The 8 best writing books in 2021 (and why you should read them)

Countless peddlers have long lists of “the best” books on writing:

  • “Top X books on writing” (AKA “The Amazon search results for books on writing with 4+ stars”)
  • “X books every aspiring writer should read” (AKA “Here’s a huge list of books I’m pretending I read”)
  • The “classic” writing books (AKA “Outdated bookshelf decoration”)

It’s easy to google “best books on writing,” copy paste them (along with stock Amazon descriptions) into WordPress, hit publish, and call it a day.

Let’s try a different approach…

I have read 21 books on writing and I want to give you the essential 8.

You’ll also learn exactly how it will help you. (Saving you 6.98$)

Why do people read fiction anyhow? Because we’re…

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Wired for Story is Made to Stick for writers. No wonder I love it so much.

This book talks about why people read fiction. It is more than just entertainment. Fiction helps us adjust our social sensors so we can live well with others.

Before I read Wired for Story, I didn’t put a lot of back story into my characters. I didn’t like flashbacks and, besides, the story only goes forward. Then I read fiction readers want to know people’s secrets. So I decided to put some there.

Story Genius, her second book on writing, is also good.

Don’t get cocky

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield

All of Steven Pressfields books are awesome. (If I counted my rereads of The War of Art I would have hit my GoodRead’s goal this year.) This one hinges on two core concepts. 1) Empathy. 2) Process.

Empathy: Reading is hard. People are going to trash your work because they are busy. Bring your best work forward, start with the concept and make it appealing–no body wants your 101 pages of fantasy world history.

Process: Steal. Ad-men use existing ads (they call them the “swipe-file”) to build their new ones. Copy one persons work and it’s called plagiarism, copy ten and its research. I don’t need to tell you not to copy. If you would you won’t care. Everyone else has the good sense when it’s plagiarism.

Reference book for making this funny

How to Write Funny by Scott Dikkers

Scott Dikkers breaks out the ten tools to make things funny. But even more important he talks about the process of clown and editor.

The clown jokes about everything and writes it down in a notebook. Don’t let an idea slip. Trash or otherwise.

The editor picks the best and begins to nurture it.

Made my outlines powerful from sentence 1, (and made me watch movies better.)

Write Your Novel From The Middle by James Scott Bell

The title gives it away. But let’s go a little deeper.

Why write it in the middle? Because that is where the moment of reflection occurs for the main character. For Joy in Pixar’s Inside Out she is being forgotten and realizes the importance of sadness (Character and emotion). Or Gone with the Wind has Scarlett O’Hara realizes Tara must be preserved (James’s uses this example).

If you start in the middle, 1) you will ensure a strong character arc, 2) know what you have to setup to get there, 3) know what your act 3 climax is going to mean to the character and your readers.

Saved you 3.99$. (James Scott Bell’s book is excellent, pick up a copy.)

Side note: this book is well written. The metaphors are on point. Reads like a healthy conversation with an old friend.

The book that got me to understand scenes.

Structuring Your Novel by K.M Weiland

This book is potboiling normalcy until she talks about scenes. This book make me rethink how I plan my novels. Instead of going chapter to chapter, I need to make scene to scene work.

In particular, she has two types of scenes. One type is action oriented and the other is reflective. The reflective scene she calls the “Sequel Scene”.

A normal “Scene” is three parts, 1) a goal-seeking character encounters conflict, 2) he takes action to get his goal, 3) a “yes-but” happens, or just an outright “no-and”. IE: disaster.

The “Sequel Scene” also has three parts, 1) the character reflects on what just happened, 2) realizes something, 3) makes a plan.

By linking an action scene followed by a reflective scene the reader gets the experience of momentum and empathy.

There you go, saved you another 2.99$. Go buy the book though, there is way more on scenes.

The Psychological Primer to Creative Work

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book is about creative living. It is a collection of stories exposing dichotomies. Like how a novel is you pouring out your soul and shouldn’t be treated lightly and writing a novel is playful and you shouldn’t put much thought into it.

Do those two ideas work together?

They do, to make you. I like this book in combination with the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The tone is completely different. The War of Art is a double espresso and Big Magic is a large mug of chamomile tea.

Write what you love and others will love it too

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury’s love of dinosaurs and comics sticks in my memory. Everything he loved as a boy was shamed out of him. (to the point he ripped his Buck Roger comics) But, when he took what he loved he started to “step on a landmine” of words.

No amount of structure advice, character archetypes, or whatever if you can’t find the joy in writing. Steven King, (James Scott Bell writes in his book Middle Your Novel from the Middle) Steven King is full of this “joy” and it drips on his works.

Action tip: alternate your books on writing between finding the zen/”Joy” and practical matters of how.

Complete advice from an authoritative source

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

This book is the one stop shop for everything. From plotting and opening lines to editing. (A whole section for non-fiction to boot!) Let me pick out one gem:

The best book titles are metaphors. IE, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”. He goes on to list more examples. I want to add to this observation with poetry hinges on the use of metaphor. Good metaphors and bad writing the poem will survive. Flip it, and it dies.

If you’re searching for a book title, I highly recommend metaphors.

The best way to learn writing isn’t from books

Take action on what you read or you are just wasting time. And reading books takes a lot of time. Do this:

Read a copywriting book. Just 1.

Then go out and do 2-3 of the things you learned in the book. Try it on for size, everyone has a different method and these writers are letting you try their style.

Make the concepts real and internalize them.

You’ll learn more from one book using that method, than if you were to just read 100 books in a row.

That’s all.