Last Updated on by Karl
Here are the books that will get you to next level of writing.
Pounding away at the keyboard is something everyone can do. From these books, you’ll learn how to get and hold your audience’s attention.
There is no such thing as an attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing. This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them. Jerry Seinfeld
Officially, I’m founder and CEO of an integrated marketing agency. Unofficially, I’m a word nerd, prescriptive grammarian, and sucker for a good angle. Content floats my boat. It’s what wakes me up at night and has me vapor writing on the shower door every morning.
I stockpile ideas the way other women collect shoes or perfume. That said, ideas are only the starting point. Great content —the kind that moves people to act or makes them sit up and take notice— is what I’m really after.
I’ve always loved writing, but that’s not to say I was always good at it. I’m way better than I used to be and I’m still improving. What I’ve learned is that to be a good writer you have to read a lot and write even more.
There are also a lot of excellent how-to books out there that have done wonders for my skills. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming they’ll turn you into the next Tom Wolfe or Ayn Rand. Only years of daily practice and a healthy dollop of good genes will do that, I’m afraid.
They’re still worth reading though. And if you act on the advice (as opposed to just reading it), you will improve – as a writer, as an artist and even as a human being.
I’ve listed them in no particular order, so just dive in and enjoy.
Give one to your friend or colleague as a gift!
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Raiting: 4,7 out of 5
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” —Stephen King, On Writing
Part autobiography, part how-to, On Writing is a well-thumbed favorite in my arsenal of books on writing and creativity. Horror novels aside (they always left me cold), I’ve been a Stephen King fan from the get-go. To this day The Talisman remains one of my favorite fiction books of all time.
He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the man knows how to use his words. And who better to learn from than someone so dedicated to his craft that he even writes on Christmas Day?
Organised into five sections, On Writing kicks off with a captivating account of the King’s childhood. It segues from there to “What Writing Is,” where he urges would be wordsmiths to take writing seriously. In “Toolbox” King discusses the tools of the trade (English mechanics).
The penultimate section, “On Writing,” offers advice to aspiring writers. Finally, “On Living: A Postscript” delves headlong into the van accident that almost put an end to his writing career. On Writing is the first book he wrote after the accident.
Written in a wholly accessible style, it’s the kind of book you’d read even if you weren’t interested in honing your chops as a writer.
2. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
Raiting: 4,5 out of 5
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” ― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Steven Pressfield’s first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, made it to Hollywood. Starring Will Smith and Matt Damon and directed by Robert Redford, the movie was a box office hit. Makes it easy to assume that writing isn’t a problem for this guy, doesn’t it?
Not so. In fact, it was because it required such mammoth effort to complete that he ended up penning The War of Art (an aptly titled book if ever there was one). In it, Pressfield introduces us to that enemy within all of us whose sole purpose it is to thwart our best efforts at every turn.
He calls it ‘Resistance,’ but your internal foe may go by another name. My running coach referred to the voice in his head that urged him to stay in bed instead of going for a run as ‘Percy.’
The War of Art addresses the questions that plague us creatives:
- What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do?
- Why is there a naysayer within?
- How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor—be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece?
It provides a much-needed battle plan to vanquish ‘Resistance’ and ends off by outlining exactly how to achieve the greatest success. You can’t read this book and not be inspired to kick some creative butt.
3. Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way by Steven Pressfield
Raiting: 4,4 out of 5
“The song we’re composing already exists in potential. Our work is to find it.” ― Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
Of course, it’s easy to feel motivated in the moment, but what happens when the feeling wears off? Sometimes you need a little extra help to keep going; that’s where Do the Work comes in. Though billed as a follow-up to The War of Art, this book serves more like an action guide to help you get your hands dirty. (Enough with the theory already, it’s time to work.)
Whether you’re avoiding your current project because you’re stuck or because you don’t know where to start, Do The Work can help. Going step-by-step, it focuses on everything from the project’s inception right the way through to when you need to deliver it.
