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Best Books On Writing: 18 Writing Books to Help You Improve Your Craft

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Scott Allan

https://selfpublishing.com/author/scott-allan/

Published on

2019-12-17

best books on writing

On the hunt for the best books on writing? Start by adding these books to your “To Be Read” list.

Reading these writing books could very well change how you approach your craft altogether. 

It is Stephen King, the international bestselling champion of 65 (and counting) novels, that said: “Good writers read.”

Related: Writing Quotes

After all, writers are craftsmen who read. And reading still stands as the #1 best way to develop your writing craft.

As a writer, you must invest time into your writing education. This means stocking your personal library with the top books on writing. 

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Here are 18 of the best books on writing: 

  1. Everybody Writes by Anne Handley
  2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  3. How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz
  4. How to Write Like Tolstoy by Richard Cohen
  5. On Writing by Stephen King
  6. The Elements of Style By William Strunk Jr and E.B. White
  7. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  8. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
  9. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  10. The Writing Life by Marie Arana
  11. Published by Chandler Bolt
  12. You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins
  13. The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn
  14. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  15. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  16. The Miracle Morning for Writers by Hal Elrod
  17. You Can Write a Novel by James Smith
  18. No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty

Why You Must Read Books on Writing

Nowadays, there are blogs, YouTube videos, courses, and podcasts on publishing and self-publishing

So, why read a book on writing, or how to write better? Doesn’t practicing writing help you far more than reading? The short answer: Not necessarily.

Well, good writers are avid readers, and if you’re going to read anything, it should be a book on how to improve your craft on writing.

Bottom line: Reading makes you a better writer.

The recommended writing books in this post have been selected based on popularity with authors, the value of technique discussed, and overall longevity to continue as popular reads for writers still passionate about learning the craft. Beyond just grammar, syntax or word choice, many of these books dive into the personal lives of the authors.

Here are 4 reasons why you should read the best books on writing:

#1 – Deep insights into the writing life

Who else is better suited to teach you deeper insights into the life of writing than those who have lived the successful writer’s life. Some books here are modern releases for the digital age, but many have been written with the classic author mindset.

You can learn the routine of these authors,  how to prepare for writing a book, dealing with the media, setting up the best writing space, and the deep scoop on what it means to be a published author dealing with publishing companies.

#2 – Learn how to develop your own writing style

The best books on writing are those written by professional writers who are a powerhouse of style development. This is the kind of material you will rarely get listening to a podcast or watching a YouTube channel.

#3 – Raw stories from the masters of the writing craft

Most of the books listed here are available in several formats, and a few are not available in digital but paperback only, and have been out of print for a long time.

After running a survey and doing our own research into the best books on writing to date, here is a list of 23 best books on writing we came up with. I have personally read all of these books and would recommend any of these titles for you to learn the art of writing in all its simplicity and intricacy.

#4 – Think like a writer

Writing a book is a lot of work. The challenge is in dealing with imposter syndrome and our own fears we have around writing. Is my writing any good? Who is going to read it? Do I sound like all the other writers out there?

Through reading books on writing, you begin to realize that every writer struggles with the same imposter mindset.

By reading and understanding how writers think, you can overcome your fears, get more writing done, and think like a writer even when you’re not writing.

The 18 Best Books on Writing

Now, let’s jump into the best books on writing and start your education on thinking, acting and becoming a full-fledged writer!

It doesn’t matter if you are self-publishing or traditional publishing, or what genre you write in… every author will walk away with some insights after reading these writing books.

These are the best writing books that every writer, or aspiring author, should add to their reading collection.

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#1 – Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

In Everybody Writes, top marketing veteran Ann Handley dishes out expert guidance and insight into the process and strategy of content creation, production and book publishing, with actionable how-to advice designed to get real results.

“If you have a website, you are a publisher. If you are on social media, you are in marketing. And that means that we are all relying on our words to carry out marketing messages. We are all writers.”

ANNE HANDLEY

Everybody writes is a content creation book with the core message that, “Anybody who has a blog, newsletter, or website is a writer and creating content.” So, if you’re in the business of communication through words using any kind of media, Everybody Writes is for you.

The purpose of this book, and how it differs from many other books on writing is, it teaches how to create high-quality content to build out your online (and offline) business. You will learn the ins-and-outs of building up your clientele list and using email marketing as a means to scale up an email list.

