Do you love books? Are books what made you want to be a writer? Are you looking to become a better writer, but not sure what books writers should read?
It’s an age old lesson that if you want to be a great writer, you need to read—and read a lot!
But how can you, a writer, pick the right books for you to read? Time is limited and precious, after all. As much as we’d love to read most everything, we can’t.
So how do we choose our titles wisely?
I’d recommend turning your attention and pocketbook to five types of books.
I’ve Loved Reading Since Forever (Does This Sound Familiar?)
We love books.
If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here, trying to write our own. Books hold endless possibilities. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love books.
I cried and begged at age ten until my parents agreed to lug a box of my childhood books from China to the United States, using up precious space in my dad’s moving allowance. I still have most of those books. My first few years in the country, I boned up on English reading endless piles of Goosebumps and Babysitters’ Club.
I worked in my high school library so I could be the first to get my hands on the latest Stephen King.
My backpack almost always contained at least one novel.
Like many of us, I had a favorite genre that I gravitated towards early in my life. I love horror novels, which is rather strange considering I can’t stomach horror movies and have been kept up at night by PG-13 horror TV shows.
But for much of my teen years and early twenties, I obsessively read R. L. Stine, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and John Saul.
Unsurprisingly, most of what I wrote during this period was horror. I delighted in writing gory, mindless little ficlets, filled with violent scenes because that’s what I thought scary novels were. In reality, I was only mimicking what I thought stood out in those books without understanding the true structures of their stories.
After college, I began to branch out, gently testing the waters of fantasies, action series, classics, and even a few romantic comedies.
To be honest, venturing outside my little comfortable cocoon of Stephen King-esque books after over ten years was a little scary. I felt like I was in uncharted waters, but something told me if I truly wanted to write, I had to read more than the same genre over and over.
If I wanted to become a better writer, I needed to read wide and deep.
And you know what? It’s true!
The more I read, the more I realized every genre is different and has something to offer.
Not only that, even within the same genre, every author is different. After becoming more adventurous, I began to broad something I never thought I’d be interested in—nonfiction. And guess what? There are so many types of nonfiction, too. The more I read, the more I realized, there’s still so much left to read.
The possibilities are endless.
I began to wonder if I’d ever get to all of them. Was there a secret somewhere to reading them all?
Would I be less of a writer if I didn’t feverishly read anything and everything I can?
In order to write, you must read.
Over the years, I’ve learned that, to become a better writer, you must be simultaneously adventurous and targeted in your reading selection. This may sound contradictory, but trust me, it’s not.
In fact, I’ve discovered that there are five types of books that will make you a better wrier.
And I’d like to share those five types with you today.
5 Types of Books Every Writer Should Read
I mentioned earlier that writers love reading, and that we always want to read. But balancing life, writing, work, and reading time can be tricky. Like readers who aren’t writers, we need to be selective when it comes to picking what types of books we want to read.
And in the back of our minds, especially if the books are outside our favorite genre, we’re also constantly considering how this choice will make us better writers, too. Right?
Luckily, I’ve realized that there are five types of books that will make me a better writer. So when I’m debating which books I want to invest time reading, I consider whether they’re one of these.
1. Writing craft books that focus on writing techniques
You may have heard at some point that writing is all about talent. That couldn’t be more wrong.
Writing, like anything else, is a craft that can be learned and practiced. However, you don’t need a degree to learn how to write. You can do so by simply reading books that focus on the techniques of writing, such as plot, character, sentence building, constructing short stories, the works.
When you read these books, pay attention to examples and understand how they’re being used. Keep your favorite ones around for future reference, and mark the pages of the techniques that you like the most.
Figure out which topics are hardest for you and find books on them. I know that’s intimidating, but this is how we learn. The same topic presented by different authors may offer you fresh perspective, and hopefully this will help you overcome a writing technique that you find difficult to master.
Here are some of my favorite go-tos:
- Write Great Fiction series by James Scott Bell, Ron Rozelle, Nancy Kress, and Gloria Kempton
- Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight
- It was the Best of Sentences, It was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande
- Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
2. Books that shed light on what it’s like to be a writer
This is a category that people don’t often think of often. These are books by writers that are about the non-technical aspects of writing, such as productivity techniques, publishing, or just generally what it’s like to live as a writer.
That makes these books writers should read because we can learn a lot from those who came before us!
Why would I want to know how other writers live? This was something I didn’t understand myself when I first stumbled onto these books.
But the fact is, there is a lot to learn from reading about the path other writers have trod.
Did you know that even famous writers go through the same struggles with motivation? Or that most writers have day jobs and often question whether their writing is worth it when it doesn’t bring in money? We are all different, yet we are all alike, whether we’ve made it yet or not.