By identifying the ‘Resistance points’ you’re likely to encounter along the way and providing techniques and drills for overcoming each obstacle, the book walks you through the creation process. Where The War of Art inspired you to kick butt, this book shows you how.
4. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
Raiting: 4,6 out of 5
“Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.” ― Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
We all dream of being able to draw or paint or write or make music, but most of us don’t believe we’re capable. These limiting beliefs took root when someone (a teacher, a parent) said something to make us doubt ourselves. We went from seeing ourselves as artists to seeing ourselves as frauds.
Julia Cameron’s 12-week programme will help you recover your creativity and remove the blocks holding you back. Dispelling in the process, the ‘I’m not good enough’ belief that’s been keeping you stuck in your non-creative ways.
Grounded in the basic principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life, the book takes us on a journey to rediscover the artist within.
Julia Cameron is unashamedly spiritual in her approach, touching on concepts like fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions and so on, and providing the tools and wherewithal for us to replace them with artistic confidence and productivity.
It’s not for everyone, but if you’re blocked creatively and in need of a paint-by-numbers approach to get your artistic flow on, it’ll certainly do the trick.
Checkout the writing tools you can use right now: 35 Content Writing Tools to Take You from Good to Great.
5. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
Raiting: 4,5 out of 5
Originally written in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style still appears (almost a century later) on the list of prescribed books of just about every writing programme out there. And with good reason.
As an old-school grammarian, this style guide floats my pedantic boat. Slang has its place, but spelling mistakes, grammar errors, misplaced punctuation and the like make me see red.
The book comprises eight “elementary rules of usage,” ten “elementary principles of composition,” “a few matters of form,” a list of 49 “words and expressions commonly misused,” and a list of 57 “words often misspelled.” [Source: Wikipedia]
There’s not much else to say here, except this: Go right now and buy yourself a copy. I love my Kindle, but in this instance I recommend getting a hard copy.
6. Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein
Raiting: 4,7 out of 5
“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” ― Sol Stein, Stein On Writing
The book’s subtitle sums it up perfectly. Packed full of useful advice for fiction and nonfiction writers alike, Stein on Writing is an invaluable addition to your writer’s repository. Whether you’re a fledgling scribbler or an old hand, you’ll find yourself highlighting and underlining sentence upon sentence.
As Stein says, “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions–how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.”
Drawing on examples from a variety of sources, including bestsellers and even his students’ drafts, Stein looks in detail at everything from characterisation, dialogue and pacing to trimming away flabby wording and using fiction techniques to breathe new life into nonfiction writing.
7. Politics and the English Language by George Orwell
Raiting: 4,5 out of 5
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” ― George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
A prolific writer by any account, George Orwell is best known for his dystopian novel 1984. For me, it makes sense to learn the tools of the trade from someone who has not only written as many books as he has but whose work continues to influence popular and political culture today.
Even if you don’t get around to reading this book, the below excerpt alone will improve your writing ten-fold.
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
8. Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
Raiting: 4.7 out of 5
“With some friends, take a big piece of chart paper and with colored markers draw a diagram of your writing process.” ― Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools
Roy Peter Clark, America’s most influential writing teacher, whittled down almost thirty years of experience in journalism, writing, and teaching into a series of fifty short essays on different aspects of writing. In the past decade, Writing Tools has become a classic guidebook for novices and experts alike and remains one of the best-loved books on writing available.
Organized into four sections, “Nuts and Bolts,” “Special Effects,” “Blueprints for Stories,” and “Useful Habits,” Writing Tools is infused with more than 200 examples from journalism and literature. This new edition includes five brand new, never-before-shared tools.
Accessible, entertaining, inspiring, and above all, useful for every type of writer, from high school student to novelist, Writing Tools is essential reading.
