Writing I Couldn't Live Without

Today's the last day to get free shipping on Amazon and have your package arrive by Christmas Eve. I have a feeling that Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss is going to be a big seller this holiday. And that’s great. But if you’re buying for a writer, you might want to dig a little deeper than that. Because writers already know that commas and apostrophes are woefully misused. Trust me.

Buying books on writing for writers can be intimidating. Won’t they be insulted? Well, if you buy a For Dummies book, they might be. But a classic book on writing is a sure thing. It doesn’t even matter if they already have it. Every writer I know has at least two copies of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. An extra copy just means you have one for sharing.

And what if you choose the wrong book? Well, in my opinion, there’s no such thing as a bad book on writing. You can get something out of nearly everything. But there are some books on writing that just stand miles apart from the others. They are the books on writing that you turn to again and again for information and inspiration.

Here is my list of books on writing that inform and inspire, that stand up to multiple readings, that are welcomed to my bookshelves by the bushel, the books on writing that, in fact, I simply couldn't live without:

On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Every writer should have a copy or two of this book.

Writing For Story by Jon Franklin. The best damn book on narrative nonfiction. Period.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. My all-time favorite book on creative writing. Makes me want to grab my notebook and a pen and head for a café to write my heart out every time I read it.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Not so much a technical guide as a spiritual one, but one that you'll want to read over and over again. The writing is beautiful.

And, to round out the list, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Destined to be a classic. On my to-read-again list.

So I showed you mine. I'd love to see yours. Just click on that comments link at the bottom of the post and tell me which books on writing make your can't-live-without-it list. While I wait, I'll be praying that I didn't make any punctuation mistakes in this post. Is it just me, or does it seem like there are a million apostrophes in this one?


Mr. Fun said...

Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. I'm currently making my way through it a second time. He is more exuberant about writing than anybody I know about anything (except maybe this one fellow I saw on a message board to was a quite hardcore fan of U2). It's incredible, and, plus, it's just fun to hear him talk about his writing.

Gienna said...

I'm so glad you mentioned Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. It's one of my favorites, too.

Visual-Field said...

Thanks for this post. I've read all of the books you mention except Natalie Goldberg's, and will now look for that one. I'm a scientist who writes almost constantly -- journal articles, book chapters, reports of various kinds. I work at writing as clearly and concisely as possible, and am always trying to improve (just as in my photography).

Anyway, here are some opinions for what they're worth: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is my favorite of the books you mention, but I also like Annie Dillard's writings on writing (but then I like almost everything she's written).

I found Lynne Truss's book fun in small doses, but not worth the attention it's received. Strunk & White is fine, but my favorite work on the mechanics of writing is Joseph M Williams' Style: Toward Clarity & Grace, which taught me what little I know about crafting sentences.