9 Essential Books That Will Transform Your Writing Forever

Admit it.

You have several half-read writing books stacked up on your nightstand, several more squirreled away in a desk drawer and a dozen more on your Amazon wish list.

You scrutinize all the books that “customers also bought” looking for those one-of-a-kind books that will transform you into a great writer. You jump “inside the book” to read the table of contents and credits and page through the free preview.

Searching for the magic formula.

The formula that will erase the silent self-doubt. The nagging thought that you’re not quite good enough as a writer.

Books have an uncanny power to teach us, to transport us, to move us light years beyond our ordinary lives. If we could only find the right books, the tried-and-true books written by trusted masters. So we keep looking.

And once in a while you find a writing book that speaks to your heart and gets to the core of what you’re struggling with right now. It changes you. It changes your writing. It changes your life.

Because mastering the craft of writing depends upon your continuing education as a writer. It means you regularly upgrade and fine-tune your skills.

The 3 Critical Disciplines You Need to Develop as a Writer

1. Brutal Honesty

First, you need to cultivate a brutal, raw honesty. You need to accept that not every power word, every emotional thought, every adjective-loaded sentence that flows from your hot fingertips is precious.

I mentored many rookie reporters who had a cocky, almost swaggering pride at where their writing skills landed them out of college. A few weeks in a newsroom with a couple of crusty copyeditors exploded that attitude. Then, they were ready to listen.

Objectively, unemotionally and dispassionately analyzing your writing is one of the most valuable skills you can develop to further your writing opportunities. And as a side benefit, you’ll also be able to handle scathing criticism from ruthless editors.

2. Linguistic Appreciation

Secondly, you need to develop an ear and eye for the flow of language.

Good writing has a rhythm, that deliberate cadence the writer creates in your mind as you read. Marvel at the perfectly placed and exquisitely balanced use of illusion, surprise and metaphor, and crave to imitate it.

Because if you don’t learn to appreciate the music and poetry in other writers’ work, you’ll never cultivate it in your own.

3. Insatiable Curiosity

Thirdly, you have an insatiable desire to learn anything and everything to improve your writing, the openness to accept constructive criticism and the commitment to sit with your bloated prose and edit until it sparkles.

Yes, writing is a solitary craft. And learning to improve our writing can feel like solitary confinement without guidance and reassurance. We can learn from teachers, from workshops, from books, but ultimately success is up to us, alone with our notepad or laptop.

The 3 Types of Books You Need to Grow as a Writer

There are three broad types of books about writing:

  • Books that teach the mechanics of language – style, grammar, editing, etc.
  • Books that teach structure – how to structure your thinking, your frame of mind and approach, and structure a story or other particular literary form.
  • Books about being a writer – how to navigate the unique inner life of a writer.

Of course, most writing books will touch upon each type of writing advice. But to improve your writing skills in the fastest and most effective way, you must understand what you need to grow as a writer right now and choose the appropriate book to help.

The 3 Stages of Writer Development (and What to Read Based on Where You’re At)

We have writers of all levels of experience and ability reading Smart Blogger and in our GuestBlogging training program and Serious Bloggers Only community. They typically describe themselves in one of three stages:

1. The Novice Writer

You’re a brand-new writer who felt an inner switch flip on, and now a river of ideas is pouring out of your head. You know your writing needs work – lots of work – but you are compelled to keep writing because you feel powerless to staunch the flow. And even if you could stop, you wouldn’t want to.

What to read: Ideally, you should be reading both books on mechanics and structure. But the books on the mechanics of language will likely bore you to death right now. It’s far better for you to learn structure and good thinking habits early, and work on the mechanics later.

Think of it from an editor’s point of view: A poorly written but well-structured piece of writing can be polished. A poorly structured and poorly written piece is a nightmare, and rarely worth the editing effort it demands. The writer doesn’t understand his topic, hasn’t thought it through with clarity and is clueless on how to engage the reader.

2. The Competent Writer

You’re a decent writer and have lots of ideas, but you often aren’t sure where to begin. If you’re honest with yourself, your writing is okay with occasional stellar moments.

What to read: Start with books on approach and structure that will help you think through your ideas before you put them on the page. Often, with good writers, the best writing happens in your head before you even jot down a sentence.

If you’ve been writing in a certain style or format for a while — such as blog posts — cross train in another genre. (More on this later.) Study the structure of screenwriting, novel writing or poetry for six months or until it feels nearly second nature to shift into this new form. The change in your writing will be dramatic and permanent.

