Books on writing

May 21, 2010

Over the years, I have read a lot of books on writing. I know you can’t learn writing from a book. The only way to learn how to write well is to write, write, write… and get some feedback from editors, beta readers, reviewers, and readers. Still, books on writing can be helpful too.

Here’s a list of my favorite books on writing.


  • Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King (this doesn’t just cover editing. If you get just one book on writing, get this one)
  • Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden (densely written, full of information, but probably not for the beginner)


  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress (this also covers point of view).


  • Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell
  • Story by Robert McKee (probably not for a beginner but rather for more advanced writers)
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain (great information on plot, but not for beginners)


  • Description by Monica Wood


  • The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley (the author is an editor who also has a great blog)


  • Lavender Ink: Writing and Selling Lesbian Fiction by Fran Walker with Andi Marquette, Nann Dunne, Sacchi Green, and L-J Baker (gives a pretty good overview of fiction elements in general and lesbian fiction in particular)


  • Woe Is I by Patricia T. O’Conner (it’s well written and funny)
  • Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman (less fun to read, but very informative)
  • Write in Style by Bobbie Christmas


  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition)
  • The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition)

So, fellow writers, do you read books on writing? If yes, which ones are your favorite?



  1. I keep my CMOS and MW always close at hand (interestingly they are the same editions as yours).

    I’ve got a classic collection of Writers on Writing, with quotes from people like Edna Ferber, Tom Wolfe, but basically no writers past 1970.

    My personal preference for a commiserate writerly voice is Snoopy, A Writer’s Life, a collection of the classic strip installments that all center around Snoopy writing. Otherwise I tend to stay away from keeping those kinds of books on my shelf. I’ll glance through a new one released from time to time, but I’ve found nothing else worthy of keeping.

    Of structural/technical books, I have Kress’s Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, and Bickham’s Scene & Structure. I’ve read both cover to cover, and don’t generally go back to them, but they’re there if I need a revitalizing reminder.

    My preference though for writerly inspiration is my collection of classics, many are leather-bound hard covers, and I still believe the best inspiration and guidance any really good writer needs is to read the seminal (and even some ancillary) works of exceptional writers.

    What I do have a lot of is “prompt” sources: A Writer’s Book of Matches, for example. Open one of these to a random page and read the single line idea, first sentence, situational description… and let my mind wander over it. It’s not about writing to the prompt, but opening the floodgates of free association. I find it helps oil the gears to write on my main projects.

    • It’s always interesting to hear what other writers have on their bookshelves.

      What a charming and helpful collection!

  2. I find that I can’t read a book about writing from beginning to end – one or two chapters, a few pages from time to time, that’s it. I need time to absorb and work it through in my head before I’m able to read more. What you say about the help and critique from beta-readers and critique partners is true.

    That said:
    Since fantasy/light horror is my love 🙂 I have a book at hand that I really found helpful regarding that genre: “On Writing Horror – a handbook by The Horror Writers Association”. I always come back to it.
    When it comes to romance I found the “12 Point Guide to Writing Romance” from Kate Walker helpful.
    “Believe Characters – Creating with Enneagrams” from Laurie Schnebly is a good one.
    And, last but not least, I really enjoyed “Reading like a Writer” from Francine Prose. It’s also one of those books I read again from time to time and find things that I don’t remember reading before.
    Strange, isn’t it…

    • I have “Reading like a Writer” on my e-reader too, but I haven’t read it yet.

  3. […] You could also read books on writing. There are thousands of them. Here’s a link to my list of personal favorites. […]

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