Copywriting, Feature Writing, Reading

12 Great Books about Writing

Ruth Dawkins Copywriter Recommends 12 Best Books about writing

If you’ve read previous posts on this blog, or if you follow me online, you’ll know that my two favourite things in the world are reading and writing. So, what do you get when you combine those two interests?

Books about writing!

I thought I’d compile a list of my favourite books about writing so if you’re ever looking for inspiration, or advice on how to hone your craft, you’ll have some options to choose from.

1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I first read Bird by Bird after seeing a quote from it online a few years ago, perhaps her most famous one: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

This is the only book about writing that I actually keep on my desk, and return to again and again. It’s funny, warm, accessible and packed with excellent little pearls of wisdom.

2. Use Your Words by Catherine Deveny

Subtitled ‘A myth-busting, no-fear approach to writing’ this 2016 release is another very accessible one, and as humorous as you’d expect from a writer/comedian. It’s full of advice about how to get out of a writing rut and get your words flowing again. Well worth a read.

3. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Although she claims to hate writing, Annie Dillard is a master of the craft, not to mention a Pulitzer Prize winner. This is a short collection of well written and insightful essays: wry, witty and packed with wisdom.

4. The Well Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman

This was recommended to me a few months ago by a fellow copywriter, and while it may not be as beautiful as some of the essay collections above, it’s an enormously valuable and practical guide to making money as a freelance writer. If you’re looking for advice about how to actually turn your writing into a business, this book should be top of your list.

5. The Divided Heart by Rachel Power

The Divided Heart is about all forms of creativity – painting, music, writing – and how to combine that artistic work with your life as a mother. It contains wonderful, honest interviews with women who have juggled the two: the challenges they’ve faced, the sacrifices they’ve made and the astonishing feats they’ve achieved. Give a copy to every creative mother you know!

6. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Bringing together the practices of writing and Zen meditation, this book is not for everyone, but it is one of those titles that is recommended again and again by fellow writers. Goldberg has taught writing workshops and classes for years and as well as solid advice, this book also includes exercises to help you get words down on the page. It’s a great one if you’re starting out, or struggling for inspiration.

7. Writers on Writing: Collected Essays by the New York Times

A collection of original essays from almost fifty celebrated writers. Some of these are about the craft of writing, other are about the writer’s life, and others explore why indeed we write at all. From Annie Proulx to Carl Hiaasen, there’s an interesting selection of writers included, and this is an engaging and compelling collection.

8. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I will confess that I wasn’t a fan of Eat Pray Love and, for the most part, Elizabeth Gilbert is just a little too woo-woo for me. That said, there’s no denying her enormous popularity and success, and if you’re prepared to cut through some of the more flowery parts of this book, there is some solid, good advice within. There have been many times when I’ve been pounding away on the keyboard with a deadline looming, and found that Gilbert’s mantra of ‘done is better than good’ is foremost in my mind.

9. A Body of Water by Beverley Farmer

Fairly new to me, Beverley Farmer is an Australian novelist and short story writer. A Body of Water comprises a number of short stories from the late 1980s along with her notebook and journal items from the corresponding period. It’s a unified body of work that still, somehow, defies definition, but provides a fascinating insight into the creative processes of the writer.

10. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

The Art of Memoir started life as the teaching syllabus that Mary Karr uses at Syracuse University. A combination of personal narrative and practical advice, the book offers insight into Karr’s own writing process and offers thoughts on how budding memoirists can deal with potential problems. I finished it wanting to immediately go and read her three previously published memoirs.

11. The Writing Book by Kate Grenville

This is an unusual book in that it gives very detailed how-to advice without setting down a lot of – or indeed any – strict rules about writing. Beginning with ideas on how to get started, and taking you through a step-by-step process, if you’re interested in writing fiction there can be no better place to start.

12. 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard

A short, simple and concise guide, this is a beautifully designed book. It is very much to-the-point – just a few sentences to expand on each of Leonard’s rules, many of which will make you smile or nod your head in recognition. Probably not an essential read for established writers, but a lovely gift and one that I often dip in and out of when I notice it on the shelf.

Any suggestions for great books on writing that I’ve missed? Leave them in the comments below!

(I know I’ve missed a very obvious one – Stephen King’s On Writing – this is not an oversight, or a superstition about having a list with 13 items – I’m just in a minority because I didn’t enjoy the book very much. Thousands of people did though, so go ahead and check it out!)

4 thoughts on “12 Great Books about Writing”

  1. Thank you for sharing this list. I loved Annie Diilard’s The Wriiting Life, and also Bird by Bird. The rest I’ve heard of but haven’t read. I have King’s book and have been plowing through it, but like you, so far, not that impressed.


  2. I’ve read Catherine Deveny’s book & loved it. Currrently reading Bird by Bird. I’ve seen Kate Grenville’s book in the bookshop & picked it up & ummmed & ahhhed a few times. Maybe I should bite the bullet & just buy it! This is a good list to know about. 🙂


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