If you want to survive in the digital publishing world, you need to know how to create stellar content that attracts. This is why Everybody Writes is your blueprint and field guide for taking the message to your readers and subscribers.

everybody writes book

About Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a writer, digital marketing pioneer, and Wall Street Journal best-selling author who inspires and empowers writers and business owners to create marketing content that customers will love, igniting real results for any business. Ann is the author of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business and Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.

Click here to get Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

#2 – Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird is a must-have for any writer’s kit. In this book, Anne Lamott packs in everything from the trials and tribulations to being a writer while dealing with the many perils of her personal life from addiction to parenting.

Make no mistake, Bird by Bird is the real deal as Ann writes with a mix of memoir spliced together with invaluable lessons she has learned on the writer’s journey. Ann Lamott will help you with your writing as you work through that crappy first draft to getting closer to publication.

Lamott is best known for her witty take on the life of a writer, and this makes the book both entertaining to read as well as a divine learning experience for future authors.

best writing book

About Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the New York Times bestselling author of Bird By Bird. She is also the author of several novels, including Imperfect Birds and Rosie. Anne is also a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame.

Click here to get Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

#3 – How to Write Best Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz

How to Write Best Selling Fiction by multiple NY Times Bestselling author Dean Koontz is considered a classic resource for many fiction authors. However, the book was published back in 1981 and has been out of print for over 3 decades, making it a unique collector’s gem for authors.

In fact, to buy this book at the current price through third party retailers will cost you over $500.00. If you are lucky enough to find this in a used bookstore, don’t hesitate…buy it!

Considered to be one of the best books on writing fiction, it tells would-be novelists about the fiction market, offers advice on grammar, writing style, character development, and plot, and explains how to deal with agents and editors.

Keep in mind, because of its age, the book would not be updated for the 21st century, and so while the writing techniques still apply, some advice for the market would be outdated by now.

About Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz has been writing fiction for as long as anyone can remember, and is the author of over 80+ books, often writing under pseudonyms and has been compared to the likes of Stephen King. Dean Koontz is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of many titles including Watchers, Odd Thomas, and the The Whispering Room.

Note: How to Write Best Selling Fiction is currently unavailable except through 3rd party retailers and libraries in hardcover format. There is currently no digital version available.

#4 – How to Write Like Tolstoy by Richard Cohen

From the writer’s minds of Shakespeare to Stephen King, How to Write Like Tolstoy is a thought-provoking journey inside the minds of the world’s most accomplished storytellers.

For anyone who has ever identified with a hero or heroine, been seduced by a strong opening sentence, or been powerfully moved by a story’s end, this book is for you.

How to Write Like Tolstoy dives into the painstaking elements that great storytellers use to tell heartbreaking, spellbinding, gripping tales. 

Testimonials for How to Write Like Tolstoy:

Richard Cohen, in this fascinating read, reveals the challenges that the masters of the craft had when creating compelling story content. What we get is a well-researched, in-depth guide on the act and art of writing that enhances our experience of reading both the classics and the best modern fiction.

richard cohen

About Richard Cohen

Richard Cohen is the former publishing director of Hutchinson and Hodder & Stoughton and the founder of Richard Cohen Books. Richard has written for the New York Times, the Guardian, the Observer, the Daily Telegraph, and the New York Times Book Review. He is the author of “Chasing the Sun”, “By the Sword” and “How To Write Like Tolstoy”. 

Click here to get How to Write Like Tolstoy.

#5 – On Writing by Stephen King

As a long-time fan of Stephen King back when a horror novel could scorch the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, Stephen King leaves nothing to chance in this part memoir, part “how-to” on writing; this is King like you haven’t seen him before.

The King’s advice is grounded in his early, raw memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the link between writing and living played a powerful role in his recovery.

Ready to take your writing to another level? Learn our step-by-step strategy to  go from writer to published, full-time author! Join the FREE Workshop today.

If you can say anything about On Writing, this book is a great story that, unlike other books on writing, is actually less about the craft and more to do with King’s philosophies and experience around writing. Brilliant on every page and written by only the Master himself, Stephen King, like his novels from the earlier days, doesn’t disappoint readers.

on writing book

About Stephen King

Stephen King is the author of more than seventy books, all of them worldwide bestsellers, and many have been made into TV shows, mini-series, and theatrical movies. Stephen King was the recipient of America’s prestigious 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American Letters. In 2007 he also won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Click here to get On Writing by Stephen King

#6 – The Elements of Style by By William Strunk, Jr.

This book is a classic writing book, and one that every writer should have as a reference on their bookshelf.

So yes, this book matters, and is considered by most writers, including Stephen King himself, who has stated that this is the only book he recommends on writing, if you are to read anything at all. The Elements of Style is required reading for most writing courses by the instructors as a resource for brushing up and developing writing skills.

