My 12 Favorite Books on Writing Non-Fiction

Writing non-fiction is vastly different from writing fiction. Many of the same basic writing rules apply, but there, the similarities end. Non-fiction conveys to the reader some form of information for a distinct purpose. Authors of non-fiction are not seeking to share their heart or wandering imaginative worlds of entertaining characters. They are seeking to communicate truth about a subject, and that requires research and wrestling with facts.

While not many people can write a good fiction novel, I believe anyone can write a useful non-fiction work. The following books are helpful works from some who know about writing non-fiction. Some are classics, and some are far from it. But all of them can be useful to you if you are considering your own non-fiction work.

The Elements of Style

By William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Failing to start your reading on writing with anything other than this undisputed classic would be akin to reading the top ten Christian classics while ignoring the Bible. This short paperback is truly the bible of writing books. It is recommended by every writing teacher I know. I’ve read it many times. Its simple truths cover everything from style and grammar and usage.

On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction

By William Zinsser

Zinsser’s background should not be missed. He was a graceful classicist as a writer, and this million-seller has been lauded for its warmth and clarity. Zinsser offers sound tips on the fundamentals of writing any and every kind of nonfiction.

The Writing Life

By Annie Dillard

Dillard’s hauntingly ethereal prose soars even when she’s writing about writing. That’s rare. I resonate with her honesty about how grueling the craft can be. This is one of the best books on writing available.

How to Write Well, 2nd Edition

By Michael D. Stover

Michael Stover has distilled over 11 years of writing and editing experience into one easy-to-read work that you will refer to again and again. Learn from his simple lessons and realize a marked improvement in your writing after just the first 30 minutes! The 2nd Edition contains 5 new sections to further improve your writing.

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

By Julia Cameron

The seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life. Still as vital today—or perhaps even more so—than it was when it was first published one decade ago, it is a powerfully provocative and inspiring work

The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great

By Stacy Ennis

Stacy shows you how editing can help you write your best book. In this no-nonsense guide, she takes you through the ins and outs of the often bewildering book-editing process.

The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear

By Anne Janzer

The Writer’s Process combines proven practices of successful authors with cognitive science research about how our minds work. It’s filled with ideas that you can put into practice immediately. Highly recommended.

The Art of Memoir

By Mary Karr

Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past. This work is considered to have joined such classics as Stephen King’s On Writing.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King

Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work. “Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing.

Writing Nonfiction: Turning Thoughts into Books

By Dan Poynter

The reader will learn how to break a topic down into easy-to-attack projects; how and where to do research; a process that makes writing easy; how to improve material; how to evaluate publishing options and how to develop an individualized and workable plan.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

By Anne Lamott

Timeless advice on writing and life from an acclaimed bestselling author. The Los Angeles Times, called it, “A warm, generous, and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps.”

Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way

By Steven Pressfield

Could you be getting in your way of producing great work? Have you started a project but never finished? Would you like to do work that matters, but don’t know where to start? The answer is this manifesto by bestselling author Steven Pressfield. He will show you that it’s not about better ideas, it’s about actually doing the work.

Best Damn Marketing Tool Ever: Writing a Nonfiction Book to GrowDo Your Business

By Donna Amos

I would be remised if I didn’t include my own book. This book shares strategies I used to start and finish the book. You can follow these same strategies to achieve success, giving you the status of the 3% who actually follow through.

What are your favorite books on writing non-fiction? Share them with us in the comments!