My Five Favorite Books On Writing

books on writing

You should read about writing if you endeavor to be an author. Not sure where to start? Here are my five favorite books on writing. At least at the moment…

For writers interested in bettering their writing skills, reading stands as one of the best activities there is. And I’m not just talking about great literature from the classics to contemporary works. Most every author I know has his or her go-to favorite books on writing that have inspired them or pushed them to hone their craft.

For me, it began with Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. Strunk wrote the first version for an English course at Cornell University, which White took as a student. The student would then become the master as White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, would later go on to edit two subsequent editions of Strunk’s original manual.

These days, Elements of Style has been surpassed in popularity by more modern writing manuals. Stephen King’s On Writing, for example, has more than 3,000 positive reviews on Amazon, which speaks for itself.

But for a craft as varied and personal as writing, it’s useful to listen to multiple voices and study varying techniques.

To get you started, here are five books on writing I believe every aspiring author should add to his or her reading list.

books on writing delany

About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews

by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel R. Delany is the best-selling author of Dhalgren, The Mad Man, and Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. A master of the science fiction genre, Delany’s best nonfiction book, About Writing, is a compilation of essays, letters, and interviews devoted to the craft of writing.

His essays focus on what he calls “the mechanics of fiction,” and address writing techniques like when to use flashbacks, how to create sympathetic characters, and the overall general structure of a novel. Delany is a writer’s writer, making this an excellent addition to any passionate author’s collection on craft.

books on writing ueland

If You Want to Write

by Brenda Ueland

Carl Sandburg himself said that If You Want To Write is the best book ever written about writing. That’s praise worth trusting.

It is one of only two books Ueland wrote in her life (the other being her memoir), but it holds up. Ueland organizes her book into 12 points that writers should follow, ranging from advice on being reckless, keeping a diary, and “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect it For Their Writing.”

Central to these points is the idea that every writer “is talented, original, and has something important to say.” Ueland insists that writers must “try to discover [their] true, honest, un-theoretical self.” Written with Ueland’s characteristic humor, If You Want to Write is a fine example of this advice.

books on writing prose

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

by Francine Prose

In Reading Like A Writer, Prose takes readers on a long, thoughtful journey through a collection of excerpts from masters of the trade, asserting that this is the way writers learn. “Long before there were creative-writing workshops and degrees,” she begins, “how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries.”

Prose guides readers through the tools and techniques of writers like Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, and Woolf. She borrows from some of today’s best writers, tapping one of my personal favorites, John le Carré, for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue.

This skillful examination of the best from the best results in a deeper appreciation of a book lover’s romance with words and stories.

books on writing Le Guin

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Over the course of her career, Ursula K. Le Guin published more than 60 books in just about every imaginable category. Le Guin passed away earlier this year, but she left a special legacy to writers in her short and concise guide, Steering the Craft.

Le Guin addresses the most fundamental components of narrative, including the sound of language, sentence construction, and point of view. Each chapter is filled with examples and exercises that writers can engage in on their own or in a group. While we can no longer take a workshop with Le Guin, this book is the next best thing.

books on writing arana

The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work

by Marie Arana

My last suggestion is not about craft or science. The Writing Life is truly a book about writers for writers. Marie Arana, editor of The Washington Post’s Book World, has gathered over 50 inspirational stories about writing from some of literature’s greatest creators.

In the book, authors share important stories and milestones from their professional careers: how they first discovered they could write; how they work; and how they deal with the frustrations, challenges, and delights of a writer’s life. It’s a thorough examination of this special blend of art and science that doesn’t shy away from the hard parts. Arana presents many writers’ concerns about the creative process and the place of literature in 21st-century America  —  a necessary reality check for anyone on the road to becoming a writer.