Once you’ve improved structure and approach, pick one or two mechanical fixes to work on as you rewrite and edit with your new eyes.

3. The Seasoned Writer

You’ve written a lot for a long time and have the mechanics mastered. But your writing experience has been centered in business, academia, medicine, law or other utilitarian venues. You’re ready to write fiction, or use the life lessons you’ve learned to help others through your blog, but you’re struggling to share your own ideas in your own voice. You recognize that your writing is solid, but it lacks warmth and sparkle.

What to read: Immerse yourself in books about being a writer and the writer’s life. Leisurely read some writer memoirs, and you’ll be startled by how similar your doubts and struggles are. Try on a few silly new rituals, like writing poetry by candlelight or stream-of-conscious journaling in the pre-dawn hours to change up your point of view.

How to Know Exactly Which Books to Read First

Before we dive into our list of essential books, let’s talk briefly about the best way to use it.

If one of these writing stages resonated strongly with you, jump down to our favorites in the three categories below and start there. If you’ve already read our favorites, you might want to read them again with a fresh mind and notebook handy.

If you don’t feel you fit neatly in one of those stages, grab the book that excites you the most, right now, as you read about it here. The one that jumps up and gently taps you on the cheek like a hungry cat to get your attention.

Start there and take the time to import the ideas and exercises into your current writing immediately. Thinking about it won’t make it so; you must put these concepts into practice. Even 30 minutes a day will make a noticeable difference in a short time.

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
— Mary Heaton Vorse

The Only 9 Books on Writing You’ll Ever Need

Think about this: in the next hour, you have the ability at your fingertips to tap into the world’s best books on writing and begin the next stage of your transformation – if you’re willing to make the commitment of time.

The following books will make the difference, and each is around $10 on Kindle or less, so download and begin.

Books on Mechanics of the Language

*On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

Favorite: Best book on the mechanics of the language

On Writing WellI was fortunate to find On Writing Well while I was working at my first newspaper and realized my editors, excellent grammarians all, could not teach me anything more about significantly improving my writing. This one book changed the trajectory of my career as a journalist from a mediocre, but promising, community reporter at a large twice-weekly paper to an international business reporter at a respected metropolitan business paper.

Originally published in 1976, Zinsser’s tips on mechanics, structure and thinking have stood the test of time for generations of writers of all kinds. His principles are equally sound for today’s bloggers, fiction and non-fiction writers and any kind of digital publisher.

Categories: Primarily mechanics but interwoven with thinking and structure

What’s in it for bloggers: If you read only one book on improving the structure and mechanics of language, make it this one. An added benefit: You’ll learn a lot from Zinsser’s easy, conversational writing voice that you can apply to your own blog.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Books on Structure and Frame of Mind

*Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder

Favorite: Best Book on Structure

Save the CatSave the Cat is essentially a formula book, focused on the structure of screenplays. It’s similar to Story Engineering (below) in that it explains the structure and elements of a screenplay, but is more approachable. Think of it as an introductory college course that teaches you the basics.

You’ll learn the main story archetypes, how to structure a good screenplay, and more subtle techniques like how to create a character the audience loves almost immediately.

One of Jon’s favorite writing books, you’ll be able to write a decent screenplay with Save the Cat if that’s your goal. He calls it “Headline Hacks for storytelling – fill in the blanks.”

Categories: Primarily structure and formula

What’s in it for bloggers: A blog is a performance and you’re the main character. Learn how to make an audience fall in love with you.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks

Story Engineering - Larry BrooksCompelling stories are the undercurrent that propels successful writers and bloggers of all kinds. Whether you are writing blog posts, e-books, magazine articles or novels, having the skills to deftly tell a story will make you both memorable and in-demand as a writer.

Story Engineering is like a master class in storytelling and novel writing. It focuses deeply on the six core elements – or competencies – of successful storytelling, screenplays and novels. An intense, comprehensive book, Story Engineering can help bring your writing to a professional level if you read and consistently apply the concepts in this book.

Categories: Heavy on structure

What’s in it for bloggers: You can master the structure of a good story with this book, whatever topic, niche or length you write. And get all your questions answered about storytelling in one place. It’s worth the time and effort.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Naked, Drunk and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay, by Adair Lara

Naked Drunk and Writing - Adair LaraWhile at first glance this book looks like it has nothing to do with how to start a blog or blogging in general, learning how to craft a compelling personal essay is the essence of what most bloggers struggle with today. Whether or not you realize it, you are parading yourself naked and drunk every time you hit “publish” in WordPress.

