Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Best Books on Writing You’ll Ever Read

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Good writers read. If you want to become better at your craft and you’re not reading often, then you aren’t serious about improving.

Sorry.

The bottom line is this: Good writing comes from good reading. But someone can read a statement like that and get the wrong idea.

Not all books are created equal

If you can help it, don’t just read anything. You should spend your time reading the best books you can find. There is, after all, a lot of junk out there.

That said, I wouldn’t worry too much about reading the right books. Just get started. The act of reading anything (even romance novels) in and of itself will make you a better writer. I just want you to make the most of your reading time.

If you’re pinched for time, I recommend finding a good book list and going through it. You only have so many hours, and you want to spend them well.

So, let’s compile a reading list

Becoming a better writer isn’t just about learning grammar and and syntax. It’s not just about practice, either. It’s about becoming a well-rounded communicator — someone who knows the rules and understands how to break them.

So, without further ado, here are some of the best books on writing that I could come up with (after asking some friends):

What would you add to the list?

Recommended reading: The 10 Best Books About Writing [Paste Magazine]

*Disclosure: The above links are affiliate links.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Good list. I’ll have to check out the Stephen King book. I might also add Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. although the small book is not as comprehensive as the AP Style Book.

  • Did you read The Artist’s Way? I love that book!

    • Forgot you are hiking. Hope you don’t get too soaked.

    • Yep. Reading it right now.

  • Agreed!!! Where’s Strunk and White????

  • Great list! I would add “Writing Down the Bones:Freeing the Writer within” by Natalie Goldberg.

  • thewatersings

    I agree – great list; I’ve read/own some of them and marked others “to-read.” William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” is really good; Kelly L. Stone’s “Time to Write” is helpful and motivating, and my current read, “Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer,” by Moira Allen, is absolutely perfect!! And…Stephen King’s book is awesome. It’s one I’d like to read again.

  • Good points, Jeff. Writers have GOT TO read a lot! And write a lot, but first read, read some more, write, read, write, and then read some more again. That’s pretty much how it goes, isn’t it?

    I loved King’s “On Writing”. Apparently Henry Miller had a book called “On Writing” that came out a long time ago, maybe the 1960s? I have not read it yet but plan to at some point.

    I concur with the Zinsser book, “On Writing Well”, and, of course, “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.

    Also, I loved Natalie Goldberg’s “Wild Mind”. And Ray Bradbury has a book about writing, doesn’t he? It’s called “The Zen of Writing” or something to that effect.

    Thanks very much for the wise suggestions, Jeff!

    Peter

  • I read The War of Art and On Writing this year. I have Bird by Bird and Walking On Water in my Amazon shopping cart.

    I 100% agree. You HAVE to read if you want to write. I’m a voracious reader. I wish I was like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit and fly through books. NEED INPUT!

  • Lindsay Goodwin

    I love “On Writing.” Really. It was so cool to read his words about his words. 🙂

  • One that hasn’t been mentioned yet is one of my favorites, “Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing” by John R. Trimble. I also like Zinsser’s book, and I need to buy a hard copy of “On Writing” for my library. (I have a list of my 14 must-have books in a post from a few weeks ago.)

  • Anonymous

    The War of Art is wandering and epic
    Walking on Water is quite an invitation to just ˆbeˆan artist.
    The Artist’s Way is essential.

    I don’t say this to be cutesy or ironic, but in all seriousness, I’d add a personal notebook to the list. Nothing is as inviting or permissive as a blank page staring me in the face–challenging and daring me to fill it. And, even more so, nothing works quite like reading my own words days/weeks/months later, when they are unfamiliar and fresh. Sometimes among those words I find something that was worth the time. And it makes me want to write more.

    • You’re right

    • Mikestein Stein

      In addition to the war of art, the art of war for writing is a great book as well

  • I loved On Writing! I also enjoyed The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron and Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg

  • I think my favorite writing books are Jerry Jenkin’s book, “Writing for the Soul,” and John Gardner’s book, “On Becoming a Novelist.” Classics…both!

  • Brianmerritt

    I enjoy “Poetry Home Repair Kit” by Ted Kooser

  • Jonathan Charlie Chang
  • Great list Jeff! Completely agree with The Artists Way. That book found me again a few months ago (had gone through it maybe 10 or so years ago and had it in a rubbermaid bin in my garage!) and it has sprung a whole new litany of ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed each of these:

    One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora WeltyThe Writing Life by Annie Dillard
    Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas

    On Writing and Bird by Bird are my two favorites for sure!

    Thanks!

    • thanks!

      • I’d also add Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write and Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories.

