books that any writer can benefit from so you can get some general principles on clarity, word choice, and sentence structure.
This won’t just give you the best books about the writing craft (according to me, at least). It will provide several options for whatever your reading needs might be.
So, let’s check out some books, shall we?
Best Genre Craft Books
Fiction: The Lie That Tells the Truth by John Dufresne
John Dufresne is my favorite fiction writing guy and this book is his master class in telling stories. He’s down-to-earth and personal while making it clear that he knows his stuff. This book is heavy on the writing process, exploring the particular challenges and roadblocks of writing, but also has well-thought-out chapters on characterization, dialogue, and plot.
As a bonus, most chapters include exercises to practice the concepts he discusses and develop ideas for stories.
Poetry: The Poet’s Way by Manjusvara
I love this little book of poetry lessons, philosophy, prompts, and more. You’ll learn to engage with the natural world to see poetry in your environments, dig into your past and relationships for inspiration, and rethink how you’ve interacted with poetry in the past. It’s fun and thought-provoking and will get you playing with language in new and diverse ways.
The best part about it is that it’s just plain fun. You don’t have to be a poet to enjoy it or learn from it. Even if you’ve never written a poem before—maybe especially if you’ve never written a poem—you’ll have a blast discovering how to write in a new way.
Nonfiction: Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
No matter what type of nonfiction you’re writing, there is a chapter in this exploration of the craft for you. You’ll find out how to write about family, the arts, the environment, religion, and other topics central to our life experiences. Miller and Paola also outline the different types of essays and teach you how to match your subject matter with the perfect structure.
Each chapter also includes examples from other writers of how to practice these techniques and prompts to inspire your nonfiction writing.
Books to Improve Your General Writing Craft
Writing with Power by Peter Elbow
This is the most straightforward book about the writing process that you can get your hands on. You’ll learn techniques for brainstorming, revision, and critiquing writing and ways to strengthen your writing with word choice and sentence structure.
There’s also a handy guide for how to run critique sessions at writing groups. If you’ve started your own critique group and are finding that your meetings easily go off the rails, you’ll find great ideas to focus your feedback.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
Forget Strunk and White. Leonard’s pithy, blunt rules (not suggestions—they are rules) for good writing have the masters beat. I won’t spoil the rules, but the book is the source of one of my favorite quotes about writing: “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”
Bonus points if you get the illustrated edition because it’s hilarious.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
This isn’t a writing book specifically, but it does address the questions we’ve been exploring about self-sabotage and what happens when we allow overthinking to get in the way of the creative process.
Pressfield makes the argument that all creative people face something called resistance. No, not like the people fighting the First Order in Star Wars. If we’re talking Star Wars, it’s more like the Dark Side of the Force. Resistance will stop at nothing to keep you distracted and living in fear of what people might think or how your world might change if you took a step forward to create.
It’s a powerful challenge to examine how we are letting ourselves become the biggest roadblock to our own work. Be prepared to feel called out when you read it. We have all experienced and are often entrenched in the obstacles Pressfield talks about.
BONUS: The Ultimate Writing Project Workbook by Inkling Creative Strategies
Okay, I admit that dropping my own craft book in a post about the best books about writing is a little on the nose. But I have your attention now, right?
Here’s the thing about the Ultimate Writing Project Workbook. While the other craft books on this list are going to require a trip to the bookstore or Amazon as well as money and then probably waiting several days to get in the mail . . .
. . . this one is free, and you can get it delivered to your inbox right now.
You’ll get writing prompts, templates, tips, tricks, and much more for taking your writing project to the next level so you can reach your full creative potential and impact and inspire your writers.
What about you? What are your favorite books about writing? Feel free to leave the title in the comments.