11 best books on writing

The 12 Best Books on Writing I’ve Ever Read

8 Jun 2015 The Writing Craft

Regardless how many books I’ve written (nearly 200) and sold (over 70 million), I fear if I’m not learning, I’m stagnating.

My late mother was a convincing example of one who never believed she had arrived. Mom was not only a piano teacher well into her eighties, but she was also a piano student.

So it’s the memory of my mother that spurs me also to keep reading everything there is to read—especially about writing.

The books below (in alpha order by author) represent a fraction of those available. You could read one per day for the rest of your life and not exhaust the resources. But, in my opinion, these are the best books on writing available.

Some require wearing your big kid pants due to language, which I have noted.

12 Books Every Aspiring Author Should Read

1. The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work

By Marie Arana

This book came from ten years of Ms. Arana’s Washington Post Book World column. More than fifty fiction and nonfiction authors share how they discovered they were writers and how they work. I was fascinated by what pleases and annoys them. Arana also profiles each writer.

Click here to get the book.

2. Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish

By James Scott Bell (friend and colleague)

Anything but a dry textbook, this breezy guide is from a former trial lawyer who keeps you entertained while covering basics like how plot impacts structure, the difference between popular and literary fiction, and how to serve as your own book doctor.

Click here to get the book.

3. Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors

By Brandilyn Collins (friend and colleague)

Calling on her theater training, Collins teaches bringing characters to life the way actors do on stage. She draws on the Method Acting approach to explain and adapt characterization techniques for novelists.

Click here to get the book.

4. The Writing Life

By Annie Dillard

Dillard’s hauntingly ethereal prose soars even when she’s writing about writing. That’s rare. I resonate with her honesty about how grueling the craft can be. This is one of the best books on writing available.

Click here to get the book.

5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft [language]

By Stephen King (acquaintance)

At the risk of hyperbole, there’s so much to recommend here that I hardly know where to begin. Besides all the practical advice, you get King’s own rags-to-riches story in his inimitable voice. You learn a ton while being wildly entertained.

Click here to get the book.

6. How to Write Bestselling Fiction [mild language]

By Dean Koontz

I’m not overstating it that this book changed my life. It informed the way I wrote the Left Behind series, which has sold more than 60 million copies and still sells six figures every year, nearly a decade since the last title was released. I use this as a textbook when I teach writing.

Click here to get the book.

7. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life [language]

By Anne Lamott

Lamott has you howling with laughter one minute and weeping the next as she recounts, with brutal honesty, the joys and travails of the writing life, single parenting, overcoming addiction, and coming to faith.

Click here to get the book.

8. Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level

By Donald Maass

An agent challenges you to do more than just spin a yarn, but to also think “big concept,” tackle major themes, and write life-changing works.

Click here to get the book.

9. Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies

By Sol Stein (acquaintance)

Novelist, editor, publisher (Stein & Day), and writing teacher, Stein is one of the deans of the American literary scene. His career spans decades, and he shares insider stories of famous novelists and their work, as well as everything he learned along the way. I sat under his teaching years ago and still follow his advice.

Click here to get the book.

10. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction

By William Zinsser

Zinsser’s background should not be missed. He was a graceful classicist as a writer, and this million-seller has been lauded for its warmth and clarity. Zinsser offers sound tips on the fundamentals of writing any kind of nonfiction you can think of.

Click here to get the book.

Now, don’t read any of those books for writers, until…

…you’ve read the bible of writing books:

11. The Elements of Style

By William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Failing to start your reading on writing with anything other than this undisputed classic would be akin to reading the top ten Christian classics while ignoring the Bible. This short paperback is recommended by every writing teacher I know. I’ve read it at least once a year for more than 40 years. Its simple truths cover everything from style and grammar and usage. Make them second nature.

Click here to get the book.

12. Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Let’s Them Go

By Les Edgerton

Les is one of the most powerfully edgy writers in the business, and you must have your big kid pants on to read his novels. But any writer will benefit from this great resource.

Packed with helpful, practical advice, it carries his blunt tone (but nothing offensive). I refer to it regularly.

Click here to get the book.

If you’ve read none of the other books on this list, start with Stephen King’s On Writing. A short course in mistakes to avoid while writing, it’ll remind you why you wanted to be an author. Then, especially if you want to be a novelist, read Dean Koontz’s How to Write Bestselling Fiction.

