Although writing skills can be sharpened and although writing comes naturally for most people, good writing skills have to be learned.
Some writers become good by consistently writing and learning from mistakes. However, not all of us are going to become good writers without insights from established writers.
If you want to sharpen your writing skills, you need to supplement that consistent writing with reading.
So, here are the 10 best books you can use to improve your writing. I have listed different books for different types of writers, and I guarantee you will find a book that will improve your writing skills.
For example, if you’re a creative writer, Stein on Writing by Sol Stein might be ideal for you, and if you’re a nonfiction writer, On Writing by William Zinsser is probably ideal for you.
Let’s get started.
The Best 10 Books That Will Improve Your Writing
Stein On Writing by Sol Stein
Best for creative writers
Sol Stein was a man who knew the publishing world inside out and a literary legend who worked with countless other legends, including James Baldwin, Dylan Thomas, and David Frost, among others.
Stein On Writing isn’t an ordinary book, it’s not a book made by someone who is just after a quick buck. This is a book full of wisdom and practical tips for writers at every level.
To describe the books using Stein’s own words, “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions–how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.”
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Best for fiction writers
Written by the king of horror, this is a book you pick up when you want to perfect your art as a fiction writer.
This is another literary great using his experiences, habits, and convictions to light your way to becoming a successful fiction writer.
In this part-memoir, part-guidebook, King details “a practical view of the writer’s craft” and discusses the basic/must-have tools of the wordsmith trade. King wraps the tips and advice in his childhood memories, his time as a budding writer, and the accident that almost took his life in 1999.
You have to read it, and while I can specifically recommend it for aspiring writers, I also have to say that it’s an empowering book for writers at every level of this trade.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
If you want to teach something, originality is key, and that’s what I like about Anne Lamott. If you don’t know how the title relates to writing, you will by the time you finish reading this original and effective opening paragraph:
“Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Anne Lamott shows us that although we have to take our work seriously, we don’t have to inflict depression and pain on ourselves by trying to be perfect.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Best for aspiring writers
Zen in the Art of Writing explores the creative process behind some of the most famous works of literature, including The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, and more.
Zen in the Art of Writing is one of the most influential books for a reason. It’s not just because it was written by a great author, but also because it is impactful.
In this book, Bradbury discusses his own experiences of writing and gives insights into the art of storytelling.
The advice from Bradbury is simple and unique, “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me… I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces back together. Now it’s your turn. Jump!”
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Best for non-fiction
William Zinsser was everything that every nonfiction writer aspires to be. He was an experienced journalist, editor, teacher, and literary critic, among other things.
In the book, William Zinsser offers advice on how to write concisely, persuasively, and effectively.
Whether you write about travel, business, sports, science and technology, memoirs, or art, this is an indispensable guide to writing well.
Not only will the book show you how to organize your thoughts and improve your grammar and spelling, but it will also teach you how to communicate your ideas more powerfully than you have before.
The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark
Best for non-native English writers
Grammar plays a vital role in writing. It helps writers communicate effectively with their readers.
In some cases, bad grammar is a sign of unprofessionalism and hints of quackery.
This book is not something your teacher will use to teach grammar, but I can assure you that it’s ten times better than most academic books.
Peter Clark uses short but effective chapters to divulge the secrets that will surely improve your mastery of the Queen’s language, teaching his reader how to communicate effectively in any situation.
The book covers grammar rules, vocabulary, pronunciation, sentence structure, punctuation, and much more.
This is the book for every writing student—this is the book you need to know to make yourself understood every time you write.
The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
Best for Expository Writers
In this book, bestselling author and linguistics professor Steven Pinker tackles one of the biggest challenges facing today’s writers—the problem of clarity and style.
Pinker uses “insights from the sciences of language and mind” to explain why so much bad writing occurs, then provides readers with tools to avoid it.
With his trademark wit and insight, Pinker demystifies grammar, talks about how the curse of knowledge affects our writing, shows us why we should care about each word and phrase, and tells us to look to the classic style for inspiration.
The Elements Of Style by William Strunk And E. B. White
Best for New creative writers
For creative writers, your imagination and the story are as good as your English. You cannot be a good creative writer without concise English, grammatical structure, and error-free paragraphs.
