Writing is just like any other skill. If you want to improve, you need to continually practice and learn more about your craft. Books about writing can help you to hone these skills and become a better writer, regardless of where you are in your career or whether your focus is fiction or freelancing. But with so many great books on writing out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are 24 of the best books on writing to help you become the writer you want to be.
Best books on writing fiction
Books on fiction writing tend to be divided into books on novel writing and books on creative writing.
Novel writing books focus on the actual process, covering elements such as plotting, point of view, character arcs, conflict and story structure.
Books on creative writing, on the other hand, focus on creativity, establishing productive habits and developing your own writing voice.
And increasingly, there are also books on writing short stories.
Books on novel writing
The Faber Academy’s writing courses are well-known for producing bestselling authors such as SJ Watson and his bestselling debut novel, ‘Before I Go To Sleep’.
Richard Skinner’s book ‘Writing a Novel — Bring your ideas to life the Faber Academy way’ is the next best thing to taking the course yourself.
Richard Skinner created the flagship course, and imparts his learnings in this slim book which covers everything you need to know about writing a novel.
‘Story’ by Robert McKee is one of the most famous books on writing screenplays.
It’s also one of the best books to read if you want to write a novel. McKee unpacks the guiding principles behind classic and award-winning films and these insights will help you become a better novelist.
Blake Snyder’s ‘Save the Cat’ is another of the best-known books on writing screenplays.
‘Save the Cat’ has been reworked for novelists by Jessica Brody in the excellent ‘Save the Cat Writes a Novel’. It’s a great place to start if you want to write commercial fiction.
What about if writing short stories is your focus?
Then George Saunders’, ‘A Swim in a Pond in the Rain’ is a must-read.
Saunders is a master of contemporary short story writing (and a Booker prize winning novelist).
He teaches writing at Syracuse University and this book is a summation of his class about the Russian short story. Although reading the Russian masters might sound like hard going, this is one of the best books on writing short stories, and on writing in general.
Books on creative writing
When it comes to books on creative writing and the creative process, everyone has a different approach to creativity and how they write.
Therefore, the book that works best for you is going to depend on your style and approach.
Many of the techniques and principles outlined in these books can also be applied to writing nonfiction.
‘Use your Words’ is Catherine Deveny’s no-nonsense approach to battling procrastination based on her successful ‘Gunna’s Writing Masterclasses’. If you’re someone who’s always ‘gunna’ do it, this one’s for you.
Many writers struggle with feeling that writing is an indulgence, or something that they’re not qualified to do. If this sounds familiar, try Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ to learn how to give yourself permission to write.
‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’) encompasses creative living and overcoming fear.
Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’ is a much-loved classic about creative writing with its words of wisdom about writing and life.
For practical exercises and learning to write about anything, turn to Natalie Goldberg’s classic book about creative writing, ‘Writing Down the Bones’.
Best books on writing nonfiction
‘Storycraft — The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction’ is the definitive contemporary guide to writing narrative nonfiction. Jack Hart is well qualified to write it, having edited several Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces.
The book covers key elements of nonfiction including structure, point-of-view, style, character, action and ethics.
Susan Orlean (the author of acclaimed nonfiction works including ‘The Orchid Thief’) describes ‘Storycraft’ as ‘like finding the secret set of blueprints to the writer’s craft’ and she’s right.
Often, as well as reading the contemporary leaders in the field, it’s good to go back to the classics.
The classic guide to writing nonfiction and one of the best books on writing well is aptly called ‘On Writing Well’, by William Zinsser. Zinsser’s book is full of advice on the craft of writing nonfiction as well as the different forms of nonfiction including writing memoir, and business writing.
Narrative or creative nonfiction is increasingly popular, and the personal essay can be a springboard into bigger projects. Many well-known nonfiction books including ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell started as articles.
If personal essays are something you aspire to write, take a look at this Ultimate guide to writing and selling a personal essay.
If you’re looking for books on writing memoir or books on essay writing, ‘Tell It Slant’ by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola is a helpful resource.
In addition to chapters on the craft of writing creative nonfiction, ‘Tell It Slant’ also covers research methodology, and writing for an online audience.
Writing freelance travel articles can be the first step to having a nonfiction travel book commissioned.
The 90 minute Travel Writing Training offered by The Freelancer’s Year gives you everything you need to generate travel article ideas, pitch editors and get paid to write about your travels.[And if ghostwriting is more your thing, check out this post on how to become a ghostwriter.]
Books on the craft of writing
‘The Elements of Style’ by William Strunk Jr and EB White may be tiny, but it’s the bible of books on writing style.
First written in 1959 and revised many times since, it’s an essential resource for learning the writing basics.
‘The Little Red Writing Book’ by Mark Tredinnick is an easy-to-read guide to grammar and style and one of the best books on writing skills you can find. Tredinnick brings these dry topics to life and includes exercises so you can put what you’ve read into practice.
Who better to write books on writing craft but those who are masters in the craft themselves?
‘On Writing’ by Stephen King combines memoir with his practical advice on everything from aspects of craft such as plot and character development through to handling rejection.
Ursula Le Guin’s classic ‘Steering the Craft’ looks at the building blocks of good writing.
And Graeme Simsion (writer of the internationally bestselling Rosie trilogy) has written ‘The Novel Project’ — a step-by-step guide to your novel, memoir or biography.
Books on freelance writing
Freelance writing is one area that isn’t particularly well catered for.
Partly that’s because the world of freelancing changes so quickly and traditional book publishing is a slow process.
If you’re looking for up-to-date practical information about freelance writing, courses such as Foundations of Freelance Writing and Write, Earn, Thrive are vital.
Combine the practical skills from these courses with the learnings you get from some of these recommended books on writing nonfiction, or on writing craft and you’ll be set to go.
If you’re looking for books on how to make money from writing and set up your own writing business, then Joanna Penn’s ‘How to make a living with your writing’, Laura Briggs’, ‘The Six Figure Freelancer: Your Roadmap to Success in the Gig Economy’, and ‘How to be an Author, The business of being a writer in Australia’ are three titles to consider.
Books on self-publishing
Self-publishing is an increasingly viable way to get published either in print or online.
People often think of self-publishing as only being e-books but the availability of print on demand means that you can also self-publish your own hard copy book.
One of the best books on self-publishing is Anna Featherstone’s ‘Look it’s your book!’ Anna’s an alum of the Write, Earn, Thrive course so it’s great to see her success!
Reading books about writing (and putting what you learn into practice) is one of the best ways to improve as a writer and increase your chances of success.
Books on writing can be helpful regardless of where you are in your career and what your focus is, and the books in this post are some of the best you can find to help you achieve your writing dream.
About the writer:
Caroline Arnoul is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist who runs the communications arm of Purple Frog Media and Communications. Caroline has an Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing from RMIT University and is the Professional Development Officer for Editors Victoria.