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Best Books on Writing: 70 Great Books to Improve Your Writing (2020)

Best Books On Writing

Best Books On Writing

Looking for the best books on writing? You’re in the right place.

Whether you want the best books on writing fiction, the best books on writing nonfiction or the best books on creative writing of any kind (from poetry to screenplays), you’ll find what you’re after on the epic reading list of best books for writers below.

What does it take to write well? Be deeply interested in your subject. Read voraciously. Find, imitate and embody your heroes. Write every single day. These are just some of the answers you’ll find in these must-read writing books.

But you’ll also find answers to many more questions. Like why do we write? What are the rules, tips and tools of the trade? How do you get published? Will writing the first draft always feel “like pushing a very dirty peanut across the floor with your nose“? What’s the best way to beat writer’s block? What should you read to improve your writing? And how?

To answer them, I’ve gathered the best books on writing I could find from hundreds of recommendations and lists. The result is an eclectic mix of advice on every aspect of the craft: on how to write and on being a writer; on fiction, narrative nonfiction and nonfiction; on poetry, prose and screenwriting; on writing as artistic process and product.

Enjoy the list!

P.s., I’ve excluded writing reference books – though special mention must go to Rodale’s Synonym Finder and Ackerman and Puglisi’s Emotion Thesaurus (and the rest of the series) – whose exceptional ratings would dominate the top 10 spots.

The 70 Best Books On Writing Of All Time

Why these books and not others? The best books on writing below are the top picks from my master list of thousands of book recommendations, ranked by a combination of Goodreads rating, the number of Goodreads reviews and first publication date. The goal is to balance what’s most loved, what’s most popular and what’s delivered timeless advice.

Think something’s missing? Leave a comment or email me and I’ll add it to the next round of updates. I honestly love hearing from you so please, do get in touch!

