books for aspiring writers

Good writers are readers; it’s a maxim for a reason. And that’s why reading books by experienced authors is important — even necessary — for the aspiring writer. But along with novels and biographies and memoirs, consider reading books about writing, in which authors pull back the curtain on the writing process and life as a person of words.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these books are on my personal short list for writers. Here are 5 books to read this fall if you want to grow in the craft of writing:

Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

In typical Anne Lamott fashion, this book (no, it’s not actually about birds) is cheeky and gritty and packed with punchy stories about writing and life. You can read a chapter at a time or devour the entire book in one sitting. Especially freeing for perfectionistic writers is her chapter on penning horrible first drafts.

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies” by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

“Loving language means cherishing it for its beauty, precision, power to enhance understanding, power to name, power to heal. And it means using words as instruments of love” (p. 23). Through lovely prose and a deeply thoughtful commentary on culture, McEntyre invites readers to steward language and the inherent power that words carry.

aspiring writer books

The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White

Grammar, style, and wit. This book is a classic for a reason. Keep it handy when you’re struggling to wrestle the English language into prose.

The Situation and The Story” by Vivian Gornick

“Every work of literature has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer, the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say” (p. 13). Gornick deftly weaves through her own thoughts and the writings of others in order to reveal the difference between the external story and the internal one—and how we must share both if we are to write meaningfully.

The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

With fluid and almost dream-like prose, Dillard offers heavy-hitting truths about writing and life through unexpected stories and winding analogies. Readers who are writers will appreciate Dillard’s honesty about the difficulties and rewards of writing.

What books would you add to this list?

Images via Lydia & Emilie


  1. Great article! Thanks for the recommendation 😉

    Anyone can tell me what is the title of the book in the pictures?
    Thanks 😉

    I’m intrigued by the portrait of the lady…

  2. To this illustrious list, I would add, “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. This book is often recommended by so many writers, journalists, bloggers, and teachers.

  3. Yay! I finally read “Bird by Bird” and it inspired me to write crummy first drafts and to write more often. I’m excited to work my way through the rest of your list! Thanks for this, Anne!

  4. Sweet list! I would add Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I am currently reading this and I love her take on writing the “first thoughts” no matter how much they may hurt and how a writing practice can literally be one’s saving grace.

    Natalie writes, “To do writing practice means to deal ultimately with your whole life….Think of writing practice as loving arms you come to illogically and incoherently. It’s our wild forest where we gather energy before going to prune our garden, write our fine books and novels. It’s a continual practice.”

  5. Love this list! I’d also add On Writing by Stephen King. Even if you’re not an aspiring thriller author, we can all learn a lot from Mr. King. Can’t wait to read all of these; thanks for the suggestions!

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