Top 10 Books for Writers You Need to Read Now

Books for Writers

Books for writers

Just a while ago, I was organizing the clutter that is my bookshelf.

Over filled, brimming with piles and piles of books, no-space-left bookshelf.

I was clearing out books to make room for new ones. And I couldn’t help but notice a great number of writing reference books I have accumulated over the years.

Some of them I love to bits and refer to often. Some are just regrets and have to go.

This strikes me as the perfect time to make a list of my favorite top 10 books for writers. Books I believe, no aspiring writer should be without.

Ideally, read these when you haven’t really decided what sort of writer you’d like to be. Heck, you are not even sure if you want to become one, or you even can. (Skip to inspiration or memoirs section, my friend. Start with that one.)

I am also sharing some favourite passages that I have jotted down in my notepads, over the years. Enjoy.


#1 On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.

Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience—every reader is a different person

#2 Finding Your Writer’s Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Frank & Wall

Voice has become a buzz word in discussions of modern fiction; it is what every writer wants to have and what every reader wants to enjoy.

Most writers struggle to unearth voice, not only because it is too familiar but also because it means confronting your world.

You will find your voice by speaking naturally – by being yourself and not trying to be a great writer. Your voice is your most powerful tool. Your voice is how you write when you don’t have time to be elegant.

Most writers infuse themselves in their work. When you read a good novel or a book, you leave with a sense that in addition to the characters, you have met a particular writer.

#3 Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Non-Fiction
by Dinty Moore

Essay is personal. The essence of essay is to explore a topic, not sitting down knowing all the answers.

Expressing yourself in simpler words requires more craftsmanship and skill than using multisyllabic and flowery language. And it almost always works better. Everyday speech, but with stammering removed and coherence turned up just a notch.

If you feel dull and unspectacular, the reader is already on your side. Maybe just being a regular sort of a guy or a gal has its advantages.


#4 On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
by Stephen King (Also memoir)

So okay – there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.

If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.

#5 Page after Page by Heather Sellers

Nervous, scared, lazy writer? Aren’t we all?

You can write good stuff. It is the matter of sitting down and putting pen to page.

Writing – you don’t do alone. Surround yourself with books and writers of the highest quality, in as many forms as you can import into your world.

Butt in chair. You have to stay in your chair. You can’t do the laundry, you can’t clean things. You can’t take a bath, a shower or a walk.
You can’t so any healthy, necessary things you have been meaning to do: yoga, call your mother, write letters. All those holy, pure acts seem appealing. You must resist bettering yourself in those ways.
You sit in the chair whether or not you are writing.
Develop talent of the room. Talent of sitting in a room, all by yourself and getting used to that.

#6 The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
by Steven Pressfield

If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” Chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

Are you paralysed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.


#7Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

We must come to a beginner’s mind every time we write. There is no security, no reassurance that we wrote something good before and we can do it again.

Writing practice is a timed exercise:
Keep your hand moving.
Don’t cross out.
Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar.
Lose control.
Don’t think.
Go for the jugular.

Sit down with the worst expectation of yourself. Say I am going to write the worst junk of the world. Give yourself a space to write without a destination.

#8 Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

We as writers must stop getting in our own way. We need to sit down and write every day. Work on short assignments – take it bird by bird.

Make a connection with your readers. Write something that you care deeply about and tell the world something important. Give people a ‘yes’ when they read your work. A sense of connection.

If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.


#9 The Elements of Style (4th Edition) by William Strunk and E. B. White


#10 The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing
by Bonnie Trenga

So, did I include any of your favourites? What would you recommend to a highly enthusiastic, budding writer? Do share in the comments below.

This guest post is by Marya Jan. She is a freelance blogger and online copywriter. Her blog Writing Happiness is a proud Finalist: Top Ten Writing Blogs 2011/12 here at Write to Done. Grab her free ebook How to Write Blog Content that Works. You can also follow her on twitter @WritingH
Image by See-ming Lee

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50 Responses to “Top 10 Books for Writers You Need to Read Now”

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  1. Dorothy says:

    I blame my dad for convincing me to love books…he had a ton of them in our home,,,he also sold rare books. Now I have a huge collection of books and everyday I collect some more. I have read at least 6 of the books on this list. I read about 3 to 4 books a week.

