Perhaps the thing I love more than writing is reading about writing. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my writing. From helpful podcasts like Write Now with Sarah Werner to the Craft Talk newsletter from author Jami Attenberg, there are so many valuable resources on writing out there waiting to be devoured by eager, creative minds. And devour them I do.
The thing I miss the most about college is discussing the art of writing with professors and classmates. After getting my English degree nearly 8 years ago, I’ve made a point to revisit old textbooks and references to keep my skills sharp. When I struggle with writer’s block in particular, these references help give me the push I need to overcome it.
With that said, here are some of my favorite books on writing if you want to improve your craft.
1. The Elements of Style
Illustrated and colorful, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White has seen multiple editions and for good reason: it’s a classic. Consider this your ultimate writing companion. This book was first introduced to me in high school and I’ll admit I didn’t appreciate it enough back then.
Nowadays, I like to read this at my leisure to keep my skills sharp. I also tend to thumb through it when I’m stuck on a particular writing project. In this edition, I particularly love the illustrations by Maira Kalman. They help keep things fun!
2. The Sense of Style
Unlike The Elements of Style, The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker isn’t exactly a grammar reference. Instead, this book gets into the nitty-gritty and psychology of effective writing and the intricacies of proper storytelling. I had to read this particular book slowly while taking notes. There’s just so much information in each section, it does no good to burn through it all like you would any other nonfiction book. No—this book is to be savored slowly and thoughtfully.
My favorite chapter is 3, The Curse of Knowledge, which explores the “difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.” Insightful and impressive, this is a must-read for serious writers, memoirists, or anyone looking to finesse their craft.
3. Everybody Writes
The beautiful thing about having an English degree is you can get almost any job in writing. I started off by writing magazine articles for 3 years, then (simultaneously) ran a digital fashion magazine for another 6 years. When I turned 27 years old, I switched lanes to copywriting, and have been a copywriter for almost 3 years now.
It was different, to say the least. My current job involves a healthy mix of writing advertisements for an all-American clothing brand to coming up with creative stories and production descriptions to sell clothes. I went from (editorial) writing about people in entertainment to (technical) writing about clothing, and I needed a bit of help in the sales department.
Enter Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. This book is “your go-to guide to creating ridiculously good content.” It covers all the basics for everyday writers who caption their social media posts (crucial for brand identity) to professional writers in media and E-commerce. I learned many fresh perspectives from this book, from following a “writing GPS” to the ideal length for ALL social media platforms.
4. Telling True Stories
Perhaps one of my favorite textbooks in college was Telling True Stories edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. I am big on writing about my life experiences and this book taught me a lot about the genre.
Inside, there are various essays and articles from prominent journalists and nonfiction authors. From Nora Ephron discussing narrative writing to Gay Talese dissecting private lives, there’s a topic for every kind of nonfiction piece.
It’s been incredibly helpful for me when writing personal essays and working on my memoir project. It has also helped me in the past while profiling music artists and actors. If you are a nonfiction writer of any kind, this book will be incredibly helpful!
What books do you like to reference when you want to improve your writing? There are so many and I’m always on the lookout for new ones!
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Megan Portorreal is a professional writer, editor, and creative in the New York City area. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books, writing about her life, and playing video games.