Naked and Drunk is about two-thirds biographical and about one-third writing lessons. It weaves together Lara’s personal stories with lessons on how to structure a memoir with lessons and language mechanics.

This is the book you also want to read if you want to learn to effectively tell your own story. But don’t read it first.

You need to understand the elements of crafting a good story to fully appreciate and benefit from the lessons in Naked and Drunk. Read it after the storytelling books. Read it after you read Save the Cat.

Categories: Primarily structure with some mechanics

What’s in it for bloggers: You’ll discover how to see beyond the label “blogger” and craft your story to touch the lives of readers.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, by James N. Frey

How to Write a Damn Good Novel - James FreyDamn Good Novel is similar to Save the Cat in that it offers a structure and formula for constructing a novel, but it’s filled with more principles of good writing and examples of excellent storytelling.

If you haven’t figured out by now, structure and storytelling are critical skills to becoming a successful, or even merely competent, writer. The more you can learn about storytelling in all its forms, fiction or non-fiction, short or long, the more tools you have in your writer’s tool box.

With tens of thousands of new blogs created every day, according to WordPress.com, compelling storytelling is the one proven method of setting your writing apart from the masses.

Categories: Primarily structure and storytelling

What’s in it for bloggers: This is cross training in storytelling. Don’t guess, don’t try to make it up and don’t waste time reinventing the wheel. Learn it; then make it work for you.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

*CA$HVERTISING: How to Use More than 100 Secrets of Ad-Agency Psychology to Make Big Money Selling Anything to Anyone, by Drew Eric Whitman

Ca$shvertising - Drew Eric WhitmanTitle turn you off? Too money-grabbing for you? Skip this copywriting book at your blogging peril.

Face it: Successful blogging is persuasive writing in another suit of clothes. It doesn’t even matter if you want to make money from your blog or not. You need to connect with people (through stories) and persuade them you have a message worth reading or products worth buying (through copywriting).

Jon recommends this book for most bloggers because it has the most modern approach and best summary of the key points covered in the fundamental copywriting books.

Categories: Structure and using the mechanics of language

What’s in it for bloggers: Whether you’re a beginner or more experienced writer, take the time to learn what successful bloggers know about using psychology in your writing. At least, it will open your eyes to how you respond to the persuasive writing all around you without even knowing it.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Books on Being a Writer

*On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Favorite: Best book on being a writer

On Writing - Stephen KingEven if you’ve never read any of King’s gory thrillers, read this book. Then reread it at least once a year.

Very much a memoir, King uses stories of his wild childhood to illustrate the making of a writer. Besides memorable stories, you’ll get insight into structure, key takeaways on mechanics and his opinions on what’s important to writing and writers. You get to peer inside his head and see how his mind formulates those bizarre ideas and crafts unworldly plots. You’ll be both awed and inspired to suddenly see story elements all around you.

Categories: Primarily writing life with frame of mind and structure insight

What’s in it for bloggers: The craft of storytelling to engage readers and keep them coming back for more (from the author of more than 50 worldwide bestsellers), and how to constantly think about what your readers are thinking so you can crawl inside their heads and freak them out.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird - Anne LamottLamott’s small book may be one of the best-loved on how to structure your writing frame of mind and the writer’s life. She so adeptly and invisibly reflects her thoughts and experiences back on the reader that you feel an intimate part of her personal stories – a rare and long-acquired storytelling skill.

This is another book to read at least once a year. And along with King’s On Writing, to copy by hand on paper to absorb some of the rhythm, cadence and magic of these classics.

Categories: Being a writer interwoven with frame of mind and approach

What’s in it for bloggers: Lamott could be a role model and idol for bloggers who want to use their personal stories to illustrate fundamental truths about life. You’ll so resonate with her stories, you won’t even notice when she talks about herself.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down the Bones - Natalie GoldbergGoldberg’s fresh observations will reintroduce you to the wonder, magic, curiosity and excitement that lured you into writing in the first place. Although published nearly 30 years ago, Goldberg would be a hugely popular blogger today if she filled a blog with her Zen-inspired posts on how to be a writer, how to beat procrastination, the beauty of language and how to be focused and spontaneous at the same time.

