Read These 5 Books About Writing to Become a Better Writer

If you are anything like me, you are constantly looking for ways to become a better writer. You may turn to advice from successful writers. Or watch movies about writing. Or strategize your day to allow for more writing time. In the end, though, one of the best ways writers can improve is to read more.

Reading any type of book can help you become a better writer. If you’re a fiction writer, read more fiction (it sounds obvious, but far too few writers actually prioritize reading). If you write non-fiction, pick up a new book on history (or, heck, diversify and read a mystery novel — it won’t hurt!).

One thing I have prioritized in recent years was ensuring I was consistently exposing myself to more books about writing, usually written by successful authors.

The short list below are suggestions, based on books about writing that I have read over the last few years, that I believe will help make you a better writer.

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On Writing by Stephen King

First up is the obvious book that every “books about writing” list includes, so I figured I would get it out of the way early. Plainly, if you have never picked up Stephen King’s On Writing and you consider yourself to be a writer, this needs to be your new weekend plans. Considered by many to be essential reading for any writer, in fewer than 300 pages King details his own path to writing success and offers invaluable advice across the craft, from his own reading suggestions to grammar tips.

Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann

Shamefully, I will admit that (at the time of this writing) I have never read one of Colum McCann’s novels. However, that did not stop me from ordering and reading this short, handy guide for writers. Written in a series of short (like, usually two or three pages) pieces of advice, he touches on everything from creating characters to writing dialogue to the importance of a good editor. One of my personal favorites was his suggestion to always read your writing aloud, for it may impact your words to hear them spoken.

Probably his best advice: “Just keep your arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Arse in the chair.”

A quick but useful read, this is one that will be easy to return to over and over, and can be consumed one piece of advice at a time. Grab it when you need it.

Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

Much more literary than the first two books on this list, John McPhee expounds on a long and fruitful career writing for The New Yorker. In a series of essays that were previously published in the magazine, this book helps shift your mindset from the big picture to truly understanding and focusing on the process of writing. 

One of the interesting lessons he discussed regarding writer’s block was extremely practical. He advises that when you do not know how to start a story, write a letter to someone close to you explaining the topic that you are writing about. Once you get past the pleasantries and the introductions, you will find yourself writing what you were meant to write all along. (Then you go back and delete the beginning of the letter and you have yourself a story.)

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

This is a book I had never heard of, but then it appeared on my Instagram feed one day. And then another day. And then on my Twitter. It seems this book infiltrated the writing community rapidly, and for good reason.

In a series of essays, much like what John McPhee did with Draft No. 4, this book is part advice, part memoir. It is wholly entertaining and helpful, though. Give it a shot.

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

The most straightforward “how-to guide” on this list, Everybody Writes is a practical book for someone who does more professional writing than perhaps publishing novels. The author, Ann Handley, is a longtime marketer who specializes in creating unique and engaging content that will help your business or your freelance writing career. 

We live in a world where, as I’m sure you’ve heard innumerable times, “content is king,” and Handley’s book keeps that mindset on the forefront. This is a useful guide for anyone whose writing job is not just about quality, but also quantity. Write fast, but write smart and strategic.

4 Comments

    1. I have heard great things about “Bird by Bird” but sadly I have not yet read it and I didn’t want to include any books I haven’t read personally. I’ll check out your list as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Awesome! Yes, I’ve read all the books on my list. Lamott’s is my favorite. She gives you permission to write garbage! To get to the gems of course 🙂

        Like

      2. I read King as well but didn’t like Bird by Bird. Her “Operating Instructions” however (on parenting the first year) was a book I couldn’t put down…so what do I know. 🙂

        I have also read Rilke’s “Letters to a young poet” and that was incredibly illuminating from a writing perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

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