The best books to learn how to write effectively

Why am I passionate about this?

I love language and its power to inform, inspire, and influence. As I wrote Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing, I researched what others have said about writing well and honed it down to these resources, which I quote. During my decades as a journalist and marketer, I developed and edited scores of publications, books, and websites. I also co-wrote two travel guides—100 Secrets of the Smokies and 100 Secrets of the Carolina Coast. I’ve written for such publications as National Geographic Traveler and AARP: The Magazine. A father of three women, I live in Springfield, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, with my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. 


I wrote...

Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing: 41 How-To Tips for Creators

By Randall H. Duckett,

Book cover of Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing: 41 How-To Tips for Creators

What is my book about?

Writing effectively is essential, whether it’s for yourself, work, school, social media, videos, websites, books, or another purpose. When done right, it not only informs but influences and inspires. Words have power; wielding them skillfully means that you’ll earn more, communicate more, and achieve more. Those are the ideas behind Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing by Randall H. Duckett. A journalist with decades of developing and marketing media, the author offers 41 Pro Tips for writing with greater impact. These include, “Start Strong,” “Write Tight,” and “Achieve Authenticity.” This advice is organized by seven Cs that describe effective writing: I. Creative, II. Concise, III. Credible, IV. Consumer-Centered, V. Current, VI. Collaborative, VII. Competent. The ebook and paperback editions are available from Amazon. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Randall H. Duckett Why did I love this book?

Stephen King is sometimes thought of as an author of throwaway paperbacks, but the truth is that he is a damn good writer. I admire him for his spiffy language and storytelling ability. The first half of this book is an autobiography about King’s journey from pimple-faced-kid sending short stories to science fiction and fantasy magazines to master of the horror novel, including a gruesome traffic accident that almost killed him. The second half is a master writing course as King gives greater general insight into his craft. Even though we come from different disciplines—he from fiction, I from nonfiction—and he’s famous and I am not, I find his writing wisdom inspiring and have worked it into my book.

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked On Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King

ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE’S TOP 100 NONFICTION BOOKS OF ALL TIME

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. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the…


Book cover of Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process

Randall H. Duckett Why did I love this book?

Just as King is a master of fiction, the late, great John McPhee is a nonfiction master. He gained fame as staff writer for The New Yorker, then authored dozens of books on such diverse subjects as fishing, geology, and transportation. (Trust me: His fascinating novel-like prose is more engaging, enlightening, and enrapturing than those topics imply.) In 1999, he finally won a well-deserved General Nonfiction Pulitzer on his fourth try. In this treatise on writing well, McPhee offers insight into his craft, including diagrams of story structure he shared with journalism students at Princeton. The book appeals to my logical side; in my book I say I see writing as like building with Legos, putting together one colorful block at a time to eventually form a 7,541-piece Millennium Falcon. 

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Draft No. 4 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Draft No. 4 is a master class on the writer's craft. In a series of playful, expertly wrought essays, John McPhee shares insights he has gathered over his career and has refined while teaching at Princeton University, where he has nurtured some of the most esteemed writers of recent decades. McPhee offers definitive guidance in the decisions regarding arrangement, diction, and tone that shape non fiction pieces, and he presents extracts from his work, subjecting them to wry scrutiny. In one essay, he considers the delicate art of getting sources to tell you what they might not otherwise reveal. In…


Book cover of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Randall H. Duckett Why did I love this book?

When Lynne Truss wrote this book around the turn of the new century, she thought it would be just for grammar nerds. It turned out people care about commas and millions of copies were sold. In the book, Truss doesn’t explain her title, but I will. The cover illustration features a panda, which eats shoots and leaves—as in bamboo and its vegetation. The title, though, is mispunctuated to say the bear first eats, shoots (as with a gun), then leaves the crime scene. Truss offers advice on using apostrophes, semi-colons, em dashes—my favorite—and other marks. Like many writers, I struggle with proper placement of possessives and pauses. Truss taught me a lot about how to best employ punctuation and not to use parentheses and periods to type boobs. 

By Lynne Truss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eats, Shoots & Leaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anxious about the apostrophe? Confused by the comma? Stumped by the semicolon? Join Lynne Truss on a hilarious tour through the rules of punctuation that is sure to sort the dashes from the hyphens.