You could learn more in just those two books than in an entire college writing course.

BONUS: Before investing in one of these, download my free guide: How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

Click here to download How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps.

155 thoughts on “The 12 Best Books on Writing I’ve Ever Read

  1. Thank you for such a great list! I checked my shelves, and discovered that I have four books that are especially dog-eared and highlighted. I really like Page After Page, and Chapter After Chapter, both by Heather Sellers. You’ve Got a Book in You, by Elizabeth Sims, is good. And Conflict and Suspense by James Bell. These seem to be the books I go to most often. Now, with Jerry Jenkins’ list, I see that I need to do some shopping!

  2. PERFECT timing! Now that school is out, I am working with my children on THEIR summer reading lists–they’re expected to read at least 20 minutes a day, Then it hit me–why don’t *I* have a “summer reading list?” I am working on MY book this summer, and recognize the need to “feed my muse.” Only last night I wished I had the perfect “reading list for writers”–and then your post appeared in my inbox!! Thank you, Jerry–and our Great Provider–for perfect wisdom AND perfect timing! Just got a Barnes and Noble gift card as a Big 5-0 birthday gift . . . now I’m off to spend it!

  3. Excellent list, thank you! I would add Ernest Hemingway’s, ‘The Green Hills of Africa.’ Although fundamentally a book about a hunt for Kudu in Africa, there’s a section in which he discusses writing and critics. It’s outstanding.

  4. I just finished Brandilyn Collins’ Getting Into Character… and you’re right, it was amazing! I’ve read several of these books on your list and couldn’t agree more, they are all excellent. But the one that transformed me the most as a writer was Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Its companion, Story Physics, was also excellent, as was Save the Cat! and Syd Fields’ Screenwriting. Next up, Dean Koontz’s How To Write Bestselling Fiction. If it changed your life that’s reason enough for me. Thank you!

  5. I’ve read several of the books on your list and while they are all excellent books, the one book that changed how I write and how I view story is “Story Engineering,” by Larry Brooks. I am a better writer as a result of that book. My second favorite is “Story,” by Robert McKee. Although aimed at screenwriters, it is pretty much applicable to novelists. Thanks for your post.

  6. Beat me to the punch on both counts, so I’ll add Larry’s “Story Physics.”

    Oh, look; there’s Sue Coletta (hi, Sue!) mentioning it below.

    Maybe no one has mentioned “Around the Writer’s Block” by Rosanne Bane, which is so much more than “writer’s block.” She uses brain science to teach you how to develop the habit of writing, to make yourself productive while enjoying it as much as it’s possible to enjoy it.

  7. I’ve read many of these books. Your own Writing for the Soul is one of my favorites. As an editor, I recently realized I need to learn more about plot and characterization. You suggested books that will help me with that. Thanks!

  8. Love the list… and have read most of them. I heard you can get Koontz’s book at the library, so we’ll see…
    My favorite book that changed my writing life (really it did) is Larry Brook’s, “Story Engineering.” I wouldn’t be as far as I am with my novel if I had not read and been coached by this guy. I also use the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson and his “Writing Fiction for Dummies.”
    Another one that I love if you are in love with words is: “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Priscilla Long – more literary and deep into the writing life and the love of words. I’ve created my first word lexicon and I love it.

  9. I was just searching for this list this morning so perfect timing! Just yesterday, my copy of The Elements of Style arrived. I started reading, and it looks packed with helpful information. Another one from the list that I own and love is James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. Now to add the others to my wish list… :) Thank you, Jerry!!

  10. Jerry, I really like your blog! Thank you for all the valuable information! I got your book “Writing for the Soul” for Christmas one year and it is a favorite! Thank you for mentioning “Elements of Style.” I got convicted. I have always been terrible at punctuation, especially comma usage. I am determined to read it and read it and get it right finally. Also, I wanted to thank you for introducing me to the book “The Matheny Manifesto.” Even though I am not a coach I read it and learned how to be a better christian, friend, citizen- to quit worrying about how I look and and whether or not I win, play perfectly, or get my feelings hurt. I am to live focused on what matters and doing things God’s way. My husband used the book this past Spring in his coaches book club/discussion group. I know they enjoyed it. Sorry to get into so many topics here, but I have been meaning to write and let you know that I appreciate what you are doing for us.