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Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self publishing services company. Spatz’s professional writing career began at age 13, paid by the word to bang out little league baseball game stories on an ancient manual typewriter for southern Oregon weekly newspapers. His journalism career continued after graduation from the University of Oregon at several daily newspapers in Oregon. When his family took over a direct marketing food business, Spatz redirected his writing and design skills into producing catalogs. The Pinnacle Orchards catalog was named "Best Food Catalog," received dozens of other national awards, and the business grew into one of the nation’s largest gourmet fruit gift businesses. After the company was sold, Spatz continued his direct marketing career with Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hasbro. He joined AVL Digital in 2004 to lead the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. After serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Spatz was tapped to lead the company’s new publishing division in late 2014. In 2019, the AVL Digital Management team purchased the New Jersey brands, including BookBaby. The company is headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ (just outside Philadelphia, PA) and meets the printed book and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Spatz lives in Glenside, PA with his two children, a demented cat, and some well-used bicycles. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to


  1. I would add a recently published book, Dancing with the Gods: Reflections on Life and Art, by Kent Nerburn. I consider it a Letters to a Young Poet for modern times and encourage all my writer and artist friends to read it. You will not be disappointed.

  2. Your readers should be aware of “Write Right Right Now – The Book

    Full disclosure- This is from Walter M. Perkins, the author.

  3. Your column had an article called something like “297 words and phrases writers should remove from their writings.” Can you direct me to the article so I can read it again? I misplaced the exact name and author’s name.

    • I concur with Steven G’s comment. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors and his “On Writing” book contains a lot of useful information. Just like reading one of his novels, I found it hard to put down. I highly recommend King’s book.

  4. My favorite books on writing are those that while I read, I’m getting filled with ideas and have to put the book down and start writing. Your list is super. I’ve read several. I’d add Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, Laura Oliver’s The Story Within, and Ann Lamont’s Bird by Bird. Now I need to get to the book store for those on your list I haven’t read yet.

  5. I am sure that these books would be helpful to any writer but I found that Stephan King’s book On Writing would also be a good addition to this list.
    Ironically, I am not a fan of King’s horror novels but I learned much from this Memoir.

  6. Two vital books on writing to add to your list are BECOMING A WRITER by Dorothea Brande and ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING by Ray Bradbury. A writer should also own (and refer regularly to) a hardcover copy of THE CHICAGO MANUEL OF STYLE,which is the final authority on grammar and punctuation, and the only such manual that should be employed.

  7. Surely the two books on writing by Ayn Rand are more than worthy of review: The Art of Fiction and The Art of Non-fiction, both subtitled A Guide for Writers and Readers.
    Dick Francis.

  8. I am a voracious reader and an aspiring writer. Stephen King’s On Writing, is one of the most useful, books I have read on the subject of writing.

  9. Having been in the writing life myself for well over 40 years, I have read many books on writing, including Stephen King’s ON WRITING, which I, too, recommend, but I had never even heard of the 5 books you mention here. Now I’ll add them to my reading list. Thank you!

  10. I will join the chorus in saying that Steven King’s: On Writing is pretty awesome. Not sure if it’s the best How to Write
    Book out there, but his anecdotes were hilarious and inspiring, ie, POW!!! …I did take the time yesterday and read Samuel R. Delany’s introduction to his ‘About Writing’, and was equally taken. I definitely see the need to read more of these types of books.

  11. The Elements of Style has to be one of the most worthless books on the subject ever written. In the course of writing the book, White himself violates his own “principles.” I say this as one with a Ph.D. in rhetoric and linguistics who has numerous book and article publications. Don’t waste your time on a book full of cliches, many of them wrong-headed.

  12. Are any of these books mentioned on cassettes? I have been an advent reader until I found I have a sight problem that won’t improve. IF anything, it can lead to blindness.

    Meanwhile, I’m working on my first fiction book. My first book was: YOU WALK PRETTY. It’s poetry based on my life, but it’s no longer in print.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    LeAnne Nelson Dahl

  13. Hello Steven: I’m stuck on my next book. It’s a Memoir that has an interesting and rather unique history, but I can’t get beyond a chronological order of events. I know I’m not supposed to do that, but that’s where I’m stuck. Can you recommend a book or an article that can help me.

  14. I agree about The Writing Life. It’s not a book about writing, per se, but what a fantastic read about how to navigate through writing and reading and life as an artist. Truly worth whatever the price of admission costs.

  15. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence block is my go-to book on writing… full of humor and good advice, and delivered in a straightforward style that makes it invaluable when I’m stuck on a piece of writing, or simply stuck and not writing.


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