15 Books to Improve Your Writing: From Idea to Final Draft

By Sue Campbell

One of the things I love about being a writer is the endless pursuit of improvement.

But it used to drive me nuts. I’d get so frustrated that my writing didn’t come out like Salinger, Vonnegut or O’Connor.

Now, I’ve made my peace with it. My writing voice continues to evolve; I’ve accepted that I’ll never be done getting better and now I just enjoy the ride.

Here are just a few of the books that have made my editing colleagues and me better writers at every stage of the process.

Books to help you develop a writing practice (and keep going when you want to quit)

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

This is the book you need to give you permission to write crap. Goldberg encourages us to just keep our hands moving across the paper long enough to let the magic happen.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I read this book (and listen to the audio book version) several times each year, particularly when my fiction writing is not getting done. It gives me the well-intentioned and well-deserved kick in the ass I need to do my work.

On Writing by Stephen King

A classic that’s always an inspiring read. You come away with a sense that there’s no way King could have chosen any other profession and you want to sign up for the same life — minus the stint as a drug addict, of course.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Another classic that helps you break down the task of becoming a writer into more manageable pieces.

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

Long before I was a fiction writer, or anything other than a wannabe writer, I read this book and longed to become one.

Books to help shape your ideas into stories

Take Off Your Pants by Libby Hawker

One prolific writer I know is passionate about Hawker’s outlining technique.

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

This book uses brain science to help you craft a riveting story and save you from overwriting a book that simply doesn’t work.

Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig

In his irreverent and hilarious style, Wendig gives you his take on what a story is and isn’t.

The Art Of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

For the playwrights out there, this is a character-driven approach to the structure of dramatic works.

Books to help edit your stories

Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

One of the most important book in my fiction career, Story Grid gives you practical tools to analyze your knowledge and fix the broken and just plain stale places. Once you know the Story Grid methodology, it works just as well for shaping your idea into a draft as it does for editing a completed manuscript.

Story Fix by Larry Brooks

Larry Brooks’s take on the four-act structure helps you identify the tent poles that hold up with big tent of your story. His description of the midpoint shift has been instrumental to my understanding of pacing in the middle build of a story.

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

Pages and Platforms editor Anne Hawley recommends this book to any writer who’s serious about writing the kind of story that will sell.

Books to improve and fine tune your prose

Dreyer's English by Benjamin Dreyer

Anne Hawley and I are absolutely crazy about this hilarious and useful recent release that should earn a place on your desk so you can quickly answer all those pesky copyediting questions.

Elements of Style by Strunk and White

This classic is still indispensable in my book.

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

This style guide has tons of useful examples of good prose along with explanations that you can apply to your own writing.

Did we miss anything?

As I said, I always want to keep learning. If I’ve missed a book you find instrumental, please let me know by dropping me an email.

Sue Campbell