  11. Oh goodie, some old favs and some new books yet to explore! Thanks.

    Books I recommend:

    Finding Your Writing Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall

    Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course by Jerry Cleaver

    The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maass

    From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction by Robert Olen Butler

    The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mystery of Weak Writing by Bonnie Trenga

  12. Thanks for a super list. Many I’ve read. Looking forward to grabbing the ones I missed. Found Stephen King’s “On Writing…” a wonderful surprise piece of inspiration and help.

  13. Coming from you, this information is priceless! Thank you so much for sharing! I have been wanting to read ‘Elements of style’ for some time now, and definitely will now based on your review of it!
    The writing books I have are Thomas B Sawyer’s ‘Fiction writing demystified’ and
    Writer’s Digest’s ‘Write great fiction’ series. They’re definitely worth reading, especially for a beginner like me!

  14. My all time favorite has to be If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. I also think Natalie Goldberg and her Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind are up there too.
    I’ve read some on your list. I really want to read Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Was not aware of those two. Cool! :)

  15. I love, love, love this! I was about to start searching out resources for this, and you posted it! :)

  16. Thanks for this great list. I agree with your comments about Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style. I have the Kindle version, one copy in my office and one copy at home:-)

    I will definitely purchase these books listed, especially Stephen King’s On Writing and Dean Koontz’s How to Write Bestselling Fiction.

    Thank you so much!

  17. I also really enjoyed your book Writing for the Soul, Jerry. It was the first (and only so far) that I have read about writing from a fellow Christian. It was inspiring and refreshing and very encouraging.

    Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird is my go to when I am dragging. Her wit and candor are a salve to my writer’s soul.

    I am thrilled to read this list and know that I have plenty of these already and I just need to quit procrastinating and go read them. I am also glad to find some new ones and I’ve made my notes. Thank you so much for being a giver.

    I’ve also enjoyed your Left Behind series in book and audio form. It has enriched my walk with the Lord and sparked an interest in End Times which has also inspired my writing and my boldness in sharing my faith with lost loved ones. So thanks for that too. The Lord is using you to encourage your siblings in the faith!

  18. Thanks! You just gave me my reading list for the summer! I was happy to see that I already own 5 of your choices, including my writing bible, “The Elements of Style”. And I think I’ll reread one more in my library called “Writing for the Soul” written by a fellow named Jerry Jenkins, you may have heard of him. ;-)

  19. As I scrolled through the discussion, I was happy to see someone else made a plug for Writing for the Soul (Jerry Jenkins). :-) As an English teacher, I had read, studied, and taught a lot of literature, but when I realized the story brewing in my imagination was taking a Christian fiction spin, I wasn’t sure what to do with that. So Writing for the Soul was my first step. Mr. Jenkins, if you won’t plug your own book, I will. :-) My other favorites are Stephen King, Anne LaMotte, and Strunk & White.

  20. Sadly, “How To Write Bestselling Fiction, (Dean Koontz) is only available (as far a I can see) from 3rd party sellers, and there is not a kindle version. No longer printed? Am I missing a purchase source?

  21. Sadly is right. Rumor has it Koontz is updating it since 1981, but for now, the occasional remainder is out there for hundreds of dollars. I have two I consult and teach from and guard with my life. If I get a firmer word on whether a new version is coming, I’ll be sure to trumpet the news here.

  22. Thanks, Karen. It didn’t seem prudent, and now you’ve humbled me by mentioning me in the same sentence with real writers. (Gotta go change my shirt.)

    Kindle version is $4.99: http://amzn.to/1KLr5z3

  23. Thanks, Kathryn. And you know a little discipline goes a long way when it comes to reading, just like for writing. You’ll be amazed at how much reading you can do in just a few months if you just decide to commit 15-20 minutes a day to it.

  24. Thanks, Danise, though I should have mentioned that Koontz’s book is almost impossible to find. Rare copies are available for hundreds of dollars, but it’s rumored he may be updating and reprinting. Stay tuned.

  25. Thanks for those tips, Judy. I should have mentioned that Koontz’s book is almost impossible to find. Rare copies are available for hundreds of dollars, but it’s rumored he may be updating and reprinting. Stay tuned.

