Seven Books Every Writer Should Read

Written by Emily Harstone | September 26, 2017

There are hundreds of books on writing that are out there. In fact as a young writer I received many of these as birthday gifts; some were extremely helpful,  others were just frustrating, and many are still sitting on a shelf in my parents’ house, unread.

However, whether you are a poet, a fiction writer, or a non-fiction writer, these are seven books that I think everyone should read, because they are so full of helpful details about how to make a life as a writer.

I did not enjoy reading all of these books, but they all impacted my writing in some way. They all taught me something that, in the long term, helped me become a better writer.

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, as some of the elements it presents are dated and no longer commonplace 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.

The Hidden Machinery by Margot Livesey

This engaging, unpretentious, and detailed book of essays by Margot Livesey is an entertaining read, while still giving a lot of helpful, realistic expectations about specific topics such as doing research, and how to get an idea to grow into a book.

Not all of the essays were useful for me, but the majority really helped me understand some aspect of writing–revision, for example–in a different and practical way, because of how well she used incidents from her life and passages from books to illustrate her points.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

This energetic and joyful collection of essays about creative writing by one of my favorite authors is a delight to read, even for non-writers.

In this book, Bradbury details the habits and techniques that made him a successful writer. He shares the starting point of some of his ideas and reveals a little bit about how his mind works. This book helped motivate me to write even more.

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 surprised by just 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 every year or two and each time, I take away different things from it. If you are just starting out as a writer, this might not the book to start with, as the advice in here can be a little overwhelming, but the next two books are for you.

On Writing by Stephen King

I am not a fan of Stephen King’s fiction. 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. The personal stories he shares in this book make it clear how much work it takes to become a successful writer and how much work is involved in continuing to be successful.

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

I am one of the few people who is not a huge fan of Bird By Bird, but I think most writers find it helpful and motivating. Lamott 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 the book had more on the details of craft, but for a general book it is really 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 one and three pages 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, while others are clearly included to be cautionary tales.