Books I'm Reading to Become a Better Writer

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I've spent years writing for my personal blog. A quick word-count program tells me that's about 160,000 words. I've published three non-fiction books—the longest comprising 55,000 words. And, of course, countless other words were produced by my hands, only to suffer the fate of an author who neglected to backup.

It's only now, after years and years of writing, that I've started to break into fiction. I've developed a more academic interest in the written word to help navigate this unfamiliar territory.

To that end I recently picked up several books on writing and gave them a read. I'd like to share these books with you in the hopes that you might also find them interesting. I'll cover books which help all forms of writing whether it be non-fiction or fiction.

The Elements of Style, 1920

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition, is the absolute must-have book for anyone aspiring to write any sort of content. It is even referenced by some of the other books mentioned in this post. This book is a terse pocket-guide full of best practices for forming sentences. Various concepts are broken down and many example sentences are provided. Much emphasis given to writing a sentence using as few words as possible. The book is so short and so useful that it makes sense to occasionally reread it. The book itself is about 100 years old and almost every single suggestion still holds true today.

I cannot recommend this book enough for someone trying to hone their writing skills.

On Writing Well, 2006

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, is a title that I just put down. The author discusses many things already covered in The Elements of Style, but provides many more examples. This book is much easier to read due to its easy-to-consume, flowing nature. Each chapter covers a different concept about writing, such as writing about science or interviews or technology, and provides an interesting narrative about the authors experiences with it. Examples from published works are cited throughout the book to drive the each concept home.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction, 2016

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, is as its name implies a book specifically for writing fiction. I'm about 80% done and so far I am in love. The author does an impeccable job of giving different lessons about writing a character, citing examples of the lesson he's teaching, and finally giving a small homework assignment to be applied to ones own writing. Such assignments include tasks like choosing a random scene of your story, injecting yourself into the scene, and literally asking your character how they feel or what they are trying to accomplish. Once that's done you then incorporate that information into your story in some manner. It's a really practical approach.

Creating Character Arcs, 2016

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author's Guide to Uniting Story Structure, is the only book in this list that I am unable to recommend. This authors writing style is such a constant in-your-face distraction that I don't think I can finish it. With each sentence comes the impression that the author is standing right next to you, bragging about his accomplishments, and impatiently waiting for you to turn the page.

Masterpieces, 2001

Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century, is a collection of 26 Sci-Fi short stories written by different authors. On my journey to become a better fiction writer, as well as “find my voice”, this book was a helpful tool to quickly experience the writing of dozens of different authors. Some are narrated by a character, others from an omnipotent point of view. Some are more character driven while others focus more on technology. If you plan on writing a story I recommend picking up a collection of short stories in your genre, and if that genre is Sci-Fi, then I suggest you pick up Masterpieces.

The Sense of Style, 2014

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century: I only just started reading this book so I can't say much about it, other than it came highly recommended to me. I will come back and update this post once I'm more familiar with it.

Tags: #reviews
Thomas Hunter II Avatar

Thomas has contributed to dozens of enterprise Node.js services and has worked for a company dedicated to securing Node.js. He has spoken at several conferences on Node.js and JavaScript and is an O'Reilly published author.