Here is a brief from Amazon’s description of The Elements of Style:

I have personally used this book from the beginning and, although short in length, is packed with value even today. A definite must-have and must-read for every author, new and veteran.

elements of style book

About William Strunk

William Strunk Jr. (1 July 1869 – 26 September 1946), was a professor of English at Cornell University and author of The Elements of Style (1918). A revised edition titled The Elements and Practice of Composition, with Edward A. Tenney as coauthor, was printed in 1935. The only other book Willima Strunk wrote was English Metres, published locally in 1922. Widely  known as a prolific editor, Strunk edited works by important authors, including William Shakespeare, John Dryden, and James Fenimore Cooper.

Click here to get The Elements of Style by William Strunk.

#7 – Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a modern classic that dives into the craft of writing, from brainstorming ideas, the vital role of verbs, making statements and answering questions, writing in restaurants, a list of topics for writing practice, and overcoming writer’s doubt.

“It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing. Time allows for distance and objectivity about your work. After you have filled a whole notebook in writing practice (perhaps it took you a month), sit down and reread the entire notebook as though it weren’t yours.”

NATALIE GOLDBERG

This book is a groundbreaking classic filled with the authors best advice and experience shared in one volume worthy of 35+ years of writing practice. The advice in her book, provided in short, easy-to-read chapters, will inspire anyone who writes—or who longs to. The updated edition includes a foreword by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.

writing books

About Natalie Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg is the author of fifteen books, including Writing Down the Bones, which has sold over one million copies and has been translated into fourteen languages. For more than forty years Natalie has practiced zen and taught seminars in writing as a practice. People from around the world attend her life-changing workshops.

The Oprah Winfrey Show sent a film crew to spend the day with Natalie for a segment on spirituality that covered her writing, teaching, painting, and walking meditation. She currently lives in Northern New Mexico.

Click here to get Writing Down the Bones.

#8 – Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, compiled this book of essays portraying his passion for the craft. Part memoir, part masterclass, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING offers a vivid insight into the craft of writing. Ray Bradbury reveals how writers can find their own unique path to developing a writer’s voice and their own writing style.

Written from the experience of a lifetime of writing, Ray shares his excitement, joy, wisdom and experience in this classic book for authors.

zen in the art of writing

About Ray Bradbury

In a career spanning more than seventy years, Ray Bradbury inspired generations of readers to dream, think, and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and more than fifty books, poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays, and screenplays, Ray Bradbury was one of the most successful writers of our time. His award-winning works include Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes

Click here to get Zen in the Art of Writing.

#9 – On Writing Well by William Zinsser

If you are a nonfiction writer, you shouldn’t even attempt writing (or self-editing) until you’ve read this book at least twice. William Zinsser was the classic author in his style and approach to the craft. The first section “Principles” is a goldmine of tips, writing tactics and common-sense approach to writing like a pro. Part 3 on “Forms” is niche targeted and includes tips on writing about people, places, technology, business, travel, and humor.

On Writing Well has long been regarded as one of the best books on writing with something for everyone, no matter the genre you specialize in. With more than a million copies sold, this volume remains a valuable resource for writers even today, regardless if you are a writing veteran or just starting out in the craft of writing.

on writing well book

About William Zinsser

William Zinsser (1922-2015), was a writer, editor, and teacher. His 18 books, which range in subject from music to baseball to American travel, include several widely read books about writing that includes the million-copy bestseller On Writing Well, and Writing About Your Life. You can find out more about William Zinsser at http://www.williamzinsserwriter.com/

Click here to get On Writing Well.

#10 – The Writing Life by Marie Arana

The Writing Life is a massive gathering of 55 authors as they discuss their ideas for writing and how they formed these ideas into readable manuscripts, some of them taking decades to write. The essays contain biographical information about each author, giving readers a deeper insight into their background and how they came to become professional authors.

Although some of the essays feel like long rants combined with the creative freedom each author expresses, you can’t help but be captivated by the stories of writers as they share some of their most secretive moments of inspiration.

The Writing Life highlights the pleasures of the trade, the struggle, the successes and failures of the authors. If you are looking for something that gets into the mind of an author and what makes them tick, try The Writing Life for true realism of an author’s life.

writing life book

About Maria Arana

Marie is the former editor in chief of “Book World” at The Washington Post and a senior consultant to the Librarian of Congress. Her book The Writing Life, is a collection from her well-known column for The Washington Post, which explores the way writers think and work. She is also the author of 10+ books including The Best American Travel Writing. You can find more information about her at www.mariearana.net.

