You know how the saying goes… “every great writer reads”… or something like that. As much as I’ve read throughout the years, I will say that I’ve never been more motivated, challenged, or creatively stimulated than after I’ve mentally engaged in a good book. I’m not just talking about your average Homer, Shakespeare, or Faulkner; I’m talking a variety of authors and genres – from Zane (urban fiction) to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (academic nonfiction), Toni Morrison (American classic), and Langston Hughes (poetry). While those were great to use as examples of what an ideal final product should look like, I believe most writers, like myself, need to learn the technical skills and refine our ability to convey our messages to our readers. Here, I compiled a list of books that are very effective at teaching writing. Read them at your leisure!
THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE (WILLIAM STRUNK JUNIOR & E.B. WHITE)
The Elements of Style is a prescriptive American English writing style guide in numerous editions. The original was composed by William Strunk Jr., in 1918 and published by Harcourt in 1920, comprising eight “elementary rules of usage”, ten “elementary principles of composition”, “a few matters of form”, a list of forty-nine “words and expressions commonly misused”, and a list of fifty-seven “words often misspelled”. It was much enlarged and revised by E. B. White for publication by Macmillan in 1959. That was the first edition of so-called Strunk & White, which Time magazine named in 2011 one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.
EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES (LYNNE TRUSS)
In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss, gravely concerned about our current grammatical state, boldly defends proper punctuation. She proclaims, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. Using examples from literature, history, neighborhood signage, and her own imagination, Truss shows how meaning is shaped by commas and apostrophes, and the hilarious consequences of punctuation gone awry.
Featuring a foreword by Frank McCourt, and interspersed with a lively history of punctuation from the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, Eats, Shoots & Leaves makes a powerful case for the preservation of proper punctuation.
THE AP STYLEBOOK
The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, usually called the AP Stylebook, is a style and usage guide used by newspapers and in the news industry in the United States. The book is updated annually by Associated Press editors, usually in June.
Reporters, editors and others use the AP Stylebook as a guide for grammar, punctuation and principles and practices of reporting. Although some publications use a different style guide, the AP Stylebook is considered a newspaper industry standard and is also used by broadcasters, magazines and public relations firms, in part because its style guidelines offer short-form advantages over other style manuals designed to save scarce print space, such as dropping the Oxford comma and using figures for all numbers above nine. It includes an A-to-Z listing of guides to capitalization, abbreviation, spelling, numerals, and usage.
ON WRITING (STEPHEN KING)
“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDERER (JANET MALCOLM)
In two previous books, Janet Malcolm explored the hidden sides of, respectively, institutional psychoanalysis and Freudian biography. In this book, she examines the psychopathology of journalism. Using a strange and unprecedented lawsuit as her larger-than-life example — the lawsuit of Jeffrey MacDonald, a convicted murderer, against Joe McGinniss, the author of Fatal Vision, a book about the crime — she delves into the always uneasy, sometimes tragic relationship that exists between journalist and subject. In Malcolm’s view, neither journalist nor subject can avoid the moral impasse that is built into the journalistic situation. When the text first appeared, as a two-part article in The New Yorker, its thesis seemed so radical and its irony so pitiless that journalists across the country reacted as if stung.
Her book is a work of journalism as well as an essay on journalism: it at once exemplifies and dissects its subject. In her interviews with the leading and subsidiary characters in the MacDonald-McGinniss case — the principals, their lawyers, the members of the jury, and the various persons who testified as expert witnesses at the trial — Malcolm is always aware of herself as a player in a game that, as she points out, she cannot lose. The journalist-subject encounter has always troubled journalists, but never before has it been looked at so unflinchingly and so ruefully. Hovering over the narrative — and always on the edge of the reader’s consciousness — is the MacDonald murder case itself, which imparts to the book an atmosphere of anxiety and uncanniness. The Journalist and the Murderer derives from and reflects many of the dominant intellectual concerns of our time, and it will have a particular appeal for those who cherish the odd, the off-center, and the unsolved.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISPLACED MODIFIER (BONNIE TRENGA)
Most people think that good grammar leads to good writing. But the truth is that while good writing may be technically correct, it’s also strong, concise, and specific.
This guide identifies the seven writing weaknesses that editors everywhere must fix again and again; in fact, almost all of an editor’s corrections on any piece of writing will come from the material covered in this book’s lessons. In an engaging solve-the-mystery format, you’ll solve these cases:
- The Tantalizing Tale of Passive Voice
- The Peculiar Puzzle of the Vague -ing Word
- The Confusing Caper Concerning the Super-Long Sentence
You don’t have to wade through hundreds of pages of dry grammar references to improve your writing. Rather than memorize the picky details that very few people care about, learn what really leads to good writing in this easy-to-use and friendly book.
THE WAR OF ART (STEVEN PRESSFIELD)
A succinct, engaging, and practical guide for succeeding in any creative sphere, The War of Art is nothing less than Sun-Tzu for the soul. hat keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do? Why is there a naysayer within? How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor—be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece? Bestselling novelist Steven Pressfield identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success. The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline. Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself. Whether an artist, writer or business person, this simple, personal, and no-nonsense book will inspire you to seize the potential of your life.
PLAYING IN THE DARK (TONI MORRISON)
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Beloved and Jazz now gives us a learned, stylish, and immensely persuasive work of literary criticism that promises to change the way we read American literature even as it opens a new chapter in the American dialogue on race.
Toni Morrison’s brilliant discussions of the “Africanist” presence in the fiction of Poe, Melville, Cather, and Hemingway leads to a dramatic reappraisal of the essential characteristics of our literary tradition. She shows how much the themes of freedom and individualism, manhood and innocence, depended on the existence of a black population that was manifestly unfree- and that came to serve white authors as embodiments of their own fears and desires.
Written with the artistic vision that has earned Toni Morrison a preeminent place in modern letters, Playing in the Dark will be avidly read by Morrison admirers as well as by students, critics, and scholars of American literature.
WRITING TOOLS (ROY PETER CLARK)
One of America’s most influential writing teachers offers a toolbox from which writers of all kinds can draw practical inspiration.
“Writing is a craft you can learn,” says Roy Peter Clark. “You need tools, not rules.” His book distills decades of experience into 50 tools that will help any writer become more fluent and effective.
WRITING TOOLS covers everything from the most basic (“Tool 5: Watch those adverbs”) to the more complex (“Tool 34: Turn your notebook into a camera”) and provides more than 200 examples from literature and journalism to illustrate the concepts. For students, aspiring novelists, and writers of memos, e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, and love letters, here are 50 indispensable, memorable, and usable tools.
ON WRITING WELL (WILLIAM ZINSSER)
On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet.
Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.
Are there any books I missed? What books helped you develop your craft? Share your responses in the comment section below!