You may have felt a flash of literary inspiration and now you have an idea for a new book. To get off to a good start, first-time writers should brush up on structure and mechanics. Many books that teach language mechanics (with emphasis on grammar, personal style, editing, etc.) and structure (including approach, frame of mind, etc.). These books also put "writing" in your immediate consciousness, which provides a motivational boost to both write and write well.
The competent writer may have a kettle full of great ideas, but isn't exactly sure how and when to begin. They will need to play catch up with their own head, since it's literally doing all the work before the hand could even jot down one word. Thus, the most helpful books for this burgeoning writer would be about structure and approach; the concepts that will bring the ideas to life as you put them on paper.
The seasoned writer already has plenty of experience and has the mechanics of writing down pat. He or she may have established a mastery over on specific topics such as law, medicine, academia, business, etc. They can use their life experiences to lay out the groundwork for the ones before them in a blog, or write their own fiction for entertainment. They must, of course, use their unique voice for the ideas. Writing should have warmth and personality. Veteran writers, therefore, should read writer's autobiography books and books about "being a writer."
Here are some recommendations that will help to inspire and improve writing skills of all levels. You can skim through and check out the books that interest you the most.
1. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.
See Zinsser's book if you wish to sharpen your writing skills.
The 1976 book talks about structure, thinking and mechanics, all of which have aged well and are still relevant to today's writing generation. All writers will learn something new here. The principles are sound for today's non-fiction, fiction and blogging sections, from traditional paperback to digital writing.
If you have time to read only one book about language mechanics and structure, this is the book for you. The great part about Zinsser's book is his easy-to-read, conversational writing, which you can also learn and adapt to your writing repertoire. You can read our complete review of Zinsser's On Writing Well here.
2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
This book by Anne Lamott may be the best example of how to perfectly structure your frame of mind, following along a day-to-day account of a writer's life. The reflections of the author are so well-translated on paper that you, the reader, will feel like an old friend stopping by for a visit. Anne Lamott represents life's fundamental truths, wrapped in a personal storytelling medium. You'll feel like reading your life in her stories and won't mind the times you notice the author talking about herself.
3. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Stephen Pinker.
Stephen Pinker is many things. He's a non-fiction writer, scientist, professor, and member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel. Pinker describes writing style as "using effective words to fully engage the human mind." The actual "lessons" are non-traditional, which you can apply immediately.
Stephen Pinker says that punctuation is a medium for meaning more than you think. You're not following rules, but punctuating like you wish the sentence to read. There's also the importance of passive voice: Using it is like directing the reader's gaze as the scene shifts. The author believes that writing should be done as if pointing out an exciting point of interest to the reader via conversation.
4. The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life, by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett's book is a user's guide and delightful story in one. The Getaway Car will appeal to both those who love to curl up with a good book and those who want to learn something new about writing.
Ann Pratchett started out writing friendly advice for young women, growing in her writing career and moving on to writing for the New Yorker and The New York Times. From there, Ann went and wrote some of the best novels this writer has ever seen (Bel Canto, for example).
Written within Pratchett's anecdotes are some important life lessons, insights about writing and encouragement for the reader who dreams of becoming a great writer. You'll be able to find almost anything here, pointers on plot construction, finding great ideas and even methods on how to stave off writer's block. Moreover, the author conveys the clear joys of a life spent writing and reading.
5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
Haven't read any of the excellent horror books by Stephen King? It doesn't matter. Give this one a try. Then, read it once again every year.
Stephen King's "On Writing" is a memoir at heart. He spins wild stories coming from his quirky childhood, which illustrates the makings of a writer. Aside from the truly memorable tales, you get a glimpse of key takeaways about certain writing mechanics, his own insight into structuring, and his ideas of what's truly important for writing and the writer. It's a rare look into his actual mind and how his brain comes up with the weird and the wonderful, the macabre and the bizarre.
Want to know how Stephen King has managed to capture the minds and the hearts of everyone who has read any of his book? Or, how to place yourself in the reader's shoes (or eyes) so you can play mind games and freak them out? It's all here.
A writer's education is endless. Inspirations are all around. Stay thirsty and curious, and you'll find the world a generous and willing teacher. Any of these books serve as a springboard to better writing. Then after you're done, get writing. All great writers have to start somewhere, right?