Click here to get The Writing Life.

#11 – Published by Chandler Bolt

Here is one for self-published authors. The CEO and founder of the Self-Publishing School, and 6x self-published author Chandler Bolt delivers a blueprint on how to write and publish a novel. In Published, Chandler presents a proven solution that will take and novice from blank page to published author in 90 days.

The book offers modern insight and a proven plan to earn income writing, build an author platform, and build your email list by giving away a free gift when readers download your free audiobook. Take a chance on Published and let the professionals at Self-Publishing School guide you on your journey to self-publication.

chandler bolt book

About Chandler Bolt

Chandler Bolt is the founder & CEO of Self-Publishing School, the #1 online resource for writing your first book. Self Publishing School made the INC 5000 in 2018 (#2,699) and in 2019 (#1,483) as one of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the US. Through his books, training videos, and Self-Publishing School program, he’s helped thousands of writers on their journey to writing their first book. Check out Self Publishing School here: http://self-publishingschool.com

#12 – You Are a Writer ) by Jeff Goins

From the founder of Tribe Writers, veteran author and blogger at Goins, Writer brings writers a book that guides the could-be author towards the dream of writing for a living. Jeff uses many of his own anecdotes and case studies of authors who are doing what many dream of—making a living writing words.

“You are a writer; you just need to write.”

JEFF GOINS

Jeff Goins shares his own story of self-doubt and what it took for him to become a professional writer. He provides simple, practical steps to improve your writing style and technique, get published in magazines and with traditional publishers, and build a platform of fans that fall in love with your work. You will learn the importance of passion and discipline and how to show up every day to make time for writing.

jeff goins writing book

About Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins is a writer, keynote speaker, and award-winning blogger with a reputation for challenging the status quo. He is the best-selling author of five books, including The Art of Work, and Wrecked. Jeff has been featured on the best­seller lists of USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Washington Post.

Click here to get You Are a Writer.

#13 – The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn

The Successful Author Mindset dives into the mindset obstacles that writers experience at different stages on the creative journey.

Each chapter tackles a specific issue and offers an antidote to that problem. It includes excerpts from Joanna Penn’s personal journals, as well as quotes from famous writers. The book is heavily geared for writers struggling with the writing process, as well as the business of writing and being heard.

I recommend this book to new authors when starting out because it covers topics such as self-doubt, fear of failure, the need for validation, perfectionism, writer’s block, overwhelm, fear of failure, criticism, ambition, fame and fortune.  The Successful Author Mindset fills you with confidence and keeps you writing.

joanne penn writing book

About Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn is a bestselling author, international speaker and award-winning entrepreneur. Her site, www.TheCreativePenn.com helps authors with creativity, writing, publishing, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship. It has been voted one of the top 100 sites for authors by Writers Digest.

Click here to get The Successful Author Mindset.

#14 – The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

A very honest and open account of the writing life and how Annie Dillard has navigated through the trials and tribulations of this difficult craft. Considered by many to be one of the best books on writing, you will not be disappointed by The Writing Life.

This book is compiled with material from a decade of The Washington Post’s “Writing Life” column. In this collection of short essays, Annie Dillard illuminates the dedication and daring that summarizes the life and existence of a writer. The book is part-memoir and serves as a moving account of Dillard’s own life experiences, The Writing Life offers deep insight into one of the most mysterious and profound professions.

the writing life

About Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard is the author of ten books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, as well as An American Childhood, The Living, and Mornings Like This. She is a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and has received fellowship grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts

Click here to get The Writing Life.

#15 – Stein On Writing by Sol Stein

Sol Stein is a renowned editor, author, and instructor, and he explains: “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of useable solutions– how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, and how to create interesting writing in the first place.”

In Stein On Writing, nonfiction writers will find a unique approach to the new revolution in journalism and a guide to using the techniques of fiction to enhance nonfiction. Fresh, useful, informative, and fun to read, Stein on Writing is a book you will return to again and again to soak up the witty, often provoking, talent and voice of a literary master.

This book is a tribute to everything Stein learned from his writing in a career that spanned several decades before he passed away in September, 2019.

stein on writing book

About Sol Stein

Sol Stein (October 13, 1926 – September 19, 2019) was the author of 13 books including Stein On Writing, and How to Grow a Novel. He was Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Stein and Day Publishers for 27 years.

Click here to get Stein on Writing.

