Great books for writers to read

Brilliant Books to Read if You Want to be a Better Writer

You want to be a better writer.

But there are masses of books about writing and creativity out there. (A quick search on shows over half a million results for books on writing, and over 30,000 on creativity.)

Some are motivating, helpful and wise, and others are long-winded, dreary and humour-free.

So here are six suggestions of books to help improve your writing that are actually worth reading.

As well as inspiring and reassuring you, they’ll hopefully entertain you, too.

Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Lifeby Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird regularly features on lists of Great Books for Writers to Read. And rightly so. Anne Lamott’s collection of what she knows about writing is raw, practical and very funny. She covers the nuts and bolts of writing, shares her thoughts about how all decent writing starts with ‘shitty first drafts’, and describes the reality of being published. (It’s not as lucrative, or satisfying, as you’d think.) She’s also surprisingly candid about the fact that, like Morrissey, she too hates it when her (writer) friends become successful.

Creative Mischief by Dave Trott

Dave Trott’s a successful and much-lauded advertising copywriter. But the wisdom he shares in this compact volume of pithy stories and observations, applies to pretty much anyone doing anything creative. As you’d expect of someone whose career’s focused on using words to sell, he’s playful, sharp and his chapter titles are intriguing. They include: ‘Hitler’s socks’, ‘There’s a lot of energy in being naughty’ and ‘It’s better than real, it’s fake’. Trott urges you to stop trudging down the path of least mental effort. Instead, he wants you to look at situations, problems and opportunities with a beady and more challenging eye.

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bus driver, tree surgeon or poet, writing well is all about having the right tools. That’s what Roy Peter Clark argues in this witty and good-natured book. It’s crammed full of tweaks and techniques for clearer, more concise and more vivid writing. And Clark uses lots of examples, so it’s easy to understand exactly what he’s getting at. Each section ends with a handful of exercises, so you can put what you’ve learnt into practice straight away.

The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self by Julia Cameron

Devotees consider this 12-week, spirituality-infused course about ‘unleashing your inner artist’ life-changing. The unconvinced think it’s a load of New Age claptrap. Whichever camp you end up joining, there’s no denying that Cameron’s incredibly encouraging and empathetic. So if earthly concerns like self doubt, self sabotage and money worries are getting in the way of your writing, it’s worth putting the woo woo to one side and giving it a try. The cornerstones of Cameron’s method are morning pages – daily stream of consciousness writing. And artists’ dates – treating yourself to activities that feed your creativity.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ Gilbert draws heavily on her own experiences in this meditation on creativity. Big Magic covers some of the same ground as The Artist’s Way (feeling like you’re not good enough, the pressure to earn money from your creative efforts and dealing with naysayers). But there are no exercises, and Gilbert’s no earth mother type, so it’s much less tree-huggy. She’s supportive, but has no time for whingers and is sometimes sweary. For Gilbert, creative living’s not about saying sayonara to your day job so you can focus on being a tortured artist. It’s about ‘living a life that’s driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.’

On Writing by Stephen King

In King’s words, the excellent On Writing’s ‘…an attempt to put down briefly and simply how I came to the craft, what I know about it now and how it’s done.’ Like Bird by Bird, it’s part unflinching autobiography, part how-to manual and often appears on lists of great books for writers. King comes from the ‘just sit down and get on with it’ school of writing guidance, and his prime rule is ‘…write a lot, and read a lot’. So, unsurprisingly, there are two appendices with lengthy lists of diverse books that he rates. They range from classics like Oliver Twist, to modern children’s fiction like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Now it’s over to you, dear reader. What do you think are great books for writers to read?

Dawn is an ace wordsmith with a background in arts journalism – writing features and book, food, film, TV, theatre and stand-up comedy reviews. She has also written speeches for politicians, and is a skilled business writer who’s drafted and edited content for the Scottish Government’s website.

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