Covering the writing from basics on verb tense to the value of forming a “support group” Clark offers tips and techniques for any writer. The best assets are in the “workshop” sections at the end of each chapter and strategies for using the material in each lesson. For example, an exercise suggests reading the newspaper and marking the subjects and verbs.
9. The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goins
Raiting: 4,6 out of 5
“Take time to look back at all you’ve experienced, and listen to what your life is saying.” ― Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
With everyone from Darren Rowse, Michael Hyatt and Brian Clark singing his praises, it seemed only right that I find out more about this Chicago-born upstart. I’m glad I did. In addition to his blog, Jeff has written for dozens of magazines, publications, and blogs. He’s also written four books.
They’re all highly readable, but it’s his latest offering that really got my attention. Urging the reader to ‘abandon the status quo and live a life that matters,’ The Art of Work is about discovering your true calling—that thing you were born to do.
“Through personal experience, compelling stories, and current research on the mysteries of motivation and talent, Jeff shows readers how to find their vocation and what to expect along the way.”
Taken from the book’s dust jacket, the above quote does a stellar job of summing it up. I’m very happy in my current job, and I also know what I’ll be doing when I’m through with marketing, so there wasn’t any real reason for me to read The Art of Work.
However, even if, like me, you’ve already found your ‘thing’ that makes you get up in the morning, it doesn’t mean you won’t still benefit from reading this book. As authors go, he’s infinitely readable and somehow always manages to offer a fresh perspective on whatever he’s writing about.
10. The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells by Robert W. Bly
Raiting: 4,6 out of 5
“We are not in the business of being original. We are in the business of reusing things that work.” ― Robert W. Bly, The Copywriter’s Handbook
Writers love a witty, clever turn of phrase, and I’m no different. But while such wordsmithing may be lapped up in the literary world, in marketing it’s not even frowned upon (that at least would constitute a reaction), readers ignore it flat-out.
It was only after writing a few (dozen) emails to my subscribers that I finally got why they weren’t opening my missives. My witty and clever, but ultimately pointless, subject lines were the problem.
Bottom line. If the recipient can’t tell what the email is about from the subject line, they’re probably not going to open it. This lesson holds true across all aspects of marketing copy.
Now in its third edition, The Copywriter’s Handbook is for everyone who writes or approves copy. Robert Bly reveals numerous copywriting techniques that can help you write ads, commercials, and yes, even direct mailers, that are clear, persuasive, and get more attention.
In short, he teaches you to write copy that sells more products. The book remains the ultimate guide for people who write or work with copy.
11. Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life by Bonnie Friedman
Raiting: 3.6 out of 5
“Daily life is always extraordinary when rendered precisely. We can unlock our lives with a pencil tip.” ― Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark
Perhaps I should have been upfront about the fact that not all the books covered here are of a practical, how-to nature. When you think about it though, they can’t be. Art is messy. Sometimes it’s good messy and other times it’s wrenched-from-the-gut messy.
The quicker you come to terms with that, well, the faster your art will improve. No sense trying to hide from something that’s not going away. Instead, when things get rough turn your attention to a book like Writing Past Dark.
Charting the emotional side of the writer’s life, it’s a writing companion. Reach for it when you’re feeling lost and looking for a way back to the memories, images, and ideas that live in us and fuel strong writing.
Through a combination of personal narrative and other writers’ experiences, Friedman delves into the panorama of emotions and dilemmas that writers face, including such humdingers as envy, distraction, guilt, and yes, even (especially?) writer’s block.
With the negative aspects dissected, she proceeds to shed light on what will set you free. Equal parts supportive, intimate, and reflective, Writing Past Dark is more than just a resource for writers, it’s a comfort too. And when you consider how prone we writers are to the dramatic, a much-needed one at that.
BIO: In addition to her role as founder and CEO of TopLine Comms, Heather Baker is also the company’s resident word nerd and content marketing authority. If there’s an angle to found, she’ll find it.
Photo credit: Unsplash