‘’If you’re a bad writer, no one can help you become a good one, or even a competent one.
If you’re good, and want to be great, fuhgeddaboudit.’’
I know that’s not what you wanted to hear.
I didn’t like it either.
But I’m not here to share motivational memes – I want to be honest.
Storytelling is an ancient art.
And whether you think that’s 4000 years or 200,000 we can agree there’s a lot to learn.
The good news is that King also says it’s possible for a mediocre writer to become a good writer.
I bet you’ve never been so glad to be medoicre at something.
But it takes work. Dedication. Commitment.
If you’re serious about learning, here are the seminal books on how to write well, by people who actually know how to write well.
If you’d rather find someone who is ALREADY a good writer, read: How To Get an Oscar-Winning Director to Make a Video For Your Nonprofit / CSR / Cause Marketing
Table of Contents
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
- The Elements of Style
- Why I Write
- Made to Stick
- The Writing Life: Writers on How they Think and Work
- Pixar’s 22 Rules of Story (that aren’t really Pixar’s) Analysed
- Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
- Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
- Story Genius
- On Writing Well
- If You Want To Write
- The Art of Persuasion
- Zen in the Art of Writing
- Still Writing
- The War of Art
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
By Stephen King
His first book written following a car accident the year before. Documenting his early experiences as a writer right up to today, ”On Writing” has become a desk-top must-have for authors the world-over, as evinced by it’s inclusion in the modern classics ”top 100 Best Reads from 1983-2008.”
King gives advice based on real life experience, and tells how his relationship with writing helped him recover from his car accident.
”Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.”
Non-profit marketing leaders and cause marketers may also enjoy King’s LIST OF 82 BOOKS FOR ASPIRING WRITERS TO READ
The Elements of Style
By William Strunk Jr.
The only book Stephen King recommends reading, is the Elements of Style, first published in 1918, before E.B. White extended the book in 1959 under the authorship ”Strunk & White,” after which is was named by Time as one of the 100 most influential books written in English since 1923.
An in depth critique of writing style – chapters include ”elementary principles of composition,” ”49 commonly misused words and expressions,” and ”eight rules of usage.”
Stunk and White teach how to omit useless words; edit in correct words and use the active voice. An unparalleled technical handbook for all writers.
Why I Write
By George Orwell
Detailing Orwell’s early journey to become a writer, and how his first poems and shorthand stories morphed into those of a modern legend, the book ends up with a discussion of the ‘Four Motives for Writing’:
”Sheer egoism” – the desire to look clever – to be talked about and remembered after death.
”Aesthetic Enthusiasm” – the desire to make one’s writing look and sound good, and pleasure in the impact that has on others
”Historical Impulse” – the desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts.
”Political Purpose” – no book can be free from political bias, and all books desire to push the world in a certain direction.
”The belief that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude. It is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”
Made to Stick
By Chip and Dan Heath
Why are urban myths so intractable? Why is the truth so forgettable? Why do we remember complex story structure but not statistics and data?
Made to Stick covers a lot of ground, using history, science and anecdotal evidence to try and establish the magic formula for Making things Stick.
The Heath brothers break down compelling stories ranging from the ”kidney theft-ring” to the Nobel-prize winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to make his point about stomach ulcers. We only wish they’d have covered why everyone thinks Richard Gere puts gerbils in himself. Second edition material perhaps…
Packed with practical advice and strategy, Chip and Dan Heath’s New York Times Bestseller is a must-read for communicators.
The Writing Life: Writers on How they Think and Work
By Marie Arana
50 of the finest voices in contemporary literature join forces to tell stories about life as a writer.
Professional secrets, origins and inspirations, frustrations and delights from an ”eclectic group of luminaries with wild and varied stories to tell.”
Fears, failures, triumphs and rewards. An indispensable guide to writing.
Pixar’s 22 Rules of Story (that aren’t really Pixar’s) Analysed
By Stephan Vladimir Bugaj
In 2011 former Pixar employee Emma Coats tweeted a now-famous series of aphorisms on storytelling. She stated that the Tweets were “a mix of things learned from directors & coworkers at Pixar, listening to writers & directors talk about their craft, and via trial and error in the making of my own films.”
Although widely misinterpreted as a hard-and-fast set of rules laid out by Pixar, the aphorisms nonetheless proved popular amongst the world’s writing class. In an effort to extend and elaborate (tweets can only go so far) fellow Pixar employee Stephan Vladamir Bugaj wrote a compelling short book covering each of the points, each with thoughtful extension and nuance.
By Nancy Duarte
Duarte is an author and presenter with a proven record of presenting well – amongst other achievements, she made the slides in Al Gore’s Oscar-Winning ”An Inconvenient Truth.”
