These Are the Ultimate Books On Writing

It's scary, isn't it?

Sitting down in front of the blank page, willing an idea from nowhere, writing it down, polishing it, smoothing it, and then turning it into something that others will actually read.

Don't worry, help is out there.

And you can find it in books written by the experts.

Reading is the fuel for your creative bonfire. And there are hundreds of great books about writing and books by writers about their craft.

In this post, I describe the best books on writing. These are famous books that helped me or people I know and, if you haven't read them, they can help you too.

(There's a free bonus for you at the end of this post…)

Let's get started:

1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing

This book is the bible for most modern day writers and out of all the book listed here, it's the one I've come across most on other people's reading lists.

On Writing is a part memoir, part instruction guide to writing. In his book, King discusses his drug and alcohol addiction during the early part of his career.

He also explains his genesis as a writer, and he provides dozens of practical writing tips for handling adverbs, grammar and creating a plot that engages readers.

Plus the book is a damn fine entertaining read.

He writes:

Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.

Get this book from the Book Depository.

2. The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan S. Kennedy

The Ultimate Sales Letter

If you're a copywriter or if you write sales copy for the web, this book is an essential read.

Dan S. Kennedy is a famous American sales person and copywriter. In his book on writing sales copy, he explain how to write the ultimate sales letter.

Although Kennedy writes about mostly about traditional sales letter, you can apply almost all of his advice to web copy.

He writes:

I am convinced that just about anybody can learn to craft very effective sales letters.

And then Kennedy goes to teach the reader how to write sales copy.

He explains how urgency, scarcity and immediacy encourage more sales.

After reading his book, I immediately noticed just how many sales pages on the web are written like an ultimate sales later.

The most useful part of this books is Kennedy's problem-agitate-solution framework.

Essentially, Kennedy explains how good copywriter explains a problem that the reader has.

Next, the copywriter agitates this problem by stirring up the emotions of the reader.

Finally, the copywriter describes the benefits of their product or service and how or why it's solution for reader's problems.

You can use the PAS framework to write sales copy, web pages and even blog posts. Even Copyblogger recommend the PAS framework for copywriters and online writers.

Get this book from the Book Depository.

3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

If you procrastinate, have trouble motivating yourself or put off turning up every day in front of the blank page, this book will help.

It's a short book on writing and art that you can finish in several hours. In it, Pressfield explains how great art is a war and that any serious artist is in a constant battle against themselves.

He argues it's natural to feel a resistance against sitting down to write, but as writer, your job is to face this resistance and overcome it.

The book is more than just a motivational pep-talk. Pressfield explains how his mindset helped him overcame a career crisis as a failed screenwriter during his forties.

He writes:

We're facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, whom we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential.

Get this book from the Book Depository.

4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

On Writing Well

I listened to the audio version of this famous book, which was narrated by William Zinsser.

The practical writing book, upon which Zinsser bases his recording, was published in 1976. And I was bemused to hear him talking about turning the tape over on my smartphone.

That doesn't talk away from the length or breadth of Zinsser's knowledge.

He's a no-nonsense writer, journalist, critic and lecturer from Yale University.

Zinsser explains how to cut the rubbish from your prose and achieve a warmer kind of writing. He takes apart great sentences and provides a number of principles that every writer should follow.

And towards the end of this book, Zinsser also explains what makes for great memoir.

Again, this (audio)book is a short listen and I got through it in less than five hours. If you dislike audiobooks, Zinsser's book is also available in traditional formats.

He writes:

Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it.”

I had to agree.

Get this book from Amazon.

5. The Journals of John Cheever

The Journals of John Cheever

I'm a big believer in the power of journal writing as this practice makes it easier for beginners to find something to say, and encourage more honest writing.

Plus, the act of keeping a journal fosters a regular writing habit.

Lots of famous authors published revealing journals (Virginia Woolf, Vladamir Nabakov), but John Cheever's is one of the best.

In this book, he discusses his troublesome marriage, his alcoholism and his relationships. He describes at length about the craft of writing and his works.

He writes:

When the beginnings of self-destruction enter the heart it seems no bigger than a grain of sand.

Cheever kept this journal right up until his death in 1982, and his decline is upsetting to witness.

However, his argument towards the end of his life that “a good page of prose remains invincible” is a mantra any writer can adopt.

If you're looking for an insight into the mind of a literary writer with an astonishing output (Cheever wrote one book a year), you can find it here.

Get this book from Amazon.

6. Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas by Mark Levy

Accidental Genius

Free writing is a skill every writer should cultivate. There's no great secret to it, and it's easy to learn. All you have to do is sit down and write about whatever comes to mind for a predetermined period.

In this book, Levy explains:

  • Why writers should approach topics from multiple points of view.
  • How lengthy free writing sessions unlock new creative arguments that writers couldn't have previously envisaged.
  • When writers should “try easy” instead of working harder to overcome a problem in their work.

If you're hitting a creative roadblock, Levy's book is full of practical writing tips that will help you become more productive.

He writes:

Free writing is one of the most valuable skills I know. It’s a way of using your body to get mechanical advantage over your mind, so your mind can do its job better.

Get this book from the Book Depository.

7. The Elements of Style by William Strunk JR and E.B. White
Elements of Style

This isn't the kind of book that you read from cover to cover (although many have).

It's a practical reference book about writing that will help you decide where to place a comma, what to do about about adjective and when to use a semi-colon.

Yes, the internet makes for a great reference guide for grammar questions, but it's also distracting.

I keep a copy of this book on my desk because most of grammar websites reference this book anyway.

Sometimes, it's good to go back to the source.

My favourite piece of advice from this book?

Omit needless words

Get this book from Amazon.

And Finally…
Norton Book of Personal Essays

The Norton Book of Personal Essays by Joseph Epstein is a great read for anyone who wants to write memoir and non-fiction.

It includes one hundred plus essays and memoirs from authors like Michel Montage, Virginia Woolf and Scott F. Fitzgerald.

The editors provides a context to the included essays, which vary in lengthy, style and topic.

I didn't include this book in the above list as it's an anthology of works by accomplished writers rather than a book on writing. However, these personal essays can help writers improve their craft.

Are these the best books on writing? Which books have helped you accomplish the most on the blank page?

Please let me know in the comments section below.

Your bonus: These are just some of the best books on writing. I have a much longer list for you. Click to find out what the other 20 books are.

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2 thoughts on “These Are the Ultimate Books On Writing”

  1. Wow – great list!

    I wish that 4, 5, 6 and 8 were on Kindle (I can no longer buy physical books due to travel).

    If I might add Sol Stein On Writing, I think it is great because it covers both fiction and non-fiction. He’s a bit hardline on a lot of things, but still a great primer that I’ll never forget.

    1. Hi Anthony,

      Nice to see you here. I agree. These days I find myself checking if it’s on Kindle first. When I find out it’s not, I look for the “traditional” version. Thanks for recommending Stein.

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