This book is only about 70 pages long, but, unlike its size, the impact that it will have on your writing is great.
And you won’t be the first beneficiary either. With over 10 million copies sold since 1918, there have been many testimonies of the book’s simple but effective tips.
You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins
Best for content creators & bloggers
Jeff Goins is a bestselling author, speaker, blogger, and entrepreneur, among other things. Jeff has managed to turn his writing talent into a money-making career, and he is one of the new-age writers that you have to listen to if you want a successful writing career.
In this book, Goins uses his own story and his journey to becoming a professional writer to provide insights on how to improve writing, get published, turn yourself into a brand, and take charge of your work.
To be all these things, Goins recommends being a writer first, and his advice is raw:
“It’s time to kill the excuses and start writing. Time to become a writer again. Not a marketer or an entrepreneur. Not a blogger or businessperson. A writer. A real one.”
Story Genius by Lisa Cron
Best for Novelists and Storytellers
It doesn’t matter how thick your book is or how good your grammar is if your story isn’t rich, logical, and engrossing.
This book is a goldmine for anyone who wants to become the best in the science or art of storytelling.
In Story Genius, Lisa Cron shares the techniques that she has discovered and developed throughout her career. She takes you through the entire novel creation process—from coming up with the story’s idea to a finalized draft.
I did not find a lot of content on brain science as suggested by the title, but I did find tips that helped me rediscover aspects of the writing process, and it was describing the mechanics of my own story to me.
The 6 Major Attributes You Need to Develop as a Writer
Passion has to be present in everything you do. Passion is something that cannot be taught. Some people get it naturally, and others have to work hard to develop their passion.
If you want to become a writer, then you need to develop a passion for writing. When you write about what you love, you’ll find yourself doing it over and over again.
So you don’t always have to worry about ideas or lack of interest because you love what you are writing about.
Imagination is what makes the stories better; your ability to create something out of nothing means there will be plenty of stories or topics to write about.
We use imagination to make sense of things we don’t understand, solve problems, learn about ourselves, and connect with others. But when it comes to writing, imagination isn’t just useful, it’s necessary. Without it, there are no stories to tell.
In writing, imagination is the first step toward developing the story or any other content. You need to imagine the content before you can actually write it. In fact, if you can’t imagine the content, your draft won’t get very far.
Persistence is the third major attribute you need to develop as a writer. Writing takes time and effort. There’s no way around it.
But persistence means sticking with it even when things get tough. Writing every day, regardless of whether you want to or not, will separate you from the rest by a mile.
So, keep going until you’ve finished your first draft.
Patience is the third major attribute you need to build as a writer, and it’s a bit similar to the previous one. Writing requires patience. You’ll spend hours upon hours drafting and editing.
Don’t give up early. Keep working on your manuscript until you’re happy with it.
5. Grammar skills
I don’t need to say this because we all know that grammar skills are the foundation of writing.
Grammar skills act like guidelines that help writers develop their own style and voice. If you want to become a great writer, then you need to learn how to use these rules correctly and effectively.
6. Reading & research skills
Research skills are essential in any writer’s toolbox. You need them to understand what you are writing about. To develop these skills, you need to read widely, write down ideas, ask questions, and travel.
Will Reading Books Improve My Writing?
Reading books is great for improving your writing skills. If you read about different topics, you will be able to think about what you want to say from different angles. The more you read, the easier it becomes for you to express yourself through writing.
However, not all books on writing will help you become a better writer. Some books won’t help you improve, not because they’re badly written or have false teachings, but because the books are designed for different writers in different genres and levels.
Some books focus on grammar rules, others on how to write better stories, and some of the other books listed in this article focus on teaching the structure of formal nonfiction writing.
Plus, there are beginner-level books, books for intermediate levels, and others for experienced writers.
These ten books are surely going to improve your writing skills. But, the most important thing to know about writing well is that it takes practice and persistence.
If you want to write well, a book such as our top pick Stein on Writing by Sol Stein will get you on the right track, but remember, you must not only read but write often. Write your first drafts quickly. Don’t worry too much about grammar or spelling—you’ll fix those later.
And don’t try to impress people with your vocabulary. They won’t care. What they will appreciate is that you took the time to understand what you were trying to say.