  • Pingback: Book review: Bird by Bird | Alexis Helmrath()

  • Shelly Miller

    I would add Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Rumors of Water by L.L. Barkat and Writing About Your Life by Zinsser.  You give good advice!

  • Chris Lovie-Tyler

    Two of my favourites: The Little Red Writing Book, by Mark Tredinnick, and Keys to Great Writing, by Stephen Wilbers.

  • Just finished The War on Art – small book packed with lots of wisdom
    Would really like to get my hands on “On Writing”

  • Sudangautam

    I am reading this post at the right time. I was looking for some writing piece and speaking one too. I shall go with ” On writing”, “On writing well” (The man on the bookstore will surely be confused when i spell this name since they only have “well” that makes the difference).Jeff, i have heard a lot about “The element of style” couldn’t find it in my local store. What’s your say on this book?

  • Brenda Euland’s book “If You Want to Write” is amazing. I also like Stephen Pressfield’s “Do the Work.”

  • Jeff, I so appreciate all your writer resources. This is one of my favorites. I posted on this same topic a few months ago. We share many of the same titles. You can check it out here, if so inclined. https://sheliamullican.com/art/booklist-on-writing/

  • vinod ekbote

    Jeff, great blog. Somerset Maugham’s ‘Summing Up’ must be on your list or it is incomplete.

    Vinod

  • angela

    I’d only add two more to your list:
    Writing with Style by John TrimbleWrite from Life by Meg Files

  • To your list of books on writing I’d add Escaping Into the Open by Elizabeth Berg; Pen On Fire by Barbara deMarco-Barrett; Second Sight by Cheryl Klein;  Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach; Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg; Elements Of Style by White & Strunk; Writer’s First Aid by Kristi Holl; More Writers First Aid, also by Kristi Holl.   So glad that  On Writing by Stephen King, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, are on your list. Such good ones!   I’ve listed an awful lot of books, I know. But I have these, and swear by them all,  along with several that are on your list. I read a lot (no kidding, huh?) so my lists get to be pretty looong sometimes.  An author I whose style I love, is Rick Bragg.  All of his books are on my shelf (shelves?!) to be read over and over. Could say a lot more, about more authors, but this comment has to end somewhere.  It really is true, isn’t it, that at least half of writing involves reading. But that would begin a whole other comment.

  • Pilar Arsenec

    Writing Down the Bones, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark.

  • Excellent list Jeff: I’ve read 7 of them. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Vicki Hale

     Anything by Rudolf Flesch.

  • Judy

    The element of style by William strunk and e.b. white

  • Bad Horse

    There are no “best books on writing”. It depends on what you want to write, and how good you are at it. The most-popular books on writing are usually those that are best for the largest number of writers, which means best for the beginner. There are very few books on writing that are of use to a good writer. E.M. Forster’s _Aspects of the Novel_ is one. The Paris Review interview series is another. But advanced texts for good writers are more like discussions than how-to books.

    • That’s fair. The Paris Review is awesome.

  • Sonen

    I’m a foreigner to English language and I’ve never been to school. I’m 24 now and I’ve been studying at home since I was a kid. I’m not sure whether I know where to use a particular word in English language. I get all confused. When and where to use semicolon and so on. Could you recommend me a list of books that I should be studying in order to have a better understanding of when and where certain style, words etc. are used. I love writing and I’d like to be able to write in a way that I am sure that I’m conveying what I want to convey and the reader do get what I mean by my writing. I need some help here. And which is the best book or books to work out with vocabulary? I hope what I’ve tried to ask here is understandable to a reader.

    • Olatunde Akinwunmi

      You write really well for someone who’s never been to school. Perhaps you should start with the ones already recommended by Jeff. They’re a good start. Every thing else will fit in as you go along. A good editor will help fine tune your manuscripts. Also add Everybody Writes by Ann Hadley to this list. Congratulations!

  • hades

    I’ve read most ot the books on this list. Bird by Bird was good and so was On Writing by Stephen King. However, I don’t feel these books offer the knd of practical advice that a writer, specially a new writer, needs. For me, the best book on writing I’ve ever read is Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. Some people call Stein Pompous and all that, but the guy actually gives comprehensive explanations and examples. This book has truly helped me improved my writing.

  • dan pre

    he’s my favourite author https://www.buyadsenseac.com/

    • dan pre

      i mean u jeff inspired by u!

  • Marc D Regan

    Not sure if anyone mention it, but Forest For The Trees by Betsy Lerner is a good look at writing and publishing.

  • Suzy Soro

    I’d add the Chicago Manual of Style. AP is great for the internet, but Chicago is better for books. Editors use Chicago on manuscripts for publication.