  1. The Elements of Style (1918), William Strunk Jr. (FREE Summary)
    A short, prescriptive classic filled with good advice on writing great (American) English while omitting needless words – by professor and author William Strunk Jr.
    105 pages. Rated 4.2 over 69,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  2. On Writing Well (1976), William Zinsser (FREE Summary)
    The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
    A book so brimming with literary wisdom that it feels like you’re clutching a living brain. Writing, about writing, for writers – by writer, editor, critic, teacher and general captain of the craft, William Zinsser.
    336 pages. Rated 4.3 over 20,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  3. The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), Joseph Campbell
    416 pages. Rated 4.2 over 29,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  4. Walking on Water (1980), Madeleine L’Engle
    Reflections on Faith and Art
    256 pages. Rated 4.3 over 6,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  5. Politics and the English Language (1946), George Orwell
    20 pages. Rated 4.3 over 4,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  6. The Power of Myth (1988), Joseph Campbell
    320 pages. Rated 4.3 over 41,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  7. On Writing (2000), Stephen King
    A Memoir of the Craft
    320 pages. Rated 4.3 over 215,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  8. Writing Down the Bones (1986), Natalie Goldberg
    Freeing the Writer Within
    312 pages. Rated 4.2 over 24,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  9. Bird by Bird (1994), Anne Lamott
    Some Instructions on Writing and Life
    237 pages. Rated 4.2 over 73,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  10. Story (1997), Robert McKee
    Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
    466 pages. Rated 4.3 over 10,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  11. Techniques of the Selling Writer (1965), Dwight V. Swain
    344 pages. Rated 4.3 over 1,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  12. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (1993), Renni Browne
    How to Edit Yourself Into Print
    288 pages. Rated 4.2 over 5,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  13. Zen in the Art of Writing (1987), Ray Bradbury
    158 pages. Rated 4.1 over 12,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  14. How to Read a Book (1940), Mortimer J. Adler (FREE Summary)
    The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
    THE classic guide to reading faster, deeper and more effectively than you ever realised was possible – by deep-thinkers, philosophers and life-long learners, M. Adler and C. van Doren.
    426 pages. Rated 4.0 over 16,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  15. The Art of Dramatic Writing (1942), Lajos Egri
    Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives
    305 pages. Rated 4.2 over 2,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  16. Stein on Writing (1995), Sol Stein
    A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
    320 pages. Rated 4.2 over 3,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  17. The Writer’s Journey (1992), Christopher Vogler
    Mythic Structure for Writers
    326 pages. Rated 4.1 over 7,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  18. A Poetry Handbook (1994), Mary Oliver
    130 pages. Rated 4.1 over 4,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  19. The Writing Life (1989), Annie Dillard
    113 pages. Rated 4.0 over 11,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  20. The Anatomy of Story (2007), John Truby
    22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
    445 pages. Rated 4.3 over 3,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  21. Ernest Hemingway on Writing (1984), Ernest Hemingway
    160 pages. Rated 4.1 over 2,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  22. The Art of Fiction (1984), John Gardner
    Notes on Craft for Young Writers
    224 pages. Rated 4.0 over 5,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  23. Screenplay (1979), Syd Field
    The Foundations of Screenwriting
    309 pages. Rated 3.9 over 5,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  24. The Pyramid Principle (1987), Barbara Minto (Summary)
    Logic in Writing, Thinking, & Problem Solving
    254 pages. Rated 4.1 over 1,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  25. The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (2000), Associated Press
    378 pages. Rated 4.2 over 1,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  26. Poemcrazy (1996), Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge
    Freeing Your Life with Words
    210 pages. Rated 4.2 over 2,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  27. The Artist’s Way (1992), Julia Cameron
    237 pages. Rated 3.9 over 86,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  28. Writing Tools (2006), Roy Peter Clark (FREE Summary)
    50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
    Decades of writing experience condensed into 55 highly practical tools that will help you improve every part of your writing process – by writer, editor and writing teacher, Roy Peter Clark.
    260 pages. Rated 4.2 over 3,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  29. The War of Art (2003), Steven Pressfield (Summary)
    Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
    168 pages. Rated 4.0 over 54,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  30. The Copywriter’s Handbook (1985), Robert W. Bly
    A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells
    410 pages. Rated 3.9 over 4,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  31. Aspects of the Novel (1927), E.M. Forster
    192 pages. Rated 3.8 over 3,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  32. Plot & Structure (2004), James Scott Bell
    Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
    234 pages. Rated 4.1 over 4,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  33. Save the Cat (2005), Blake Snyder
    The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
    195 pages. Rated 4.1 over 10,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  34. Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Donald Maass
    264 pages. Rated 4.1 over 3,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  35. Scene & Structure (1993), Jack M. Bickham
    168 pages. Rated 4.1 over 1,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  36. Wonderbook (2013), Jeff VanderMeer
    The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction
    332 pages. Rated 4.4 over 2,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  37. CA$HVERTISING (2008), Drew Eric Whitman
    How to Use More Than 100 Secrets of Ad-Agency Psychology to Make BIG MONEY Selling Anything to Anyone
    208 pages. Rated 4.4 over 1,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  38. Invisible Ink (2010), Brian McDonald
