Recommended Writing Books

The Writersaurus’ list of recommended Writing Books

I’ve gotten a few requests for a list of recommended writing books. A librarian in a large library system by day, I have almost unchecked access to any book I could want. As you can imagine, it takes quite a lot for any particular title to warrant purchasing for my own collection.

Below are the writing titles that have made that cut. Each of these recommended writing books has something special that the myriad of other books shelved under 808 lack. Below, I’ve done my best to explain why I believe each of these books is a step-above.

Note: This page contains links to Amazon, with whom I am an affiliate. I have chosen these books at my own discretion with no prompting from Amazon or its associated sellers. Not only is Amazon a great place to get information on books, read reviews, and even download sample chapters, clicking on these links helps support The Writersaurus – even if you don’t buy the book!  

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder 
 recommended writing books
This book is actually targeted at aspiring screenwriters, but since the book focuses on story and plot points rather than more film-specific things like camera angles and script-writing, almost all of these techniques can be re-purposed for novel-writing. Blake Snyder has broken down story into 15 ‘beats’ that he believes all blockbuster stories have, with many Hollywood examples. It’s a refreshing new take on plot in structure that complements rather than deviates from the traditional three-act, hero’s journey school of plot structure.

Also check out the other books in the Save the Cat family: Save the Cat Goes to the Movies and Save the Cat Strikes Back

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
 recommended writing books emotion thesaurus
Though there are a few pages of short writing workshops at the beginning of the book, The Emotion Thesaurus is a reference manual more than anything else. And what a wonderful reference manual it is. The meat of the book is a series of emotion words followed by lists of physical actions characters might exhibit to express that emotion. For example, a couple of the entries for the emotion word ‘anger’ might be ‘balling up fists’, ‘gritting their teeth’, etc. It’s especially helpful for those who know they should ‘show and not tell’, but aren’t exactly certain what that looks like.

Ackerman and Puglisi have written a couple other guides with this same thesaurus model, The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait ThesaurusThough both are great, I didn’t want to clog this list with like titles. Definitely check them out. And don’t forget the FREE companion to The Emotion ThesaurusEmotion Amplifiers

 How to Write Awesome Dialogue! for Fiction, Film, and Theater by Tom Leveen
recommended writing books How to Write Awesome Dialogue
With a history of acting, directing, and writing plays – all art forms that rely primarily on dialogue to get their points across – in addition to writing 7 YA books, Tom Leveen is certainly qualified to write a book on writing dialogue.

Having attended his live dialogue workshop – twice – I can vouch for Tom’s mastery. How to Write Awesome Dialogue is a guide that helps you write naturalistic, unique conversations (monologues have no place in fiction, I’m sorry) that help progress plot and conflict, and, believe me, it’s not the same stuff that writing guides have been regurgitating for decades and decades.

Check out Tom’s fiction titles here.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King 
recommended writing books On Writing Stephen King
You were expecting this, weren’t you? There is a reason that Stephen King’s On Writing is one of the most recommended writing books around. Part of that reason is the Stephen King machine, but another part is that it’s just so good. No matter what you think of Stephen King’s mountain of work itself, there’s no doubt that he is at least a master storyteller, if nothing else.

On Writing is half memoir, half writing guide. You’re allowed to skip the memoir section if you like. The writing half focuses broadly on many different aspects of writing and the writing life, from accepted conventions to how often to sit down and start composing.

If you need a link to Stephen King’s mountain – I mean, body – of work, Click here.


Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
recommended writing books Bird by Bird Anne Lamott
Like Stephen King in On WritingAnne Lamott also shares her personal story with the reader, but it is more entwined with the lessons themselves, a sort of lead-by-example, or don’t-do-as-I-have-done set-up.

Bird by Bird is less preoccupied with the actual mechanics of writing, however, and more concerned with actually writing in the first place. Full of humor and wisdom, it focuses on how to give yourself permission to follow your dreams, and how to find time for them, and how to motivate yourself when the muse is conspicuously absent.

Check out Anne Lamott’s other work here.