If you are buying a book for another writer or using a gift certificate to buy one for yourself, here are 15 books I found helpful at different stages in my writing career:
At any level:
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. If I could only own one writing book, this is it. You are not a writer unless you are writing on a regular basis. If I am having a tough time getting started one day (or every day), I randomly open this book and read until I cannot wait to pick up my pen or go to my computer and write. It has never failed to get me going. Pressfield recently published Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work.
Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. This funny, irreverent author shares how and why she became a writer as well as what it really means to be a writer. She offers both specific advice and broad overviews. A great book to reread for motivation and perspective.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. This bestselling author shares his life story and writing advice. It's moving and inspiring. While I am not a fan of the horror genre, I truly enjoyed Mr. King's personal tale.
A grammar guide that works for you. Cheryl just wrote about Grammar Girl who has written several excellent books. I also use Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English and Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing both by Patricia T. O'Conner.
The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale is my preference when I am searching for just the right word.
I started following The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt on January 1, 2013. I highly recommend it for all writers. See my posts on the book and my progress.
At the Beginning:
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. This is the first book that got me writing on a regular basis which is the only way to become a better writer. Her suggestions and advice are easy and fun to follow.
For Writer's Only: Inspiring thoughts on the exquisite pain and heady joy of the writing life from its great practitioners by Sophy Burnham. The title says it all.
Zen and the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury. The author shares his life story, the fight to be true to himself and his muse as well as amazing writing advice. In the back of the book, his poem, "What I Do Is Me--For That I Came, for Gerald Manley Hopkins", should be framed or painted on the wall of every nursery and Writing Crate, in my opinion, so children and writers and artists and everybody would know the importance and happiness of using their unique gifts while living their lives! (Please note: God is mentioned in the poem so do not read it if you will be offended by that.)
The Writer's Life: Insights from The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. This pocket-sized book is perfect to carry with you so whenever you have some time you can be inspired to write. For even more insights and writing exercises, buy The Right to Write.
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block. With the 48 titles of his books listed in the front of the 1994 edition of this book, the author is more than qualified to tell writers how to make a living--and he does so in a funny and approachable style.
At a More Experienced Level:
The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons About Writing and Publishing by David Morrell. The author offers lessons to writers starting with beginners and working up to those completing novels. It follows the life he has led having written a couple of dozen books, novelizations, short fiction, as well as writing in Hollywood on the Rambo series, a character he created and wrote about in his debut novel, First Blood, when he was 25.
Architecture of the Novel: A Writer's Handbook--Plot Story, and the Mechanics of Narrative Time by Jane Vandenburgh. Plot and characters are front and center, but they are not enough alone to support a novel. A structure holding everything together is also necessary. This beautifully written book shows how to do this while also improving your ideas and writing
Championship Writing: 50 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Paula LaRocque. According to the introduction, "This work is based on one chief assumption: That good writing is clear, precise, graceful, brief, and warm, and that bad writing is not." It is written for journalists and professional writers.
Is Life Like This? A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months by John Dufresne. This book is not a step-by-step guide, but rather a guide to all the facets you need in a successful novel. Each facet is discussed by Dufresne with other writers quoted or used as examples so you can use the information and insights with your own characters, settings, dialogue, and plots to improve and complete your novels.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. Whether you want to write a screenplay or a book, the author's advice about stories applies. The list of his students' movie and TV show credits on the back cover is impressive enough to make you buy the book.
What books do you give as gifts?