We know you want to get tips on improving as a writer. So we made a list of five books for each writing style (Expository, Descriptive, Persuasive, Narrative, and Creative) to help you build an authentic personality as a writer, develop your unique tone, and make an impression with your work. From time-tested classics to modern guides, these books will help you find your system for effective writing.
Table of Contents
Books about writing in an expository style
These books lay it all out for you, explaining a topic or process without any unnecessary detours.
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
This book has been around since the disco era (1976, to be exact). It’s been trusted by writers for three generations and is still as relevant as ever.
On Writing Well isn’t just any old writing guide. Zinsser makes the advice easy to grasp, and his warm, friendly style makes you feel like you’re learning from a mentor, not a textbook.
So, what makes “On Writing Well” so special?
Simple. It has stood the test of time.
With over a million copies sold, it’s a tried-and-true resource that countless writers have turned to over the years.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
For all things writing, The Elements of Style brings tons of wisdom to improve your craft.
It teaches you the laws of English grammar, style, and composition in a way that doesn’t get old – ever. Even the most trusted writers know every practical thing to do because of this book.
It has a thing for plain English style and will show you how to improve your sentences and avoid jargon when writing.
They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein
Used at over 1,500 schools, it shows you how to wrap your arguments in the bigger picture of what’s already been said. Plus, it comes with templates to help you nail those key moves.
It also shows you how to be creative with your own ideas, all while keeping your cool and free templates so you can spit out a clear message for the idea.
Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
With over 200 examples from literature and journalism to back up his concepts included in the book, he’s all about giving you the right tools to rock your writing, no matter what style you’re going for. And he’s not just throwing random advice at you.
Whether you’re a student, a novelist, or just someone who wants to write memos, emails, PowerPoint presentations, or even love letters, this book should be the one for you.
The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams
It shows you how to construct an argument that will really grab your readers and how to deal with any doubts they might have, and how to create intros and conclusions that’ll have them asking, “Well, why didn’t I think of that?”
It also shows you how to pick out the best sources, handle any pushback from your readers, and piece it all together into a compelling argument that’ll stand up to scrutiny.
The new edition remains the same idea from the book’s original vision—that research skills are for everyone, keeping the same straight-talking style that’s made it a go-to reference for researchers everywhere.
Books about writing in descriptive style
These books will help you paint pictures in your reader’s minds, immersing them in your world and imagination.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
This isn’t just for the King fans (though you’ll love it, no doubt).
It’s like a masterclass in writing, delivered with that classic King flair.
The man’s sold millions of books, and here he is, handing over his secrets, habits, and firm beliefs about the art of writing.
He shares his journey through writing and the tools he adapted through time that made the books known for years.
Remember when Entertainment Weekly was all “Long Live the King”?
They were talking about this book. It’s a behind-the-scenes pass to the writer’s world, a toolbox filled with everything you need to start crafting your killer stories.
The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne
“The Story Grid” gives you the tools to dissect your story like a seasoned editor. This book teaches you how to think like an editor. You’ll learn how to spot the bumps in your pacing, the holes in your plot, and the flat spots in your characters. And most importantly, you’ll learn how to turn those issues around.
Coyne breaks down the magic of storytelling into a system that’s easy to get.
He shares the secrets that make a great story and shows you how to use it in your own writing.
The Art of Description: World into Word by Mark Doty
Doty’s an award-winning poet who knows a thing or two about writing, and he’s packed this book with insider tips and tricks. Using the senses to hook your readers – he’ll teach you how to whip up imagery so vivid your readers will feel like they’re right there in the story with you.
Doty starts with a simple challenge:
“Try to find words for the shades of a mottled sassafras leaf, or the reflectivity of a bay on an August morning, or the very beginnings of desire stirring in the gaze of someone looking right into your eyes.
He takes a deep dive into the sensory richness in poems by big names like Blake, Whitman, and Bishop and shows you how to bring that same magic into your own work.
Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway
Burroway shows you how to write effectively on a page, build plots that keep readers hooked, and find your own unique writing voice. It’s filled with practical writing exercises that’ll sharpen your skills and make those creative ideas flow like there’s no tomorrow.
Each chapter of Imaginative Writing tackles a different element of craft – Image, Voice, Character, Setting, and Story. But don’t worry; it’s not filled with academic jargon. Burroway keeps it real and relatable, using readings from great writers to illustrate the topics.
It wants you to explore creative techniques that apply to all genres before deciding which form suits your wild imagination best.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
She mixes Zen meditation and writing in a way that’s never been done before. She calls it ‘writing practice,’ and it’s as Zen as it gets—it’s got two millennia of mind-studying behind it. She’ll inspire you to make writing a part of your everyday life—in a way that’s more party than a chore.
