In my years of writing I have picked up many different books on creative writing. In this list you will find what I think are the best books on writing. Many of the books here helped me to learn more about the technical aspects of the craft, about the life of a writer, finding the right mindset or simply about the nature of writing and creativity. The books mentioned here are the ones that are most memorable to me and that I’d recommend to any aspiring writer. A word of warning: The most important thing for any aspiring writer is to sit down and write. Reading all of these books won’t help you if you don’t sit down and take action.
Best Books on the Writing Life
The books here focus more on what writing is and what the writer’s life is like. They might not focus on techniques as much as other books, but instead they focus on mindset, the general attitude of a writer or simply life. They are all highly recommended to get an idea what it truly means to be a writer.
Bird by Bird: Anne Lamotte’s book on writing is a great read. She talks a lot about the writer’s life, the mentality, about first drafts and especially about many of the problems a writer can encounter. Many of the advice in the book won’t be knew to people who already have some knowledge about creative writing. The reason I still recommend this book is simply because the chapters about mentality and the writer’s life. Give it a try.
Zen in the Art of Writing: This is a little book written by Ray Bradbury. He gives a lot of practical advice and tips on writing, which I think is great. What Bradbury mostly focuses on though are discussions about the mindset and the qualities a writer needs and he also gives a lot of insight into the life of a writer. It is a very quick read and can give you a lot of valuable advice.
Becoming a Writer: Dorothea Brand gives a lot of advice about self-discipline, how to build a routine, how to stick to writing and talks about how to unlock your creativity. The book also provide with a number of interesting exercises on the same topic. For this alone the book is highly recommended, especially for aspiring writers.
The Faith of a Writer: This book is written by author Joyce Carol Oates. While she gives some practical advice on writing it was rather her thoughts about being a writer, a writer’s mentality and other topics of the writer’s life that I enjoyed the most.
The Writing Life: Annie Dillard’s book on writing just feels nice to read. It talks about the beauty of writing, the writer’s life and generally being an artist. She says that writing is in a way looking back at the world with the same wonder as a child. It is a short, yet beautiful little book. Some of the things in this book deeply resonated with me.
Best Books on the Techniques of Writing
The books here focus on the technical aspects of writing. They give detailed descriptions and advice on every aspect of the craft of writing. Most of these books are more technical handbooks. They are not designed for simple reading, but more for looking up information on the technical aspects.
On Writing: Pretty much one of the most known books on writing. Stephen King’s book discusses a lot of technical aspects of writing in the second part of this little book. His advice is great and invaluable, but it is also very basic and not too in-depth. The first part of the book is also very enjoyable, because King talks a lot about his life and how he became a writer.
The Elements of Style: A must read for anyone who wants to write in English. The newest edition of this little book includes advice on many more contemporary topics, for example word processing software. I deem this book pretty much essential reading. The reason is simply that this book will teach you anything you need or should know about grammar and style. Remember: To break the rules you have to know them first.
The Art of Fiction: Probably the best and most detailed book on writing I have read. Gardner gives great and amazing advice on the craft of writing and discusses many of the more advanced topics such as rhythm or theme that are missing in many other books. Gardner’s writing can seem somewhat overblown or even pretentious at times, but don’t make the mistake of disregarding for that reason. I can also recommend his other book ‘On Becoming a Novelist’ in which he talks more about the nature of being a writer and the qualities a writer needs.
Stein On Writing: Yet another amazing book that has tons of really helpful advice. Sol Stein provides us with advice from a lifelong career in writing and publication. The advice in this book is very detailed and he often provides us with examples from popular literature. Some of the chapters in this book discuss the topic of writing nonfiction or both fiction and nonfiction though.
Writing Fiction: This is not a normal book per se, but more of a writing course in itself. It starts on how to find inspiration and the focuses on one element of writing fiction per chapter. Each chapter is an in-depth discussion about the respective topic, for example dialogue or characters, and provides the reader with many useful exercises. A great book.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel: Another book that guides the reader through the process of writing a novel. James N. Frey talks about every aspect of a dramatic novel and in that regard he gives great advice. The book focuses on commercial fiction and unfortunately doesn’t talk about more advanced topic. What makes this book great are the many examples he gives his readers, especially on the topic of outlining and planning a novel.
How Not to Write a Novel: This is the odd one out of the list, but that doesn’t mean it is not a great book. The book takes a different approach and talks about all the things a writer should NOT do. The bad examples in the overall style of the book are hilarious at times. I learned a lot from this book, especially on what things not to do. If you are an advanced writer who looks for a book that will provide him with help on specific topics, this is the book for you.
Best Books on Creativity
The books here talk more about what it means to be creative and take a look at not just writing, but creative work as a whole. I highly recommend these two, because they give you great insight on creative activity.
Art & Fear: I’d say this book is recommended reading for anyone who wants to be an artist. The book focus on many of the mental barriers that we encounter when it comes to being an artist. A lot of focus too is given on the topics of creativity, how to get more creative, but also what it means to be an artist. It gives many examples from famous artists and it discusses many of the misconceptions about making art. It is a book that was written by artists for artists. A great read.
Steal Like an Artist: This handy little book provides you with anything you need to become more creative. The book consists of many examples, tips, hints and charts on how to reach out to your creative side. The information in the book might at times feel like it is a little simple or self-explanatory, but it is a fact, that we often don’t consider these things at all. A fun and interesting read that gives you a lot to think about.
Best Biographies and memoirs
These books don’t hold practical tips on writing. It can be very interesting and even inspiring to see how other writers lived and how they went about their daily life. Often these types of books also provide you with an insight into their creative process, which is valuable in itself.
A Moveable Feast: This little gem by Hemingway is an amazing read. In here he reminiscences about his life in Pars as a young man. He recalls the time he spent with Gertrud Stein and Scott Fitzgerald. It is the type of book that really gives you the feeling of a writer’s life. For me it was the type of book that made me feel happy and made me want to pack my bags, move to a different city and live by the pen. The book also provides us with a very private picture of a young Hemingway and shows us what an interesting, yet strange man Fitzgerald was. I can’t recommend this book enough to both, fans of Hemingway and people who consider a career in the arts.
A Writer’s Diary: Here we have the collected diaries by Virginia Woolf. The book shows us a very private side of her and at times shows how troubled a person she was. The book shows how hard it can be to write novels as well as finishing them. In the many pages of this book you can find some great advice on writing and being a writer here and there, but it is mainly a biography of Woolf. I really enjoyed the read, but the book can be quite depressing at times, which is not surprising considering Woolf’s character. The book not so much teaches you about the craft, but instead shows you the inner workings of an often troubled writer.