The 3 “how-to” books a working writer must read


[Feature image: Pietro Bellini]

(That’s right: Must read. If you’ve worked with me as a mentor, you know I rarely use these story-killers: should, must, have to. Sometimes, drastic times require drastic measures. These days in writing and publishing are drastic.)

You look at your bookshelf. There are a dozen books on how to write, how to unblock – how to get published. You might have read half of them, or a quarter, or maybe none at all. You remember the little rush you felt when you first bought each of them. This one. This one will get me started and keep me going. Somehow all the tricks and perfectly reasonable advice didn’t work. It’s time for a garage sale – or a donation to your favorite charity second hand store. Here are the three books that will carry your through getting unstuck, unblocked – and published:

The War of Art by Steve Pressfield

I read WOA through at one sitting the first time, then have used it as a daily reading when I’ve known that I’m avoiding my writing. He and Goodreads have generously provided a slew of quotes from the book. While these quotes give a taste, the book itself is a full-on blues and barbecue party:

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.”


The Elements of Style by William Srunk and E.B. White

I love the understated tone of the Goodreads description: “This little book can help your students communicate more effectively by showing them how to enliven their sentences.” In fact, Strunk and White walk the writer through the lessons you might have not been taught in English 101 – or didn’t pay attention to. So much writing these days is laden with passive construction, sentence fragments and sentences that run on and on, dangling in space, as though the writer was asleep or caffeine poisoned, know what I mean, like that but of course different based on each writer…

Here is the antidote: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33514.The_Elements_of_Style?ac=1

Writer’s Market

Whether you are just beginning to submit your writing to the world; changing direction in the themes of your work; wanting inspiration to re-enter the fray, WM is: “The most trusted guide to getting published! The “2014 Writer’s Market” details thousands of publishing opportunities for writers, including listings for book publishers, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards, and literary agents. These listings include contact and submission information to help writers get their work published.”

I began working as a writer in 1985 after I had raised three children by myself. I needed all the help I could find. WM was my best friend.


Note: Of course there are millions of books that can teach you about your writing: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essay and short story collections; crime novels, fantasy, sci-fi. If you want to grow as a writer, READ. My best teachers are Louise Erdrich, Lee Childs, Terry Tempest Williams, Mark Billingham, H. Lee Barnes, Tim Winton… My list is in the tens of thousands at this point. And, there are always the writers who teach me how not to write. I usually get no further than a half page in their books. They shall remain nameless.

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.