In my years of writing, I’ve picked up various books on creative writing. In this list I want to present those books I regard as the best writing books out there.
Many of the writing books on this list helped me to understand the writing process better in various ways. There are many books on this list that focus more on the technical aspects of writing. Yet, there are other books I think an aspiring writer should check out. There are books that focus more on the writer’s life, the right mindset or muse on about the nature of writing and creativity.
This list comprises the best writing books I’ve read over the years and which I’d recommend to aspiring writers.
A word of warning, though: The most important thing an aspiring writer can do is to sit down and write. While reading books on the craft can help you speed up the learning process, you won’t improve unless you write. Should you be looking for other advice, you might want to check out my articles on writing.
Table of Contents
- Best Writing Books on the Writing Life
- Bird by Bird
- Zen in the Art of Writing
- Becoming a Writer
- The Faith of a Writer
- The Writing Life
- Best Writing Books on the Technical Aspects of Writing
- On Writing
- The Elements of Style
- The Art of Fiction
- Stein on Writing
- Writing Fiction
- How to Write a Damn Good Novel
- How Not to Write a Novel
- Best Writing Books on Creativity
- Art & Fear
- Steal Like an Artist
- Best Writing Books – Biographies and Memoirs
- A Moveable Feast
- A Writer’s Diary
Best Writing Books on the Writing Life
The books in this section focus less on practical advice, but on a topic I think is equally important, the writing life. Many of the books mentioned here talk about such topics as mindset, the nature of writing, a writer’s mentality and what it means to live by the pen.
Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird is all-around great and one of the best writing books out there. The book focuses less on the practical aspects of the craft, but aims to give light to such topics as the writer’s life, the mentality and first drafts. It also talks at length about many of the problems a writer can encounter.
Many of the practical advice in this book won’t be anything new to more seasoned writers and those who’ve already read other books on the craft. The reason I wholeheartedly recommend this book is because of the chapters that focus on mentality and the writer’s life. It’s those chapters that resonated with me the most and that showed me that writing is not only a creative art but also a hard one.
Ray Bradbury is a writer most famous for his novel Fahrenheit 451. However, he’s written over 20 novels and over 600 short stories in various genres, making him one of the most prolific writers of all time. Zen in the Art of Writing can be best described as Bradbury’s manual on writing fiction and the writer’s life. It’s because of his ideas on the latter topic that I regard this as one of the best writing books I ever read.
While the book gives some practical advice, focusing on how to come up with story ideas, the majority is spent on discussing mindset and the qualities a writer needs. There are also chapters that give more insight into the writer’s life.
Zen in the Art of Writing is a quick read, but one that provides any aspiring writer with a lot of valuable advice.
Dorothea Brande’s book Becoming a Writer shines most because it focuses on a topic rarely discussed in other books on writing, self-discipline. It outlines topics such as building a writing routine, sticking to it and how to unlock one’s creativity.
What elevated this to one of the best writing books out there were the many exercises that accompanied the book.
Since I believe self-discipline and sticking to writing every day is one of the hardest, if not the hardest thing for aspiring writers, I can’t recommend this book enough.
The Faith of a Writer is written by Joyce Carol Oates, another famous and popular American writer.
While Oates provides the reader with some practical advice, what made this one of the best writing books were the other topics she discussed. The book focuses on being a writer, a writer’s mentality, and other topics related to the writer’s life.
I think it’s interesting to read about those topics and the different perspectives different writers have and Oates can provide her readers with some great insight.
Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is a short little book on writing that might also be the most heartfelt read on the craft I ever experienced. Dillard talks about the beauty of the craft, the writer’s life, and what it means to be an artist.
The most important insight I took from this book was Dillard’s opinion that a writer has to look at the world with the same wonder as a child. This, however, is not the only brilliant piece of advice in this book.
The Writing Life is a short, yet beautiful little book, one that resonated with me and that I consider one of the best writing books ever written.
Best Writing Books on the Technical Aspects of Writing
Now I want to come to the best writing books that focus on the practical aspects of writing. These books give detailed advice on most technical aspects of the craft. Many of these books here are handbooks and differ from the ones mentioned above. They are not designed as simple reading, but to look up certain aspects of the craft. Still, all the books here are amongst the best writing books I’ve read.
On Writing by Stephen King is one of the most popular books on writing out there. The first part of the book is more a memoir, focusing on King’s early life and career. It’s the second part of the book, however, that’s filled with advice on the practical aspects of the craft.
Most of the advice in On Writing isn’t as in depth as that in the other books presented in this section. I still consider it invaluable, especially for aspiring writers new to the craft.
The Elements of Style is a must read for anyone who wants to write fiction in English. It’s not only one of the best writing books, but also one of the most important ones.
The book will teach you anything there is to know about English Grammar and style. It’s not farfetched to say that this book is essential reading for any aspiring writer. The reason this book is so important is because of a simple rule: To break the rules, you first need to know them.