Back in my newspaper days, I read from the chapter, “Man Eats Car,” when asked to talk to elementary school classes about creative writing. Inspired by Goldberg’s example, I once wrote poems on demand for $1 during a church festival. Children stood there and stared at me, wide-eyed, as I wrote poems on their ideas – ballet, wrestling, the rain – in the pen color of their choice.

Categories: Frame of mind and being a writer

What’s in it for bloggers: If you need something gentle to jar you out of your same-old same-old writing rut and inspire you to see the world with fresh eyes, read this book.

Buy this book on Amazon.com (affiliate link)

Read Your Way to Becoming a Better Writer

Your writer’s education is never complete.

And if you stay curious, the world is a generous teacher.

Every day, your mental kaleidoscope is filled with images and impressions you can use to create mesmerizing stories.

Books can bring structure and insight, but the constant search for exactly the right book keeps you from the job at hand – the act of writing.

So call off your search and focus on the nine books mentioned here.

Start by asking yourself a question:

“What do I need as a writer – right now?”

To sharpen the tools of your trade? Grab Zinsser’s book.

To get fresh inspiration on life as a writer? Pick up King, Lamott or Goldberg.

To learn a proven approach to structuring your writing? Read Save the Cat.

That you start is more important than where you start.

So get reading. Pick a book and start.

And then get writing. Because that’s what real writers do.

About the Author: Marsha Stopa is senior instructor and coach for all Smart Blogger courses. She’s living her dream in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, where she just bought a fixer-upper among the bears on a quiet mountain with a stunning view

143 thoughts on “9 Essential Books That Will Transform Your Writing Forever”

  1. Hi Marsha!

    You’re nudging me to get my copy of Story Engineering that’s been sitting endlessly on my nightstand and actually read it!

    Most of these I have read, and can highly recommend both On Writing and Bird by Bird…and now, I’m off to get Save the Cat. 😉

    1. Thanks, this is exactly what I`m looking for, list of books pretty exciting!
      Always wanted improve my writing skills. With your advice, believe that I can achieve this

  2. Wow, Marsha! Talk about a kick in the pants, buy these great resources, kind of post. I love it! I especially enjoyed how you broke out the writer stages. Totally sharing this with my writing group.

    I’ve only read a couple myself, so will get started on the others. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Elke.

      The right book at the wrong time isn’t very useful, and can be more frustrating than helpful. Hope your writing group finds it useful.

  3. I am very honored to see my book on your list of essential reading. Just wanted to say thank you for the shout out… and to add… Jon Morrow was very instrumental in helping me launch the blog that led to “Story Engineering,” the book. I know I’m not alone in owing him much.

    1. Larry,

      You’re welcome. It deserves to be on the list because it is essential reading for serious writers.

    2. I just finished reading your book, Larry, and I can’t praise it highly enough. So much solid good advice, giving me a very clear structure to follow. You have given me the blue print, now it is up to me to create the best story I can. Thank you!
      Kate Coleman.

  4. What an amazing and valuable post. Congratulations Marsha! I’m studying this and getting all the books. I’m in the middle of King’s and next will be Bird by Bird.

  5. Marsha,
    Thanks. I’ve been reading Better English Made Easy, by Henry Thomas, for the last year and a half. I finish it and then begin again. Slowly but surely it’s sinking in. I plan to add one of yours to my ongoing reading list. Great article! Rita

  6. My copies of Bird and Writing Down the Bones are pretty dogeared; so glad to them on your list. What almost never makes lists like this are poetry books, which I can highly recommend because reading great poetry trains your eye to the impact of individual words and writing poetry, even “bad” poetry cleans up your prose. Mary Oliver won me over years ago. I’ll be checking out a few of your 9 “essential,” Marsha. Learning never stops, does it?

  7. Hey Marsha – Thanks for the recommendations! I went out and bought two of them. That is just the nudge I needed to set aside the non-fiction writing I normally do and finish up my Jazz novel. -Deborah

  8. Hi Marsha,

    Thank you for putting together this compelling list. I’m adding Save the Cat to my writing library. Right now I’m reading and writing my way through Deena Metzger’s book “Writing for Your Life.”

    Peggy

  9. Thanks Marsha. Tremendous advice.

    When I first began as a professional writer, I figured I was already competent at stringing words together , so all I needed to do was sit down at the computer, and the next ‘Moby Dick’ would flow out of me. Boy was I wrong. I’ve learned to study, and study, and study the craft — in addition to writing, writing, writing.

