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What do you recommend as reading material to improve writing for beginners? If one recommendation is put per answer and can be voted separately a good list of resources should build up.

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  • Also see podcasts, magazines, and online info about writing. – MGOwen Sep 24 '12 at 5:49
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    Good luck, Don Quixote. No perfect book exists. You'll find only "good enough" and such is the "industry standard", books aren't written by robots for robots but by people for people and no matter how dry and professional the subject it's impossible to wring a text entirely dry of all informality and subjectiveness like you'd want it. – SF. Jul 31 '13 at 9:23
  • Thank you for your comment. I wish at least some books were written by robots! Though, an almost-perfect book can be useful for me as well. – Nate Jul 31 '13 at 16:22
  • Relevant discussion: writing.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1517/26 – Neil Fein Apr 29 '18 at 15:46

41 Answers 41

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Two of my favorites already mentioned above: "Writing Down the Bones" and "Bird by Bird." The other one in my top three is "If You Want to Write" by Brenda Ueland. All three of these books are always inspiring and motivating to me, time after time.

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Aristotle's Poetics

Several translations are available for free online and can be purchased in bookstores.

Sample:

With respect to the requirement of art, the probable impossible is always preferable to the improbable possible.

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The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style will keep you from having to reinvent the wheel.

The Art of the Novel by Henry James is perfection yet a bone-dry read. Thankfully, this nineteenth century gem is condensed into a 20 page afterword to be found in.

The House of Fiction, an Anthology of the Short Story (Charles Scribner's Sons, NYC, 1950/1960) by Caroline Gordon and Allen Tate. Tagging Henry James' insight to these stories really works. This anthology is the definition of a good read. It will keep you on the road.

For a great book on becoming an artist, a writer, a painter, or a musician: No Longer Human (New Directions 1958) by Osamu Dazai is the whole story.

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Annie Dillard's The Writing Life

Umberto Eco's Six Walks in the Fictional Woods

bell hooks's remembered rapture

Behn & Twichell's The Practice of Poetry

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Death Sentence: The Decay Of Public Language, by Don Watson is an incredibly astute and witty look at the abuses of language in modern business-speak. It's not explicitly about how to write well, but it does point out what not to do, and will help develop critical thinking about writing in general. It's also very entertaining :)

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Professional Writing Skills: A Write It Well Guide Author : Natasha Terk

This book can serve your purpose. It provides a step-by-step process for planning business letters, memos, e-mail, and other business documents. It teaches how to position your message from the reader's point of view, write persuasively, include the right information, and organize the information logically,expanded sections on language, punctuation, and grammar offer busy professionals the tools they need to get their message across clearly, concisely, and professionally.

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These are two books that have influenced my self study of the novel and narration.

  • Letters to a Young Novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa. MVL writes to a fictional young novelist about process and the conceptual work of writing a novel.

  • Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster. EMF writes about the elements of a novel: plot, narration, etc. Originally delivered as lectures at Cambridge.

Together, the two books create a sort of 3D image of fiction writing that spoke to me. Of course, there is not one, singular best book in this space. You will find one (or more) that helps you in the way you want to learn and grow.

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Paul Carr is a British writer, one of the best I have read. Have a look here http://thebooksmap.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/books-for-writers-and-enterpreneurs.html

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    Could you say something about why this book is excellent? What does he cover? What are his credentials? Why should people read this book? Thanks. – Monica Cellio Dec 5 '13 at 16:19
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For writing in general I found these titles helpful:

Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers

Words Fail Me by Patricia T O'Conner

Write to Ignite by Deborah Joyner Johnson

For writing dialogue I found the aptly named book Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella very helpful

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I'm thoroughly enjoying How to Write Like Tolstoy, which along with On Writing are the most relatable books about writing.

I admit that Richard Cohen's book caught me by the title (who wouldn't want to write like Tolstoy?), but it's much, much more than that - explaining the pros and cons of viewpoint, voice, style, even the "virtues" of plagiarism, whilst scattering all of the insight with gossip and snarky comments from famous and notable writers, much of which was witnessed first hand or from his network. Richard has been an editor to some big names, and is an author himself, and the way he writes makes it feel incredibly achievable.

If you're past the blank page stage, this is a motivation to crack on. It's truly a well researched book which reads like a great article from a Sunday paper - immensely digestible and satisfying.

BTW I've not written a review for the book on Amazon. Having read what I've just written, perhaps I should.

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