In the newest edition of this little book, it also includes more contemporary topics, such as word processing software and writing in the digital age.
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner is probably one of the most detailed and best writing books I ever read, if not the best. Gardner gives amazing, in-depth advice on every aspect of the craft, including advanced topics such as rhythm or theme, which are rarely discussed in other books.
However, Gardner’s writing can seem somewhat overblown or even pretentious. Yet, don’t make the mistake to disregard the book for that reason. The Art of Fiction is a fantastic book and more in-depth than any other I read on the craft.
I’d also like to recommend his book ‘On Becoming a Novelist’ which focuses more on the nature of writing and the qualities a writer needs.
Stein on Writing by Sol Stein is yet another fantastic book on writing featuring vast amounts of helpful advice. He provides insights from a lifelong career in writing and publishing.
The advice in this book is not only detailed, but often accompanied by examples from popular fiction.
Some parts of the book, however, focus on non-fiction, so those might not be of too much interest for aspiring fiction writers. Still, the chapters dedicated to fiction are fantastic and make this one of the best writing books out there.
Writing Fiction is not a normal book on writing, but a writing course in book form. The book starts out by giving advice on finding inspiration before it focuses on each element of fiction per chapter. Each chapter offers an in-depth discussion of its respective topic, such as characters and dialogue. Each chapter is also accompanied by many useful exercises.
Writing Fiction is one of the most practical books on this list, because of the exercises it features. If one’s looking for a book that helps take action, Writing Fiction is probably the best choice out there. It’s a great book, and because of its practical orientation, I consider it amongst the best writing books.
Here we have another book that gives not only advice, but guides the reader through writing a novel. James N. Frey discusses every aspect of the dramatic novel and gives fantastic advice about each one of them.
The book, however, focuses more on commercial fiction, meaning fiction that sells and doesn’t talk about more advanced topics. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best writing books out there, not only because of the examples it features. What makes this book so good, is the discussion of more fundamental topics such as outlining and planning a novel, something that’s invaluable for aspiring writers.
This book is the odd one out on this list, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a great one.
The book takes an entirely unique approach. It doesn’t talk about what to do, but what not to do. The bad examples and the overall style of the book are hilarious. But don’t be mistaken, the advice is still invaluable.
I learned a lot from this book. It’s often the case that one can learn more from bad fiction and this book is no difference. The book is also useful for advanced writers who struggle with certain aspects of the craft.
Best Writing Books on Creativity
Creativity is a topic that’s not only important for writers but for all artists out there. I recommend giving the two books mentioned here a try. They will give you great insight into not only the creative process but also on creativity.
Art & Fear is a book that I’d recommend to anyone out there who wants to become an artist. The book doesn’t focus so much on writing or creating art. Instead, it focuses on many of the mental barriers we encounter as artists and creatives.
The book also focuses on creativity itself, how to get more creative and what it means to be an artist. It provides the reader with many examples from famous artist and outlines many common misconceptions about art.
It’s a book that’s written by artists for artists. While it doesn’t focus on writing alone, I still consider it one of the best writing books or one of the best books on the creative process.
This handy little book provides you with anything you need to be creative. The book comprises many examples, tips, hits and charts on how to reach out to your creative side.
While the title might seem odd, it presents one of the core ideas of the book, nothing we create is truly original.
When I read this book, I considered many of the advice simple and almost self-explanatory, until I thought about it. It’s often the case that we as creatives, or humans often disregard the simplest and most fundamental things.
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is a short, but interesting read that gives you a lot to think about. While it’s, yet again, not a book solely on writing, I highly recommend it to any aspiring writer and creative out there.
Best Writing Books – Biographies and Memoirs
Biographies and memoirs rarely provide practical tips on writing or other aspects of the craft. Yet, it can be very interesting, insightful and even inspiring to read about the lives of other writers.
This little gem by Hemingway is a fantastic read. In it he reminisces about his life in Paris as a young man. He recalls the time he spent with Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald. It’s the type of book that gives you a feeling for the writer’s life.
The book made me happy, and it made me want to pack my bags, move to a different city and live by the pen, just as Hemingway did.
The book also paints a very private picture of young Hemingway, but also shows us what an interesting, yet strange man Scott Fitzgerald was. I can’t recommend this book enough to both fans of Hemingway and to anyone who considers a career in the arts.
While not a book on writing per se, I still consider it one of the best writing books out there.
The collected diaries of Virginia Woolf paints a very private and at times troubled picture. The book shows us how hard it can be to write novels and finishing them.
While you can find some brilliant advice on writing and what it means to be a writer between the many pages of this book, it’s foremost a biography of Virginia Woolf.
I enjoyed this book a lot, but it can get depressing, which might be nothing new to those who know a bit about Virginia Woolf’s character.
While the book doesn’t teach you about the craft per se, it presents you with the inner workings of a writer, a troubled person, and the toll a life by the pen took on her.