My 10 Favorite Books on Writing

I realized belatedly that maybe I should have picked a snappier, less self-centered title, like 10 Books On Writing You Must Read in Order to Not Be a Total Asshole, but, whatever, too late now.)

A friend recently asked for my favorite books on the craft of writing. I had originally intended to go through these volumes in detail, one at a time, but nothing else about this blog has gone how I intended, so here’s my short list. I’ll probably have more to say on each of them later. I’ve already talked about Zen in the Art of Writing in detail, so I won’t say more about it here (other than “buy and read it”).

In no particular order, then:

Strunk & White (William Strunk & E.B. White) and Spunk & Bite (Arthur Plotnik)

The former will teach you the most venerable rules of grammar. The latter will teach you how, why, and when you should subvert them. Learn the former before pursuing the latter. I beg you.

On Writing (Stephen King)

Homespun advice from one of the most commercially successful authors of all time, in the easy vernacular that made him so readable. You can’t really go wrong.

Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg)

I keep this book around when I want to feel inspired. Not a lot of technical advice, but cultivates passion and enthusiasm.

Characters and Viewpoint (Orson Scott Card)

I don’t generally enjoy Card’s fiction, and to say I disagree with his politics would be a dire understatement — but this book is really good. If you can swallow giving the guy your money, pick up this volume. It’s still the best book on characters I’ve read.

Techniques of the Selling Writer (Dwight V. Swain)

Written in 1965 and still relevant, this book covers everything from structure and conflict to planning and characterization. It’s jam-packed with great advice.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) (Jack. M. Bickham)

A thin, concise, easy-to-read list of classic fiction gaffes. If you’re a beginning writer, you’ll probably find yourself guilty of more than one. Great bathroom reading.

The Art of War for Writers (James Scott Bell)

Wry, clever writing advice delivered in a fun new way: through the context of Sun Tzu. This thing is a treasure trove.

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead (Ariel Gore)

It’s a bit of a cliche to describe a book on writing as being written “from the trenches,” but Ariel Gore’s book reads like that. It’s full of hard-nosed advice and scruffy charm. Especially recommended for people thinking about getting into self-publishing.