Looking for books to hone your skills as a writer? Maybe you’re looking for the perfect gift for a writer you know whose library of the craft needs some new powerhouse additions.
No matter what reason you have to shop for books (and do you really need one, anyway?), this list shares the titles of favorites for five different categories.
So, if you’re looking for the best books on writing — whether you’re writing novels, short stories, poetry, or creative nonfiction — look no further.
Which new book will you add to your writer’s library today?
Anyone of the books listed below will help you reach your writing goals and become a better writer. And any one of them would make a thoughtful and supportive gift for the writers in your life.
List of the Best Books on Writing
Best Books on Writing Fiction
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Whatever you think of Stephen King’s bestselling horror novels, writers the world over have benefited from the down to earth, relatable, and practical advice in this book.
If you love a good story (with or without the element of horror) or would love the book equivalent of a long, friendly chat with a storytelling legend — in your own living room and with the beverage of your choice – King’s book on writing is well worth the time, the money, and the shelf space.
2. Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron
The author goes beyond the prevailing wisdom behind the two most common approaches to writing: starting with an outline (“plotting”) and writing without one (“pantsing”).
Cron’s book delves into the brain science behind her writing advice, helping you grab your reader’s attention at the outset, without taxing your attention span with pages of detailed, scientific explanations.
3. Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell
Whatever genre you choose, the plot influences every element in the story. And even if you’re a freewheeling pantser, your readers don’t want to spend hours wading through a formless puddle of words.
The best stories have a structure to them that makes sense to the reader, even if it’s not something you plan in detail at the outset.
Bell also knows the difference between plotting for commercial fiction and plotting to appeal to the literati, and when you’ve finished this book, you will, too.
4. Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins
Why should a writer care about method acting?
The author of this book, with her thirteen years’ experience teaching at writers conferences, answers this question with seven character-building secrets she learned with the help of her first college major: theater.
5. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
In this book, Anne Lamott writes about writing itself and about the writer’s life, sharing stories from her early development as a writer and her experiences along the way to becoming a New York Times bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction.
Best Books on Writing Nonfiction
1. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
This warm and versatile classic will help you improve not only your grammar but everything about the way you write — brightening your prose and improving its clarity and flow.
2. How to Write a Nonfiction eBook in 21 Days – That Readers Love! by Steve Scott
Most of us don’t have twelve to sixteen uninterrupted hours a day to write our next nonfiction book.
As a successful self-published author of several books who knows the difference between self-serving guru-ese and real, actionable advice, Scott gets that.
The step-by-step process he describes in this book covers all the bases and leaves you a thousand percent better prepared to write a book your readers will love — one that will be worth the extra time taken to write it.
3. Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
Nonfiction writing is as much an art as fiction and poetry, and the authors of this book have broken it down in a way that is both accessible and illuminating.
As authorities in this field, Kidder and Todd have created a gold standard for all writers of creative nonfiction — as clear and comprehensive as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and as fluid, engaging, and impactful as good prose ought to be.
4. To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction by Phillip Lopate
If you’re interested in writing well-crafted personal essays, Lopate’s book is a masterclass that distills over forty years of lessons from his career as a writer and professor, as well as a universally-acclaimed essay-writer and storyteller.
5. Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart
As the former managing editor of The Oregonian (newspaper), Jack Hart guided several Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces to publication and has created the definitive guide for writers of creative nonfiction — from magazine essays to book-length journalistic narratives.
Covering the broad range of styles, genres, and media for narrative nonfiction, Hart shares his wealth of knowledge and experience in clear, focused, and entertaining language.
Best Books on Writing Poetry
1. The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo
As both a distinguished poet and an inspiring teacher, Richard Hugo has a style that effortlessly combines confidence with genuine respect for each poet’s process.
This collection of essays, reflections, and lectures covers everything from technique to the mysteries of poetic expression — guiding and entertaining beginners and experienced poets alike.
2. A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch
Hirsch has done poets around the world a favor by creating this glossary. Not only does it clearly define and demonstrate the known universe of poetic forms and styles, but this book also provides a comprehensive education on these and their origins.
If you’re interested in poetry (or you know someone who is), this book will become a well-used resource.
3. A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry by Mary Oliver
Oliver packs a wealth of information into this 130-page book, covering the technical aspects of poetry writing and illustrating each lesson with the works of poets like Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop.
An accomplished poet herself, the author’s passion for poetry comes through in her writing. If you’re a poet or would like to give it a try, this book deserves a place on your shelf.
4. Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio
Another widely-acclaimed poet, Addonizio wrote this book to help fellow creatives discover their voice and communicate it through poetry.