#16 – The Miracle Morning for Writers by Hal Elrod and Steve Scott

In this great little book on how to write a novel in the morning, Hal Elrod teams up with Steve Scott (author of Habit Stacking and Happier Human).

You learn how to take charge of your morning and maximize “the rest of the day” for your writing efforts. The book teaches you techniques and strategies that include:

  • 4 business models perfect for writers, how to get started, and which one we recommend.
  • The 10-step process for publishing a book that readers love
  • How a morning routine can change every area of your life (Including your health, happiness, finances and relationships).
  • The proven strategy for “finding the time” to write–even if you have a full-time job.

This book shows you how to increase your writing speed as well as make money at doing what you love to do the most…write!

miracle morning for writers

About Hal Elrod

As the author of one of the highest rated books on Amazon, The Miracle Morning (which has been translated into 37 languages, has over 3,000 five-star reviews and has impacted the lives of over 2,000,000 people in more than 70 countries)… he is doing exactly that. You can learn more about Hal Elrod at https://halelrod.com/

About Steve Scott

Steve Scott is the bestselling author of over 50+ books, many of which are based on habit development and personal development. S.J. provides daily action plans for every area of your life: health, fitness, work and personal relationships. His content focuses on taking action so, instead of reading over-hyped strategies that rarely work, you’ll get information that can be immediately implemented. You can connect with Steve at https://www.developgoodhabits.com/

Click here to get The Miracle Morning for Writers.

#17 – You Can Write a Novel by James Smith

If you are learning to write fiction and need a detailed, step-by-step guide on how to set up your story, create characters and develop a storyline that tells and sells, You Can Write a Novel is the book you need. 

Related: How to Write a Novel

Veteran author James V. Smith, Jr. breaks down the novel writing process into ten logical steps. You’ll start developing the foundation for your book right away by taking your story’s three most important incidents from mind mapping and idea generation, to final draft perfection.

You Can Write a Novel targets the essentials every writer needs, such as plot, character, setting, dialogue, and action. You’ll learn how to generate a salable idea, develop your idea into a framework, and build your framework into a finished manuscript.

When I started writing fiction again, this was definitely the book that helped to structure all the details, plot, character, and everything else in between. It comes with free downloadable material if you access the site through the book. James Smith guides you through the process by building the story around compelling characters.

If you would rather purchase the now out-of-print companion You Can Write a Novel Kit, this is a great tool for writers who appreciate using physical materials to build out their book. With James’ “You Can Write a Novel kit” and instructional book included, you can refine your fiction techniques using Smith’s writing advice and strategies, such as an idea-scoring system and the forty cardinal writing rules.

novel writing book

About James V. Smith

James Smith is a former combat soldier, helicopter pilot, newspaper writer and editor, national award-winning columnist, and magazine editor. He is author of You Can Write a Novel, and The Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer. He has published more than a dozen military action-adventure novels, including the six-book series Force Recon. He wrote the Delta Force series under the pen name John Harriman.

Click here to get You Can Write a Novel.

#18 – No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

Written by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty brings you a companion guide to go with your NaNoWriMo writing plan. If writing is a challenge, this book—and taking part in the 30-day writing rush—will break any resistance to writing you’re holding on to.

With over 20 years of writing experience, Chris has revised and updated his writing reference guide with more compelling tips, updated strategies, and a no-fuss approach to novel writing that gets your writing fingers moving.

No Plot? No Problem! Breaks your writing excuses, destroying imposter syndrome for good and sets you on a path to getting your book done and ultimately published.

About Chris Baty

Chris Baty founded National Novel Writing Month in 1999, and is now available in 90 countries. Chris now serves as a Board Member Emeritus for NaNoWriMo, and spends his days teaching classes at Stanford University’s Writer’s Studio. He’s the author of No Plot? No Problem! and the co-author of Ready, Set, Novel.

Click here to get No Plot? No Problem!

Your favorite books on writing

There are so many great books on writing a novel, how to write nonfiction, creating compelling characters, or self-publishing a novel.

Unfortunately we couldn’t fit everything into one post…there are too many to choose from.

If you have a favorite book you’d like to recommend, we’d love to hear from you.

Just drop the title and author of your favorite book on writing in the comments below. It could be included in our next post on the best books on writing!

Ready to take your writing to another level? Learn our step-by-step strategy to  go from writer to published, full-time author! Join the FREE Workshop today.


What best books on writing would you add to this list?

Scott Allan

Scott Allan is a bestselling author who has a passion for teaching, building life skills, and inspiring others to take charge of their lives. Scott’s mission is to give people the strategies needed to design the life they want through choice.