The 21 books about writing you must read to improve your craft

Somebody asked me to recommend a book list recently so I did some searching and found a dozen or so lists of “best books for writers.” But few of them are very good. The majority just deal with the inspiration and motivation, to get you to actually start writing. The current pop culture ideology is that if you write, then you are a writer.

(I think that’s horseshit).

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a book editor for years, or because I grade student essays, and am always trying to improve my writing to impress my ivy-league educated grad school professors.

There’s a lot of reasons we write. But writing doesn’t necessarily make you a good writer; what makes you a good writer is lots of practice and a clear goal so that you can recognize what’s wrong with your writing and make it better.

You want to be a writer? You’re already committed to spending all your time writing and don’t need self-help quackery to motivate you to actually getting off your ass and doing some work?

Then you’re ready to improve your writing, because believe me, while you may have fun writing your first few novels or non-fiction books, you won’t have any fun when nobody will read them because they suck. Being a successful writer is about telling great stories in an interesting way. You need the right stories, in popular, bestselling genres (if you want to make a full-time living) and they need to be told well.

You need to learn how to write well, and luckily it’s a skill you can develop – but you need to allow yourself to write badly at first, push through the rough draft, go back and edit, and always be learning how to recognize your own weaknesses.

With that in mind, here are some books I appreciate.

 



 

 

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me
  • Hi Derek, why there aren’t Stephen King’s “On writing” and “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield here?

    • Steven King’s totally should be.
      Steve Pressfield’s is great for getting you to do the work and finish the book; but also really terrible for teaching you to listen to your inner muse and that you’re a hack if you consider whether or not anybody wants to read what you’re writing. So I have a love/hate relationship with The War of Art, and could only recommend it with severe conditions.

      • I forgot to add Write Publish Repeat – it has some useful idea that I have experienced myself like building the world, writing beats, never messing with the characters, etc. I wonder though about Fiction Unboxed again by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant – have you read it? Is it any good?

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