    A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate
    170 pages. Rated 4.5 over 800 reviews on Goodreads.
  39. Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2003), Lynne Truss
    The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
    209 pages. Rated 3.9 over 90,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  40. Outlining Your Novel (2011), K.M. Weiland
    Map Your Way to Success
    186 pages. Rated 4.1 over 3,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  41. Still Writing (2013), Dani Shapiro
    The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
    230 pages. Rated 4.2 over 3,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  42. Plain Words (1948), Ernest A. Gowers
    320 pages. Rated 4.0 over 200 reviews on Goodreads.
  43. Story Engineering (2011), Larry Brooks
    Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
    278 pages. Rated 4.1 over 2,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  44. The Sense of Style (2014), Steven Pinker
    The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
    368 pages. Rated 4.1 over 5,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  45. The New Kings of Nonfiction (2007), Ira Glass
    464 pages. Rated 4.0 over 5,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  46. The Getaway Car (2011), Ann Patchett
    A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life
    45 pages. Rated 4.2 over 1,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  47. 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing (1985), Gary Provost
    Proven Professional Techniques for Writing Ith Style and Power
    158 pages. Rated 4.0 over 500 reviews on Goodreads.
  48. How To Say It (1990), Rosalie Maggio
    512 pages. Rated 4.1 over 300 reviews on Goodreads.
  49. Words that Sell (1987), Richard Bayan
    134 pages. Rated 4.0 over 700 reviews on Goodreads.
  50. How to Write a Damn Good Novel (1987), James N. Frey
    A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling
    192 pages. Rated 3.9 over 2,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  51. The Writer’s Portable Mentor (2010), Priscilla Long
    A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life
    360 pages. Rated 4.4 over 200 reviews on Goodreads.
  52. Steal Like an Artist (2012), Austin Kleon
    10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
    160 pages. Rated 3.9 over 146,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  53. The Forest for the Trees (2000), Betsy Lerner
    284 pages. Rated 4.0 over 2,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  54. On Directing Film (1991), David Mamet
    107 pages. Rated 3.9 over 2,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  55. Story Genius (2016), Lisa Cron
    How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel
    288 pages. Rated 4.3 over 1,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  56. The Art of Memoir (2015), Mary Karr
    225 pages. Rated 4.1 over 4,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  57. Writing for Story (1986), Jon Franklin
    Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction
    288 pages. Rated 4.0 over 400 reviews on Goodreads.
  58. Consider This (2020), Chuck Palahniuk
    Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different
    256 pages. Rated 4.4 over 1,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  59. 5,000 Words Per Hour (2015), Chris Fox
    Write Faster, Write Smarter
    120 pages. Rated 4.2 over 1,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  60. Several Short Sentences About Writing (2012), Verlyn Klinkenborg
    224 pages. Rated 4.2 over 1,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  61. How Not to Write a Novel (2008), Howard Mittelmark
    200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide
    262 pages. Rated 4.0 over 2,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  62. Getting Into Character (2002), Brandilyn Collins
    Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
    224 pages. Rated 4.1 over 400 reviews on Goodreads.
  63. Word Painting (1999), Rebecca McClanahan
    A Guide to Writing More Descriptively
    250 pages. Rated 4.1 over 600 reviews on Goodreads.
  64. Writing to Learn (1988), William Zinsser
    How to Write–And Think–Clearly about Any Subject at All
    272 pages. Rated 4.0 over 800 reviews on Goodreads.
  65. Draft No. 4 (2013), John McPhee
    On the Writing Process
    208 pages. Rated 4.1 over 1,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  66. Big Magic (2015), Elizabeth Gilbert
    Creative Living Beyond Fear
    288 pages. Rated 3.9 over 108,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  67. On Moral Fiction (1978), John Gardner
    234 pages. Rated 3.8 over 600 reviews on Goodreads.
  68. Perennial Seller (2017), Ryan Holiday (FREE Summary)
    The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts
    A fascinating and practical guide to making your heart and nerve and sinew serve your turn long after they are gone – by modern stoic and devourer of the written word, Ryan Holiday.
    256 pages. Rated 4.2 over 1,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  69. The Art and Craft of Feature Writing (1988), William E. Blundell
    Based on the Wall Street Journal Guide
    259 pages. Rated 4.0 over 200 reviews on Goodreads.
  70. Writing That Works (1981), Kenneth Roman
    208 pages. Rated 3.7 over 800 reviews on Goodreads.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re just getting started, I’d suggest reading On Writing Well (Free Summary) by William Zinsser (nonfiction writers) or On Writing by Stephen King (fiction writers). Both are beautifully written, both will inspire you and both will point you towards some next steps. For more options, check out the full list of 70 best books on writing.

If you’re a writer you should read as many high-quality books as you can. From the best fiction and non-fiction to the best biographies and books on writing well – the more well-written books you read (and read well) the better your writing will become. Not sure where to start? Check out all F2M‘s lists of book recommendations for ideas.

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Enjoyed these best books on writing? You might also like…

II. Best Books Of All Time

These are the overall best books to read (by type).

III. Best Nonfiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best nonfiction books to read (by topic).

IV. Best Fiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best fiction books to read (by genre).

Or, you can read all my book recommendations.
Arthur Worsley
Arthur Worsley
Arthur is a productivity coach and writer who helps top young execs and entrepreneurs be more productive, find more balance and live more meaningfully. Want to know more? Take this 2-minute quiz to discover your Productivity Quotient (PQ) and learn how to get BIG things done. Take the Quiz →

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