The 6 Best Books on Writing

When you’re low on inspiration, confused, or just procrastinating, writers’ guides can be your salvation. Here are six books on writing we turn to again and again (and a few of them are on sale through 9/30!):

1. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. The gold standard of writing resources, originally published in 1918, The Elements of Style is indispensable to writers, readers, teachers, and anyone who wishes to express herself clearly with the written word. Without question, every writer’s personal library should include a copy.

Sample: “When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.”

2. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg. An easy-to-digest, free-spirited manual, Writing Down the Bones is a personal reflection on writing as well as a how-to on becoming motivated and inspired. Goldberg explains how to use Zen Buddhism to get a creative flow going and push past writer’s block. Writing Down the Bones is not for the reader searching for rigid grammar rules, but the reader searching for inspiration.

Sample: “You’re never free unless you are doing your art.”

3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. A manual by one of the most successful authors alive, On Writing presents a balanced mix of the personal (stories from King’s childhood) and the professional (there’s a grammar section!).

Sample: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

4. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. A a beloved book about the craft of writing. Bird by Bird is also filled with inspiration for artists of every stripe.

Sample: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

5. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. A bootcamp for aspiring writers and creative types. Are you looking for something to untie that knot of procrastination? Then this is the book for you. The opposite of sugar-coated, this short read dissects the difference between dreaming and producing.

Sample: “The sign of the amateur is over glorification of and preoccupation with the mystery. The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.”

6. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard. Would it be a stretch to describe Annie Dillard as a national treasure? She’s written eleven books and won the Pulitzer Prize. The Writing Life is her short and funny reflection on the craft and its process.

Sample: “He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.”

Which writing manual is your favorite?

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