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

Faster to Master - Icon 512

“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” – Harlan Ellison

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 the books listed below.

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 first drafts always feel “like pushing a very dirty peanut across the floor with your nose“? What should you read to improve your writing? And how?

To answer them, I’ve gathered the best recommendations on writing I could find. The result is an eclectic mix of texts on almost 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.

In the coming years, I’ll be reading every book on the list, passing on the best ideas in articles and summaries. If that sounds like something you’d like to join us for (and you’re not already signed up), use the form below to get free updates delivered right to your inbox:

P.s., I’ve excluded reference books – though a 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.

P.p.s., If there’s anything you think I’ve missed that deserves to be here, please do leave a comment. I’ll be updating and improving the list as I go.

But for now, without further ado – here’s the list!


  1. On Writing, King
    A Memoir of the Craft
    Rated 4.3 over 168,800 reviews on Goodreads
  2. Bird by Bird, Lamott
    Some Instructions on Writing and Life
    Rated 4.2 over 62,000 reviews on Goodreads
  3. On Writing Well, Zinsser (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.
    Rated 4.3 over 17,700 reviews on Goodreads
  4. Walking on Water, L’Engle
    Reflections on Faith and Art
    Rated 4.3 over 5,200 reviews on Goodreads
  5. The Elements of Style, Strunk Jr. (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.
    Rated 4.2 over 61,200 reviews on Goodreads
  6. The Chicago Manual of Style, Chicago University Press
    Rated 4.3 over 5,500 reviews on Goodreads
  7. Story, McKee
    Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
    Rated 4.2 over 9,100 reviews on Goodreads
  8. Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg
    Freeing the Writer Within
    Rated 4.2 over 22,600 reviews on Goodreads
  9. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Browne, King
    How to Edit Yourself Into Print
    Rated 4.2 over 4,900 reviews on Goodreads
  10. Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury
    Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
    Rated 4.1 over 11,700 reviews on Goodreads
  11. Stein on Writing, Stein
    A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft
    Rated 4.2 over 3,000 reviews on Goodreads
  12. Wonderbook, VanderMeer, Zerfos
    The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction
    Rated 4.4 over 2,100 reviews on Goodreads
  13. Writing Tools, Clark (Summary)
    55 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.
    Rated 4.2 over 3,300 reviews on Goodreads
  14. The Writer’s Journey, Vogler
    Mythic Structure for Writers
    Rated 4.1 over 6,800 reviews on Goodreads
  15. A Poetry Handbook, Oliver
    Rated 4.1 over 3,900 reviews on Goodreads
  16. Techniques of the Selling Writer, Swain
    Rated 4.3 over 1,200 reviews on Goodreads
  17. Plot & Structure, Bell
    Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
    Rated 4.1 over 4,400 reviews on Goodreads
  18. Save the Cat!, Snyder
    The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need
    Rated 4.1 over 8,900 reviews on Goodreads
  19. The War of Art, Pressfield
    Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
    Rated 4.0 over 46,300 reviews on Goodreads
  20. Invisible Ink, McDonald
    A Practical Guide to Building Stories that Resonate
    Rated 4.5 over 800 reviews on Goodreads
  21. The Writing Life, Dillard
    Rated 4.0 over 10,800 reviews on Goodreads
  22. CA$HVERTISING, Whitman
    How to Use 100+ Secrets of Ad-Agency Psychology to Make Big Money Selling Anything to Anyone
    Rated 4.4 over 800 reviews on Goodreads
  23. The Associated Press Stylebook, The Associated Press
    and Briefing on Media Law
    Rated 4.2 over 1,800 reviews on Goodreads
  24. Still Writing, Shapiro
    The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
    Rated 4.2 over 2,200 reviews on Goodreads
  25. The Art of Memoir, Karr
    Rated 4.1 over 3,700 reviews on Goodreads
  26. How to Read a Book, Adler, van Doren (Summary)
    The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
    Rated 4.0 over 12,000 reviews on Goodreads
  27. Story Genius, Cron
    How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel
    Rated 4.3 over 800 reviews on Goodreads
  28. Poemcrazy, Woolridge
    Freeing Your Life with Words
    Rated 4.1 over 2,200 reviews on Goodreads
  29. Outlining Your Novel, Welland
    Map Your Way to Success
    Rated 4.1 over 3,000 reviews on Goodreads
  30. 5,000 Words Per Hour, Chris Foz
    Write Faster, Write Smarter
    Rated 4.2 over 1,100 reviews on Goodreads
  31. The Sense of Style, Pinker
    The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
    Rated 4.0 over 4,600 reviews on Goodreads
  32. Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday (Summary)
    The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts
    Rated 4.2 over 1,100 reviews on Goodreads
