12 Essential Books for Writers
Good writers read books. For writers, books are a source of ideas, connection, pleasure, and inspiration. And while writers read books of all types and genres, books about writing are one of the most loved pieces of work for people who enjoy putting words on paper.
Books about writing are helpful in a variety of ways. Some books describe the pangs and joys of being a writer; some books discuss writing routines and the nuances of the craft. And other books provide you with exercises that can help you beat resistance and overcome blocks.
While books about writing help writers improve their work, perhaps their most important function is making writers feel understood. The writer’s life can be lonely and full of toil and self-doubt, and reading about the experience and methods of other writers is one way to remember that you are not alone in the ups and downs of your creative path.
As a writer, I’ve gobbled up these types of books over the last decade. And below, I’ve curated a list of 12 of the best books about writing that I’ve encountered. These books cover everything from how to structure a large body of work to how to beat writer’s block to how to develop your voice in a way that feels good and resonates with others.
1. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: Lamott is humorously honest and has a wealth of useful insights for anyone who would like to write as a hobby or a professional. You’ll walk away with at least a dozen takeaways and stories that will help you improve your work and relationship with the craft.
”Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”
Why it’s Great for Non-Readers: This is the most practical guide around for learning how to write better nonfiction. With a cheeky tone and demonstrated command of the craft, Zinsser shares timeless lessons and techniques for leveling up your craft. This is one of the few books about writing that I’ve re-read over the years.
3. Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield
“In other words, you’re in the trenches, getting hosted and head-banged and dismissed and ignored. You’re invisible. You’re held in contempt. You’re exploited. People farther up the food chain take your time, your energy, your body. You let them. You want them to take these things. It’s the price you pay to learn.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: This book will help you create large, well-crafted creative works. In it, Steven Pressfield shares the elements of every good work, the principles of storytelling, how to make your work resonate with an audience, and much more. You can pair this book with Do The Work and Turning Pro if you enjoy Pressfield’s style.
“Creativity is not a rare ability. It is not difficult to access. Creativity is a fundamental aspect of being human. It’s our birthright. And it’s for all of us.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: Music producer Rick Rubin’s book is a mind-bending series of meditations on what it means to be a writer. Through 78 philosophical musings, Rubin shares the wisdom that we are all artists, offers helpful mental frames for creating and moving through roadblocks, and helps you develop an understanding of what it means to operate as an artist in the world.
“Writing is elemental. Once you have tasted its essential life, you cannot turn from it without some deep denial and depression. It would be like turning from water. Water is in your blood. You cannot go without it.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: There are many books about writing, but Wild Mind is one of the few worth reading. Using her experience as a writer and wisdom as a Zen practitioner, Natalie Goldberg provides a wealth of knowledge, encouragement, and simple exercises that will enliven your writing life. To get the most out of the book, take the time to do some of the 30+ short exercises she shares.
“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: This is the ultimate motivational guide for overcoming the biggest barrier to writing more: Resistance. In a punchy and inspiring manner, Steven Pressfield teaches you the many forms that Resistance takes and gives you a set of techniques to overcome it. If you have creative dreams as a writer, this book will prepare and inspire you for the war ahead.
7. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
“I revise and revise and revise. Any editor of mine will tell you how crappy my early drafts are. Revisions are about clarifying and evoking feelings in the reader in the same way they were once evoked in me.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: Professor and best-selling author Mary Karr presents her wealth of wisdom about writing memoirs. Her advice is embedded within the stories of other writers and within her own carnal stories about her life and writing. You’ll come away with a number of helpful pieces of advice, including the importance of truth, how to organize a life story, tips for writing interesting stories, and how to go about writing your memoir.
8. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King
“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.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: In this short and engaging read, bestselling author Stephen King tells the story of how he mastered the craft of writing. For the curious reader or aspiring writer, King’s childhood stories and practical writing advice will entertain and inspire you.
9. Charles Bukowski On Writing by Abel Debritto
“The only thing intelligent about a good art is if it shakes you alive, otherwise it’s hokum.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: On Writing is a posthumously published collection of letters that Bukowski wrote to publishers, agents, writers, and friends from 1945 to 1993. His letters offer incredible insight into what it means to pursue a creative path in an authentic way through both failure and success. Bukowski is a master of avoiding fluff and getting to the heart of the writer’s path.
10. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: Whether you’re just getting started as a writer or are 2 decades into the craft and still lost, Natalie Goldberg will help you get momentum with your work. With stories and practical exercises, she helps you see the value of your life and work, how to confront obstacles in your path, and ways to deal with the psychological battle of the writing life.
11. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: This 12-week written course will help you unlock creative blocks and begin to flourish as a writer. By introducing you to powerful practices like morning pages and Artist’s Dates, Cameron slowly allows you to move your relationship with writing and creativity forward.
“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
Why it’s Great for Writers: Kleon encourages sharing your creative work and process as a strategy to learn, find your audience, and improve your work. He provides practical advice on documenting your process, teaching others, and becoming a better storyteller to help you share the work you love with a like-minded community.
P.S. Most great writers are voracious readers. So if you enjoy any of these books about writing and unlocking your potential as a writer, check out some more of the best books across various categories.