The Craft of Writing
Sep 28, 2022

23 of the Best Books About Writing

Many books offer writing advice. Which are worth your time? Here are our recommendations.

T L Murchison
T L Murchison
Person about to start running

If you’re looking to become a better writer and improve your craft, a good way to begin is to read books on the topic. As any seasoned writer can tell you, writing a novel is not as easy as it looks. It is a skill, a craft, and a specialty. There are rules that most bestsellers and blockbusters follow behind the scenes. Experienced writers have tips to share that may save you some heartache or rewriting down the road. 

There are many, many books available out there with writing tips. Given so many options, which are truly must-read books for aspiring writers? We’ve sorted through a mountain of options to present you a list of some of the best books on writing.

To help you zone in on the guide that can offer you the most, these recommendations have been segmented under the following areas:

Getting Started: Books to inspire you to start writing

Genre Specific: Books relating to the type of story you want to tell

Understanding the craft: Books about grammar, style, self-editing, plot & structure, etc. 

About characters: Books to help you create engaging characters

A writer’s life: Books with practical advice about the business of writing

Getting Started

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

288 Pages

Most people associate Stephen King with horror stories. With over 64 novels written and 350 million books sold, one thing is clear: the man knows how to write a good story. It only makes sense then that his book On Writing is as popular amongst writers as The Dark Tower. It was named one of Time magazine’s top 100 nonfiction books of all time.

Why read it:

Mixing personal memoir with writing process and guidance, this is a chance to get inside the head of a writer and see the writing world through his eyes. He’s a notorious planster, so if you write like him, this might help. 

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

272 Pages

How many people have you heard say they want to write a book? Of those, how many people actually completed their first book and published it? Fiction writing requires more than a sudden burst of inspiration, it requires sustained effort, and the ability to keep tapping into your creativity. The Artist’s Way aims to help you discover your own writing process, and give novices the tools they need to become great writers.

Why read it:

Cameron is an advocate of free writing, and the book shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help artists tap into their creativity.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

208 Pages

As the title implies, Noah Lukeman digs into the heart of producing a manuscript that will immediately stand out to literary agents and readers. He offers insight into avoiding:

A weak opening hook

  • Overuse of adjectives and adverbs
  • Flat or forced metaphors or similes
  • Melodramatic, commonplace or confusing dialogue
  • Undeveloped characterizations and lifeless settings
  • Uneven pacing and lack of progression

Why read it:

Often found as a resource in writing workshops, this title offers exercises at the end of each chapter to improve your technique as you learn.

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy

384 Pages

The “dummies” series of books takes a topic and looks at it from tip to tail, breaking down all the essential elements of the subject matter. In Ingermanson and Economy’s version, the guide helps beginners plan, write their first draft, edit, and get published.

Why read it:

Broken down into easily digestible bites, this book is a good starting point for new authors.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

176 Pages

Ray Bradbury guides readers on using the power of the mind, or the inner genius, to spur on creativity. The basics of this theory revolve around discovering what it is you love about writing and leveraging that strength.

Why read it: 

Using Zen principles, he encourages readers to find their own unique path to success by following their instincts. 

Genre Specific

Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes

92 Pages

Don’t be fooled by the shortness of this book. It’s packed with the essential elements of “How to Write Kissing Books.” Romance authors, editors and publishers consider this book a bible of writing romances that sell.

Why read it:

You want to write romance. The genre has very specific beats, or elements, that a reader connects with in a romance that differ from other genres. This book is quoted as “can be read like you are sitting down to coffee with romance editor and author Gwen Hayes while she explains story structure.” 

How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America by Lee Child and Laurie R. King

336 Pages

This compilation of essays from 70 of the best mystery authors is arranged thematically into sections:

  • Before Writing (rules; genres; setting; character; research; etc.)
  • While Writing (outlining; the plot; dialogue; mood; etc.)
  • After Writing (agents; editors; self-pub; etc.)
  • Other than Novels (short stories; true crime; etc.)
  • Other Considerations (diverse characters; legal questions; criticism)

Why read it:

The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) motto is “Crime doesn’t pay… enough” and was established in 1945. The group has local chapters you can join, newsletters, annual awards, and so much more.  

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card 

144 Pages

If you want to write Science Fiction and Fantasy, you’ve probably already read one of Orson Scott Card’s best-selling novels or seen the movie adaptations. He has over 628 books listed on Goodreads and knows a bit about the subject. 

Why read it:

In this guide, he laser focuses on the genre with thoughts on epic world building, creating magic systems and inventing new societies for these elements to live in.

On Writing Horror by Mort Castle

272 Pages

Of course, you can read Stephen King, the master of horror according to some, but why not read a book with a selection of snippets from the Horror Writers Association, which includes Stephen King. This organization is dedicated to promoting dark literature, and each author has some advice to give.

Why read it:

From classic Dracula influences to modern day apocalypse sagas, this book has something for everyone looking to write the dark and scary.

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

336 Pages

William Zinsser not only served as a writing teacher at several universities, he was also a writer, editor, and literary critic.  As the title implies, this is an insider’s guide to writing a wide range of texts, from emails to travel books, guides to memories and everything in between.

Why read it:

Known for its sound advice and clear guidance, this book is praised for its tone and sense of humour, keeping a potentially dry subject interesting. The resource also follows its own advice and keeps it simple. Definitely worth a look for any nonfiction writers.

Understanding the craft

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

107 Pages

In its fourth edition, this highly popular book is the granddaddy of classic style manuals, and is often called “the look book with big impact.” The objective of this writing guide is to outline the basics of writing with a focus on grammar and sentence structure.