  33. Story Engineering, Brooks
    Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
    Rated 4.1 over 2,500 reviews on Goodreads
  34. The Getaway Car, Patchett
    A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life
    Rated 4.1 over 1,700 reviews on Goodreads
  35. Writing the Breakout Novel, Maass
    Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level
    Rated 4.1 over 3,200 reviews on Goodreads
  36. The Artist’s Way, Cameron
    Rated 3.9 over 81,500 reviews on Goodreads
  37. Steal Like an Artist, Kleon
    10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
    Rated 3.9 over 127,200 reviews on Goodreads
  38. Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t, Pressfield
    Why That Is And What You Can Do About It
    Rated 4.2 over 800 reviews on Goodreads
  39. Art of Fiction Writing, Gardner
    Notes on Craft for Young Writers
    Rated 4.0 over 4,800 reviews on Goodreads
  40. The Successful Author Mindset, Penn
    A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey
    Rated 4.5 over 300 reviews on Goodreads
  41. The New Kings of Nonfiction, Glass
    Rated 4.0 over 5,200 reviews on Goodreads
  42. Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Phillips
    Rated 4.1 over 2,600 reviews on Goodreads
  43. Several Short Sentences About Writing, Klinkenborg
    Rated 4.1 over 1,000 reviews on Goodreads
  44. The Minto Pyramid Principle, Minto
    Logic in Writing, Thinking, & Problem Solving
    Rated 4.1 over 1,200 reviews on Goodreads
  45. Scene and Structure, Bickham
    Rated 4.1 over 1,200 reviews on Goodreads
  46. The Writer’s Portable Memoir, Long
    A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life
    Rated 4.5 over 200 reviews on Goodreads
  47. How Not to Write a Novel, Mittelmark, Newman
    200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them-A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide
    Rated 4.0 over 2,700 reviews on Goodreads
  48. The Copywriter’s Handbook, Bly
    A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells
    Rated 3.9 over 4,400 reviews on Goodreads
  49. Published, Bolt
    The Proven Path From Blank Page To Published Author
    Rated 4.3 over 200 reviews on Goodreads
  50. Daily Rituals, Currey
    How Artists Work
    Rated 3.7 over 11,100 reviews on Goodreads
  51. Telling True Stories, Kramer
    A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University
    Rated 4.1 over 900 reviews on Goodreads
  52. Hooked, Edgerton
    Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
    Rated 4.0 over 1,500 reviews on Goodreads
  53. Plot Perfect, Munier
    How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene
    Rated 4.2 over 300 reviews on Goodreads
  54. The Forest for the Trees, Lerner
    An Editor’s Advice to Writers
    Rated 3.9 over 2,600 reviews on Goodreads
  55. Naked, Drunk and Writing, Lara
    Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay
    Rated 4.1 over 300 reviews on Goodreads
  56. The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need, Thurman
    A One-Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment
    Rated 4.0 over 700 reviews on Goodreads
  57. Getting Into Character, Collins
    Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors
    Rated 4.1 over 300 reviews on Goodreads
  58. Aspects of the Novel, Forster
    Rated 3.8 over 3,200 reviews on Goodreads
  59. They Say / I Say, Graff, Birkenstein
    The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing
    Rated 3.8 over 3,300 reviews on Goodreads
  60. HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, Garner
    Engage Readers, Tighten and Brighten, Make Your Case
    Rated 4.1 over 500 reviews on Goodreads
  61. Between You and Me, Norris
    Confessions of a Comma Queen
    Rated 3.6 over 4,400 reviews on Goodreads
  62. The Miracle Morning for Writers, Elrod
    How to Build a Writing Ritual That Increases Your Impact and Your Income
    Rated 4.1 over 500 reviews on Goodreads
  63. The New New Journalism, Boynton
    Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft
    Rated 4.0 over 600 reviews on Goodreads
  64. How to Say It, Maggio
    Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences And Paragraphs For Every Situation
    Rated 4.1 over 300 reviews on Goodreads
  65. Word Painting, McClanahan
    A Guide to Writing More Descriptively
    Rated 4.0 over 500 reviews on Goodreads
  66. You Are a Writer, Goins
    (So Start Acting Like One)
    Rated 3.8 over 2,500 reviews on Goodreads
  67. Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction, Miller
    Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction
    Rated 4.0 over 700 reviews on Goodreads
  68. On Directing Film, Mamet
    Rated 3.9 over 2,100 reviews on Goodreads
  69. How to Write a Damn Good Novel, Frey
    Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling
    Rated 3.8 over 2,100 reviews on Goodreads
  70. From Where You Dream, Butler
    The Process of Writing Fiction
    Rated 3.9 over 1,100 reviews on Goodreads

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 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 →
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments