It’s true what they say: the best way to become a better writer is to write. It can be very tempting to spend all your time learning and consuming and processing rather than actually doing anything, so it’s important to check in with yourself and make sure you aren’t using reading books, taking courses, and consuming content to “hone your craft” as a way to get out of actually writing. (Hey, we’ve all been there. It’s just an annoying thing we do.)
However, when you pair consistent writing with advice and education, it can be a magical combination.
I love hearing the perspectives of other writers. It’s extremely helpful to expand your mind on storytelling and technique by exploring how other writers approach the craft. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to write. It’s an art and art is subjective. But we all want to get better at our craft and taking into account the experience and advice of others is one way to improve our game. It keeps your mind sharp when you give new methods a try. Of course, it’s always your choice what advice you ultimately want to keep and what you want to disregard.
Below are five of my favorite books on writing that had the greatest impact on me and that I still occasionally return to for a refresher.
5 Must-Read Books on Writing
Story by Robert McKee
Though this book focuses on screenwriting, I found Story to be invaluable in learning about story structure overall, whether you’re writing a book or a screenplay. There are a lot of gems in this that get to the root of what works in storytelling and what doesn’t. He teaches you how to craft a compelling story that is fueled by your characters.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
On Writing is featured on virtually every list of must-read books for writers. That’s because it’s damn good. Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers in history and passes on what he’s learned along the way, getting very real about his process and what it takes to be a writer.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic isn’t specifically about the craft of writing but rather about the experience of being a writer (or any kind of creative). Living a creative life is not without its challenges, most of which are caused by our own internal demons whose sole purpose seems to be to keep us from creating. Elizabeth Gilbert, who I adore, captures this experience with such clarity that I think every reader probably feels as though she has been inside their brain. Besides coming to the comforting realization that you aren’t alone in this crazy experience of being a creative person, she also offers a plethora of pearls of wisdom to help you navigate the pitfalls more gracefully so you may enjoy the process more often than not.
The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction by Barnaby Conrad
The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction was the first book on writing that I read as a teenager. My mom gave it to me and it helped me begin to take writing seriously. It’s a great crash course in all things writing because it’s a collaboration between multiple successful authors offering their different perspectives on everything from character building and dialogue to plotting a story and dealing with writer’s block. Hearing from a wide variety of voices not only gives you a rich overview of the craft but also shows you how that there isn’t just one way to do it. It reminds you to learn the rules so you can break them like an artist.
The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider Secrets from Hollywod’s Top Writers by Karl Iglesias
The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters is another collaboration effort, this time specifically with screenwriters. However, while the book is targeted to screenwriters, there is a lot of valuable information in it for writers of all kinds. The book mainly focuses on the overall craft of storytelling that applies to every format. Again, I love hearing from a variety of writers because you get a more well-rounded education on each topic and it encourages you to develop your own unique process.
I have more recommendations in my Writer’s Shop. What books on writing had the most impact on you as a writer and storyteller? Let me know in the comments!