5 Books Every Writer Should Read

Written by Emily Harstone | August 28, 2014

There are a lot of books on writing out there. In fact it can seem overwhelming at times. However, whether you are a poet, a fiction writer, or a non fiction writer, there are four books that I think everyone should read.

I did not enjoy reading all of these books, but they all impacted my writing in some way. In addition, many compelling, helpful, and funny conversations have come out of reading these books.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White with illustrations by Maira Kalman

Most individuals encounter The Elements Of Style in school. The book is flawed but it is always worth a re-visit because of how concrete it is.

Most books on writing lack the direction and focus that The Elements of Style has in spades.  It is great for your writing to get re-rooted in the basics. I highly recommend the version with illustrations by Maira Kalman, as they add levity to the book, and make it much more engaging.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

This is my personal favorite. It is insightful, funny, academic, and accessible. As someone that started to write after being an avid reader, I was really surprised by how much I learned from this book. The depth and breadth of it is impressive. The examples that Prose gives are concrete and excellent. I re-read this book once every year or two and each year I take different things out of it. If you are just starting out as a writer this is not the book to start with, the advice in here can be a little overwhelming. If you are just starting out, the next two books are for you.

On Writing by Stephen King

I am not a fan of Stephen King’s fiction. I think that his books tend to be far longer than necessary. However, I think that On Writing has a lot of good, specific advice. A lot of writers waver in their advice, but King’s is concise, thoughtful, and easy to implement.

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

I am one of the few people who is not a huge fan of Bird By Bird, however I think most writers find it helpful. It is very motivating. Anne makes it clear right from the start that everyone has “shitty first drafts”.

Her language is clear, her stories are fun, and the whole thing is an easy read. I do wish that she could focus more on the details of craft, but for a general book it is very helpful, particularly if you have struggled sustaining a regular writing practice.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work By Mason Currey

This is not a book to read from front to back.  Daily Rituals is an extensive list of the daily habits of writers and artists. The description of most writers habits are between a page and three long, but Currey manages to cover a lot of territory on those pages. Some authors have great practices that can teach you a lot about what it means to be a writer, others are clearly included to be cautionary tales.