5 Books You Should Read If You Want To Write

As you already know from this year’s gift guide of personal development books, I read a lot this year. In addition to those books, I also read some fiction, business, and books about writing. It’s important as bloggers to be able to share a coherent story and not have things such as grammar, punctuation, and other errors detract from the messages that we are trying to share. (Thanks to the few of you who have no qualms about calling me out on an error as soon as you see it!)

As I have heard over and over again, in order to write, you need to read. The following are my top 5 books you should read if you want to write. If you have any other ones to add to the list, add them to the comments below. I still have about 3 shelves on my new bookcase that need to be filled up!

Looking for ways to improve your writing? Here is a list of the top 5 books you should read if you want to write!

*There are some affiliate links in this post. If a purchase is made through those links, the cost is the same to you, but I will receive a small commission which gets put back into Erin’s Inside Job so I can continue sharing more wonderful things with you! 

1. On Writing by Stephen King

This is probably the best book that I read this year on writing. I already love Stephen King and reading his description of his personal writing process as well as suggestions for other aspiring writers was a great look inside someone who has made a career doing what they love. King is careful to focus mainly on his own journey and not offer blanket statements about writing which may not work for everyone. I really enjoyed the anecdotes and no-nonsense approach to what it takes to be a writer.

2. Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

One of the most important pieces of advice that I have gathered from both these books and other conversations I’ve had is that in order to write, you need to read. It’s as simple as that. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Reading the writing of a wide variety of authors allows you to be exposed to different voices, different perspectives, and different ideas. When I was younger, I read nonstop and I’m grateful for the time I put in to each and every one of those books.

Prose breaks down her book, Reading Like A Writer, into chapters devoted to different literary devices such as paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, etc. and offers different excerpts in order for you to read closely and pay attention to what the author is trying to do in his or her work. It’s more of a guidebook than a narration on personal experience, but equally important in order to focus on all of the different aspects of writing.

3. The Art of Spiritual Writing by Vinita Hampton Wright

I liked this book because it was a) short (161 pages) and b) spoke to the importance of authenticity in writing. As you know if you have been reading this blog for awhile, I am a big proponent of honesty, transparency, and authenticity. I think it is so important to share what is going on in your life because you never know who else may be going through the same things. It’s important for me to talk about things that are uncomfortable because it’s a way of connecting with others and how I make sure that I’m not lying to myself or anyone else.

Hampton Wright takes her decades of experience as both an editor and an author and lays out a writing manual that describes the best way to write from the heart and inspire other people. It contains both technical writing information as well as advice about what she terms “spiritual writing.” It’s a great book that aligns with my own philosophy on the subject as I think the best writing is that which speaks to the heart of another person.

4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

There are a number of other books by Anne Lamott that I’ve been told to read, but so far this is the only one I’ve made it through. It’s another great work that contains both suggestions and experiences similar to that of King in On Writing. What I like about this is that it’s even more no-nonsense than King’s book and also goes out of the way to dispel a lot of myths that people have concerning the writing and publishing process.

It’s not a book that sugar coats things, which is important in managing expectations. Many people operate under misconceptions that could ultimately harm them if they are seriously trying to make a living as a writer. Lamott is funny, but real, and it’s a quick and entertaining read.

5. Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs

I was recommended this book at Blogfest this year and immediately bought it because—hello—books. This book not only appeals to writers, but also marketers and business owners. Sachs writes under the conception that those who tell the best stories will “rule the future.” What he means by that is that in a sea of advertisements, personal stories, social media, and other brand messages, it’s hard for a person or company to get their story out. Writing in a way that breaks through that wall will help your message and your brand gain traction.

Sachs relies on examples from mythology, psychology, the history of advertising, and even biology to push for a revolution of story telling. He offers advice on how to get your story out above the crowd and have others notice. Along with academia and personal anecdotes, it’s a great book to inspire you to do more with your writing. It’s also a great read for bloggers who are aiming at strengthening their own personal brand and breaking through the noise of millions of other existing blogs.

If you liked this post, you may also like my Personal Development Book Gift Guide!

Questions:

  • What books have helped you in your writing?
  • Do you have any to add to this list?

72 comments on “5 Books You Should Read If You Want To Write

      1. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
        On Moral Fiction by John Gardner
        The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

  1. I highly recommend “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg. It is broken up into short chapters about the author’s writing practice, certain exercise she does for inspiration, and lessons she’s learned from teaching and participating in writing workshops. She talks a lot about mindfulness and attention to detail.

    1. Yes, any book by Natalie Goldberg is a favorite, but Writing Down the Bones is the amazing. That is my number one writing book, followed by Stephen King’s and Anne Lamott’s, as mentioned in the article, and Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing.

    2. I was going to suggest this too. It is chock full of suggestions to get you going. It does not focus on the business publishing side at all, but offers seemingly endless strategies, prompts and ideas.

  2. I highly recommend The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction to anyone interested in that genre. And if you haven’t read his books, they are totally absorbing. Start with Follow the River or, my personal favorite, From Sea to Shining Sea.

  3. My comment is very late but I’m currently reading Gail Sher’s The Continuous Mistake. I can’t even begin to describe it, it’s simply amazing.

