There are no rules to writing. There is no instruction manual that will magically make us better writers. We all know this. But that doesn’t mean there’s no benefit in reading books about the craft of writing.
A few weeks back someone asked me what books I would recommend that other writers read, and today I’m going to answer that question. These are all books that have helped me tremendously as a writer, and I believe they might help you as well.
Okay, so yeah, you probably saw this one coming a mile away. It’s the granddaddy of all style books, and it still retains a place of well deserved honor at the top of the heap.
I remember the first time I found The Elements of Style in the college library. I took it to a table and just started to read. It pulled me in like very few books ever have.
And I can’t explain it exactly. The book is essentially a litany of grammar rules and advice about writing well, but somehow it weaves a web of magic all it’s own that is sure to entrap anyone with a love of words.
In recent years I’ve read some criticism of The Elements of Style based on the idea that the rules and guidelines presented there are too strict, too authoritarian. While some of that criticism may have merit, it misses the larger point. The theme of the book can be boiled down into two simple words: be clear.
And that is one writing rule we would all do well to follow.
This book ruined my life. It was the very first book I picked up after I started writing in earnest and it was crammed full of useful writing advice. The problem came when I started reading fiction books after I read Self Editing for Fiction Writers.
I found myself saying, “Woah, hey buddy, easy on the adverbs,” and “Just say, ‘said’ already! It’s not a dirty word!” Reading this book was my first experience with the idea that writing could change the way I read.
And while Self Editing for Fiction Writers may not quite have had the same magic for me as The Elements of Style would, its simple no-nonsense advice helped set me on the right direction when it came to writing readable prose.
3. On Writing
This little memoir/writing guide isn’t quite like other writing books. It’s true that there’s some writing advice in there, but it’s a very personal kind of advice.
This isn’t a book I would recommend following to the letter. For instance Stephen King eschews the concept of outlining pretty vehemently, but that doesn’t mean you should throw out the idea of outlining; you should do what works best for you.
But what this book does provide is a view of the world though King’s own eyes, a compelling story about his own journey as a writer. In a sense On Writing is a love letter to writing itself. And for that fact alone it is well worth your time.
This is a book I picked up sometime last year, and I absolutely loved it. There’s nothing really sensational I can say about the content of the book. Much of the advice was stuff I’d already read in other places before.
But it was so much fun to read. If you’re a beginning writer looking for a good foundation of writing principles, I highly recommend checking this book out. The author does a great job of reminding the reader that he is giving guidelines, not rules, and in some cases he even points out when doing the opposite of what he had recommended might make for a better choice.
Also, if you do not enjoy reading this book you can feed it to your dog. My dog ate this book, and he gave it five stars on the taste scale.
So those are my top four recommendations of books writers should read. It is by no means exhaustive; there were several books I wanted to include, but didn’t for the sake of space and time.
Do you all have any suggestions for me? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment and let me know what your favourite writing book is, and why.