50 Books That Will Make You a Better Writer

Literary genius — or at least competence — never blossoms in a vacuum. As much as many creative types like to pose as a mysterious lone wolves skulking through the fringes of society without ever becoming a cog in the machine, man, even their works have been shaped by their external experiences up to that point. Even a whole rejection of society still involves relation to it, albeit one defined by absence than presence. So despite what that "free spirit" in composition class claims, reaching out to fellow writers can still prove beneficial to those hoping to pursue the art as either a career or a hobby. Soaking up advice through any reads available opens up new worlds and ideas and can help mold a work from just OK to just plain awesome. Generally from a technical standpoint, anyways.

Obviously, one must not take this article’s title too literally. Nor should it be read as anything more or anything less than purely subjective musings in no particular order. Merely suggestions, with a few unexpected bites sprinkled in for spice and hopefully discussion. Try not to spontaneously combust over omissions and inclusions — getting flustered over an internet list of this nature is really quite silly.

Classics

  1. The Elements of Style by William F. Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White: Keep an eye out for the latest editions of this lauded writing manual, which delves into the comprehensive details of the writerly arts.

  2. On Writing Well by William Zinsser: Another classic writing guide, this time advocating for a style using language as economically as possible without losing meaning.

  3. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell: One of the most influential sociological, cultural and literary texts of all time, The Hero with a Thousand Faces discusses familiar narrative patterns from around the world.

  4. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations by Kate Turabian: Students and professionals required to write with the Turabian style (established in 1937) might want to keep the latest style guide on hand for quick reference.

  5. 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost: Pretty much everything potential readers need to know about this book can be found right there in its title.

  6. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: Part memoir, part writing guide, Anne Lamott’s warmth and humor help guide readers through the ups and downs of crafting a compelling story.

  7. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers by John Gibaldi: When working in MLA style for academic or professional reasons, all one really needs is the latest edition of the ubiquitous guide.

  8. The Chicago Manual of Style: Another style guide one will likely encounter in a higher education setting. This one actually heavily influenced Kate Turabian.

  9. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: Despite its origins, the APA style of writing is actually used in a number of different fields and majors.

  10. Mythology by Edith Hamilton: Because Greco-Roman and Norse religious traditions left such a massive impact on "Western" literature, taking the time to understand it intimately will greatly help writers crafting classic narratives.

Composition and Rhetoric

  1. The Office of Assertion by Scott F. Crider: Despite focusing mainly on academic essays, anyone typing up any form of rhetorical writing can greatly benefit from Scott F. Crider’s advice.

  2. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty: The popular internet columnist brings her accessible charm and proud grammar geekery to the bookshelves of writers everywhere.

  3. Why You Say It by Webb Garrison: Writers and rhetoricians wanting to learn as much as they can about the origins of common idioms and words might want to check out Why You Say It. If nothing else, the reference will help them avoid unfortunate implications.

  4. A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman: Punctuation forms one of the cornerstones of effective writing, no matter the genre or medium. Before sincerely attempting some postmodern experiments, put forth the effort to understand the ins and outs first.

  5. A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston: Although the book isn’t explicitly for authors, anyone having to write persuasively needs to know how to best formulate and structure an argument.

  6. Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark: Roy Peter Clark outlines "50 essential strategies" useful for polishing up writers at all levels, no matter their chosen genre or medium.

  7. Line by Line by Claire Kehrwald Cook: Authors serious about publishing should learn how to self-edit before submitting their manuscripts to editors and agents.

  8. Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale: This quirky grammar guide peruses the ins and outs of the English language with unapologetic cheek and sexy humor.

  9. How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish: Genial Stanley Fish breaks writing down into one of its fundamental components, illustrating how painstaking attention to the details can result in a more cohesive whole.

  10. Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O’Connor: Words Fail Me specifically targets new writers and dishes out its advice in a laid-back, accessible manner.

Genre and Medium

  1. Writing Screenplays that Sell by Michael Hauge: Whether looking to write screenplay number one or a seasoned professional looking for a few refreshers, this guide might prove a valuable resource.

  2. You Can Do a Graphic Novel by Barbara Slate: Great for young adults, the indomitable Barbara Slate shares her expertise and experience with those hoping to work in the comic book industry.

  3. The Elements of Fiction Writing series by Various: Multiple authors, including Ender’s Game superstar Orson Scott Card, thoroughly dissect every facet of fiction. No matter the medium, anyone hoping to create their own worlds and characters should consult these volumes.