    To date, I’ve authored or coauthored 25 nonfiction books. My first novel is coming out in September.

    Please allow me to add two books to your already excellent list:

    * Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. Read it, study it, enjoy it. A book for the basics, and another to read through once a year.

    * Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain. Another where the title can put you off, yet this is an older book packed with excellent structural advice.

    Thanks again.

    1. Marcus,

      Glad for your epiphany.

      I was going to add “Elements of Style,” but to me that’s like saying you should have a dictionary on your desk. It’s a given. It’s a fabulous reference book, but until writers realize the value of it, it may not be as transformative as these other books.

      Thanks for “Selling Writer.” Will take a look.

      Onward!

  10. Marsha,

    You must be snooping through my writing library. I’m the guy that you described in the intro that is constantly looking for the next “magic bullet” whether that be a book or a writing course.

    I have most of the books that you recommend. They are on my shelf with little yellow post-it notes where I’ve stopped reading. And they are all excellent books.

    My wife is going to kill me when I order the ones that I don’t have. Oh well….

    1. Ha. Then the quote is for you, too: “The art of writing is applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

      🙂

  11. ALL GREAT! Bird By Bird. Check. On Writing. Check. Writing Down the Bones. Check. Pen On Fire by Barbara deMarco Barrett is nice, too. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. AND Do The Work…Steven Pressfield. I’ll have to Save the Cat now! Here Kitty, Kitty. So many books. So little time. 🙂
    AWESOME POST. Thanks.

  12. Hi Marsha –

    I couldn’t wait to open this post to see what writing craft books I could add to my reference library. Wonderful list!

    May I suggest a couple of my favorites for your future consideration?

    For structure, How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Viki King.

    For inspiration on the writing life, The Mindful Writer by Dinty W. Moore (no relation to the beef stew). Also his Crafting the Personal Essay is a lovely dissertation on creative non-fiction writing.

    For moving through the psychological blocks, Writing from the Inside Out by Dennis Palumbo, former screenwriter turned therapist for screenwriters.

    Keep up your excellent work. Thank you!

  13. This list is exactly what I needed right now. I’ve been feeling like my writing had a “dashed off”, subpar quality recently thanks to multiple deadlines. While lots of work isn’t a bad problem to have, I want to be able to meet those deadlines with quality. Off to the library and bookshop!

  14. Excellent! More books to buy! 🙂

    Marsha I just had to click the link on ruthless editors… I laughed out loud when it took me to Shane’s post! (He’s the best. So are you!)

    1. Paul,

      Cool. Try copying her book, by hand, on a legal notepad. You’ll be amazed at how much more you absorb.

  15. So many good books to add to my Amazon/Kindle wishlist! Thanks, Marsha, for the great roundup. I’m not sure where this falls under (Structure and Frame of Mind perhaps?), but a lot of people swear by War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Another book I have on my shelf is Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools and Help! for Writers.

    1. Stef,
      “War of Art” is great. Yes, I’d place it under structure and frame of mind. It’s also a bit serious for a first bite.

      Thanks for the add.

  16. I LOVE this post. I fell into writing by accident, and now, 600 blog posts + 5 self-published books and 2 traditionally published books later, I am just warming up and LOVING the process even more. I can’t agree more about my all-time favorite writing book, King’s “On Writing” but I have to say, Writing Well was dry and boring but it had a great deal of useful information. I’ll need to visit the other recommendations. Thank you for this post.

  17. This post is a blessing. I am on my way to buy a book but I had no clue what works for my level since I’m new. Now, I know what to look for. Thanks a lot Marsha! 🙂

  18. One book I really recommend is ‘Wired For Story’ by Lisa Cron. It’s an excellent study on how the human mind craves storytelling and how to structure your writing to appeal to the reader’s instincts.

    1. Hi Carry and Marsha – I just finished Wired for Story and found it to be a wonderful and insightful book. I tell people it won’t make you a better writer, but it will help you become an extraordinary storyteller. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Thanks also, Marsha, for this post. There are a couple books you mention that I have not heard of before, so I will be checking them out.

  19. Nicolo Pijuan

    I’m sold. I want to be a writer. I want to be the best.
    I love how you write.
    I couldn’t stop reading.
    Thank you for this. I learned a lot.

  20. Impressive list Marsha.

    I’m working on a short eBook about writing for my website. I’ve read some of the books on your list, but it’s great to find a few more to.

