A common association with nonfiction books written about writing is that they read like a manual: lifeless and instructional. When I picked up On Writing Well by William Zinsser, I basically expected a grammar textbook with a few style tips. What I found instead was a totally different genre, filled with humor, anecdotes and passion. I liked it so much that I began reading other books on writing, slowing acquiring my own collection.
Whether you’re looking to get published, or are simply curious about the writing process, here are five of my favorite books on writing I recommend any aspiring writer check out:
In this writer’s guide, Anne Lamott incorporates humor and stories of her life to give her best tips on writing. Her tone is natural and honest, almost as if she’s sitting across from you chatting over brunch. My favorite element of the book was that it extended far beyond the realms of writing and discussed how to stay sane amid an unpredictable world. Lamott’s resonating advice is to take life day by day (or bird by bird), and tackle adversity as it comes.
2. Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury
This piece comes from an acclaimed author who worked on fantasy, science fiction and mystery stories much of his career. Ray Bradbury’s guide to writing is told with spunk and exuberance in this collection of short essays. He not only gives tips on writing, but commends the craft as a whole for its rewarding qualities. Bradbury inspires the average reader to pick up a pen and begin a first draft. One of my favorite quotes comes from Bradbury’s book: “You must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.”
3. On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft, Stephen King
As a die-hard fan of Stephen King, I fell completely in love with this nonfiction piece. King takes readers back to his childhood, recounting humorous stories of how he became acquainted with writing. He continues the book by talking about his drug addiction and how breaking free from its grasp enhanced his voice in his novels. I enjoy this piece for its honesty and insight into the human experience. After reading this book, I never again looked at King as just a famous author. He shows what it means to be human, and how writing is essential to that existence.
4. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, William Zinsser
William Zinsser’s writer’s guide is unique in that he exhibits the real truth behind writing: it sucks. He doesn’t sugar-coat the process of writing and revision, but instead emphasizes the importance of taking the time to work through each piece of writing with consideration. He uses dozens of examples from acclaimed essayists to support his conclusion that good writing takes time (and maybe even a few tears).
5. If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, Brenda Ueland
Brenda Ueland was a journalist and editor in the early 1900’s who understood writing as a form of expression above all else. A strong advocate of telling the truth in journalism, Ueland expresses her integrity through her tips on writing. But more than that, she encourages readers to find their creative genius by living a creative and independent lifestyle. This guide is a quick read, roughly 160 pages, but teaches lessons applicable for the ages.
Which books get you most excited to write?
Share some of your recommended reads for aspiring writers in the comments below!