  4. I have studied writing craft for over 30 years. One winter, stuck in a rural setting without neighbors, I read about 125 books on writing. I have read many more both before and after that winter. But I have not read any of these. There are so many helpful, inspiring, encouraging books for writers.

    Writers need to read – for their soul, their craft and for fun as well as to continue to learn the craft.

    Thanks for sharing this list.

  5. Two books that have influenced my life and my writing are “The Prince of Tides,” by the late Pat Conroy.
    His writing style carried the languid humidity of the South in every seemingly effortless line which reads like beautiful prose the lingers in my soul. I want to read it again and again, yet my fear of losing the spell it wove over me prevents me from doing so. It did teach me the magic of writing from within my own flawed childhood.

    “Wonder Boys,” by Michael Chabon taught me lessons about writing that helped me look at making decisions as a writer; choices about what elevates the story, and what distracts. It helped me to be pithy and ruthless in some places, while baring the highs and lows in others.

    I fell in love with both books. I cannot let them go

      1. I forgot to mention James Mitchner’s book on writing. Marvelous book.

        I celebrated 42 years continuous recovery in May, 2016. I was 21 YEARS OLD when I went to treatment. Glad you are doing so well.
        One day at a time!
        Grace

  6. Steering The Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s an excellent book I recommend for experienced writers and readers! It’s a combination of personal stories, craft exercises, and technical advisement. Also the examples she uses from other writers are fantastic.

  7. Okay so looks like I will be getting lost in the book store this weekend! 🙂 But I did just finish “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. Oh my! If you ever felt like you have struggled with any kind of creativity block/writers block. Great book. It really helped me refocus on my craft and why I started writing in the first place.

  8. Terrific list. My bible is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. He taught me more about the craft of writing than any other author or writer. I’d also add the Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler. It’s based on Joseph Campbell’s teachings, and is simply marvelous.

  9. 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley. She makes a list of what she considers the 100 greatest novels in world literature in the first half of the book. In the second half, she dispenses advice on the subject of writing and the writing process.

  10. As a poet, I love In the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit. You can go back to it again and again. For CNF I like Writing True. The Art of series from Graywolf is just amazing with Mark Doty’s The Art of Description and Dean Young’s The Art of Recklessness being my favorites. Thanks all for the additions to my list.

  11. Thanks so much for these. I especially like your suggestion for the book by Stephen King. I found articles with quotes by him on writing to be helpful to me as a writer also. Have a great day! 🙂

  12. Thank you for this list. I have added them to my bucket list of books I want to read this year. I am new to the blogging world and have also been reading a lot about how reading helps your writing. I use to read all the time but have gotten away from it a little. Time to dust off the books and start reading again.

  13. I would add Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. I haven’t read it in a long time, but am prompting myself to reread. I have King’s book, but haven’t read it yet. Same with Kowit’s book. Also Ted Kooser’s “toolbox.” Not to mention Ted Talks, Aspen…

  14. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I can’t believe this one hasn’t been mentioned yet! One of THE best books I’ve ever seen on fostering the creative drive. Written with writing as a primary focus, but is also on target regardless of your creative discipline–film, dance, cinematography, etc. etc. I can’t recommend this one highly enough!

    If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. Someone mentioned this one already in the comments, but yes! This!!

    The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Specifically about how to develop, well, the habit of being creative. Loads of books cover similar ground with most other books on how to write, simply providing a new take on the old stand-bys…those tried and true methods you start to see again and again. No disrespect: there’s a need for that, and more often than not, there’s much to gain from both the reminder and the new insights. But Tharp has really added some new Yule logs to the fire here. Both conversational and to the point–you’ll want to read this one twice; her insights slide into her discussion almost as an afterthought. That is, she really does not beat on them like My Little Pony corpses–they are central to her text, but she trusts the reader enough to rely on you to find what you need in her work. Left me thinking, “Wow! Wait, say that again…!”

    1. Im with you on julia Cameron’s book. It is passionate, practical and entertaining. Especially good for anyone with doubts about following the writing muse.

  15. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner and Stein: On Writing by Sol Stein. John Gardner is a Master storyteller and Stein was the editor for many famous authors back when Publishers invested heavily in editors working with writers to produce a good book.

  16. Thank you for this list! I just ordered “Reading Like a Writer” and “Winning the Story Wars.” Both look like interesting and usable books. In case you haven’t yet read “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t,” by
    Steven Pressfield, I found it to be an easy read and filled with lots of truth.

  17. Three more books to my tbr (I’ve read King and Lamont). I would also include anything by William Zinsser and have just recently read “Draft No. 4” by John McPhee which I also liked.

  18. I know I’m late to the game, but I have a few off-beat suggestions that I have found helpful (parts may be boring or difficult to understand, but you can bypass them):

    For screenwriters – The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft & Elements of a Screenplay (David Howard & Edward Mabley)

    Adventures in Writing: The Complete Collection (you can also puchase the 3 books individually) (Melissa Donovan)

    The Novel Writer’s Toolkit: A guide to writing great fiction & getting it published. (Bob Mayer)

    Write Away (Elizabeth George)

    I found helpful elements in all the above listed books.

  19. I actually purchased Vinita Hamptom Wright and Francine Pose earlier this year and have not gotten around to either one. I am starting one of them right now.

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