    If anyone here is interested in memoir writing and personal essays, I recommend the Norton Book of Personal Essays.

  21. Awesome post,Marsha! I’ve read 5 out of the 9 books. Transformational books,especially Bird by Bird & King’s memoir. I enjoyed the writing style of Save the Cat but along the line it became too mechanical & formulaic for my liking. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t finish reading it. I’ll check out the other books. Many thanks.

    1. Andrew,

      Thank you. I suggest you try Save the Cat again. Formula is actually more important than we think it is; our brains crave structure. And it’s a time-saver for the writer; no need to be reinventing the wheel.

  22. Thanks Marsha, there is always something new to learn and these look like fantastic resources for writers.

    I am making my way through the 50 marketing books Jon recommended in his SBO program but Ill be sure to throw these into the mix.

    You guys have thought me to really appreciate writing in a way that I never had before, its existing but its also hard work – that’s why I’m glad to seek out any resource that helps me along

    Paul

  23. Hi Marsha
    Really nice and wonderful post
    today is my first comment on your blog after read this wonderful topic
    thanx for this again roundup

  24. What a helpful post! It’s easy to get overwhelmed when choosing your next book to read. Stephen King’s memoir sounds perfect for me! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Thanks for sharing this excellent blog post and reading list! I have read and loved many of these books. You missed another great one: The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. All the best!

    1. Melissa,

      You’re welcome.

      Dillard’s book is great. For those getting started or restarted, this is the short list.

  26. Just placed the order for Cashvertising on Amazon. I hope it is really worth the price. Kinda excited since I started a new blog 2 weeks ago, and I can tell you my writing skill is mediocre at this stage.

  27. I hope you won’t think me too cheeky if I mention my own book. It’s aimed not at people who want to be writers, but at people who have to write in order to do what they do. So it’s a short tour from big principles to practical tips. It’s titled ‘The Radio-Controlled Message Bottle: writing to communicate’, and there’s a sampler on the page linked from my name above.

  28. Great post Marsha. There’s heaps of new books for me to explore here.

    One that has been invaluable to me is “The Art of War” by Steven Pressfield.

    1. Thanks, Susan.

      I love the Pressfield’s book, too, but I think it presumes a commitment to your art – writing – to resonate best with the message. Many of our readers will benefit from easing in first.

  29. Hi Marsha,

    Thanks for this wonderful list!

    I never heard of Save the Cat or Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. I have books by Syd Field because most of the screenwriters I’ve met swear by his teachings. I’ll add Save the Cat and Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing to my library along with some of the other books.

    I loved Stephen King’s book and often refer to it.

    I’m excited to work with an editor on Book One of my children’s picture book series. This will be a new experience for me as I’ve never worked this closely with an editor. I’m also looking forward to working with my illustrator. I’m sure I’ll learn more about the art of storytelling based on how the illustrations complement and fit with my story.

    Have a great weekend!

  30. Excellent list Marsha, thank you. And to bear testimony… I wrote a novel, and allowed it to be heavily influenced by Save The Cat. William Morris Endeavor took it – but they couldn’t get a deal, so I self-published it. Now it’s being made into a tv film here in the UK…

    Thanks to you, Jon and team for continuing and indispensable usefulness!

    1. Woohoo! Great to hear.

      Big congrats on not only getting it done, but persevering to get it published.

  31. Sorry to sound dumb here, but can these books really teach you how to be a better writer? I’m asuming you would need to take a course of some kind for this?

    1. Dean, even a short blog post can teach you a better writer if it gives you an insight you haven’t had before at a time when you’re open to it.

      I think people can get hung up on this idea of Being A Writer. Most people don’t have any need to be a literary giant. They just need to communicate well. And that is a skill, and a skill is a path, and you travel along a path a step at a time.

    2. Dean,

      Not a dumb question.

      These books can help by offering guidance, encouragement and a referral point.

      Writing practice, preferably daily, is what will ultimately teach you to be a better writing. If you do that writing practice within the context of a course, then that’s your primary referral point. Some people can work on their own with a book to guide them.

      Find what suits you best.

  32. Hi again Marsha…

    I ended up getting 3 of your recommendations – Save the Cat, Stephen King’s (which just sucked me in right away!) and Cashvertising. I have my writing work for the summer mapped out 🙂 Thanks again for these great recommendations!

