My Top 12 Books On Writing


I love to read books on writing. These are not just books on grammar and style. They can be how-to guides, memoirs on the craft, workbooks, inspiring journals, and reference books. They confirm what I do know about the subject and they also manage to teach me so much that I do not know.

I believe that it is also important to read more than you write. It is the only way that you will have the knowledge and vocabulary to become a competent writer. If you read 1 000 books before you try to write your first book, you have a fighting chance of becoming a published writer.

I have compiled a list of my favourite go-to books on writing below. I would love to know which ones you like in the comments section.

1.  The English Handbook and Study Guide by Beryl Lutrin and Marcelle Pincus. This is the most useful, user-friendly comprehensive English reference book I have ever read. It lives next to my computer.

2.  On Writing by Stephen King. King has written an inspiring memoir about how he became a writer. You do not have to like his novels to enjoy this book. You will find yourself feeling less alone and frantically highlighting sentences that resonate on every page. Favourite quote: 'If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.'

3.  Flip Dictionary by Barbara Kipfer. If you know what you want to say, but you can't think of the word, this is the book for you.  It goes beyond the standard reverse dictionary format to offer dozens of charts and tables, listing groups by subject.

4.  A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. I carry this book with me everywhere I go. Judy Reeves provides the perfect content to nourish a writer's soul. It is filled with writing advice and writing insights, inspirational quotations and daily prompts. It is a book that every writer should own. Favourite quote: 'Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that if I don’t make the time to do the writing, the writing won’t get done.' 

5.  The Art of Baby Nameology by Norma J Watts. If you're looking for a name for a character, this is a great reference book. It includes name meanings as well as how numerology affects the name you choose.

6.  Bullies, Bastards & Bitches by Jessica Page Morrell. This book is your all-encompassing bad-guy compendium to tapping into any character's dark side. Favourite quote: 'Fiction can, and should, mimic life, with all its messes and discomfort and disquiet. Fiction should also prove just how complicated and troubled many people are.'

7.  The Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer by James V Smith. Find out what best-selling authors have in common. Why do they sell? Is it a coincidence? I love the statistics. It is a brilliant guide for beginner writers, with lots of tangible tips and techniques.

8.  How to write a damn good novel by James N Frey. This is one of a writing teacher's best friends. Frey knows how to write and he is happy to share his knowledge with aspiring writers. His style is clever, funny and engaging. Favourite quote: 'Novel writing is like heroin addiction; it takes everything you've got.'

9.  Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller & Suzanne Paola. This is an excellent reference book for writing a good memoir.

10.  Between You and I: A Little Book of Bad English by James Cochrane. This is an informative and amusing little book about bad English. It is full of examples of the incorrect grammar and usage that pervades all aspects of modern society, including Internet comments, radio broadcasts, online articles, newspaper articles, and political speeches.


11. The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. It doesn't matter what kind of writer you are. Novelist? Non-Fiction? Academic? Memoirist? Report Writer? Anybody who has ever written anything? This is a useful, compact volume for improving your writing. More than 100 years old, it remains one of the best grammar and style guides. Favourite quote: 'Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.' 

12.  On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Zinsser offers some of the most practical writing advice I have ever read. Favourite quote:  'We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon… Beware of all the slippery new fad words: paradigm and parameter, prioritise and potentialise. They are all weeds that will smother what you write. Don’t dialogue with someone you can talk to. Don’t interface with anybody.' 

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on PinterestFacebook,  Google+,  Tumblr  and Twitter. 

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate
    17 responses
    Add Zinger's "Writning to Learn" And Anne Dillard, "The Writing Life""
    That's William Zinsser! Autocorrect strikes again
    King's "On Writing" and Zinsser's "On Writing Well". I also have the following two books as desk companions: Writer's Guide To Character Traits by Linda Edelstein and The Emotion Thesaurus by Ackerman and Puglisi. Thank you for all your posts.
    Consider "Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular" by Rust Hills
    On Writing is awesome! I've also been helped by Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Does anyone have good sources for how to show and not tell? I'm not sure if I understand the concept fully (English is my second language, and I have dysexecutive syndrome)...
    Devin, you may want to read this series, http://writerswrite.co.za/five-incredibly-simpl...
    You overlooked three that transformed me from amateur to accomplished pro: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and two by Donald Maass: Fire in Fiction and 21st Century Fiction. Do not miss these three.
    Two of my favorites: In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit; Your Life as Story: Discovering the "New Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature by Tristine Rainer
    Thank you for adding your suggestions and favourites. The more we have to read the better.
    8 visitors upvoted this post.