Want to know how to become a better writer? The MagnetPost crew has a few suggestions if you’re looking for some inspiring books!
If you work with the written word, you’ve probably considered how to become a better writer.
Sure, you could take writing classes online or at your local community college, but there are easier ways to improve your skills.
For instance, if you want to become a better writer, spend more time reading.
Stephen King says, “if you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
It sounds so simple but may be exactly the nudge you need to think about writing in a new way.
Below we’ve built a stellar compilation of books that the MagnetPost team references as tools to help you on how to become a better writer. Some of the descriptions even detail why we think these books make us better writers and marketers. Take a look at this list, it may inspire you to head to your local bookstore or retreat to the realms of Amazon.
Words Can Change Your Brain by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman — Relationships make the world go round. Ever wonder how to communicate more effectively? This book shares strategies for building trust, resolving conflicts, and connecting with others, and does so through scientific evidence. I believe everyone who thinks about how to become a better writer should read this book. It will present insight that will help you in all aspects of your life.
The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott — This book was influential in my content marketing know-how. If you want to read a great book on content marketing, I recommend this one.
The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951 – 1993 by Charles Bukowski — I would not mimic my life around that of Charles Bukowski, but I certainly admire his writing style. Not many writers are able to grab a reader’s attention, share deep truths, and do it so simplistically.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury — I’ve never been a big fan of fiction, but this book (along with 1984) opened my eyes to a beautiful world of fiction writing. The held my attention, made me want to read more, and even brought me to tears. A must-read for fiction lovers.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury — If a writer wasn’t inspired by this book, I’d be surprised. You can feel Bradbury’s passion in this one. The essays in the book capture his voice and opinions, and ultimately help you learn how to become a better writer.
Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley — A modern look at content as a marketing platform. Highly recommended for any business who wants to learn how content can help achieve their marketing goals, and also a good gift for any writers who are new to business writing.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — In my opinion, this book is the best on writing like yourself. It’s written so well, you can’t help but read it cover to cover in one sitting. If you read a book on writing and it’s painful to get through, it’s not a very good book on writing! Anne’s book is a breeze and makes so much sense.
Marketing Mistakes and Successes by Robert F. Hartley — This was the first marketing book I ever read, and it had me entranced. It has case studies of several different businesses and their marketing shenanigans. I was hooked on marketing and customer behavior after I read this book.
Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk — Anybody who works in social media should read this. It’s full of case studies of businesses with specific examples of their social media successes. Gary does a great job at explaining what to do, and then backing it up with proof. Even if you think you’re a social media aficionado, I promise you can learn something from this book.
Creativity For Sale: How I Made $1,000,000 Wearing T-Shirts and How You Can Turn Your Passion Into Profit, Too by Jason SurfrApp — I have to throw this in here. It’s a book by a guy who used to let companies sponsor his last name (for example: Jason SurfrApp), and also his chest (he wore their t-shirts for money). If you need a spark of creativity when it comes to crazy marketing ideas, this is a fun book to read. The best part: the whole book is sponsored. Every page of the book has a small ad at the bottom of the page.
The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway — While it’s not a traditional book on writing, it was very influential to me. It was my first introduction to Hemingway, but more importantly, it was the first time I understood what having a strong writing voice was. As I read the collection of short stories I felt like Hemingway was talking to me through the pages, the same way great people share stories around campfires. Something just clicked and from then I’ve always tried to develop my “voice” in everything I write.
Power Prospecting by Patrick Hansen — Sales and the art of selling have never been a natural skill for me. I’ve read many sales books over the years, and my favorite by far is Power Prospecting by Patrick Hansen. It’s a book about cold calling and cold emailing leads, but it really put the whole sales process in perspective for me. What I love about the book is the historical anecdotes that the author uses to get his point across. I recently found out that there are three other books in the series. I can’t wait to dive into them!
Tell to Win by Peter Guber — I love this book by Peter Guber. He highlights how powerful stories can be with closing deals, persuading allies and leaving someone with a lasting impression. People remember stories and Tell to Win highlights all the ways stories matter in business.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries — This is great book for any entrepreneur that wants to keep costs low and maximize profitability. I found the “lean concepts” eye opening. They can be applied to all areas of business, including sales and marketing.
