Monday, April 10, 2017

Good Writing Books?

"What writing books do you recommend?"

I've been asked this question several times, but perhaps the most memorable instance was on a Sunday morning. In church. Right before the service was about to begin.

Since the timing was not conducive for this kind of discussion, it caught me off guard. As I scrambled to deliver a brief answer, I pictured the shelf on my desk where I keep important resources and considered, What books do I use most?

It's not a bad question, just a broad one, like when someone asks how to get started as a writer. (For more details on answering that question, check out this recent post.)

My mind stretched for an educated answer. I am a writer, after all, and am supposed to be able to communicate in an articulate manner. What seems like a simple question has many answers, depending on what you're looking for.

I felt a little tongue tied. Here I was, a dedicated scribe who's having trouble thinking of good writing books. But I figured I could use the setting and timing as an excuse, right?  

The first book that came to mind was The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Other books popped up in regard to blogging, freelancing, and fiction writing, such as L. Diane Wolfe's How to Publish and Promote Your Book Now, Smart Branding for Busy Bloggers by Jennifer Brown Banks, The Emotion Thesaurus series by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, and Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. More titles crowded in, like Roget's Super Thesaurus, Barron's Essentials of English, and Edit Yourself  - all helpful for tutoring my teen writing students.

My final answer? The Elements of Style. Figured you couldn't go wrong with this classic, right?

After this incident, I thought about what my "non spur of the moment" answers would be. Pretty much the same, I'm thinking, but I'd probably narrow the field by asking questions like:

  • Are you looking for general writing and grammar info? 
  • Do you plan to write for children, young adults, or adults?
  • Will you write fiction or non fiction? 
  • Do you want additional info on writing for magazines, writing the novel, or about self publishing?

Once that's established, I'd suggest using this list of considerations to assist:  
  • Applicable Genre - A no brainer, yes, but if you're new to this it helps to narrow the search.
  • Good, down to earth content - If it isn't reader friendly, seems too technical or complex, it might be good to pass, at least for the beginning writer.
  • Reviews from readers - What's the general consensus among the reviews? Take applicable cues from them. 
  • Recommendations from writer friends - This is often the best way to find good books.
  • Endorsements from reputable writers - Does your favorite author or other respected writer endorse it? This can offer helpful clues too.

While these points might seem obvious, with so many resources now available it's easy to get overwhelmed. And let's face it, unless you're independently wealthy, there's a budget to respect as well. These items might help steer someone in the right direction.

Did I miss anything? What would you add to the list?

Has anyone asked you a similar question at an unexpected or not-so convenient moment? What are your go-to writing books and resources?

Happy writing,


Photo credit: Free Images


  1. I think it is easy to get overwhelmed with the choices. But starting with the older classics like The First Five Pages and Plot and Structure are good no matter what genre you write in.

  2. I get most of my inspiration/instruction online these days. My go-to blog for writing advice is Writer Unboxed. There's always a great takeaway value to their posts. If I had to go with a book, I think I'd say Stephen King's On Writing. It's instructional but it's also got a lot of heart.

  3. Thank you, Karen. I definitely have been overwhelmed by that question before. I also try to think of the audience/background of the person who is asking - if I know. Basically, are they interested in reading secular or Christian only books? One of my favorite writing books for just a kick-in-the-pants is The Writer's Book of Days. It's fairly secular though and I know that a few parents of the kids in my homeschool co-op classes wouldn't like all of the prompts in there, so I never recommend it in that setting. I recommend Spilling Ink to younger writers and From Think to Ink to teen to adult writers who are just getting into writing or who like writing tips with prompts. I like Stephen King's On Writing, but it's definitely a no-go for anyone who doesn't want to wade through the horror references and rougher language. I also like Save the Cat! - even though it's for screenplay writers, it has some great plot structure tips for every kind of writer (again, teen and up - mild PG movie references). I think I have another 20 writing books on my shelves but those are the ones that popped into my mind. I'm reading Chapter by Chapter right now with the IWSG Goodreads group.

  4. It does depend on what they are writing. While some books cover all aspects, if they write for children, they need books tailored to that genre.

    Chicago Manual of Style is my usual answer.

  5. I really liked Steins book, On Writing. It made a lot of sense to me.

  6. I really liked Steins book, On Writing. It made a lot of sense to me.

  7. Natalie,
    Getting lost with so many choices - for real! It's overwhelming. That's a good choice too. I agree, the "older" ones are just as valuable. :)

    I know, me too. So many good sites and blogs. Maybe that's another post! :) I've heard good things about King's book. Appreciate you mentioning it.

    Now there's a great list. Seems there are books for pretty much all kinds of writing, even areas we've not thought of yet! lol :) Hope you are mending from surgery well.

    It sure does, doesn't it? The Manual is another winner. Thanks for pointing that out! So many good ones out there! :)

    Good addition here. Haven't finished that one yet but I've head good things about it. Appreciate you chiming in here! :)

    Happy writing,

  8. I've loved Donald Mass's books, and found them worth the money.

  9. Hi Karen - lovely post ... I certainly wouldn't know what to say - but there are some good ideas here ... cheers Hilary

  10. Uh, yeah! That timing would catch anybody offguard! 😀 I guess there should always be a go-to book in the back of your brain.

  11. Hi Karen! Welcome back! I hope you had a great break, and got your study all tidy...or at least close!
    I had a writing coach who also endorsed Elements of Style. I did read it, and also Bird By Bird by Anne Lemott, which she also recommended.
    It's hard to endorse a book when we are all so different. What I like, maybe you won't. But it is fun to swap titles and see if I can get into a new author.

  12. Damyanti,
    Glad you mentioned him, I appreciate that. Have heard good things about him. I have his Breakout Novel book and have yet to read it. I won't tell you how many years it's been sitting on my shelf, lol. Good to see you! :)

    Thank you! Will get over to check out your post as asap. Hope the A to Z is going well for you. :)

    Yeah, lol, it did throw me a bit for sure. :) I'm better prepared now. Good learning opportunity, right? :)

    Thank you! It was a good break but I didn't get to the office. Too many other things popped up. Oh well, to do on another break perhaps. But I did see the grandkiddos a bunch, so that was nice. :)

    Happy writing,

  13. Oh, what a good question and how to narrow it down? I'm looking at my bookshelf as I contemplate what book I'd recommend, and I'd be hard pressed to name just one since I have such a slew of different titles. But one of my favorite faves is Jane Yolen's Take Joy, A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft. And a little book I've had for years, The Writer's Book of Wisdom, 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft by Steven Taylor Goldsberry. I'm also taking notes on the titles you've listed :-)


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!