The 5 Best Books I’ve Read on Writing
We’ve made it through the dumpster fire that was 2020 and you know what that means—there's no better time to take a moment for yourself, relax and work a little on your craft.
If you need some ideas for the writer in your life (or yourself, if you’re the writer in your life), look no further! I’ve compiled a list of some of the best books on writing (and editing) that you should check out.
There are three main types of writing books: books that teach writing mechanics (grammar, language, style, editing, etc.), books that teach structure, and books about actually being a writer. I’ve tried to include examples of all three, to help you wherever you are in your journey.
Stephen King’s On Writing
Of course, no list of books on writing is complete without On Writing. Over a prolific career spanning half a century, King has picked up some pretty useful nuggets of wisdom and dispenses them here in an engaging yet instructive fashion.
A hybrid memoir-manual, King weaves tales of his childhood, his early days as a writer, and his writing process to deftly show the reader how a writer thinks and works.
If you want to refine your writing, who better to learn from than one of the most successful writers of all time?
Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style
First published over a century ago by Professor William Strunk Jr., this book has been a staple of writing practice since... forever. The version most of us are familiar with was revised in 1957 by E.B White of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little fame.
Clearly spelling out the rules of English grammar and style, providing practical examples for each guideline to illustrate their use, this book is a fantastic resource for writers who are just starting out and veterans alike.
While some say that it is a bit outdated (sure—the way we speak certainly has changed in the last 100 years) there is a reason that this book was named by TIME as one of the 100 best and most influential books published in English since 1923 and continues to be one of the most prescribed books by syllabuses and writing instructors.
Tip: Go for an illustrated edition of the book. It is a lot more pleasant to read and is a great addition to any writer’s collection.
Peter Ginna’s What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing
Released a few years back, this book highlights the perspectives of twenty-seven leading figures in the book publishing industry. If you ever wanted to know how a book goes from a single manuscript to bookstores across the world, how editors and authors work together, and about the editing process—structural editing, copyediting, and proofreading—then this is the book for you.
Although this book is focused on American publishing—which differs greatly from our own publishing system here in Australia—it is still well worth a read, especially for aspiring writers.
Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
For those of you who struggle with self-editing, this book is invaluable. Easy (and fun!) to read, Browne and King layout the most common problems with a manuscript and provide everything you need to fix them: writing exercises, examples, and checklists. With tips for dialogue, exposition, point of view, and other mechanics that make your writing grab the reader, this is a great crash course in all the tools you need.
If you are struggling to take your work to the next level and haven’t read many books on craft, this is definitely one you shouldn’t miss.
Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo’s So You Want to be a Writer
Based on the podcast of the same name, this Australian book is a no-nonsense look at the practical steps you need to take to become a writer: how to write while working another job, maintain creativity, network and tap into a community of writers just like you for support and comradery.
With advice from Liane Moriarty, Michael Robotham, Nick Earls, Charlotte Wood, Jane Harper, Di Morrissey, Garry Disher, Andy Griffiths, Jackie French, Veronica Roth, and more, this is a great look at the writing process and everything that comes after.
If you are looking for a guide to take your practice to the next level and navigate a writing career in Australia today, then this is the book for you.
There you have it! There are a lot more books out there about writing, but I hope that this has been enough to spark an interest.
Of course, the books that will be most helpful to you will depend on what you’re writing, how far you are in your writing journey, and your own strengths and weaknesses. For example, there are entirely different considerations when it comes to writing fiction and non-fiction, or even depending on which genre you write in. You might struggle more with plot, structure, character or even spelling. You might be a fantastic writer, but have no idea how to put yourself out there.
Whatever it is, find a book that speaks to you and that addresses the areas you need help with. There’s enough of them out there that I’m sure you’ll quickly discover what you’re looking for (or even something you weren’t).
If there are any books I missed, make sure to leave your own recommendations in the comments!