We all had the basic rules of punctuation drilled into us at school, but punctuation pedants have good reason to suspect they never sank in. 'Its Summer!' screams a sign that sets our teeth on edge. 'Pansy's ready', we learn to our considerable interest ('Is she?') as we browse among the bedding plants.

It is not only the rules of punctuation that have come under attack…


Book cover of The Elements of Style

Randall H. Duckett Why did I love this book?

This book is old, like early 1900s. It was first drafted by William Strunk, Jr., who distributed a version to his students at Columbia University in 1919. E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web) modernized it in the ’50s. It went on to sell millions of copies and become one of the most influential guides to English. Why the history lesson? Because it’s remarkable how relevant it remains in 2022. It can feel dusty and literary, but it offers nuggets of wisdom like “omit needless words” that influence writers like me today. I shamelessly ripped off the concept of “elements” for my book. The “little book” is short—the fourth edition is 42 pages—but mighty. It deserves a spot on your physical or virtual bookshelf.    

By William Strunk, E.B. White,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Elements of Style as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You know the authors' names. You recognize the title. You've probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style, the classic style manual, now in a fourth edition. A new Foreword by Roger Angell reminds readers that the advice of Strunk & White is as valuable today as when it was first offered.This book's unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of "the little book" to make a big impact with writing.


Book cover of The African American Guide to Writing & Publishing Non Fiction

Randall H. Duckett Why did I love this book?

Jewell is a gem. She published this guide for Black writers around the turn of the new century, but it’s full of valuable advice for creators of all ethnicities. An educator, Dr. Parker Rhodes is a New York Times bestselling author of children’s books that include Ghost Boys and Black Brother. Her emphasis in this tome is on motivating readers to tell their life stories vividly and to find inspiration all around them in their communities. Part literary analysis and part how-to guide, the book teaches about crafting biographies, memoirs, personal essays, and other nonfiction into publishable pieces. In my book, I advise readers to “diversify voices” when they write. Parker Rhodes’ words influenced how I think about researching and crafting my work for all types of readers. 

By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The African American Guide to Writing & Publishing Non Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In college and graduate school, Jewell Parker Rhodes never encountered a single reading assignment or exercise that featured a person of color. Now she has made it her mission to rectify the situation, gathering advice and inspiring tips tailored for African Americans seeking to express their life experiences. Comprehensive and totally energizing, the African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction bursts with supportive topics such as:

·Finding your voice
·Getting to know your literary ancestors
·Overcoming a bruised ego and finding the determination to pursue your dreams
·Gathering material and conducting research
·Tapping sweet, bittersweet, and joyful memories
·Knowing…


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The Birthright of Sons: Stories

By Jefferey Spivey,

Book cover of The Birthright of Sons: Stories

Jefferey Spivey Author Of The Birthright of Sons: Stories

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an avid reader of queer literary fiction not only because I write it but because I’m looking to see my life experience captured on the page. As a gay man, a father of two young boys, and one-half of an interracial married couple, I know the complexity of modern queer living firsthand. In recent years, I’ve been astounded by the breadth of great LGBTQ+ books that examine queerness fully and empathetically. I seek out these books, I read them feverishly, and I become a champion for the best ones. In an era of intense book banning, it’s so important to me to elevate these books and their authors.

Jefferey's book list on capturing the complexity of the queer experience

What is my book about?

The Birthright of Sons is a collection of stories centered around the experiences of marginalized people, namely Black and LGBTQ+ men. Although the stories borrow elements from various genres (horror, suspense, romance, magical realism, etc.), they are linked by an exploration of identity and the ways personhood is shaped through interactions with the people, places, and belief systems around us.

In each of these stories, the protagonists grapple with their understanding of who they are, who and how they love, and what is ultimately most important to them. In almost every case, however, the quest to know or protect oneself is challenged by an external force, resulting in violence, crisis, or confusion, among other outcomes.

The Birthright of Sons: Stories

By Jefferey Spivey,

What is this book about?

The Birthright of Sons is a collection of stories centered around the experiences of marginalized people, namely Black and LGBTQ+ men. Though the stories borrow elements from various genres (horror, suspense, romance, magical realism, etc.), they're linked by an exploration of identity and the ways personhood is shaped through interactions with the people, places, and belief systems around us.

Underpinning the project is a core belief - self-definition is fluid, but conflict arises because society often fails to keep pace with personal evolution. In each of these stories, the protagonists grapple with their understanding of who they are, who and…


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