I am a firm believer that the best way to learn how to write is by writing. You could read all the books on writing in the world, but if you never put any of it into practice, then you will never know for sure what and what doesn’t work for you.
Nonetheless, books on writing have been a huge help to and influence on me. They have taught me new ideas and new techniques. Sometimes I like to reread them when I feel lost, when I don’t know what to write, or when I don’t like what I am writing. In that sense, the books — or rather, their authors — are some of my writing mentors.
So I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books on writing. I’ve read quite a few books on writing over the years, but these three are the ones that resonate the most with me. I highly suggest any writer, whether a beginner just starting out or a veteran who has been scribbling for years, to buy these or at least check ’em out from your local library anyway.
Now let us begin, starting with:
#3: How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman (Buy it on Amazon)
Drawing on 30 years of combined teaching, writing, and reviewing experience, authors Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman point out 200 mistakes most unpublished writers make, mistakes that often result in their manuscripts being rejected by agents and editors.
While sometimes the snark can be a little annoying at times, it is has nonetheless entertained me many times with its irreverent humor. In particular, I enjoy how they illustrate every advice with examples, which make it easier to grasp the concepts they’re talking about.
It does use a lot of adult language, however. While that doesn’t bother me personally, if you do not like that kind of language, then you probably shouldn’t read this book. But if you are willing to look past the language, then I think you will learn a lot of useful things to avoid in your writing.
#2: Your First Novel: A Published Author and a Top Agent Share the Keys to Achieving your Dream, by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb (Buy it on Amazon)
This writing book is unique among writing books because it is co-written by an author and her agent, thus dividing the book into two parts.
The first half is written by novelist Laura Whitcomb, author of A Certain Slant of Light, which teaches the mechanics and craft of writing. It’s my favorite half of the book because it has so much useful information for all writers looking to improve their craft.
The second half is written by author agent Ann Rittenberg. In this section, she teaches you how to get your novel published. It mostly covers traditional publishing (this book was published prior to the rise of self-publishing), but it is still useful. In particular, I loved the excerpts of bad query letters she shared as an example of how not to write a query letter.
As a result of these two halves, the book is a different experience from reading other books on writing. I know of no other book on writing co-written by an author and her agent, which is a shame because I think it’s a really neat idea.
#1: 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 (Buy it on Amazon)
In this book, author and editor Sol Stein gives a lot of excellent advice for both fiction and nonfiction writers. It’s one of the few books on writing I own or know of that covers fiction and nonfiction equally, which is why I consider it valuable.
Not only does it contain useful writing advice, but it itself is well written. It’s easy to read and follow along. And like How Not to Write a Novel above, Stein will sometimes use excerpts to illustrate the points he is trying to make. They’re generally from his own work.
I have read other books on writing (and there are still quite a few I haven’t read but want to read), but these three are some of my favorites that I like to reread again and again, learning something new from them each time. I imagine that I will probably always reread them.
Do you know any good books on writing? Share them in the comments!