“When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter. Thus, brevity is a by-product of vigor.” ―William Strunk, “The Elements of Style”
When it comes to writing, talent is helpful, but it isn’t enough all by itself. Striving to write the strongest prose possible requires discipline. It involves honing your craft, tightening your sentences, and understanding your words.
If you’re ready to take your writing to another level, check out these books on writing skills!
“The Elements of Style” By William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White
No list of writing books would be complete without this classic from the early 1900s! Every writer should read this book to better understand how to write concise, grammatically correct sentences. Even though some of the style suggestions may be slightly out of date, there’s still much to glean from this title.
“On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction” By William Zinsser
Another tremendous classic, this book has sold over 1 million copies! It opens by discussing several important principles of nonfiction writing, and then leads into methods, forms, and attitudes. Along the way, it touches on different types of writing, such as interviews, memoirs, and business writing.
“Writing Tools: 55 Strategies for Every Writer” By Roy Peter Clark
A more recent classic, “Writing Tools” is bursting with practical writing suggestions. It starts with the bare bones of sentences and paragraphs, teaching you how to make strong word choices. Next, it instructs you in topics like organization, persuasion, and productivity. You don’t want to miss this book.
“Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” By Blake Snyder
Even if you’re not a screenwriter, consider reading this book. Many techniques used in screenwriting apply to other forms of writing as well. This particular book addresses topics like story structure, character development, theme, and more. If you really like this book, you might want to check out the other “Save the Cat!” books in the series, including “Save the Cat Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need!”
“Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within” By Natalie Goldberg
As a writer, sometimes it feels like you are pulling every word from the very depths of your soul. This bestseller offers a more holistic approach to becoming a better writer, and inside you’ll discover a mix of inspirational and practical writing tips, written in lovely form.
“The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing” By Alice LaPlante
Creative writing is a difficult pursuit, This book (over 500 pages long!) starts by defining creative writing. Next, it addresses facts, details, story structure, narration, point of view, dialogue, plot, characters, and so much more. Each chapter includes exercises and readings too.
“Build Better Characters” By Eileen Cook
Have you ever watched a movie with characters that seemed flat, perhaps manufactured? Building strong characters can be incredibly challenging, but it’s also one of the most important things in your story. In this book, Eileen provides psychological techniques for building believable characters using their backstories, personalities, and stages of change.
“2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, & Writing More of What You Love” By Rachel Aaron
Most writing operates on quantity, as well as quality. So how do you write more words, faster? This book tells Rachel’s story, how she went from writing 2,000 words/day to writing 10,000 words/day. She’ll teach you how to plot a novel, build a strong story, and edit what you’ve written.
“The Lively Art of Writing” By Lucile Vaughan Payne
Written by an author, editor, and reporter, “The Lively Art of Writing” begins by explaining essay structure, but it doesn’t end there. It also presents additional considerations, including paragraph size, paragraph connections, passive voice, parallel structure, and more. There’s even a chapter on writing a term paper.
“Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process” by Peter Elbow
Originally published in 1981, “Writing with Power” will teach you how to write stronger words, sentences, and paragraphs in your piece. He starts by teaching you techniques for getting words onto the paper, because isn’t that one of the most difficult steps sometimes? Next, he walks you through the revision process, and then directs you to look at your audience, feedback, voice, and more.
“Line By Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing” By Claire Kehrwald Cook
Among writers, it is a widely known fact that editing your own writing is one of the trickiest types of editing around. This short book provides a step-by-step framework to work through your piece. Includes example sentences so it’s not so abstract!
“Show, Don’t Tell” By Sandra Gerth
How many writers have been told to show instead of tell? It sounds good on paper, but how do you actually apply it? This book is designed to help you write vivid descriptions, craft backstory, and describe your character’s emotions. It includes tips to catch telling AND overshowing in your own work too.
“Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content” By Ann Handley
Writing for the internet comes with its own collection of rules and conventions. In this book, Ann focuses on content creation, teaching you how to get your thoughts on paper, polish your ugly first draft, and edit to perfection. Next, there’s a section on grammar and usage, diving into important writing, story, and publishing rules. There’s even a section on writing things like hashtags, Facebook posts, emails, landing pages, and home pages.
“Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean with Precision & Power” By William Brohaugh
A famous writer once said something to the effect of, “Don’t use a $1 word when a 2-cent word will do.” Writing tight, concise sentences is one of the most difficult writing skills to learn. This excellent book teaches you how to cut excess words and write tight sentences…without all of the fluff.
“Eats, Shoots, & Leaves” By Lynne Truss
How much punctuation do you really know? This book takes a humorous approach to explaining punctuation, including the proper use of apostrophes, commas, and dashes.
“Journalistic Writing: Building the Skills, Honing the Craft” By Robert M. Knight
Journalism often means a tight deadline, but that doesn’t mean your writing quality has to suffer! This book starts by structuring the newsworthy story, and then gets into the wordsmithing topics, like avoiding wordiness, enhancing clarity, using active voice, avoiding cliches, noticing red flags, and more.
“7 Steps to Better Writing” By Charles Maxwell
Writing comes in many forms. You might write emails to colleagues. Or maybe you write blog posts for your website. Or perhaps you write proposals for new business opportunities. Whatever you’re writing, this book was designed to help make your writing easier, using a simple 7-step process.
“100 Ways to Improve Your Writing” By Gary Provost
If you’re looking for a writing guide without all of the overwhelming sections, check out this book! It includes sections on improving your writing, overcoming writer’s block, writing strong beginnings, saving time/energy, developing your style, giving the words power, and so much more. A very practical work that isn’t overwhelming.
