My Top 5 Go-To Books on Writing

Wooden sign with the word books on it for CSuther blog

Deciding that you’re going to write a story is one of the most exhilarating and terrifying feelings ever. I remember that moment when I decided to start my first novel. Not soon after I made the mental declaration, I found myself staring at the cursor pulsing away (very much like a countdown) on a blank Word document wondering, “what now?”

Getting 60,000 words (or however many) down is a feat that few people do without the professionals’ help and guidance. Even with a degree in English Literature, I had no idea where to begin. So, I went to the bookstore and scoured the shelves.

I’ve bought many books on writing over the years, but the five listed below have helped me the most along my writing journey. Whether by offering tips on literary devices and techniques, story structure, plotting, grammar, etc., I still go back to these books whenever I feel stuck or need help improving my writing.

1-On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

On Writing is an introspective look at King’s writing journey. It includes a series of vignettes about his life and how his experiences helped form the writer he is now. The book also deals with the mechanisms of writing, the craft of storytelling, and the writer’s mindset – all wrapped up in a lighthearted delivery that is as practical as it is practicable.

2-The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century – Steven Pinker

Pinker is a “cognitive scientist, dictionary consultant, and New York Times–bestselling author.” In The Sense of Style, he considers what makes writing good (and bad) how language works, all in a cheerful and very concise book that will matter to any writer who simply wants to write well.

3-The Element of Style – William Strunk JR. and E.B. White 

This is by far the one book that I return to the most. Since high school, I have always carried a copy of The Element of Style with me. It’s kept me company on long trips, comforted me when the words were clogged, and has been my constant and consistent writing companion. I guess writers throughout the last one hundred years can say the same.

4- Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need – Jessica Brody

Sure, you might jeer at the silly title of this book, but do you know the five essential plot points needed to make any novel a success? Neither did I. That is until I read Save the Cat Writes a Novel. The techniques offered in this book are based on the Save the Cat! Screenwriting methodology. If you or a writer you know is serious about publishing your novel, this is an excellent investment.

5- Dialogue: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Effective Dialogue – Gloria Kempton

Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue! I have an ongoing battle with writing dialogue. Not only are characters talking in my head, but those conversations are demanding their place on the page. I must then capture that dialogue, the characters tones, actions, and so forth. Thank goodness for books like Kempton’s!