Writing is hard. It's pain and anguish, and writers do it either by compulsion or for fun, because there's something wrong with each and every one of us. And once you're done putting words to paper, attempting to publish your fiction, poetry, and essays is an all-new, challenging ballgame.
As with any field, publishing is full of behind-the-scenes politics and processes, and, when you first dive in, you might not even be aware that such things exist. You've only just figured out writing, after all, and now you have to learn everything about this entirely new stretch of your creative journey. Once you realize just how much you don't know, however, you'll start to question everything. You might wonder, Do I have to put some secret stamp on my manuscript, or slip it under an alley door in order to get it published?
Thankfully, wordsmithing is somewhat of a collaborative art. There are plenty of writers and editors keen to reflect on their work and share insider knowledge. No matter what kind of writing you dabble in, there's a deep well of advice waiting for your pail. These are the 11 best books about the craft, perfect for reading before you land your big book deal.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
This was the first "writing book" I ever bought, and it's been very well-loved over the years. I've highlighted passages, loaned it out to friends, and generally recommended it to every writer I know. It's a guide to how and why Stephen King writes, but, even if you aren't a fan, you'll appreciate his practical advice.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
Although several of the "rules" authors William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White put forward in their Elements of Style make little sense — e.g., to say "three persons" instead of "three people," because when two people leave, you'll be left with "one people" — this little pocket-sized volume is full of no-nonsense stylistic advice.
Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnik
If following Strunk and White's advice has your writing sounding dull, Arthur Plotnik is here to help you take your prose to the next level. Spunk & Bite — a play, of course, on the colloquial name for The Elements of Style — contains background information on the rules of language usage and has plenty of exercises to challenge your writing abilities.
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
There's much to be said about writing well, but what about getting published? Betsy Lerner covers both in The Forest for the Trees, addressing productivity and the inner workings of publishing houses.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Guide to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Eats, Shoots & Leaves made a big splash when it hit the scene back in 2006. If you find yourself on the fence about using the Oxford comma, or wondering when it is acceptable to use more than one exclamation mark in succession, Lynne Truss' punctuation style guide is the book you need.
Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
Every writer knows how talking about the craft can make you feel like a pretentious ass. See? I just called it "the craft" and I feel like just the worst person. In Making a Literary Life, Carolyn See addresses not only how to talk about writing, but also how to find and build a community of writers, how to turn people you observe into characters in your novel, and how to see your first piece through to publication.
To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction by Phillip Lopate
Essayist Phillip Lopate knows a thing or two about turning your opinions and life stories into great reading material. To Show and to Tell is a collection of personal reflections on writing your memoirs, one tale at a time.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
I've already mentioned how much I love nonfiction, and how it absolutely isn't boring. If you've ever tried your hand at creating nonfiction, however, you know that writing it without sounding stuffy and fact-heavy is a learned skill. Currently struggling? William Zinsser's On Writing Well is the perfect book to get you started.
The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction: Building Blocks by Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davies
Did you know it's easier to get into Harvard than to be published in Glimmer Train? True story. Building Blocks is the first of two volumes of advice from writers published in the respected literary magazine.
Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin
Feminist science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the most well-respected contemporary storytellers. In Steering the Craft, Le Guin offers strategies and exercises to writers looking to hone their tale-weaving skills.
Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Phillips, editor
Compiled and edited by Larry W. Phillips, Ernest Hemingway on Writing is a collection of the famed author's advice and reflections on his art and process, gathered from his correspondence, interviews, essays, and fiction. Hemingway didn't like to talk about his work, but he did just that, and quite a lot.