  4. Poemcrazy by Susan G. Wooldridge: Poetry intimidates new readers and writers, but this gentle volume helps them come to grips with its myriad facets and demystifies some of the more intense ones.

  5. The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly: Robert W. Bly may not necessarily inspire the next Don Draper (who could, really?), but he can still advise those who wish they were.

  6. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block: Before settling in to write that novel everyone has inside, read over Lawrence Block’s breezy guide to knocking one out effectively.

  7. How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman: One of the smartest, most valuable guides to novel writing places the most common narrative mistakes front and center in the interest of excellent fiction.

  8. Telling True Stories edited by Wendy Call and Mark Kramer: From Harvard’s Nieman Foundation comes a compilation of authors dishing out advice on penning compelling, factual nonfiction pieces of all types.

  9. Naked, Drunk and Writing by Adair Lara: Aspirant memoirists will greatly appreciate this cheeky take on maneuvering an often heavy-handed, self-indulgent genre.

  10. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King: Another excellent book on how to self-edit a piece before submitting, focusing mostly on the fiction genres. No matter the medium, the instructions here will prove useful.

Literary Criticism, Reading and Analysis

  1. How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom: Most of legendary critic Harold Bloom’s oeuvre is essential, but this one is broad enough to appeal to most literature lovers.

  2. New Feminist Criticism by Elaine Showalter: One of the leading feminist scholars and literary critics guides readers through all the ins and outs of reading through such a lens.

  3. Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida: Learn the foundations of poststructalism (and, to a certain extent, postmodernism) straight from the movement’s most visible, notable scholar.

  4. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud: Comic books and graphic novels deserve just as much literary consideration and novels and poems, and Scott McCloud explains why and how.

  5. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose: One must become a close reader if one desires to become a successful writer, after all. Use this provocative resources to understand how to get the most out of curling up with a literary work.

  6. The Poetics by Aristotle: In this classical text, Greek icon Aristotle waxes philosophic on the eclectic, fickle and aesthetic nature of poetry and verse.

  7. The Communist Manifesto by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx: Not everybody agrees with communism, of course, but its tenets do play a significant role in literary criticism, especially (obviously) the Marxist school.

  8. Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling: Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book has nothing to do with literature, but its provocative insight on the fallacy of gender and sexual binary is an essential read for all queer theorists.

  9. Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud: Freudian psychology helped kick-start the psychoanalytic criticism movement, and going straight to the source will inevitably turn up some provocative gems.

  10. Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung: Carl Jung impacted psychology and psychoanalytic literary criticism as much as his mentor-turned-nemesis, and this classic continues to impact the book scene even today.

Notable Writers

  1. On Writing by Stephen King: The wildly popular horror master writes his autobiography with heavy emphasis on how literature and his struggles with substance abuse came to shape his career and personhood — for good and for ill.

  2. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: Ray Bradbury’s excellent essay series hemorrhages joy over the writerly arts, and he sincerely hoped they would come to inspire later generations to pick up their pens and express themselves.

  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Although I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings involves former Poet Laureate Maya Angelou’s memoirs rather than a reflection of her illustrious literary career, it does serve as an intimate, first-person glimpse at one way a writer’s soul might form.

  4. The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers edited by Vendela Vida: Everything readers want to know about this book can be found right there in the title. The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers comes packed with candid literary discussions by the illustrious likes of Haruki Murakami, Marjane Satrapi, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem, Tom Stoppard, Paul Auster, Dave Eggers and plenty more.

  5. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Writers in search of a little inspiration might want to follow some (but certainly not all) of Hemingway’s actions. Surrounding himself with a new environment, new experiences and some of the most creative people in the world at the time (Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a whole host of others) opened himself to ideas that came to impact his legendary oeuvre.

  6. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard: Anyone dismissing writing as an easy art would do well to pick up The Tinker at Pilgrim Creek author’s memoir. Here, she openly discusses the agony and the ecstasy of literary inspiration and perspiration.

  7. Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster: Despite being published in 1972, this series of Cambridge University lectures by celebrated English author E.M. Forster drops some incredibly timeless, even fresh, advice bombs.

  8. The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera: The Art of the Novel serves as both a work of literary criticism and analysis and a self-reflective career memoir.

  9. On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner: Writing and other creative pursuits offer up solace for anxieties big and small, an overwhelming, evocative and bittersweet sensation John Gardner relates with deep thought and emotion.

  10. The King’s English by Kingsley Amis: Fans of rollicking semantics debates will enjoy this fun read by a British author who finds himself enchanted by American English.

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