Getting Things Done by David Allen — Imagine you had a system to capture all the things you need to get done, organize them, and have complete trust that you don’t need to worry about them. Thats what David Allen can teach you in GTD. I was introduced to the book by Merlin Mann’s productivity blog 43folders.com back in 2004. The concepts are clear and the advice is actionable. What I really love about GTD is that it’s so easy to hop back into if you “fall of the wagon”. Once or twice a year I’ll feel really disorganized and thats my cue to reread GTD. I just purchased the newest edition they’ve updated for 2015.
In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio by Philippe Bourgois — Philippe Bourgois is one of the first anthropologists I’ve read that really knew how to tell a story. He’s a fantastic ethnographer who uses a lot of hard data, but his books are engaging, and ultimately successful because they humanize real people who are generally shunned by society.
Sidewalk by sociologist Mitchell Duneier — This book is great because of the way the author incorporates hard data into a very readable story.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison — Toni Morrison is a vivid storyteller and I love her ability to bring me, as a reader, to her characters. Her stories can be pretty tough, but there is a realism that transcends the fiction. The details and care she gives her stories are something every writer can learn from
Sexing the Cherry, by Jeanette Winterson —Again, this isn’t about writing, per se. But Winterson has the ability to pull her readers into fantastic worlds full of philosophy and rich characters. Most of her books have a sense of surrealism, but they are beautifully written. I hope one day to be able to write even half as good as she does.
Note: Jim also recommends Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuck, as Amanda listed above. He recommends this book because it incorporates straightforward marketing content that’s very readable and full of actionable information.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg — Writing Down the Bones was first assigned to me in my undergraduate entry composition class, and I’ve read it one to two times a year since then. Why? Goldberg weaves storytelling throughout pertinent examples that writers from any background can learn from. The book isn’t just meant for creative writers or copywriters. It’s meant for all writers. The chapters are short, to the point, and humorous. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “It is odd that we never question the feasibility of a football team practicing long hours for one game; yet in writing we rarely give ourselves the space for practice.” I try to take her advice and practice writing as regularly as possible.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – Talk about the perfect example of creative nonfiction. This book weaves personal experiences alongside of actual facts and exposition on writing. It’s impossible to get bored reading On Writing. I’ve heard from a few writing friends that they didn’t originally read the book because they weren’t into thrillers or science fiction, which King writes. Don’t be fooled by the author’s main genre. This book is a great read for any reader or writer.
Writing Life Stories: How To Make Memories Into Memoirs, Ideas Into Essays And Life Into Literature by Bill Roorbach – As you can see, many of my favorite writing books are related to creative nonfiction. Why? Well, that is what I studied in graduate school, so I have a particular affinity to the genre. But also, truth-telling books can inform writers of all industries. As we’ve said before, your lede is important and you need to find a way to have your readers relate to the content you’re sharing.
Note: Erin also picked Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird as a favorite book, just as Amanda did. I’d say the book deserves a few extra points for that.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson — Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is special to me–probably my all time favorite book–because it completely changed the way I looked at writing altogether. When I read it, I never thought that non-fiction (or stories based off non-fiction) could be so creative and flavorful. The outrageous antics of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo combined with Thompson’s use of language and his perspective on American culture truly makes this story a fantastic journey.
First and foremost, the story it’s wild! It’s full of spontaneity and two zany characters that are submerged into deep oblivion. There are so many moments when you assume Duke and Gonzo may take a left turn; but they surprise you, going forward at full speed while spinning and zig-zagging their way to discover the American Dream.
Above all, Hunter S. Thompson had a powerful voice–one that will never be emulated. He was as authentic as it gets. Thompson went against the status quo, but with a great deal of wit and sensitivity. To many, this book may seem like an over-the-top drug trip; but it actually brings out the beast in men and in mainstream America. He saw America as broken and critiqued it in an unassuming manner.
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie — My first experience with Peter Pan, of course, was with the Disney animated movie. I love Disney movies, but hands-down this one is my favorite. For whatever reason the story spoke to me. I had wanted to read the book for the longest time and finally did a year or two ago as an adult. I think reading it at an older age makes me appreciate it even more.
Obviously the movie is mostly consistent with the book, but there are a lot of nuances that are different. I feel like the book (like in most cases) opens up one’s imagination because you get to read between the lines. You can do that with movies, but I don’t think it’s the same.
