5 Books Every Author Should Read

5 Books Every Author Should Read

Every good writer is an avid reader. We take inspiration from those who came before us and find motivation in their successes. Perhaps more importantly, however, reading improves our vocabulary and teaches us new methods for assembling legible stories.

Stephen King said in his seminal work On Writing (listed below):

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

However, beyond reading great fiction and non-fiction tales, I highly recommend that you include several writing manuals in your literary consumption. The works I’ve assembled here will not only motivate your craft, but also give you a great toolkit on how to write.

Here are the 5 books I believe every author should read and keep on their bookshelf for later reference.

1. On Writing by Stephen King

Stephen King On Writing

Why not begin with the manual of one of the most successful authors of all time?

I’ll be honest from the jump: Stephen King is my favorite author. Even if he wasn’t, however, I’d highly recommend this book. This is for its brilliant writing style, insight as to how and why he was so successful, and poignant advice for writers of all levels and genres.

The subtitle of this work is A Memoir of the Craft. That’s exactly what this work is. In between book recommendations, writing advice, and listing the productive habits of other famous writers, King gives the reader a biography of sorts.

It was published in 2000 as King’s first published book after his devastating car accident. The wreck left him emotionally and physically scarred. He even considered walking away from writing altogether. Luckily for us, he didn’t, as some of his best work was yet to follow.

If not for this book, though, King may very well have holstered his pen for good.

You can use this text as a multi-layered motivational tool to keep your pen forever unholstered.

2. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.

The Elements of Style Cover

This is one of the most important book recommendations King gives us in On Writing.

I’ll be honest yet again: I probably would never have heard of this work had I not read King’s book first. Thank the heavens that King’s bibliography pointed me to his memoir, which pointed me to the best writing tool I’ve ever found.

This is a full toolbox every author must cherish and keep close whenever they work.

Sure, you can read through it once and observe the thematic, grammatic, and phrasing advice for what it is. Where this text truly shines, however, is as a resource you can always refer back to when you have a question about stringing words together in a better way.

Working as an English instructor, I always recommend this work to my students. It’s nearly impossible to have it near you and not become a better writer by default. The tips here are just that good.

I have an interesting story about this book.

One afternoon, I was sitting in the waiting room of an ear, nose, and throat specialist. I was browsing through a chapter of the book as I waited for my name to be called. I noticed a tattooed individual, massive in size, with a long ponytail, staring at me across the room. He resembled one of the Hell’s Angels. After a while, the man approached me and asked if he could look through it.

I asked him if he was a writer. He told me he wasn’t, but he had undergone some personal issues and he picked up reading to combat his inner demons. He became a fan of Stephen King and read On Writing. Beyond motivating him to register for college at his advanced age, he also remembered King’s recommendation of The Elements of Style.

We laughed about our similarities, and I let him hold onto the book until I was finished with the doctor.

My lesson: Keep this book with you at all times. Beyond becoming a better writer, you may also find yourself in an unthinkable situation of comradery.

3. The Oxford English Dictionary

Paperback Oxford English Dictionary Cover

This is an easy one.

Every writer should have a dictionary on their bookshelf. I recommend a big one, like the dictionaries made by Oxford.

Dictionaries teach us new words. Learning new words should be the ultimate aim of any writer, all the time.

There’s a more important reason you should have a solid dictionary, though. Through reading many books and having countless conversations in our lives, we see and hear many terms. We think we understand them through context. However, many of the words we use in our writing and speech are simply used incorrectly.

Don’t use a big word if you don’t know its meaning. Look it up. I always tell my students that you should be prepared to explain any term you say or write.

Also, while dictionary applications on our cell phones are great, I don’t recommend you use one in the middle of a writing project. Our phones, and the search bars on the computer screen, open us up to all sorts of distractions.

Go through the book and keep writing.

4. Why I Write by George Orwell

Why I Write Orwell Cover

This isn’t a book, but rather a long essay.

Orwell is my second favorite writer. His works are timeless and have given us many concepts and phrases we use in our everyday lives.

Animal Farm motivated me to take reading seriously. 1984 is one of the most seminal works ever produced. We owe the terms “big brother,” “doublethink”, and of course “Orwellian” to his brilliant mind.

This essay expounds upon Orwell’s motivations for writing in response to an inquiry from Gangrel magazine.

Why do you write? Maybe you’ll have something in common with Orwell’s mentality. If not, at least this work will provide insight into the craft from one of the best who ever did it.

5. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

War of Art Cover

If you’re seeking motivation, then this is the book for you. It is not only aimed at writers, but creative people of all stripes.

It deals with obstacles we face when we are on the verge of success. More importantly, the work illustrates how we can break through them.

Written by the novelist behind The Legend of Bagger Vance, Pressfield it not some no-name telling you how to push through.

This book was recommended to me by a friend and musical collaborator during my brief stint as a rapper. (That’s a story for another day…) I was amazed by the honesty and forthright nature of the tips inside.

If you find yourself stumbling across various difficulties on the road to becoming an author, you should definitely pick this one up.

For my general advice on how to overcome writer’s block, you can check out this post.

Honorable Mention:

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler

What good are books if we don’t know how to read them?

You may be asking yourself: “If I didn’t know how to read, then how could I have gotten through this list?” Well, reading and reading the right way are two different beasts, entirely.

I truly love this work from philosopher Mortimer Adler. It’s another one I recommend to all of my students, especially those on the verge of language exams.

I’ll probably do a full breakthrough on the tips it provides in a future post, so stay tuned.

Can I write now?

Sure, you can.

And with the tips found in the books above, you’ll find yourself writing better than you ever have before.

We can’t all be Garth Marenghi.

“I’m one of the few people you’ll meet who’s written more books than they’ve read.”

Garth Marenghi – Dreamweaver

To be a great writer, you must keep your reading diet full. You must also be sure to mix in a good balance of works such as these that will help with your grammar, style, and readability.

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