  26. Providential that you mention ‘The Matheny Manifesto’ today, Dana. I just heard from Random House this morning that they’re back to press for a seventh printing after a review on Sports Illustrated’s si.com today left me reeling and ecstatic. Probably the best ever in my 40-year career. See under ‘Father’s Day is 13 days away…’ at http://on.si.com/1f6RT0u

  27. Lots of people mentioning Brooks, Stephanie, so thanks! And of course McKee is a classic.

  28. Don’t you love when the stars align, Pam? Especially when they’re aligned by the One who put them there in the first place? I was just telling someone else that you’ll be amazed at how much reading you can get done by committing to 15-20 minutes a day. Enjoy!

  29. Dang, Terese, I should have stocked up and opened a store, shouldn’t I? Guess that’s why I’m a writer–no nose for biz. Thanks for the leads on those other titles too!

  30. Jerry, just last night I pulled your Writing for the Soul because I wanted to get a better understanding of character development. Interestingly when I opened the book, it fell open right on chapter 10.

  31. Through suggestions given at your writer’s conferences, workshops, and classes, I’ve read most of these books. They have been very helpful. I’ve since added a few to the list… The Emotion Thesaurus–Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi; Story Trumps Structure–Steven James. Thanks for being a tremendous help through the years. Lisa

  32. Indeed I do! God is good. Thank you for continuing to be His messenger!

  33. So true. I need to make it a priority. Thanks for the encouragement. It’s pretty exciting to get an email response from you, so thanks for taking the time give me a brotherly nugget of truth.

  34. I am trying to break in on writing, and so far it is like a difficult birth. I am pushing at the wrong time maybe. All the honest, helpful hints are inspiring me. I will keep breathing just like the to be mother has to and push at the right time to give birth to
    writing something.

  35. Thanks for this list. Made an investment in “How to Write Best Selling Fiction” (out of print, but found a used copy online) and read half of it in one sitting last night. It is intriguing and enlightening to learn what inspired and helped successful authors like you and Mr. Koonts.

  36. You’ll get tired of hearing me say it, Frances, but for all the implied glamor of the profession, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. There ARE rewards, but you’ll earn them. :)

  37. Thanks for this list, Jerry! I’ve read a few and now have more to add to my bookshelf. From Angela Hunt’s series, ‘Writing Lessons from the Front’, I’ve read the first one, ‘The Plot Skeleton’ (very helpful) and will be getting the others. C.S Lakin’s book, ‘The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction’ is really helping me. At the end of each major chapter she gives an online place to print out her list of questions (which are also at the end of that chapter) so you have a checklist for that particular idea such as theme, conflict, etc., to compare to your story.
    I’m enjoying reading everyone else’s book choices. Many I haven’t heard of but will look up.

  38. “Strictly English” by Simon Heffer – a funny and unpretentious book that will assure the reader that there is in fact a language called English and that there is a correct way to use it.

  39. Thank you. I just finished and thought this might be the same. Really enjoyed it.

  40. Yes, I got your list from the course and bought every one of them (haven’t read them all) except for the last two. Thank you. I would love to have your opinion regarding software for writers, but I remember that you don’t use them (my writing is disorganized and I have little pieces of paper or napkins where I jotted down a thought or a character line). Perhaps someone else could give me their opinion on the subject.

  41. Thanks for this list. I’d like to read Dean Koontz’s “How to Write Bestselling Fiction”, but it’s almost impossible to get it, so I wonder if you could recommend some other book for beginner novelists a little more up-to-day. Thank you.

  42. Anne Lamott’s book is both hilarious and inspiring. I was bought it by a friend as I began my writing journey. Now I’m going to take a look at Dean Koontz’s “How to Write Bestselling Fiction” as I’m in the midst of writing my first novel. Thanks Jerry!

  43. If anyone is willing to read the first page of my chapter one novel, and willing to give me some feedback, it will be highly appreciated (it is posted here somewhere) and please don’t be concerned about being candid bc it helps me to know what to change. I just need a few more examples from feedback to conceptualize the changes. Thanks.

    About AutoCrit, I find it peculiar that I read exactly the same note you posted on another blog, letter by letter. Would that be from you? I just started using AutoCrit and it is particularly useful for someone that speaks English as a second language.