Inspired by poets old and new, the author meditates on her own process while showing her readers how to develop their own.
5. The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser
An author of twelve full-length volumes of poetry (and several nonfiction books), Ted Kooser was the United States Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006 and won a Pulitzer prize for one of his books of poetry (Delights and Shadows).
His manual is less a technical manual on poetry than a long, friendly, and enlightening conversation with an approachable master of the craft.
Best Books on Grammar for Writers
1. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
If you’re familiar with this title, you probably knew it would make the list. On Amazon, it’s still the #1 book in the Grammar and Writing Skills categories, and for good reason.
As authoritative and entertaining as it is compact and easy to use, this book will likely remain a classic for years to come. Make sure your writing shelf has a copy.
2. The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need: A One-Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment by Susan Thurman and Larry Shea
Not every English teacher was born to create a grammar book with a title like this one, but Susan Thurman is no ordinary English teacher.
In this comprehensive book, she and her co-author, Larry Shea, address every grammar and punctuation issue you’re likely to encounter, whatever you’re writing.
3. It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by June Casagrande
The ability to craft a complete and grammatically correct sentence can seem rare enough. But the skill of composing one clear, effective sentence after another is the hallmark of a successful writer.
Casagrande knows this and uses lighthearted humor and her knowledge and experience as a language columnist to help you learn and steadily hone this skill. Wherever you are with your writing, this book will help you master the craft, one sentence at a time.
4. Perfect English Grammar: The Indispensable Guide to Excellent Writing and Speaking by Grant Barrett
If you’re looking for a grammar resource written by an expert linguist with an eye for detail, check out Barrett’s Perfect English Grammar.
This authoritative and easy-to-navigate book will answer all your questions with the tone of an encouraging friend and mentor, while it improves your grasp of English grammar every time you look through its pages.
5. Grammar for Fiction Writers (Busy Writer’s Guides Book 5) by Marcy Kennedy and Chris Saylor
Fiction writers don’t need to know all the rules typically covered in English class. In fact, as authors Kennedy and Saylor point out, knowing and adhering to those rules might actually do more harm than good.
So, this grammar book covers only the rules that will make your fiction writing clearer, stronger, and more compelling. It gives you enough theory — with helpful examples — on what you need to know without filling your inner editor’s toolbox with rules that just get in the way.
Best Books on Writing Short Stories
1. How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career by James Scott Bell
This is one of the most enjoyable books on writing you’ll ever read — both because of the staggering amount of useful information you’ll learn and because of the entertaining writing style of its author.
The writing examples from other famous authors add to the enjoyment. If you’re at all interested in writing short stories, this book should have an honored place on your shelf.
2. Let’s Write a Short Story by Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting knows short stories. He knows about writing them, about winning short story contests, and about getting your short stories published.
He knows because he’s done it all, and with this book, he gives you the information you need to do what he’s done — challenging and encouraging you along the path to becoming a published author of well-crafted short stories.
3. Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction by Damon Knight
A celebrated short story author and writing instructor, Knight put decades of teaching and practice into this book to cover everything you need to know about writing short stories — including enlisting the help of your subconscious mind.
This widely trusted guide (used in classrooms and workshops everywhere) could be just the thing to help you get past your writer’s block.
4. The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia
If you want to write short stories, you should acquaint yourself with the masterpieces of this writing form.
This collection features 52 short stories from the greatest short story writers of all time — as well as biographical and critical commentary to give you a fuller understanding of the works and their authors. This book is a well-curated library in itself.
5. Writing & Selling Short Stories and Personal Essays by Windy Lynn Harris
Harris’s book capitalizes on the popularity of both short stories and personal essays to help you not only vary your writing expertise – making you a more versatile writer who can communicate (and entertain) more with fewer words — but also earn more as a writer.
The bylines at the ends of your published short stories and personal essays make your name (and website URL) more visible to those who enjoy your work and want to see more of it.
Did you find this list of books helpful?
I hope you found at least one book that you’re eager to start reading, whether it will take up space on a physical shelf or on the cloud. And if you pick up a few writer gifts while you’re at it, enjoy the satisfaction that goes with money well spent.
If you found value in this article, please share it widely to help and encourage your fellow writers. You might even consider sending it to someone who has asked you recently what on earth they should get you — or another writer friend — as a gift. You’ll be doing them (and yourself) a favor.
Aside from that, there are plenty of writers out there who might be looking for highly-recommended books on writing — maybe to buy for themselves or as a writing business expense they can claim as a tax write-off.
So, pass it on in good faith. And may your thoughtfulness and generosity influence everything else you do today.