The following five books have been cited again and again as the top five books all writers should read and own. I already own two of them (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott). Bird by Bird is my particular favourite, having re-read it three times in the last two years, I find it a wealth of practical knowledge.
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. While taking his reader on an autobiographical journey through his early years as an unsuccessful writer, King provides practical advice on staying the course, managing failure, establishing a writing “toolbox”, and making writing a part of life. He is both blunt and sympathetic, but, most of all, he is true and passionate. In an interesting note to add to our discussions on creative writing courses, during the years King taught English he wrote very little as by most Friday afternoons he felt as if he ‘spent the week with jumpers cables clamped to his brain” and despaired about his future as a writer. It was his wife however that encouraged him to keep writing.
2. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. While countless books exist on the stacks of every bookstore that reveal the secrets of how to avoid bad writing, Goldberg bucks the trend and instead crafts a piece that refreshingly discusses how to construct good writing. She works to “uneducated” writers by subtracting rules and freeing the writer’s soul. The experience with the book is both empowering and liberating, for you feel you can actually write with passion and creativity without feeling the weight of constraining rules.
3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Lamott attempts to take the complexity out of the process and to remove the enormity of the task. With skill and grace, she encourages writers to start small, to care deeply about the characters and not the plot, to engross one’s self in the heart of the piece rather than in just the end product. Admirably, she reminds writers that even if few read the piece, to have complete it with heart is a honourable thing.
4. The Elements of Style by William Strunck, Jr, and E.B. White. Heavy on the proper rules of writing well, Strunk and White provide an endless classic in the world of word craftsmanship. They give the reader a solid and concise look at the practical purposes in composition and usage of the English language. While certainly not an inspirational book, no piece exists that will do more for a writer's understanding of the language he employs than Strunk and White's masterpiece.
5. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O'Conner. Called "the best thing to happen to grammar since Strunk and White", this book makes the technical and often intimidating language of grammar both tolerable and simple. In ten basic lessons, O'Conner reviews how to take the sting out of common grammar errors that often disrupt a writer's work and, thus, a reader's interpretation. Fun and easy to read, O'Conner's book is a must for any writer's bookshelf.