There are a lot of books on writing.  I have not read them all, but I very well may before the next four or five years are up.  I still feel inadequate, even after authoring two books and many short stories.  I don’t know if that is writer’s neurosis or if it is the fact I know there is a lot I don’t know.  That is why I keep reading and studying books about writing.  It was tempting to save Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for this category but I don’t think her book is about writing as much as it is the artists life.  Of course, I could be wrong.

Here I mean books that actually instruct on nuts and bolts, dos and don’ts of writing.  There are three that stand head and shoulders above the rest, in my honest opinion.

The Elements of Style (Illustrated), Strunk/White/Kalman

Let me put the cards on the table.  It is just the tiny Strunk and White that is the real help to the writer, but I adore the illustrated version that came out a few years ago.  It makes me laugh.Elements of sTyle Cover

It just strikes me as impossible for any writer to seriously discharge his or her duties without Strunk and White nearby.  How else would we keep things in our stories from being incorrectly labeled as inflammable?

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King

I wish I’d read this book before I wrote my first book.  Seriously, that book would have been much better had I know all the important things in this book.  It covers everything from voice, point of view, dialogue, and the oh-so-important and often referred to catch-all called show don’t tell.  If anyone wants to be a fiction writer and could only pick one book–pick this one.  It even tells you how to use curse words–if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Edited by Larry Phillips

Okay, Hemingway didn’t really write this book as one sits down to write it.  This guy named Phillips sifted through Hemingway’s letters, articles and anything else he could find and pulled out things Papa said about writing.  It is a treasure.  Hemingway was a violent, womanizing, amoral man but he knew his craft and a lot can be learned by watching him work.  Consider this little gem:

The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings.  First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write.  Both take a lifetime to learn (p. 26).

Some of you out there might have your favorite writing books.  I’d like to know what they are in case it is something I’ve not read and which would be a help to me.  I can always use the help.





  1. Good list. Strangely, I enjoyed Stephen King’s book as much as any I’ve ever read. I cut my teeth on Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron.

    • i can so see you with the zen of writing thing. awesome mental image joe. i might need some of that to rub off on me before i perfect my writing style.

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