The new edition celebrates almost twenty years since the original hit the shelves. It’s got a fresh intro where Goldberg dishes out her infectious passion for writing practice and a newfound depth of appreciation that only comes with time and experience.
Plus, there’s a bonus interview with the author, where she gets real about Zen, writing, the magic of the place, and the power of memory.
Books about writing in a persuasive style
These books will help you convince others to adopt a new point of view with the use of argument and influence.
Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs
Ever heard of the Eddie Haskell Ploy, the Belushi Paradigm, Stalin’s Timing Secret, or the Yoda Technique? Well, you will now!
You’ll learn how to get your peeps moving with Cicero’s three-step method and pull off Lincoln’s cheeky maneuver to lower expectations.
There are a bunch of time-tested secrets here, like how to take control of tense situations, win arguments (not that you’re argumentative, of course), and use character, logic, and emotion to drive your point home.
Heinrichs also shares some contemporary techniques, like politicians’ sneaky use of code language and a bunch of persuasive tricks you never saw coming.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Dr. Cialdini, a big shot in persuasion science, breaks down how we can ethically use the art of influence in our day-to-day lives.
He shares six foolproof principles of persuasion that are universal, effective, and pretty easy to use, which most people would apply when networking.
His claims are backed by over three decades of serious scientific research and a three-year field study, making this book a guide to influencing behavior.
Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz
Words That Work pulls back the curtain on how the big guys use just the right words to make us buy stuff, vote for someone, or even believe in something.
With sections like “The Ten Rules of Successful Communication” and “The 21 Words and Phrases for the 21st Century,” Luntz shows you how the right word choice can be a game-changer.
He shares why Rupert Murdoch dropping six-billion bucks to DirectTV was a genius move because “satellite” sounds way cooler than “digital cable,” and how big pharma switched up their lingo from “treatment” to “prevention” and “wellness.”
The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa
They’ve been an advisor to big companies like Google, Microsoft, and GE, even rolling up their sleeves to work with groups like the World Bank and the FBI’s hostage rescue training.
In their book, they break down their systematic, four-step process to make even the toughest boss or the most skeptical colleague sit up and take notice, showing case studies and real-life examples that’ll show you the ropes of effective persuasion.
You’ll pick up on how to tweak your style for different situations, dodge any problems thrown your way, and create an influence that sticks around long after the conversation is over.
The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells by Robert W. Bly
Bly’s a veteran copywriter himself, and he reveals some techniques on how to do it.
This is the revamped version of the original, from hot-off-the-presses third edition, with all the need-to-know info for nailing copywriting in this wild, wild Internet era. You’ll get the scoop on copywriting web and email, creating killer multimedia presentations, and doing research like him.
Books about writing in narrative style
The books for this style are all about telling a story that draws readers in with characters, plots, and lots of conflict.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
If you’re a writer or even just daydreaming about dipping your toes into the writing world, this book is pure gold.
She’s got this self-deprecating humor that’ll have you chuckling to yourself (or maybe even snort-laughing; we don’t judge).
You’ll feel like you’re sitting down for coffee with her, swapping stories and sharing laughs.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
This list of celebs who’ve learned from this guy is true: Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Julia Roberts, and even David Bowie are just a few of his celebrities. Yes, the David Bowie!
Nobody gets how all the pieces of a screenplay fit together as McKee does. Expect to find a treasure trove of wisdom about the anatomy of storytelling and screenwriting Hollywood would want.
In Story, McKee dives deep into the same stuff he covers in his pricey seminars — which insiders swear by. What you get is the most thorough, interconnected explanation of the craft of screenwriting out there.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Dive into the Cosmogonic Cycle – basically, how myths explain the creation and destruction of the world with a bit of modern psychology. And, of course, it’s about the “Hero’s Journey,” a narrative arc that pops up in stories from just about every culture and era you can think of, explained in a deeper, more meaningful way.
This book will totally help your understanding of stories on its head – and who knows, you might even start seeing your own life as an epic hero’s journey!
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French
It’s a classic that’s been around for over thirty years. It’s easier to understand than ever, no matter where you’re at in your writing journey. The book doesn’t dictate rules but invites you into the storytelling club with open arms.
You’ll find advice and exercise on everything: from how to ‘show, not tell,’ build characters, write dialogue that pops, and craft a plot that keeps readers hooked. It even guides you through creating that perfect ambiance and working from point-of-view.
The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
Gardner delivers his ideas effectively, using real-life examples from some of the greatest literary hits. Part two is where he dissects the fiction-writing process, where he points out where beginners usually make clumsy writing up to getting too complicated, skimping on the details, going overboard on sentimentality, and other all-too-common mistakes.
