4 Best Books for Writing

unsplash-logoBecca Tapert

We could always use a little help in our writing endeavors. These are my go-to books for writing helps.

1. Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White

Elements of StyleI still have my edition that I got in high school. Every English-language writer knows Strunk and White’s famous little writing manual, The Elements of Style. Many people between the ages of seventeen and seventy can recite the book’s mantra–make every word tell–and still refer to their tattered grade school copy when in need of a hint on how to make a turn of phrase clearer, or a reminder on how to enliven prose with the active voice. Considering that millions of copies have been sold to millions of devotees, you might not think to ask what could enhance this (almost) perfect classic. In fact, the addition of illustrations allows readers to experience the book’s contents in a completely new way, making the whole learning experience more colorful and clear, as well as adding a whimsical element that compliments the subtly humorous tone of the prose. The Elements of Style Illustrated will come to be known as the definitive, must-have edition.

Maira Kalman is the offbeat and wildly talented illustrator of twelve children’s books, numerous covers for The New Yorker magazine, fabrics for the fashion designers Isaac Mizrahi and Kate Spade, watches and accessories for the Museum of Modern Art, and a mural at the elegant Wavehill estate in Riverdale, among other projects. Her sophisticated and witty images that are yet bright and fanciful have won her a devoted following, especially among young urbanites. Maira Kalman is acknowledged by the E. B. White estate as the single artist trusted to illustrate the revered The Elements of Style.

The Elements of Style Illustrated brings a fresh immediacy to the well-loved, much-valued, and still on-point work that has become an institution. While giving the classic work a jolt of new energy to appeal to contemporary readers, Kalman’s illustrations are themselves timeless, designed to sit alongside the ever-enduring manual for another fifty years and more. This book is available at the Vicksburg District Library and on Amazon.

2. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Eats, Shoots & LeavesWe all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in email, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Lynne Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with. This book is available at both the Vicksburg District Library and the Schoolcraft Community Library and on Amazon.

The most common error made in the Tournament of Writers is not enclosing punctuation inside quotes. In the United States, punctuation is inside quotes. For example:

She exclaimed, “I’m so excited about this contest!”

In other parts of the world, punctuation may be outside of the quotes, but not here.

3. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

The Writers JourneyOK, so I’m totally biased about this book because the author, Chris, is my cousin. Christopher Vogler, was inspired by the mythic studies of Joseph Campbell and the depth psychology of Carl G. Jung. He wrote a seven-page memo of those concepts for the Walt Disney Company, where he was working as a story analyst. The memo was a hit and eventually became his best-selling book The Writer’s Journey. Using Star Wars and The Matrix, Chris demostrates how adding mythical concepts to your narrative creates a more powerful experience for you and your reader. This book is available on Amazon.

4. On Writing by Stephen King

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”In 1999, Stephen King began to write about his craft — and his life. By midyear, a widely reported accident jeopardized the survival of both. And in his months of recovery, the link between writing and living became more crucial than ever. Rarely has a book on writing been so clear, so useful, and so revealing. On Writing begins with a mesmerizing account of King’s childhood and his uncannily early focus on writing to tell a story. A series of vivid memories from adolescence, college, and the struggling years that led up to his first novel, Carrie, will afford readers a fresh and often very funny perspective on the formation of a writer. King next turns to the basic tools of his trade — how to sharpen and multiply them through use, and how the writer must always have them close at hand. He takes the reader through crucial aspects of the writer’s art and life, offering practical and inspiring advice on everything from plot and character development to work habits and rejection. Serialized in the New Yorker to vivid acclaim, On Writing culminates with a profoundly moving account of how King’s overwhelming need to write spurred him toward recovery, and brought him back to his life.Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower — and entertain — everyone who reads it. This book is available at the Vicksburg District Library and Schoolcraft Community Library and on Amazon.

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