Top 10 Books on Writing

Yesterday, I taught a Historical Fiction class at the Red Clay Writers’ Conference for the Georgia Writers’ Association and some of the students asked for writing book recommendations.

So, here are some of my favorite books on writing (I have a shelf full of these kinds of books, so I can’t name them all here, but I’ve tried to pick a range of books to help you solve a range of problems. Oh and I left out Elements of Style, just because, well YOU SHOULD HAVE ALREADY READ IT. If not, got get it. Now).

I hope these books help you tell better stories, create stronger characters, and get published!

The Writers’ Journey by Christopher Vogler — If I have a writing Bible, this is it. TECHNICALLY it’s a screenwriting book, but Vogler’s Hero’s Journey (based on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces) is invaluable for storytellers working in any format (movie, TV, new media and even good old-fashioned books!)

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — This is still one of my favorites when I’m feeling disheartened by the writing process. Anne is encouraging and brilliant — and her insights into writing will help you find your voice and get your book out into the world.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser — Technically this book is for writing NONfiction, but the most of the advice would improve the prose of novelists, too. Need help with brevity or trusting your own vision? You can’t beat Zinsser.

Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland — Many novelists struggle with structure, and this book is filled with easy-to-use tools to help you navigate the vast expanse of writing a novel. As far as practical NOVEL writing books go, this is probably my favorite.

Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark — This is an invaluable tool kit that covers everything from grammar basics to helpful habits. And my favorite part? Roy provides exercises that will help you implement each of his lessons.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose — This book changed the way I read. To write, you must read — and this book will give you the tools to make sure that every page you read will help you become a better writer.

On Writing by Stephen King — This writing book is also part memoir, but Stephen uses his experiences as a master class for aspiring writers. I agree with those who call his advice “tough-love,” but sometimes, a little bluntness is what we all need.

The Anatomy of Story by John Truby — This is another screenwriting book (Hey, I’ve worked in Hollywood for over 15 years, what do you expect?), but it’s still a brilliant way to look at and deconstruct story for ANY writer.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein — Having trouble developing characters? This is a great book for understanding human psychology and behavior. I use it to spark ideas when I’m feeling stuck.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert — Now that you’ve read all of these books and done all of this work to improve your writing, give yourself a treat by reading Big Magic. It’s an inspiring read about the creative life!

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I left out so many of my favorites! What are yours??

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