10 Books That Will Make You a Better Writer

My Bookshelf on Writing

I asked for suggestions and did some research on the best books on writing. That led to the below list — what I would call is the ultimate collection of books on writing.

I wrote this primarily for myself as a list of books to improve my writing. I have read some, but not all, and I’m planning to read them all this year.


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

Recommended by: Shane Parrish

Favorite excerpts: 

“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. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” 

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”


2. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White

Recommended by: Jason Fried

Favorite excerpts:

“The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up.” ― E.B. White

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” ― William Strunk Jr.


3. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

Recommended by: Matt Mullenweg

Favorite excerpts:

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

“The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.”

“Writing is a craft, not an art, and that the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself.”

My book review On Writing Well:

https://writingcooperative.com/william-zinssers-top-10-tips-on-writing-well-402681ac9dd0


4. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Recommended by: Matt Mullenweg

Favorite excerpts:

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”


5. Ernest Hemingway on Writing

Recommended by: Josh Waitzkin

Favorite excerpts:

“In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is because there is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dissect out. It continues and it is always valid. Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.”

“…Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done — so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.”


6. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Recommended by: Phin Barnes

Favorite excerpts:

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

“I don’t think everyone wants to create the great American novel, but we all have a dream of telling our stories of realizing what we think, feel, and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”

“Writers are great lovers. They fall in love with other writers. That’s how they learn to write. They take on a writer, read everything by him or her, read it over again until they understand how the writer moves, pauses, and sees. That’s what being a lover is: stepping out of yourself, stepping into someone else’s skin.”


7. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert Mckee

Recommended by: Matt McCall

Favorite excerpts:

“When talented people write badly, it’s generally for one of two reasons: Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove of they’re driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it is generally for this reason: They’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.”

“Good story’ means something worth telling that the world wants to hear. Finding this is your lonely task…But the love of a good story, of terrific characters and a world driven by your passion, courage, and creative gifts is still not enough. Your goal must be a good story well told.”


8. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

Recommended by: Jon Favreau

Favorite excerpts:

“I realized that the good stories were affecting the organs of my body in various ways, and the really good ones were stimulating more than one organ. An effective story grabs your gut, tightens your throat, makes your heart race and your lungs pump, brings tears to your eyes or an explosion of laughter to your lips.”


9. If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland

Recommended by: Guy Kawasaki

Favorite excerpts:

“No writing is a waste of time — no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.”

“Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason and Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable. ”


10. Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: And Other Tough-Love Truths to Make You a Better Writer by Steven Pressfield

Recommended by: Derek Sivers

Favorite excerpts:

“At the beginning, the author’s writing was like a selfie: a disposable plea for attention that was all about him and his life. But since he hadn’t done much living, there wasn’t much substance.”

“When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs — the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough?”


I am nowhere near having read all of these but I will be referring to this list during the year to find my next writing book.

Do you have any recommendations? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below.

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