    To avoid problems, I subscribed to the program on a month by month basis (it cost more but at least I get to know the company). But since I read exactly the same words on another blog, I assume that your issue has not been resolved and you are posting this alert here as well. Most credit cards, if not all, will honor your dispute if you are not getting the service.
    I am sorry to hear about your loss but again, if they are not providing the service, you are entitled to a refund and you can take this up to your credit card if the company is not responding. To be honest, I had no problems with them, I contacted them to learn how to use the program and had a pleasant and polite call back promptly and was guided step by step. The only thing about Autocrit is that I was told I could use 20 pages (that is the level I bought bc I don’t think i can edit more than that per day, not even that much bc editing is hard work) but now I can only get 1,000 words with is I believe a little more than a page. I did contact them but haven’t got an answer yet…so I’ll keep you all posted on the subject.

  44. Yes. I’ve always found it amusing that such an intellectual treatise uses the term ‘verbal’ for ‘oral,’ as if writing doesn’t also contain verbs. :)

    It’s obviously a very interesting view and gracefully expressed, but it’s way over the heads of the average reader–and wannabe writer. Its authors would not likely respect my writing for the mere fact that its popular with the masses.

  45. Really good program bc it highlights all adverbs for you (so you can quickly remove them) the word “that”, and repetitive meaning as well within different sentences. People writing a professional paper can use the button to highlight plagiarisms as well. It is a simple program, but I think it saves time, besides I become blind to my copy, so this helps.

  46. In advising a young friend who finds herself highly placed in some Washington, DC, circles, I recommended the book “Write Tight” by William Brohaugh, former editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. But I’d completely forgotten–until you jogged my memory–Strunk and White, an error I’ve now corrected. My Strunk and White is at least 40 years old, a slender little hard copy I’ll never part with.

  47. Brohaugh’s good too, but you can’t go wrong with Strunk & White. It gets updated frequently, but the basics remain pretty much the same.

  48. I was lucky. The first writing book I ever read was Elements of Style. A couple books that helped me get in print were Creative Nonfiction-
    Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life (Philip Gerard) and The
    Handbook of Magazine Article Writing (Writer’s Digest.) When I wanted to write for Guideposts, I underlined stories, went back and highlighted verbs, and studied their article format. That, for me, was the best advice I ever received – study the market. I was published there and spent a week with the editors one special September.

  49. I may be prejudiced because he chose one of mine for one of his collections, but Google Bret Lott. And also Google Bret Harte. And best American short stories. Much can be learned in this genre from osmosis. Just read ’em.

    My book of short stories was called The Deacon’s Woman (Moody), still available here and there. Amazon might have used copies cheap.

  50. Great, Jan. Nothing like that kind of experience.

    Watch for our announcement Monday and our free webinar Thursday. :)

  51. I’ve heard great things about most of these books and will definitely add them to my wish list. I would also recommend Write Away by Elizabeth George. It’s especially good for those of us who are “outliners” rather than “pantsers”. I am also reading Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s sort of a journal of her thoughts about the writing life. Very thought provoking.

  52. Sorry, but one book that ranks up there — if not higher, with the Stein’s and King’s is “Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain .”

    I’m a bit baffled that it did not make this list.

  53. I’d like to add Ralph Keyes “The Courage to Write” to this list of heavy hitters.

  54. Thanks for the list! It is a great help! I am about to begin Strunk and White’s “Element of Style”… :)

  55. Great list. A few of my favorites: Jerry Jenkins – Writing For The Soul, Ernest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast, DiAnn Mills – The Dance of Character & Plot

  56. Sorry I missed this originally, Eric. Swain didn’t make the list because I was the only voter. On another given day it might ave made it. It’s in my top 15 for sure. There are so many good ones out there.

  57. I have ordered 3 of the books you recommended most highly to add to my collection of helps. When I took the course with Christian Writers Guild I did lots of writing and learned so much ~ I would love to take another if it is offered but this offering is inspiring and motivating me to continue working. Can’t wait for my books to arrive! I ordered those authored by Strunk, King and Koontz.

  58. Thanks for your kind comments, Susan. I don’t usually make this an area for selling, however, since you mentioned your eagerness to take another course, you should take a peek at http://www.JerrysGuild.com

    At least get your name on the notification list for the next time registration opens. We’d love to have you.

  59. I went to a few conferences when I took the course before ~ one in North Caroline and the other in Colorado Springs. I met Philip Yancey at one, bought his book, “Soul Survivor” and had him sign it for me. That book introduced me to a lot of other authors that I admire and enjoy reading ~ GK Chesterton and Dr. Paul Brand to name a few. I’m reading it for a second time now. And I had the privilege of having breakfast with you. That was very nice. I have signed up to be notified when registration opens. Can’t wait!