  2. BIRD BY BIRD is my absolute favorite. Steven King’s book ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT is great too. Believing in yourself helps you strike out and write your own book.

    Thanks, Beth@ Boomer Highway
    Beth @ Boomer Highway (twitter) recently posted..Around the Carousel AgainMy Profile

  3. Hutch says:

    Thanks for this. It was very timely and I needed some of this great quotes as encouragement to move into my calling. Great reminders.


  4. Jocelyne says:

    this is a timely list for me. i was just thinking about which writing books i must add to my must-read list. thanks!
    Jocelyne recently posted..There he goesMy Profile

  5. I would also add Steven Pressfield’s new book “Turning Pro.” Really helpful when needing that extra motivation. Well written as always …


  6. I suppose I’m halfway through this list.

    Any input from anyone on Bradbury’s or Hemingway’s books on writing?
    Braden Talbot recently posted..Quick Tip: Un-Meditate for ChangeMy Profile

    • Melissa Lewicki says:

      Zen in the Art of Writing is my favorite. If I had half the enthusiasm and discipline of Ray Bradbury, I would be so happy.

  7. Marcie says:

    The only book s with which I’m familiar are On Writing Well by William Zinsser and the Elements of Style (that’s a classic). Thanks for introducing me to the others.
    Marcie recently posted..3 News Posts to Help Overcome Blogger’s BlockMy Profile

  8. These are all good books and I’ve read most of them over the last 20 years, but I disagree with your headline (assuming you wrote it yourself, which perhaps you didn’t!) There’s no need to sit down and read a bunch of writing books “now.” In fact, that sounds awfully like procrastination to me! The number one thing most writers need to do is, well, WRITE!

    So, sure, chose one of these books. But otherwise spend your time writing. That’s the ONLY way to become a writer…
    Daphne Gray-Grant recently posted..Do you dream of publishing a book?My Profile

  9. Hi Marya — I just read Stephen King’s book for the first time — F A N T A S T I C, inspiring, and practically useful. And I loved Bird by Bird as well.

    Great compendium here!
    Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..Your 20 Favorite Freelance Writing Posts of 2012 — So FarMy Profile

  10. Karen says:

    Read most of these, but not all of them. The rest have been added to my (ever growing) reading list. My favorites on here are Stephen King’s On Writing and Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I re-read them both at least once a year!
    Karen recently posted..Maximize Your Book Sales and Exposure by Using Your Free Author Central AccountMy Profile

  11. PJ Reece says:

    The JOY OF BOOKS ON WRITING… after writing for many years I still thrill to a good book on writing. It proves to me how deeply runs our need to write. And read. It’s like all these books are trying to uncover a mystery… “how it’s done”. Thankfully, we may never know.

  12. I would add Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. The most practical book on writing I own. Tons of helpful exercises (fifty, of course).

  13. HI Marya,
    Having read the majority of these (yes, I’m an addict as well) I’d also add “The Mindful Writer’ by Dinty Moore. It’s a very zen collection of quotes and his reflections on writing which I just love to wrap myself in on days when I need the comfort!
    Di Mace | Word Swords recently posted..The first-timer’s guide to blog commenting – Part 2: etiquette rulesMy Profile

  14. Hi Marya,

    The only book I would add is “Writing with Style” by John R. Trimble. “On Writing Well” is great, but “Writing with Style” is even better. Let me know if you ever get a chance to read it.
    Joseph Putnam recently posted..Is Saving Money the Number One Reason for Spending It?My Profile

  15. Ashleen Moreen says:

    Thanks for the list and the links as well. I try to check this out and this will also serve as a good resources to all writers especially those beginners like me. Thanks a lot for sharing this.
    Ashleen Moreen recently posted..timberdoorsbrisbane.comMy Profile

  16. It’s like you’ve read my mind. I was looking for some good books to help my writing :)

    I’ve added some to my ever growing to-read list

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  17. You have some good suggestions, some of which I’ve already discovered, and some that are new to me. I’d suggest, for memoir writing, “Your Life As Story” by Tristine Rainer.
    Linda Jo Martin recently posted..Write 500 Words on Just About AnythingMy Profile

  18. M A Jan says:

    Many many years ago I had read a book on writing effectively. Unfortunately I do not remember any thing else
    except the principal suggestion. Just start writing ,it was, the rest will come along.
    The management guys call it OJT.