“Writing Under Pressure: The Quick Writing Process” By Sanford Kaye
Help! You have a deadline coming, but you still need to churn out a quality piece of work, and FAST. What do you do? Check out this systematic process that will help you organize your project in the most efficient way possible, given the circumstances you’re facing. This title covers specific assignments, like research writing or exam writing, too.
“The Blue Book of Grammar & Punctuation” By Jane Straus
Following grammar rules is an important part of keeping your writing clear and concise. This is an easy-to-use guide with clear rules, real-world examples, and reproducible quizzes from the late Jane Straus. Consider it the comprehensive grammar book that every writer needs.
“Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing & Life” By Anne Lamott
This #1 bestselling book gets its unique name from Anne’s family story, when her brother was writing a paper on birds and struggling to finish his massive project. The daughter of a writer, Anne begins by sharing the writing frame of mind, then provides help along the way, all of the way through to publication.
“The Art of X-Ray Reading” By Roy Peter Clark
Good writers are also readers, maybe because they pick up techniques from other writers without even realizing it. This book has compiled 25 literary pieces and teaches you how to unpack them from a writer’s perspective, so you can apply the author’s secrets to your own writing.
“The Glamour of Grammar” By Roy Peter Clark
Also from Roy Peter Clark, this is a moderate read on grammar. He begins by exploring the world of words, and then he progresses into using points, standards, meanings, and purposes.
“How to Write Copy That Sells” By Ray Edwards
Every writer does a little copywriting (i.e., writing that sells something) occasionally. But how do you keep it from being too sleazy? This concise book provides copywriting tips for sales letters, headlines, emails, bullet points, and more, all for making irresistible offers.
“Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing” By Larry Brooks
Studying story structure is a great way to improve your writing skills! This book shares six core competencies of successful writing: Concept, character, theme, story structure, scene execution, writing voice, and story development process.
“The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need” By Susan Thurman & Larry Shea
If you want to dive into the study of proper grammar, check out this book! This one-stop source goes through basic sentence structure, describing the different parts of speech and teaching you how to write better sentences, avoid common errors, and so much more. There’s even a section on the infamous who vs. whom question. 🙂
“The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century” By Steven Pinker
Consider this a modern writing guide, if you will. In this book, Peter describes good writing and how language has changed, and he seeks a balance between the past and the modern day.
“Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity & Style” By Benjamin Dreyer
Benjamin Dreyer knows a thing or two about clarity and style, since he’s served as Random House’s copy chief! If you want to become a better writer and learn how to polish your writing, take a look at this book. It is divided between two main sections, in his own words: the stuff in the front and the stuff in the back. Topics include grammar rules, punctuation conventions, common mistakes, and so much more.
“It was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences” By June Casagrande
Part of building writing skills involves being able to identify WHY certain sentences don’t sound quite right. This book takes a humorous look at crafting killer sentences, from understanding phrases and clauses, to choosing specific words, to understanding parts of speech, to catching common mistakes along the way. You’re sure to get a chuckle from the puns in this book too.
“The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction” By Brian Kiteley
Writing is a lot like playing an instrument; to get better, you need to practice. A lot. This book provides TONS of writing exercises to help you be inspired and start writing more.
“The Subversive Copy Editor” By Carol Fisher Saller
Consider this more like a book of soft writing skills, particularly working with the reader, working with your colleagues, and working with yourself. The subtitle of this book says all: “The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (Or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, & Yourself)”
“The Writer’s Guide to Active Setting” By Mary Buckham
You’ve focused on creating realistic characters and tight story structure. What could be missing? Setting, of course! This book focuses on this often-underappreciated factor of storytelling, using all of the senses, emotions, and actions that are waiting for you.
“Stein on Writing” By Sol Stein
If you’d like to read a piece from an editor’s perspective, this is the book for you. Sol is “a master editor of some of the most successful writers of our century…” There are editing and revision tips for nonfiction and fiction inside.
“Art of Styling Sentences” by Ann Longknife
Many books focus on all of the different facets of writing, but this book hones in on just ONE spot: the sentence. You’ll learn the 20 patterns, along with literary devices that are commonly used in writing. (Don’t ever underestimate the power of your sentences.)
“The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well” By Paula LaRocque
Written by a writing coach, this book provides practical advice for writing clear and concise sentences, telling stories, fixing common problems, and so much more. Just over 200 pages in length, there’s even a short handbook section at the end of this book.
“Mastering the Craft of Writing: How to Write with Clarity, Emphasis, & Style” By Stephen Wilbers
This book provides 52 weeks’ worth of techniques to make your writing better than ever, focusing on three different areas: write with economy, write with emphasis, and write with distinction.
“The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier” By Bonnie Trenga
If you’d like an interesting way to learn about common style mistakes that weaken your writing and make it vague or difficult to follow, check out this entertaining book! It also includes exercises to help you apply what you learn.
Books on Writing Skills: Conclusion
Do you have any books on writing skills that you’d recommend? Share your recommendations with us in the comments, please! We’d love to hear from you.
Looking for more tips to become a stronger writer? Learn how to end a blog post to leave your readers hungry for more!
Rachel Abernathy is Ultimate Bundles’ Jill of All Trades, as well as a blogger, virtual assistant, and content marketing professional humming away from her home office in the Midwest. When she’s not writing or editing something new, you can find her making a delicious something (read: mess) in the kitchen! Learn more about Rachel at RachelsRealFoodKitchen.com