  60. Philip’s a friend. You can’t go wrong reading him.

    Looking forward to having you join us. :)

  61. I learned a lot from Shawn Coyne’s “The Story Grid” particularly using the Kubler-Ross stages of grief to build the character’s development & changes. Then Randy Ingermanson’s “The Snowflake Method” which can be corny, but it works and it lines up with Coyne. (And I studied Annie Dillard in my 1st undergrad so I’d say also read “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” – she won a Pulitzer or some such & it was her first work!)

  62. Hmm, never heard the Snowflake Method called corny before. Tell me more. Why corny?

    And Annie Dillard IS the best, isn’t she? Especially “Pilgrim…”

  63. I am an Argentinian writer wannabe. I write short stories and try to read as much as possible. Nevertheless, I feel like a musician that plays guitar but doesn’t know musical theory. I’d like to know if the “writing Bible” fits my needs for improving my technique or I should read something else. I’m not interested in proper english grammar because I write in spanish, and I’m not particulary interested in writting novels.

  64. Hmm. Being that I’m mono-lingual, I’m guessing The Elements of Style is focused on English usage. However, it’s also the least expensive of all the books mentioned, so it might be worth the investment just to see how many of the principles are universal or transferrable.

  65. Oh dear. It looks like I need to clear off another bookshelf for the books on writing collection. I agree with the Stephen King choice. I’ve talked to many writers recently that highly recommend Lisa Cron’s book ‘Story Genius.’ It incorporates brain research with story telling. My copy is on the way. Thanks for adding to my education.

  66. The Dean Koontz book seems to be out of print – only a $100 hardcover edition is available?

  67. Wow, that’s the lowest I’ve seen that one in years. I know people who have paid $350. But it’s in libraries, and there are rumors he’s updating it, but I haven’t been able to confirm those. Testament to how good it is, eh?

  68. There are 6 libraries in the state (public and universities) who have a copy. As soon as I can make arrangements for someone to pick it up, I can have a copy sent to my local library. (I don’t have a car and no longer drive.)

  69. Apparently the libraries throughout the state of Hawaii do not have this book either. I’ll see if they might be able to do some sort of interstate request though. BTW, I went to Dean Koontz’s (Penguin Random House’s?) webpage. Here’s what was said about the book. I like what you said about it better. ???????? Thanks for all the tips!

    This book was published by Writer’s Digest Books in 1981 and was only in part an updating of WRITING POPULAR FICTION, and contains mostly new material. It is now out of print, and we are asked weekly if Dean intends to let it back into print. Although 19 years passed between WRITING POPULAR FICTION and HOW TO WRITE…, the second book is more than 25 years old and out of date in many ways. Instead of putting it back into print, Dean hopes to write an entirely fresh book about writing fiction within the next five years. He suggests this book is only for collectors who are completists, and he doesn’t recommend that anyone turn to it for valuable writing advice. The publishing world has changed drastically in the last quarter century.


  70. Thanks for that, Phil. I’m surprised he says that, because while it’s true the business has changed, writing hasn’t. His classic story structure remains true, and I’ll continue to teach it. Appreciate the input.

  71. I hear ya. I’m not sure it is him doing the saying; it’s not written in first person. It may be a publisher thing. I note the book was published by Writers Digest Books, whereas the website seems to be by Penguin Random House. Hmmm….
    I do hope to track the book down one of these days. Of course, if Koontz writes a new updated one we’ll all be all over it!

  72. Something I am reading is Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules, by Steven James; How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich with Ina Yalof.

  73. I remember reading The Elements of Style in college but that’s all. So I’ll start there.

  74. Thanks, Jerry, I am working through this list, but I think you forgot one special book. I love your “Writing for the Soul”, I read it once a year and use it as a resource. It has inspired and encouraged me many times when I feel discouraged with my progress. Thank you, for your transparency.

  75. Brilliant list Jerry. Thank you. And the advice to choose no: 11 first is sage and sound advice. I remember White’s description of Struck leaning forward, looking over his glasses, hissing, “Omit needless words”, and the other one, “Make every word tell”, as though he was warning people of an impending snake bite!
    I’ve had this book in my possession for some thirty plus years. It’s a joy to have on hand.
    Thanks again Jerry. Great instruction on your posts.