Resonate teaches how to turn impact into action. A damning indictment of snoozy powerpoint presentations, Duarte shows readers how to become powerful visual communicators, including:
How to grip audience attention
How to place your audience at the center of a story so it’s meaningful to them
Why you should see yourself as a mentor not a hero
Creating calls to action that work
And how the greatest speech writers of all time make it happen
By Jonah Berger
Why does content go viral? What makes things popular? The answer isn’t advertising. Wharton Professor Jonah Berger covers everything from the popularity of childrens names, to the cars we buy, and the clothes we wear, in his ten-year effort to find out what makes things Contagious.
Find out how anti-drug adverts drive drug-taking; and how a white-goods company selling food blenders managed to get their videos shared by 200 million people.
Contagious is a short, action-packed discovery of specific and actionable techniques for designing communications that people will share.
Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish
By James Scott Bell
How to craft a strong beginning; middle and end. Making your plot easy to understand, believable and memorable.
How to chart diagrams and brainstorming techniques to get the creative juices flowing. With exercises at the end of each chapter for practical ways to solve problems common to all writers.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
By Anne Lamott
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”
Anne Lamott’s Instructions on Writing and Life does just that. Practical matters of pen to paper transmute effortlessly into life lessons in faith, love, pain, grace, jealousy, life and death.
Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
By Sol Stein
“This is not a book of theory. It is a book of useable solutions— how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.”
Chapters include how to write faster, and get rid of the unnecessary flab – the ”liposuction lab.”
Filled with secrets, tips and tricks honed from decades of trial and error. World-renowned author Sol Stein’s insight into the craft of writing is invaluable reading for writers.
By Lisa Cron
Lisa Cron lays out the science behind storytelling, showing how story structure is wired into the deepest parts of the architecture of the mind.
She contends that today’s writers need to understand both the subjective and the material in order to capture the attention of audiences.
”In Story Genius Cron takes you, step-by-step, through the creation of a novel from the first glimmer of an idea, to a complete multilayered blueprint—including fully realized scenes—that evolve into a first draft with the authority, richness, and command of a riveting sixth or seventh draft.”
On Writing Well
By William Zinsser
Yale Professor William Zinsser’s accessible book for beginners offers everyday advice for aspiring writers.
Whether you’re writing about sports, science, technology, business, about yourself or even just emails, Zinsser offers fundamental principles for writing well that have stood the test of time, and sold over a million copies.
If You Want To Write
By Brenda Ueland
By the age of 93 Brenda Ueland had published 6 million words.
Her two rules are: tell the truth; and don’t do anything you don’t want to.
Labelled ”the best book ever written about how to write,” by Carl Sandburg – Ueland’s fascinating journey draws heavily on William Blake to draw up ”12 points to keep in mind while writing.”
But don’t take this all at face value – in her own words Ueland reminds us: “Whenever I say ‘writing’ in this book, I also mean anything that you love and want to do or to make.”
The Art of Persuasion
By Robert Cialdini
There is a science to persuasion. And Robert Cialdini has become the godfather of the field.
Thirty-five years of rigorous scientific research on ”Why people say ‘yes,’ ‘ has left this book in the annals of persuasion history. And Cialdini’s six universal principles of persuasion, including Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Liking and Consensus are today taught the world over.
A must-read for nonprofits, cause marketers and social enterprises.
Zen in the Art of Writing
By Ray Bradbury
”Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces back together. Now, it’s your turn. Jump!”
Acclaimed author of poems, novels, stories, films and plays, Ray Bradbury’s manual is a celebration of the art and life of writers and writing.
Covering everything from how to find your authentic voice, to finding original ideas, Bradbury weaves in his personal stories and experience of a life in the field to give you a timeless guide on how to write, and love writing.
By Dani Sapiro
Hard-fought wisdom gained from 20 years as a writer, Dani Shapiro offers a heart-warming, insightful and often-comic memoir on the writing process.
Including stories from other writers with her own creative process, Shapiro offers life lessons to those with an artistic temperament:
“The writer’s life requires courage, patience, empathy, openness. It requires the ability to be alone with oneself. Gentle with oneself. To be disciplined, and at the same time, take risks.”
The War of Art
By Steven Pressfield
”Resistance” is the enemy. Pressfield’s remarkable capacity to conjure the inner dialogue inherent in our psyche is uniquely potent.
His capacity to do-so shows us all how the voices of mediocrity restrict our creative output, and what to do about it.
The War of Art has become the handbook for struggling artists and creatives all over the world. It’s not just about curing writer’s block, it’s a mandate for taking control of your ”self” full stop.
It’s my favourite book of all time, I’ve read it many times, and it has helped me, amongst other things, to finish this blog.