Three Good Books About Writing

Writing is hard. It’s also true that the only way to get better is to do it a lot. No amount of time I’ve spent thinking or reading what others say would count for anything if I didn’t put it into practice. The thing about practice though is that practice doesn’t make perfect: practicing the right way does. You can do the wrong things over and over again and ever get as good as you could have been. To get better you have to learn from others, and then also use what you learn.

However much I improve — however more clearly I can organize and express my thoughts — I don’t think that I’ll ever be completely satisfied with how I write, but I don’t want to stop trying. These are a few books about writing that have helped me maybe get a little better. They’re probably three of the most well read books on writing, but if you haven’t, I recommend them all.

The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White

Short and pretty terse, Elements of Style is full of practical rules and guidelines. It won’t tell you how to be a good writer, but it might keep you from embarrassing yourself too much. It’s kind of like K&R of writing books. I keep meaning to re-read it.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

The first part goes over the basics and general writing topics, and there’s lots of good stuff in there. Later on it talks about specific kinds of writing: travel, sports, business, memoirs etc. The title gives it away — On Writing Well is about learning to write non-fiction well.

On Writing, Stephen King

Sort of half about writing and half about Stephen King’s life. Both parts are great. It’s worth reading for anyone because it’s entertaining and funny, but it’s also got lots of tips about how to suck less at writing interspersed.