  76. But how about watching a writer write their novel ‘live’ over the course of ninety allotted days? I set myself a challenge to expose my process to aspiring novelists and to write my fifth novel live and – um – naked or so it feels. A fellow novelist called it a crazy endeavour. We are now 50 days in together, my and my writers, and I have to say there is something that concentrates the mind more than a hanging and that’s an audience …..Come and see at http://www.kritikme.com.

  77. Elements of Style–despite updates–is both out of touch and out of style. There are bits of good advice in it, but there are other books on grammar and style that offer far better advice and whose writers follow their own advice. Rhetoric has moved on since Elements of Style and The Politics of the English Language, an essay that suffers from the same inconsistencies. For more on Elements of Style, read this article–a critique of it: http://www.chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497
    For something much more substantive, read Joseph Williams’ book, Style: Writing with Clarity and Grace.

  78. Jerry, I’ve downloaded the How to Become an Author. Wonderful gift! Thank you. However, I’m most crestfallen a book on writing does not make the cut, here. “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande. It puts nearly every book on the topic, in the shade. It’s only a second to Elements of Style.
    However, thanks again, Jerry, excellent resources and instruction on your site.

  79. Dear Jerry, thanks for this great list, but for the first step, which one should I read as a very beginner? I have not written any novels/stories/.. and have no information about how to make the chart of a novel. Now I only write in the blog and … and can say that is not bad and many people like that. I have no idea about the basic of writing. I don’t write in English as my language is another language. Would you please help me to know what to do as the first step? Should I start with which book? Thanks a lot.

  80. Thanks for the great resources, Jerry. There is another excellent book by Dorothea Brande, “Becoming a Writer”.
    I’ve used this over the last few years and the exercises are a revelation. Highly recommended.

  81. I would love to read Dean Koontz’s book. Of course, a used copy starts at $190+ on Amazon…

  82. Thank you so much for this free reading list. Among these I already had three in my shelf. I am always looking for websites that tell which craft books to buy. So helpful!

  83. I have developed three Bible studies – with teaching on DVDs, and printed material that consists of class notes and homework for each teaching. So far I’ve printed the notes/homework material myself, but am not a PR person at all, so they don’t get publicity. I’m at the earliest stages of considering having them published, if for no other reason than to possibly get them listed in the CBD catalog. Any publishing suggestions for a Bible Study workbook of that type?

  84. Probably Kathryn is referring to the book form where he turns it into a novel. The much-visited web page is very straightforward.

  85. Thanks for this reading list; lists of books on writing recommended by authors are hard to find! Have you ever read “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks? Most folks who’ve read it say either it’s been an incredible help, or that it is stifling and too formulaic. I’d be curious to hear what you think.

  86. I’d recommend the Snowflake method. You should consider an ESL course if you are aiming to write for English readers. You may also consider On Writing Short Stories if you want to practice that genre as well.

  87. Thank you so much for this! I have been writing for awhile now and trying to figure out how to make the best of my writing and this post has helped me a ton. Thanks again for the resources.

  88. I enjoy reading books that grab me from the get-go. And I have some of these on your list. Books which appeals to my writerly nature. I enjoy the book, Travels with Charley. I enjoy anything by E.B. White. His essays are amazing. Especially, the one about the pig. I find my eyes are a problem when it comes to reading, so I must sample my way through a book, the way one does with dessert. A little nibble here, a sip off a spoon there. A dash of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and the words become palatable. I mince my way through poetry, scramble inside Strunk and White, visit books engrained with wisdom, promising insight that previously eluded me. My husband is a voracious reader, and he brings me books that remind him of my writing. My highest compliment. I am more a writer than a reader. But I thank you for your list, and your dedication to fellow writers.

  89. Hi Jerry,

    Not sure if it’s just me, but I seem to be struggling to download the Ultimate Reading list. Great post, by the way. Love your blog.

  90. I can add nothing to add to your list, as you have named the two top titles on my own–starting with, staying with, and ending with “The Elements of Style.” The other is Stephen King’s gem, aptly characterized in your post. And I am glad to learn of the others you’ve listed, many of which I hope to read asap. Thank you for the list and for the succinct profiles of each book.

    I look forward to discovering more treasure in the Writer’s Guild, though you have already offered substantial wealth in your free materials, which I am still accessing. Now if you can just cure me of the 50-year habit of putting two spaces after the period, I can die a happy person.

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