There comes a time in every aspiring writer’s life that they decide they want to learn writing from the best writers out there.
And that means reading books on writing by successful and well-loved authors.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options to choose from.
It seems that nearly every successful and established writer has written (at some point in time) a book about writing …
…or the writing process…
… or the craft of writing…
…or how they made it as a writer.
And it makes sense, after all.
What would make more sense than for a writer (and a successful one at that) to write a book on how to write?
So, you’re fortunate …
But also not so fortunate if you don’t know where to start and whom to read when you’re looking for tips on how to start writing and how to become a better writer.
What makes a good book on writing?
First of all, there are two main types of books on writing.
1. Practical Books on Writing
The first is the type with a lot of practical advice …
You might even call these writing books a kind of a how-to.
You will find a lot of books in this category and a lot of books written by established authors …
But they might not be the best authors …
Let me explain by talking about the second type of book on writing.
2. Books on the Writing Life
The second type of book — and the type I think is really the best kind of book on writing — is the one that does not just have a bunch of specific tips on how to become a better writer.
It does far more than that.
It focuses on how to live as a writer.
While practical tips on writing are helpful, they can be found pretty much anywhere.
You do a simple Google search and you’ll find so many tips on writing!
Thousands of them.
You’ll find very practical and good writing tips …
So many, in fact, that there’s no way a single writer can possibly implement them all.
But the best books on writing (and the ones from authors that I really love) are books about how to live as a writer and how that mentality or approach filters into pretty much every area of one’s life.
So in this review of several books on how to become a better writer, I’m going to provide both kinds of books.
This way, depending on what you’re looking for, you’ll have someplace to start.
7 Terrific Books on the Writing Life
This is not a comprehensive list of the best books on writing …
Because I haven’t read all the books on writing out there, and I’m only reviewing and listing ones that I have personally read to date.
This means that I might revisit this post in the future and add more books as I read them.
But for now, these are not only the best books on writing that I’ve read …
But they’re also the best books on living creatively and with the mindset of being a purposeful writer.
Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson
I absolutely love this book!
While part of the reason is that I was already familiar with both the songs and the fiction works of Andrew Peterson (i.e. The Wingfeather Saga), the greater reason is that this is an amazing book about writing and living.
I love how the author speaks freely and fearlessly of the darkness and the shadow side of life …
But he also speaks into it.
In other words, he does not stop in those dark spaces …
And it is the very fact that he shines a light into dark, shadowed places that inspires me as a writer to have the courage to do the same.
If you are familiar with Andrew Peterson, you’ll know that he writes with both humor and heart …
And that his writing reflects deep truths while highlighting great beauty.
He acknowledges the brokenness of this world … the fears and the deep challenges we face (not just as writers and creatives but just as people living in a broken world).
And if you buy the print version of this book, there’s something unique you might notice about it that isn’t common on many books.
But I’ll let you discover that on your own.
Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
You might notice that many of my favorite authors are those who write across genres.
They also write both fiction and nonfiction.
Madeleine L’Engle is one such writer …
Not only a writer but a philosopher and deep thinker.
Although the idea of the highly sensitive person was only a “thing” as of the mid-1990s when Elaine Aron wrote The Highly Sensitive Person, there are clear signs of Madeleine L’Engle as a highly sensitive person.
I’ve come to recognize this trait in a variety of writers and creatives, and I think this is not a coincidence.
But back to the book.
Madeleine L’Engle had previously written on various aspects of creativity and the creative process in her Crosswicks Journals, particularly A Circle of Quiet.
In Walking on Water, however, she has garnered several more years of living and experiences from which she writes fearlessly and is not afraid to say things that perhaps her younger self might not have had the freedom to write.
It makes me like her book all the more.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird is probably one of the most well-known books on writing.
If you’ve read any list of the best writing books by established authors, you’ve undoubtedly seen it suggested.
There’s a reason for this.
It’s such a great book on writing. And speaking of honesty, I love how Anne Lamott shoots straight as far as the neuroses and similar challenges that aspiring writers and authors face.
She writes with humor and candidness, with a mixture of the sacred and the profane that makes this work memorable and encouraging to aspiring writers (and people who wonder if their writing is ever going to take off).
Beate Not the Poore Desk by Walter Wangerin Jr.
Walter Wangerin Jr. strikes me as someone who writes not just from the theory of writing but from the dredges of life itself.
And yet …
He is so well versed in the theory and craft of writing that both aspects come together seamlessly in both his fiction and nonfiction works.
