Start a best books for writers collection

One of the best things I can do to improve my writing skills is follow the advice and example of respected writers.

It would be nice to sit in a room with the masters, but writers’ conferences are expensive. So until either the fees go down or my income goes up, I’ll take the next best thing: their books. Not only are books easy on my wallet, but the only traveling I have to do is over to my easy chair–that is, after a trip to the kitchen for an accompanying snack.

Along the way to becoming a better writer, I plan to stock my office shelves with a “best book for writers” collection. Every writer should have a book collection that inspires, instructs, and challenges.

I took a look at many, many, oh, so many “Best Books for Writers” lists and sorted out the books that appeared most often:

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Roget’s Thesaurus
  • Chicago Manual of Style by University of Chicago Press
  • Webster’s Dictionary (assorted versions)
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
  • The Writing Life by Anne Dillard
  • Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
  • The First Five Pages: A Writers Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman

I already have four of the thirteen books: Strunk, Zinsser, Roget and Webster. I’ve read Lynne Truss’ Eats but did not buy it due to its British emphasis, and I’m going to skip Stephen King’s because he scares me.

That leaves seven writers’ books by authors unknown to me. After looking up and reading samples of each, I decided to buy Writing Tools by Clark along with another of his, The Glamour of Grammar, because I couldn’t resist that title. The others I added to my Amazon Wish List and hope to see them under the Christmas tree.

On one of the more unique lists is The Bible, King James Version. I dug a copy out of storage and read a few passages–this time with the eyes of a writer. Just like the list’s author, I love the beauty of the writing, so I added the KJV to my small but growing book for writers collection.

My Collection:
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Roget’s Thesaurus
  • Webster’s New World Dictionary
  • Publication Manual by the American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
  • The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark
  • The Holy Bible, King James Version
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (my favorite novel)

A nice mix! You can find my list forever more on the Writer’s Toolbox page. When I add to the collection, I’ll be sure to blog about it.

Here’s a good thought from William Zinsser, as stated in his introduction to the 30th anniversary edition of On Writing Well:

I don’t know what still newer marvels will make writing twice as easy in the next 30 years. But I do know they won’t make writing twice as good. That will still require plain old hard thinking … and the plain old tools of the English language.

I’m encouraged by that thought along with many more found in his book, which has become one of my writing tools. Choose a book for writers from the list I compiled or one that’s recommended by someone you respect. However you do it, get started today with your own collection of best books for writers.

Question: What book for writers do you recommend and what did you like about it?


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