  33. I hate to be obtuse, but is there a grammatical mistake in this blog post. It stuck out to me that I have nevet heard advice used as plural noun, only in the singular. If I am wrong, my apologies. It is in the section on the book “On writing well… by WIlliam Zissner”. The sentence reads. Originally published in 1976, Zissner’s advice, on mechanics, structure, and thinking, have (?) ….. Thank you

    1. I can see how my use of “advice” as a plural like “tips” may throw some people off, and since changing it can’t hurt anyway, I changed it. Thanks!

  34. “Dramatica” is by far the most comprehensive and helpful story theory, but it’s a bit dense. “Deep Story,” by Carol A. Hughes, is an excellent summary.

    Also, the classic “Story: Style, Structure, Substance and the Principles of Screenwriting,” by Robert McKee, deserves a spot on the list.

    “Write Your Novel from the Middle,” by James Scott Bell, provided my most important “a-ha!” moment–and it’s only $2.99 for Kindle!

  35. Hi, Marsha:
    As soon as I read this post, I ordered “Bird by Bird” and “On Writing Well”. Halfway through Lamott on Kindle, Zinsser arrived in the mail. Reading Zinsser feels like being mentored by a master. Reading Lamott feels like a retreat with a creative soul mate. Already my writing is changing, and my voice is emerging. Thank you for this post. I plan to read my way through all nine books. Curiously, my taste in pleasure reading is also changing. I’m demanding more of the authors I read as I demand more of myself. What a rockin’ way to “upgrade and fine-tune” my writing skills!

  36. Sorry, I don’t mean to be a grammar scold but… “One of Jon’s favorite writing books, you’ll be able to write a decent screenplay with Save the Cat if that’s your goal.”

    Is “you” One of Jon’s favorite books?

    This is a dangling modifier.

  37. Marsha,

    thanks a lot for sorting those out. I find it very helpful to get recommendations, especially from someone who appears to have some depth in the craft.

    So much to learn !!

    I had already read the Stephen King one. Pretty good, taught me by emulation, and made me see how much work it is to write something that other people want to read.

    The Blake Snyder somehow got pretty grim reviews on the German amazon.

    I have just ordered CA$HVERTISING. Thrilled to receive it and learn more.

  38. Hi Marsha,
    Just wanted to say thanks for this list. I’d read a couple but many I hadn’t heard of. I’ve been making my way through the list, and boy, what fantastic books. Thank you!

  39. Thanks for the great article . It’s been a while since I last read a book. You’ve just reminded me on the constant need for learning and honing of our skills. Thanks, will start off with the first book.

  40. Best books I’ve ever read on writing:

    “Punching Babies: a how-to guide” by Adron J. Smitley.

    Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

    On Writing by Stephen King

    All cover writing in general, but the first (Punching Babies) covers both novels and screenplays and is MUCH more detailed than the other two, though i consider all three essential for a writer to have =-)

  41. Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg was one of the first books I read about writing. Demystified the whole GD thing! I was hooked!

    Anne Lamott’s such a natural talking story teller and she write’s just the way she talks. I love anything non-fiction she writes.

    Stephen King’s book was recommended to me by Thaddeus Holownia, Head of the Fine Art Department at Mount Allison University. Bought it, read it , loved it! Going to re-read it again! A real laugh out loud. Humour, such an essential part of writing well.

    The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryon was a big life changer for me, affecting and improving my writing leaps and bounds.

    Eudora Welty’s book One Writer’s Beginnings I think it’s called is well worth a read.

    1. Great article, as always! Time to get out Stephen King, again! You also mentioned a couple of new books for me to try. Thanks!

    2. Catherine,

      Have you been peeking at my writer’s bookshelf? 😉

      I changed careers because of The Artist’s Way, and it set me on a path that brought me here. I adore Eudora Welty’s book — I may get it out again!

      Thanks!

      1. Marsha Marsha Marsha! Aha Ha! I was wondering the same thing about you! Too much!

        The Artist’s Way was and still is my bible, along with Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and, oh and The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock.

        The Artist Way enabled me to fulfill my life long dream of working with and riding horses for two years at the age of 40, becoming a riding coach. Then returned to finally finish my BFA at the age of 56! I’d never done it without Julia Cameron’s wonderful book! Like I said, a very powerful life changer! The daily disciplined habit of writing is an empowering change agent!

        P.S. Have you heard of Alberto Manguel? He is amazing! He wrote The Dictionary of imaginary Places, A History of Reading and numerous others! Currently I am reading The City of Words all about the importance of stories.