We all have our on responsibilities and priorities, but how we balance life and our writing life has similar patterns and hurdles. Learning from those who have come before us can help us avoid pitfalls, which saves us more time and keeps us motivated to get back to what we love—writing!
From these books, I learned that publishing is not as glamorous as I dreamed of as a teenager.
I learned that every writer who writes well has a pile of stories that no one has read.
I learned that Stephen King pinned rejection letters to the wall with a tack, then when the pile got too thick, he switched to using a large spike and kept writing. These books give you a view of reality, while simultaneously reminding you that every writer has struggled. You are never alone.
Some of my favorites on what it’s like to live as a writer include:
- Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Maybe someday another favorite will be a book by you!
3. Popular books that keep you in the loop
Hear me out.
Popular books are popular for a reason, which means books that sold well and withstood time are books writers should read.
They don’t have to be your favorite style or genre, but almost always, a book is famous for a reason.
Maybe they appeal to a certain audience, or maybe they have a particular way of making people feel good. Maybe they bring a unique perspective. Maybe they indulge in a guilty pleasure.
No matter the reason, reading some of the chart-topping books will almost always teach you something.
If nothing else, it gives you an insight into what appeals to the general audience at the moment, and while we should never write a book to fit a trend, we can learn from the books that have captured the hearts of readers for years on end.
Here are a few crowd favorites and classics to start on:
- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. Books in your genre (yes!)
Yes! One of the books writers should read are books in their genre!
To learn from others who have succeeded before you will benefit you tremendously. Reading will help you see what you like about the genre, what makes it unique, and what appeals to the audience that also loves reading these types of stories.
But maybe you have a fear of accidentally plagiarizing someone else.
What if you read so much of what others have written that you end up stealing their ideas without thinking?
If this is your fear, I have good news for you—it’s nearly impossible to truly steal someone else’s idea. Stories are more than often the same story but different, and you can tell a similar story but make it yours by changing up the characters, the plot, the setting, and the conflict.
There are lots of genres, and I’m sure you already have some titles that are your favorites in the genre you write popping up inside your head. Even if you read them once, go read them again.
Make a list of five books that you could read over and over again.
Only this time, read them like a writer. Read them with a radar that looks for how the genre applies its tropes, its patterns, and its themes.
5. Books outside your genre
There is one major reason to read books outside the genre you write. In fact, it’s the same reason that some books writers should read lie outside the genres they normally read—it will broaden their horizons.
Reading books you normally don’t read pushes you outside your comfort zone and turns creative gears you didn’t know you had.
Do you write action? Try reading a romance. It could help you develop that romantic subplot.
Do you write fantasy? Try some science fiction. Maybe that fantasy world could use some unique old world tech.
Here are a few rather unique books I’ve come across in my long journey of reading that just might tickle something in you:
- Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
- The Paper Menagerie by Kevin Liu
- Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors
- People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
Just Keep Reading, Just Keep Reading
I’ll say it one last time: writers need to read.
There are also certain books writers should read.
Exploring books inside and outside of your comfort zone will not only make you a better writer, but they also might help you discover a story type you never knew you’d love. And stories change lives, so, maybe that life changing book for you is out there waiting for you to find it!
As writers, we all have something important to say, and how that’s said is probably communicated in one of these five types of books shared in this post.
Becoming a better writer is a life of adventure, and reading is a giant, wonderful part of it.
However, if you find yourself crunched for time, if you find yourself resistant to reading anything outside your genre, maybe this list of five types of books will give you the courage and understanding to try, every once in a while, something new. Something else.
I’d love to learn the books that have made a difference on your writing career, and I’m interested to see if they fall in one of these five book categories.
Have some interesting books you want to recommend? Let us know in the comments!
Take a look at your bookshelf, virtual and real life. Do you see a pattern of similar books? Is it time to challenge your reading habits and read something else?
Even if you’re a well-read writer, today’s practice exercise is about helping you find the next great book that will help you grow your craft.
Choose one of the five types of books in this post least apparent on your bookshelf. Then, spend ten minutes looking for a title in that book category that seems appealing to you. Look at the cover, read the back cover, try out the first handful of sample pages. If it’s a winner, consider buying it (keep Indie Bookstores in mind!).
Now, spend the last five minutes of this fifteen minute exercise writing about why you think this book will help you and how you’ll try to take its lessons and apply them to your own writing. Make a promise to yourself to do this! Maybe even write that promise down on a sticky note that stands out prominently on your writing desk.
When you’re done, don’t forget to share your promise and reasoning (and the book title!) in the comments. You might find other titles to add to your future reading list.