You Are What You Read: What Sits on the Writer’s Bookshelf

Karly White Humor

“I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them.”

—Mark Twain

Now that we’ve discussed what to drink and what to wear while you work on your next blog post or epic novel, let’s tackle something far more influential: What should you as a writer be reading?

Writing, like any other art, is only as good as your knowledge of the craft. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read. And no, Twitter doesn’t count.

So, what books are on the writer’s bookshelf?

Must-Read Titles for Writers of All Kinds

For the writer just starting out, you’re going to want to jump right in to Strunk & White’s classic The Elements of Style. Yes, it’s boring. No, you probably won’t remember the proper use for apostrophes after reading it. But will you need to reference it constantly? Almost certainly. If you think you just can’t get through it, check out Maira Kalman’s illustrated version. There’s a dog on the cover!

Writing, like any other art, is only as good as your knowledge of the craft. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read. And no, Twitter doesn't count. #writingcommunity Click To Tweet

It’s also probably worthwhile to read the Chicago Manual of Style or whatever style guide is appropriate for your chosen genre and field. Okay, fine, you might just bookmark the website to reference as you work on your latest piece. We’ve all done it. But these days you’ll have to pay for a subscription to get all the answers you need, so you might as well spring for the manual. And then when guests judge your book collection, you’ll look that much more serious.

Now let’s get into labels. You’re not just a writer—you’re a novelist, technical writer, poet, or some other distinct type of writer, and your reading should reflect that. Find your favorite label from our list and update your Barnes & Noble shopping cart accordingly:

  • If you are an aspiring novelist, On Writing by Stephen King is a must read. In it, the horror master details his journey as a writer and offers valuable tips for writing and life along the way. No, there are no horrors in it, unless you count those of rejection and failed manuscripts. This is appropriate for fiction writers of any genre.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a must read for the creative fiction and nonfiction writer. However, you may be disappointed to discover it doesn’t actually contain any information about birds.
  • If you want to work in technical or business writing, you’ll likely want to start with Technical Writing for Dummies. Why are you looking at me like that? It’s better than wikiHow.

On Politics and Poetry

  • If you are a poet, maybe just pick up some E. E. Cummings. Because that’s going to teach you how NOT to write poetry. I mean, come on, he doesn’t even rhyme. And don’t even get me started on T. S. Eliot. I mean, does ANYONE know what The Waste Land is about? No, poetry is all about rigid adherence to structure and form. That’s why everyone loves a good limerick.
  • If you want to write the next great political opus, just don’t read Ayn Rand. Or BuzzFeed.
  • For journalists, do a little more research than just a Google search. At least add some Reddit AMAs in there.

If you are an aspiring novelist, On Writing by Stephen King is a must read, offering valuable tips for writing and life along the way. No, there are no horrors in it, unless you count those of rejection and failed manuscripts. Click To Tweet

Hopefully this list of suggested reading materials helps as you embark on your own writing and allows you to copy the voices of better writers until you find your own. Or not. Remember: some writers have succeeded by just changing the names in their Harry Potter fan fiction, and if all else fails, you can too!

The Scribe Source offers a full spectrum of editing services to writers of all kinds—technical writers, content writers, fiction and nonfiction authors, and more. If you’re a writer looking for a editorial partner to help take your work to the next level, let’s start a conversation

About the Author

Karly is a writer and editor with a keen instinct for the way text should sound, no doubt a result of her daily consumption of everything from The New York Times to C. S. Lewis’s novels to her son’s Dr. Seuss books. She has been a part of the Scribe Source team since 2014.