  19. Hi Marya,
    Could you – and everybody here – help to choose the necessary books for a non-native “English writer”? I’ve read Stephen King’s book On Writing (to say nothing of all his other books) and I obviously need ##9-10 books from “Editing”. I find a lot of useful advice in WTD. Is there anything else “absolutely necessary” to develop a good “English style”, in general?
    Olga Astakhova recently posted..One Tectonic Exercise to Expand and Smooth Vocal StructureMy Profile

  20. Susan says:

    Love this list! Most are new to me. The one book I would add, if I may, is Jurgen Wolff’s ‘Your Writing Coach’. In the early days, I needed books that actually got me writing, rather than reading about writing (though those are good, too), and this was about the only book of its kind that I actually got through, right to the end.

  21. Thanks so much for these recommendations Marya! I agree – Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird are absolute must haves, as is King’s On Writing. All three have been tremendously inspirational for me, but if I had to choose a favorite it would be Writing Down the Bones.
    I must explore these others I had not heard of – thanks!
    Deanna Schrayer recently posted..Rings, a #fridayflash #story – #amwritingMy Profile

  22. Great suggestions, but I’d like to add one: The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass. One of the greatest, most helpful books on writing craft I have read. A real must-read!
    Monica T. Rodriguez recently posted..Formatting Your Ebook Files Scaring You Off Self-publishing?My Profile

  23. Kevin Cullis says:

    “Decide what you want to do. Then decide to do it. Then do it.”

    I did!!!

    And along the way I became a writer and hit a few milestones: write, write a book, write a different book, write my final draft, become an entrepreneur. I Independently published my book, because it’s how I think that will make the difference in the marketplace.

    What a journey, and it’s not over yet. I’ve just begun to write.

  24. Clara Boza says:

    Thanks for the list. A number of these are on my shelf, and some others are on my reading list. But I had not heard of Bonnie Trenga’s book nor of Heather Sellers’. Thanks for the recommendations.
    Clara Boza recently posted..When Talent Needs "A Little More Time To Bake"My Profile

  25. Sapphire says:

    I recommend Stein On Writing by Sol Stein for anyone who wants to write, is writing or has written. It’s my Bible. Sadly, I don’t have a copy yet – I depend on the school library, and i swear the slip of paper that has the ID numbers of people that have borrowed that book will need to be replaced soon. Very soon, if I have my way.

  26. John says:

    Awesome post and I agree entirely – except for a pair I’d add (that, yes, you need to read now but I’d go so far as to label them Desert Island writing books):
    - Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. Has a great chapter on “collaborating” with your subconsciousness that was simply amazing (to summarize, it works) as well as other invaluable tips, exercises and advice.
    - A Field Guide to Writing Fiction – No chapter is longer that 3-4 pages, with self-explanatory titles like “Dialogue,” “Setting,” etc.

  27. Amit Sharma says:

    Thanks for the great list of books which would help my writing great articles..I was not aware of this blog at first. Glad to know that you guys are rolling some amazing stuff here.

    Have a nice time :)
    Amit Sharma recently posted..The Wooden BowlMy Profile

  28. Carolyn says:

    One of my 3 favorites is already covered in this list. To which I add:
    Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain
    Writing for Story, by Jon Franklin

  29. I would add Crime Writer Elizabeth George’s “Write Away” to this list – excellent book on the craft of writing. She is a plotter, not a pantser and gives great insight and examples.

  30. Tessa says:

    Great list here, have read about 4 of these and must read the rest. Love books on writing, as the more help the better! I would add The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron, How to Write a Novel by John Braine and Writing a Novel by Nigel Watts. These have been very helpful and give practical exercises too.

  31. Thanks for this wonderful list! I have read some of these books, but not all.

    I’m a sucker for books on writing – the catch is I have to remind myself to read them! Another favourite of mine is Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy. I’d dare anyone to pick up that book, read a few pages and not sit down to write after – it’s that motivating!

  32. Jevon says:

    Interesting books. I like #6. I wish you gave more details on #10 though, since I’m currently at the editing stage of my book.
    Jevon recently posted..Inspiration ExamplesMy Profile

  33. Bassam Ahmed says:

    Amazing Post..I just like to add a personal favorite of mine..Syd Field’s SCREENPLAY..Not only does it suitable for a movie writer but also any aspiring novelist should try & learn from this legendary book..