6 Books That Will Make You a Better Writer
First things first: Reading makes you a better writer.
All writers were first readers. And all writers must be superior and active readers to improve their craft over time. These six books are perennial essentials in this writer’s toolkit — make them a part of yours, too.
This book changed my life as a young writer and teenage philosophy student. A mentor listed it as “Recommended Reading” for an advanced class of hers I wasn’t even taking. After the first page, my mind and process shifted a bit, forever. Lamott’s book — as personal as it is pedagogical — presses the reader to examine life and write through it.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. … Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation. … Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”
Full of gusto and zest, Ray Bradbury tackles the art of writing and the creative process in this near-perfect tome. If you read this book once, you’ll want to be a writer. If you read this book five times, you’ll be excited that you want to be a writer. If you read this book ten times (and practice every day), you’ll be a much, much better writer. It’s an easy read — nine essays that fly off the page, lit from within with the energy and love of craft of the great author. As Bradbury says: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
“We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not pratice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.
A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever that is, would melt out of shape in those few days.
But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.”
As a writer, I can tell you — it is not always glamorous work. And there are times when an unpretentious guide is what you need. It’s the best guide out there for nonfiction writers. Using an economy of phrasing, Zinsser explains common issues with diction, style, and structure. Additionally, the book details fundamentals of several types of writing.
There are two types of people in this world: those that use adverbs, and good writers. And the best-selling fiction author will be the first to tell you that. Packed with tips for the writer’s mind and pen, this one’s immensely popular for good reason. If you want to write fiction, On Writing is indispensable. And if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a writer, the following two passages (and many more in the book) capture the life exactly.
“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.”
“[I]f you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
You’ve got to know the rules to break them — that’s the message here. And who better to learn the rules from than a guy named Strunk and the dude who wrote Charlotte’s Web. The 94 year old book will not only make you a better writer, it could save your writing life. Always have a copy near, and take all advice to heart.
“Omit needless words.” — William Strunk, Jr.
Or, if you’re writing in other fields, you’ll need The Chicago Manual of Style. You’ve got to have a quick reference book to know that it’s “U.S.,” not “US,” and things of that nature. Make sure you’ve got one near you at all times, and you can learn from browsing through when you’re in between sentences.
OnlineUniversities.Com: 75 Books Every Writer Should Read
WriteToDone: How To Use Reading To Become A Better Writer