        Catherine Meyers

  42. Therese Sibon

    Perfect! I love the way you categorized the books into needs of the writer – great for curing overwhelm!

  43. I agree with all, but it should have been 10. “Seven Type of Ambiguity” by William Empson is indispensable for language awareness. Both building packed dialogue, and learning to listen in the research aspects.

  44. Wow. A lot of comments, here. I hope you haven’t answered this one, yet, but, when you say the novice should read BOTH books on writing and structure, I cannot find which two books you meant. There is only one on your list that is listed under mechanics, and three for structure, but then you say Zinsser’s is mechanics and structure (if we only read one of them–and I agree; it’s my fave!)
    Anyway, did I miss something?

    1. I meant both types of books — writing and mechanics, and structure and frame of mind. Right now focus on those books listed under structure and frame of mind. Start with Stephen King. Once you finish it you’ll be ready to start reading it again!

      Hope that clarifies it for you.

      1. Oh, my! Arrgh! It was a “both/and” statement and I missed that. Sorry. Sighs.
        Okay! I do have another question, then. I am a fave writer for a magazine with 22,000 circulation. Nonfiction, mostly. On my website, in the blog, people LOVE my short stories. So where am I on this page, here, of yours? Thanks!

  45. “On Writing Well” is the absolute best book I’ve ever read on writing non-fiction. William is such a good writer that you’ll want to read each sentence carefully. I feel like I’ve improved dramatically as a writer thanks to that book. Great list!

  46. Thank you so much for this post. It came at a great time when I was thinking, I needed to hear music in my written words. I now have at least 3 weeks worth of reading. Thanks, love the blog.

    1. Thanks!

      I’ve added the three books you mentioned to my Amazon wish list. 😉

      Thanks for the kind words.

  47. I don’t like reading books since my school days but now it is a demand of my business. I have left my job recently to make my career in affiliate marketing. I am targeting to read at least 1 book per month. What are the books would you recommend me to read to become a successful internet marketer.

    1. I’d start with “Made to Stick” by the Heath brothers, and “Ca$hvertising” from this list.

  48. Hi Marsha,

    This was a fantastic post! I know I have a long journey to go, before I become prolific as a writer.

    I love how you broke your post down into the three sections to help writers improve.

    I naturally have a curiousity to learn. It never occurred to me to get books to improve on writing mechanics and structure.

    I now have a solid goal to work towards in improving my own writing.

    Thanks for this post!

  49. Other books to suggest are: The Soul of Place A Creative Writing Workbook Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci, by Linda Lappin, published by Travelers Tales, and highly recommended by National Geographic Intelligent Traveler and winner of a Nautilus award in Creative Process

  50. Hi Marsha,

    Wow great list.

    I have avoided blogging / writing like the plague ever since high school and even when I was in the corporate world.

    Started blogging many times over…but I have always struggle to get the words out on to paper. Start, Quit, Start, Quit! But I can’t hide anymore!

    This post really hit the spot! Time to get better! I think this is a great start.

    Quick question? Do anyone else have this problem where when you type a sentence and it completely doesn’t make sense, like I would add words or miss words. It is like my brain is thinking too fast! I spend hours and hours rewriting sentences…I don’t know where I am going wrong! Even writing this reply takes a long time.

    Norm

    1. Hey Norm,

      We are always our worst critics. What helped me immeasurably was regular daily journaling ( long hand) I learned to ditch that inner critic by doing this. Nothing written in particular just my thoughts, muddled or not. It worked like a windshield wiper clearing away the debris away.
      Many years ago I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and this is one of the main exercises she recommends. It changed everything for me including my life. I strongly suggest you read this book and it will help you get clear of that inner critic.

      All the very best

      Catherine Meyers

    2. Oh and about the long hand writing. This slows your brain down and your writing. Writing on a computer means often we write faster than our brain can form the thoughts. I write both longhand and blog daily. Writing especially pen to paper really has become an essential part of my creative process.

      Cat

  51. You know your question about “what would life be without your …” reminds me a LOT of Byron Katie’s work. Have you heard of her? You’re point is well taken – if you can only visualize pain – you’ll only know pain. You need to visualize life without it — in order to understand where you’re going! Awesome thoughts!!!

  52. Wow Thanks for the books that can improve my writing skill . Even I planning to buy new books for reading as I think that I need to improve to get more clarity of thoughts

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