As a writer one of my favorite job responsibilities is reading. I’m always baffled by writers who say they don’t have time to read. To me, a writer who doesn’t read is like a professional basketball player who doesn’t watch game footage or a painter who doesn’t go to art exhibits.
Since I write in several different industries I believe the need to read applies to more than just novelists. Whether you write fiction, marketing copy, newspaper articles, grant proposals or computer manuals, you need to read if you want to write well.
You read to learn new things and gain new insight. You read to become more proficient at wielding words to tell a story, impart information or ellicit behavior.
Some of this can be accomplished by scanning short pieces, like blog posts and articles, but nothing beats the book for an in-depth dive into a subject. Unfortunately, finding a great writing book in the towering stacks can be like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
There’s an entire industry within publishing targeting writers. Amazon lists 262,079 results for “writing” books. Most of these aren’t worth your time or money. Unfortunately, too many are written to sift some gold from the steady stream of aspiring authors. At best they repackage the same information you could find for free through an adept online search.
Over the last 25 years I’ve read a lot of books related to writing. I could recommend dozens but if I could only pick three books worth buying, it would be these, no matter what you’re writing:
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book for any creative person (not just writers) is filled with practical advice, effective exercises, useful routines and abundant inspiration that will nurture your inner artist. It’s designed as a 12 week experience to awaken and unleash your inherent creativity, but reading it at any pace will invigorate your writing life. Have a bookmark handy because you’ll put it down many times as you rush off to implement an idea.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser. This book was required reading for one of my journalism courses and I bought it used, not realizing how much it would teach me about writing craft while encouraging me to let my own personality as a writer fertilize my words. It covers everything from cutting clutter that chokes good writing like a weed to leads, interviews, business writing, style and usage.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This is probably the smallest writing book you’ll ever read. Though parts of my 3rd edition feel dated, it’s still the go-to reference for writing advice that shows rather than tells. Whatever edition you pick up, it will be worth a quick read and many returns as a reference.
What writing, reference or craft book has helped you most?