Yes, he is yet another writer who writes fiction and nonfiction and in various genres, including a “children’s” book titled Potter (which I guarantee you will not be able to read through without weeping … in a good way).
I love how in Wangerin’s works, particularly his fiction works but also nonfiction, he is unafraid to deal with sorrow and yet not give in to it completely.
Let’s face it …
There are plenty of writers and creatives who deal with depression, anxiety, and often forms of addiction.
They seem almost par for the course for the often highly sensitive and impressionable creative.
While some of his other works, such as Wounds Are Where the Light Enters and focus more on this, Beate Not the Poore Desk includes a lot of practical tips on writing as well as useful insights on living as a creative.
Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire
This was one of the earliest books on creativity that I read.
It had a deep and lasting impression on me because it was the book that gave me “permission” to see myself as a writer …
And to recognize the experiences in my life that led me toward the place I am now.
Ken Gire has written a lot of wonderful nonfiction. He writes with a keen sensitivity and grace (yes, he’s another highly sensitive person) …
And as he is also someone I’ve worked with personally, I can attest that he is one of the kindest and most sincere people I’ve met.
This is a book more about living than writing …
About learning to see yourself and others in a new way …
A way that makes all the difference.
Letters from the Mountain by Ben Palpant
I can’t say enough good about this book.
It’s a new one, just released last year, so chances are you haven’t read it yet …
And you might not have heard of the author Ben Palpant …
But you would do well to acquaint yourself with his works, starting with Letters from the Mountain, which is written as a series of letters from father to daughter on the theme of the writing life.
Each chapter touches on a different aspect of the writing life, and each chapter is so terrific that it surprises me when the next chapter is just as good!
He discusses relevant issues that writers face in their daily life and has a unique gift of being practical while addressing spiritual and emotional matters.
The book covers (among other topics) time, anxiety, craftmanship, organization, contentment vs. ambition and community.
It’s a terrific book I would recommend to every writer.
Lifting the Veil by Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite is a poet and instructor, and this book highlights poetry and other creative works (including visual art) to offer a defense of the imagination.
He discusses just how important — vital, in fact — the imagination is in the act of creativity.
And discusses where that spark of creativity must come from if one is to write in an effective and lasting manner.
I love how he quotes both well-known poets (Coleridge, Yeats, Blake) as well as lesser-known modern writers whose works are no less powerful.
5 Practical Books on Writing
And now for a list of some of the more practical books I have read on writing that were helpful, insightful, and informational.
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Masse
While this book focuses more on fiction, it is truly insightful in a lot of areas.
Having been written by someone actively involved in the publishing world, it is doubly helpful.
Donald Masse provides handy information about what works and what doesn’t if you are thinking of going the road of traditional publishing …
As well as how to become a better writer whether or not you are going to self-publish or seek an agent for traditional publication.
One very helpful part of the book is when the author describes how to weave mood and tone into the setting of a story …
I read this book a decade ago and it helped me realize just how much could be accomplished with words.
The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
I picked up this book at a recommendation from an English professor.
It took a long time to get through it because this book discusses more the mechanics of writing …
But it is a very helpful book with practical information on becoming a better writer.
The author gives a lot of examples of what doesn’t work and why, as well as what does, and he writes with humor that makes the book — although lengthy — an easy read.
First Paragraphs by Donald Newlove
This book, along with Newlove’s book Invented Voices, are insightful glimpses into “what works” as far as inspired and skilled writing.
Newlove takes the reader through a number of excerpts from authors of books — some more and some less well-known — to show how to write inspired and powerful beginnings to stories.
This description from Goodreads is apt:
By catching at full bloom the talents of great writers, he inspires and instructs the rest of us to shake off artifice and safety and invent voices that are rich, real, and from the heart.Goodreads
The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke
I picked up this book half a dozen years ago at a writers’ conference but didn’t read it for the longest time.
I thought it was a book geared toward extroverted writers, which I am definitely not.
When I finally opened it, though, I realized it was the opposite!
It’s a book recognizing that many (if not most) writers are not extroverted but recommending that they work to build their platform despite their reluctance …
With some great advice and practical tips on how to build a platform, with a chapter focusing on each major social media platform.
Structuring Your Novel by Robert C. Meredith & John D. Fitzgerald
This is a little bit of an older book, but a good one.
The authors take the reader through over a dozen elements necessary to structuring a novel and offer examples from a number of well-known books.
There are also exercises to help you create your theme, refine your plot, develop your characters, and craft a unique story.