Barrie beautifully captured a tender moment in life: childhood. So quickly it passes us by because as a kid you’re unaware of adult realities. I think childhood moves quickly because a lot of it is spent in imagination land (at least for me). I love the dreamy-ness, the adventure and the constant exploration in the novel. The emotion is so subtle, which is my favorite quality in this novel.
Candide by Voltaire—Aside from To Kill a Mockingbird, this is probably the only other book that I actually read in high school, in its entirety. I always remembered enjoying it, even though at the time I didn’t understand why. When I was in high school I was just invested in the story–the lead character traveling around the world in search of his “soulmate.”
I read this book again last summer and finally understood why I loved the book so much–it’s hilarious! Aside from being a great story full of adventure and wonderment, it is also a satire and extremely sarcastic (my first language). The main character has absolutely no idea what is going on in the world around. True to his name, the title character walks around with bright-eyed optimism and totally clueless to the harsh realities of life.
Voltaire spoke about the atrocities he saw and faced in Europe during the mid-18th century, but turned his work into a timeless piece. I think that is what really boggles my mind about Candide. As writers, we want to speak about the here-and-now but are looking for our work to last into tomorrow, which he so eloquently and humorously did.
The Harvard Psychedelic Club by Don Lattin—I was at the Boston MFA a couple of years ago, and they happened to have an exhibit on 1960s fashion at the time. That era in fashion didn’t particularly interest me. I’m not even sure if that era in general even interested me, up until that day.
While in the gift shop, I noticed (and I’m glad I noticed) The Harvard Psychedelic Club sitting amongst a mess of other books. The book focuses on four different–yet equally pivotal–figures from Harvard in the ‘60s. One of the four is Tim Leary (who ran for California Governor against Reagan and whose slogan “Come Together” inspired the historic song by John Lennon). I’d say he’s the master of “tripping out” on mushrooms and LSD.
Obviously, I would never condone drug use; however, Lattin described how it liberated the minds and hearts of many Americans. Drug use wasn’t uncommon before, but it became more visible after Tim Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil experimented with it–discovering new forms of meditation, seeking spiritual healing, and understanding psychology. Whether we like it or not, these four gentlemen (aka the Harvard Psychedelic Club) changed the landscape of America through their “experimentation.”
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll—Similar to Peter Pan, I became knew Alice in Wonderland after watching the Disney animated film. While it’s not my favorite Disney flick, I still have an immense amount of appreciation for it. To be honest, the story kind of scared me as a child. It’s wild and whimsical, but also dark. There’s a sense of loneliness, too, because Alice is very much on her own in Wonderland–she’s trying to figure out her way back home.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read the book (actually have it on my reading list again), but I have to say that–as always–it’s simply way better than the movie. The book is like a crazy Picasso painting. Everything is all over the place and you’re trying to piece the story together, but if you do piece it back it loses its flavor. So you’re hooked.
This novel defines the word “imagination.” I love writers who aren’t afraid to use their out-of-the-box ideas and stay true to their vision. Alice is dynamite and the remnants we’re left with is adventure, darkness and wonderment. I can’t wait to read it again.
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton—This book will forever and always have a special place in my heart. It’s the first book I fell in love with as a kid. I was around 10 or 11 years old when I read it for the first time, and I was completely sold on all of S.E. Hinton’s works from that point forward. But The Outsiders is my favorite from her collection.
For whatever reason, I instantly connected to the story and its popularity proves that many have, too. That feeling of “outsideness” (duh), not knowing where you belong, and finding your place in the world is a universal sentiment. Although the book is a “kids” book, I think adults can understand what the characters are going through, as well.
What also touched me about this book is that the characters–all teenagers–become men on their own. They either lost their parents or don’t have much of a relationship with them, so they rely on each other. It is tragic, but also beautiful to see that these “outsiders,” who don’t really have a place in society, actually do have their own community to fall back on. We still see or experience this today.
How to Become a Better Writer: Summary
The question of how to become a better writer can be answered by simply reading the works of great writers who came before you. Read their books and try the techniques that call out to you. You may become a better writer and marketer without having to spend a lot of time, effort, and money on workshops or schooling.
All the answers are already here, right in front of you.
You can start to become a better writer today. What books do you cite as tools for becoming a better writer? Please share your thoughts with us.