Books for Writers

I love to read books about writing. These are the ones I use most. I’m sure I’ll discover new ones from time to time, and will add them to this list.

  • Constance Hale’s book “Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose” is the first book I read on writing. This is more than just a style manual. After teaching you the basic rules, Hale teaches you how and when to break them. Learn how a little “sin” will make you a better writer.
  • Anne Lamott’s book “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” is one of the first books I read on writing. This is not a how-to manual, but rather an inspirational book. It’s funny, irreverant, and wise. She helped me believe that I could write.
  • Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” is another inspiring book. As the title says, King instructs from his unique perspective on the craft of writing as well as entertaining with a memoir of his life as a writer. He weaves the two together so deftly, you might not realize, at first, that you’re learning something about writing — and how to improve your own.
  • Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English” is Patricia T. O’Conner’s witty book of ten easy grammar lessons that will improve your writing. You’ve never had more fun learning!
  • Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing” is another down-to-earth book by Patricia T. O’Conner that will make you laugh while you learn. If this book doesn’t improve your writing, it’s only because you never read it.
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile” is one of three how-to books I recommend by Noah Lukeman. Lukeman is a literary agent with an impressive roster of successful clients, and insight into what really happens when an editor receives your manuscript–the editor is looking for a reason to reject it and will, at most, read the first five pages before making the decision to keep or toss. It makes sense to pay attention to Lukeman’s advice!
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life” is Lukeman’s second book on the craft of writing. In this one, he shares his insight on plot development with chapters on such fundamentals as character, conflict, suspense, among others.
  • A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation” is Lukeman’s latest, and just as helpful as the first two. He has chapters devoted to each mark of punctuation, with clear examples of their proper use. This practical, but entertaining, book will help you polish your writing.

31 thoughts on “Books for Writers

    1. Me too. I carry “Bird By Bird” with me when I need a little inspiration and perspective. She never fails me.

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  1. Mari, certain members of my critique group have “smacked” me for my overuse of ellipses, so I’m trying to qwell my urge. I think it’s a by-product of the techno age. In fact, with all the texting, emailing and instant messaging, I’ll be surprised if the next generations will know how to correctly punctuate anything at all.

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  2. I am also a books-about-writing fan. I’ve just picked up THINKING ABOUT MEMOIR by Abigail Thomas and I love it. It’s not just about memoir, it’s more about memory. It’s funny. And much to my delight, there are some “exercises” in there but not stupid or corny ones. Just take a look …

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  3. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed your top two picks… read King’s book first and felt a tingling possibility about writing something myself… then after Anne Lamotts book… knew that I just needed to hunker down and get to work! Her humour is so sarcastic and she doesn’t gloss over the realities of how writing is a challenge.

    So, thank you for sharing these read ideas. I will have to pick one or two up this summer.

    Oh, Strunk and White’s book, ‘The Elements of Style’ is a great resource book for grammar etc.

    Great blog – I’ll keep reading.

    LAE
    http://mygracenotes.blogspot.com/

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  4. I think you’ve just given me some new books to read! This is a topic that interests me deeply.

    (And every turn, your blog just gets more interesting too.)

    And now that I know this taste of yours I will restate from another posting about my mentor of sorts into poetry. Poems, verse, different yes, but there’s still a common hand, a pen, some paper, a process, yes.

    William Stafford. In the Univ. of Michigan’s “Poets on Poetry” book series they did three books with Stafford. I suggest them all! And I just transposed my old website page into my current blog so you can get the details there along with a few quotes about writing. And more. I think you’ll be pleased.

    http://bearlyaudible.wordpress.com/william-stafford/

    There is a quiet wisdom here as simple and immediate as how grass grows on the hillside.

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    1. Thank you for the suggestion, Neil. For some reason, I’ve shied away from reading much poetry, but it seems lately to be sidling up to me, insisting that I broaden my horizons. I will look up William Stafford.

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  5. My favorites aren’t on the list, so I’ll add them here:

    The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner

    Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Leonard S. Marcus and Maurice Sendak

    Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen

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

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    1. More for my list, oh my! But Natalie Goldberg I do know. The essence of practical and spiritual too, all joined in one. And I love that she dispels the myth of writer’s block. That alone is worth the whole book.

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    2. Oh, yes, I have Betsy Lerner’s book and I’ve heard of Natalie Goldberg’s, but haven’t read it yet. Hadn’t heard of the other two, but I’ll add them to my to-be-read list. Thanks.

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  6. Me, again. Just finished Pen On Fire and tried the xercises within but…nah…didn’t work so great for me. Still, you might want to pop over and see my latest entry where I talk about that book ….just for fun.
    I am actually going to start reading and trying the exercises in EVERY book on writing that I have!

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    1. Hello again, oh. I went to your blog and am inspired by your post about writing exercises. It’s something I’ve avoided, but will now try. Thank you.

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  7. Thanks for the suggestions. Bird by Bird is a classic. It even works for composition 1 students. Another that I love is Walter Mosley’s “This Year You Write Your Novel.” A no-nonsense guide to gaining momentum and motivation.

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  8. Love your selection of Books for Writers. I’d love to repost it on the Allaboutwriting site (with a link back to you) – can I do so please?

    Regards
    Trish

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