Gardner also teaches the stuff you need to nail: things like imitation, vocab control, sentence construction, point of view, timing, rhythm, and style in his seven technical matters mentioned in the book.
Books about writing in a creative style
These books will help you break the rules and push boundaries — from poetry to playwriting, it’s all about expression, imagination, and originality.
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
It’s all about reconnecting with the real you and developing a daily habit of creativity. You’ll be taken on a 12-week adventure that’s all about rediscovering that creative genius hiding deep within you. You’ll find out what’s blocking your creative flow, and she’ll guide you through techniques to release any pressure points and overcome obstacles. The book is filled with exercises, activities, and a lot of encouragement designed to blast away any creative blocks. It will also show you how to be creative and get in the flow with techniques that open up self-improvement as a writer.
Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin totally revamped this edition for the modern writer, making it a short, straight-to-the-point guide to the writing craft.
She laid out ten chapters, each one tackling the bare essentials of storytelling, from how language sounds to sentence structures, even down to point-of-view, with examples from the world’s best writing and Le Guin’s own super witty insights.
Plus, there’s a hands-on exercise at the end of each one of them.
She’s even thrown in a comprehensive guide to working in writing groups, whether you’re meeting up in person or hanging out online.
The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work, edited by Marie Arana
This book is packed full of essays from a diverse group of authors sharing how they first realized they had the writing bug, their work habits, and how they navigate the rollercoaster ride that is a writer’s life.
All these are handpicked from a decade of the acclaimed Washington Post column that shares the book’s name.
Despite being from all walks of life, these writers have one thing in common: the crazy, charming, sometimes frustrating, but always fascinating world of writing.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
The book generously dishes out wisdom about the crazy, beautiful thing we call inspiration. Gilbert asks us to give our curiosity free rein and ditch the drama that doesn’t serve any purpose. You can solve word problems in fresh ways, chase a long-shelved dream, or inject a little more mindfulness and passion into your daily grind. Striking a neat balance between soul-stirring spirituality and a “let’s get to it” practicality, she nudges us to dig deep and discover our own hidden “weird and wonderful” gems.
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
Tharp shares 32 hands-on exercises based on the real-life lessons she’s learned during her kick-ass career. She spent 35 years in the creative trenches and shares how you, too, can make creativity an everyday thing.
Remember that little kid who was always curious, always exploring? In “Where’s Your Pencil?” Tharp reminds us to be that kid again. “Coins and Chaos” guides you to finding your Zen in the madness. “Do a Verb” is all about getting your brain and body to play nice together. And with “Build a Bridge to the Next Day,” she’ll show you how to declutter your mind and start each day fresh.
Adapting your writing style
First things first, who are you writing for? Is your audience a bunch of tech-savvy millennials, or are they more of the suit-and-tie corporate types? Are they into pop culture? Sports? Memes? Games?
You have to get into their shoes and see things from their perspective. Figure out who you’re talking to and what makes them tick. You’ve got to learn how to adapt, to switch up your style to match your audience. Once you have that down, sprinkle a lil’ bit of that magic into your writing. Knowing your audience’s likes, dislikes, and general vibe is its foundation. It’s all about making our words relatable, engaging, and, most importantly, emphatic. Make references they’ll relate to, and keep your tone casual and friendly. Your readers will appreciate the effort and feel more connected to your content.
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Experiment with different styles
You see, every style has its own unique flavor, its own rhythm, and pace.
You wouldn’t play heavy metal at a jazz club, right?
Don’t be afraid to play around with different styles to create the right mood for your piece. Maybe you want to try out a poetic, flowery style for a romantic story. Or you want a gritty, terse style for a hard-hitting news piece. Or maybe you want to mix it up and create your own unique blend.
Start by reading different types of writing. Check out a thriller novel, then switch to a scientific article, then browse a lifestyle blog. Then test out different sentence structures, play with punctuation, and toss in a dash of humor. You know, keep your readers on their toes! And always, always, always be true to yourself. Your unique voice makes your writing stand out, so embrace it.
And so we write on
These books will teach you the rules of writing, then show you how to break them in style. Each offered unique insights and techniques that transformed how I approached my craft. Remember, reading is not just about ingesting words; it’s about understanding different perspectives, styles, and techniques. It’s about seeing the world through the eyes of the writer and learning how to paint your own world with words.
Because writing is not about following a recipe; it’s about creating a feast.
At the end of the day, it’s not just about developing your writing style. It’s about finding your voice and sharing it with the world.
And who knows, maybe one day, your book will be on someone else’s top 20 list.