Why read it:

Also available are accompanying workbooks to help you move through the lessons.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

320 Pages 

Jessica Brody adapts Blake Snyder’s series, used by screenwriters, directors and studio executives across Hollywood to create blockbuster films and applies it to the craft of writing a best-selling novel. This detailed guide helps you understand the basics of plot, characters and the reasons a story connects with readers.

Why read it:

Using a step-by-step model, employing real world book examples to explain every detail combined with a humorous and engaging method, this book is like learning physics by visiting a theme park. It’s fun, it’s educational, and it works.

Story Genius by Lisa Crom

288 pages

The book's subtitle touts “How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)” Lisa bucks the planser vs plotter debate and has developed her own alternative based on science.

Why read it:

More and more writers claim to be plansers, or a combo of both. This book explores a guided process with full scenes broken down into their constituent elements. 

2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron

In this ever-increasing world of instant demand, readers will move on to the next author if there isn’t something to binge, forcing authors to feel like they need to release 2 or more books a year to be successful writers. Rachel shares how she took her writing from 2,000 words to 10,000 words per day. Yes, a day. 

Why read it:

If you are looking to make a living out of self-publishing, Rachel’s writing advice may help you get to market faster.

About characters

Writing Unforgettable Characters by James Scott Bell

146 Pages

Plot is essential, but first and foremost readers connect with the characters. The author breaks down how to build up characters into key areas:

How to lay the foundation for a memorable character

How to bond the reader with the main character from the start

The super power of unpredictability

The secrets of grit, wit, and moxie

How to bring your character to life on the page

How and when to reveal backstory

All about arcs and what they truly mean

The key to unforgettable villains

How to make minor characters memorable, too

How to create a great series character

Why read it:

James Scott Bell, aside from a best-selling author, has a slew of books on writing, from writing pulp fiction to mastering dialogue. His The Last Five Pages and The Art of War for Writers are also sought after.

How to Write Great Characters: The Key to Your Hero's Growth and Transformation by David Wisehart

75 Pages

Get a deeper understanding of human nature and create believable characters. The book offers:

  • the nine fundamental fears that motivate human behavior
  • the nine core character types
  • the nine stages of character change

Why read it: Short and informational, this book takes a cliff notes style to shortcut to character traits.

Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Morell

By slicing and dicing what makes for an engaging antagonist, Jessica Morell explains the differences between the hero and the villain, and offers insight on how to take the typical antagonist and have them jump off the page. 

Why read it:

Moving beyond a basic “bad” character and building a three-dimensional villain your readers might want to root for is the epitome of good writing. 

A writer’s life

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

111 pages

Creative writing is hard work. Dillard’s book offers a series of essays looking at the self-doubt, anxiety, and emotional turmoil that can be a part of the creative process. It’s an open and honest look at the writing life, and if you’ve ever struggled with writing, it can help you know you’re not alone.

Why read it:

"For nonwriters, it is a glimpse into the trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words. For writers, it is a warm, rambling, conversation with a stimulating and extraordinarily talented colleague." — Chicago Tribune

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

222 Pages 

More than a million readers, probably writers, have looked to this book for “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” The story of how the title came about (found in the opening chapter) is the basis of the book. 

“Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.””

Taking each basic element, one at a time, the author offers advice on the highs and lows, realities and illusions, and how to manage a writer’s life.

Why read it:

It’s a classic. It’s still relevant. It’s a delight to read.

Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg

239 Pages

As a student of Zen and a writer, Natalie Goldberg uses these experiences to give readers a glimpse into the world of an author, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. This book uses personal stories and experiences to showcase writing issues and how to overcome them.

Why read it:

Using humor and compassion, the book offers insight into the elements all writers have to deal with at some point in their writing lives, including overcoming writer’s block, working with an editor, and general writing improvements.

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

192 Pages

Promoted as “tough love… for yourself”, this book takes a spin on the ancient Art of War by Sun Tzu. The author believes that great art is a war between the writer and themselves. He demonstrates how he changed his mindset and resisted giving up even after a career crisis in his forties.

Why read it:

Aimed at writers, it’s been adopted by a broad range of business entrepreneurs, artists, military service personnel, etc. to encourage them to master their creative juices and break through the walls that stop them from achieving their goals

Write Naked by Jennifer Probst

240 Pages

By mixing personal essays with honest advice, Jennifer Probst takes the reader on a journey from new writers’ struggles to navigating negotiating a seven-figure publishing contract.

Why read it:

With a focus on writing romance, writers looking to break into the exploding in popularity genre can learn from an expert in the field. 

How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market by Ricardo Fayet

332 Pages

Even traditionally published authors are expected to hop on the social media and promotion train. Self-published authors have more hats to wear, including advertising, deciding price points, running giveaways, and an ever-expanding list. The author offers guidance on:

  • How to change your mindset and sell more books with less effort
  • How to write books that guarantee a lasting, profitable career
  • How to get Amazon’s Kindle Store to market your book for you
  • How to get thousands of readers into your mailing list before you even release the book
  • How to propel your book to the top of the charts at launch
  • How to automate your marketing so that you can spend less time marketing and more time writing,

Why read it:

Part of the Reedsy Marketing Guides, this book claims to have helped over 150,000 authors crack the marketing code and help writers find more time to write.

Nothing Like A Good Book

In all honesty, this article could have been twice the size. There are just that many good writing books out there. But this selection gives you a cross section to begin your journey of discovery. Spending some time learning from authors that have come before you can prepare you for the tasks ahead and get you writing your book. 

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