The best books on the art of writing

John Vorhaus Author Of The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You're Not
By John Vorhaus

Who am I?

I have been a writer and teacher of writers all my life. I have written novels, non-fiction, novelty books, and ten books on poker. I’ve also traveled around the world, teaching and training writers in all genres, but most notably television and film comedy. My practice has taken me to 37 countries on five continents and I’m hoping to cash in on Africa and Antarctica soon. Friends and fans say that I have a gift for reducing complex concepts to trivial one-liners, and I gladly accept that sobriquet. For example, for anyone wanting to improve as a writer, the path is very plain: if you want to get better, write more; if you want to get a lot better, write a lot more.

I wrote...

The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You're Not

By John Vorhaus,

Book cover of The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You're Not

What is my book about?

Writing comedy isn’t easy, but it’s really not that hard once you acquire a few simple tools and tricks, plus the all-important will to risk. Through a clear explanation of principles (“comedy equals truth plus pain”) and many, many fun and easy exercises, my book takes the would-be comic writer across the low threshold from wanting to be funny to actually being funny – regularly and reliably, every day of her or his life.

The Comic Toolbox is now 25 years old and continues to inform and inspire writers all around the world. I’ve seen copies of  “the Pink Book” (as it’s known to its fans) on the bookshelves of working writers everywhere from New Zealand to Nicaragua to Norway and to many other places with or without the letter “n” in their name.

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The books I picked & why

The Elements of Style

By William Strunk, E.B. White,

Book cover of The Elements of Style

Why did I love this book?

When I was a kid we used to make jokes about this book. We called it “The Elephants of Style” and considered that the height of hilarity. Yet within its thin frame lies more great advice on how to write than ten other books ten times its size. From “the Elephants” I learned to avoid clichés like the plague, to write with precision and candor, and that “writing in the passive voice should never be done by me.” To this day (more than half a century later) I keep a copy close at hand, to resolve any doubts I might have about grammar, punctuation, or the proper use of a semi-colon. It’s more than a hundred years old (!) and will continue to inform and improve writers long after you and I are dead, buried, and gone.

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 On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why did I love this book?

Apart from all the hard information about how to set up and run an effective career in writing, I’m including this book on my list because of a startling revelation that King makes about his own work. In this revelatory and intimate self-expose, King points out that he was an alcoholic for many, many years of his career, and actually wrote several books that he now has no recollection of ever penning. To me that’s remarkable, and also a cautionary tale. I’m not saying don’t drink – many a writer has lubricated the process with a judicious whiskey or two – but I am saying don’t get so drunk that you forget what you write. Why? Because writing should be a pleasure, and the sensation of having written is one of the most sublime pleasures there are (Is? Are? Ask Strunk & White.) Don’t get so black-out drunk that you miss out on the best part.

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

18 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


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 The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

Why did I love this book?

If you were a screenwriter among screenwriters in the 1980s (as I was), you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a copy of this book – it was that important and that influential. Building on his mentor, Joseph Campbell’s, breakthrough work on “the hero’s journey,” Vogler lays out a template for story structure that is sturdy, solid, and workable. It gives writers a path through story where there was none, and helps the author know whether her story is a meaningful voyage of discovery or just an aimless wander. Many a Hollywood writer has written and sold projects standing on the robust scaffolding of Vogler’s work. He should get a cut, but he doesn’t.

By Christopher Vogler,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Writer's Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally an influential memo Vogler wrote for Walt Disney Animation executives regarding The Lion King, The Writer’s Journey details a twelve-stage, myth-inspired method that has galvanized Hollywood’s treatment of cinematic storytelling. A format that once seldom deviated beyond a traditional three-act blueprint, Vogler’s comprehensive theory of story structure and character development has met with universal acclaim, and is detailed herein using examples from myths, fairy tales, and classic movies. This book has changed the face of screenwriting worldwide over the last 25 years, and continues to do so.

Book cover of Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

Why did I love this book?

This is another book that seems to be about screenwriting but really is about all writing: about what goes through a writer’s mind in conceiving and developing a project; about how the rest of the world will greet that effort; and about how not to go crazy when small-minded people take colorful dumps on your work. I swallowed Adventures in the Screen Trade whole the first day I encountered it, and I have re-read it many, many times since. In moments of despair, when agents, publishers or readers just can’t seem to pick up the genius I’m putting down, I am comforted by Goldman’s immortal words, “in Hollywood, nobody knows anything.” I started my career in Hollywood, but as I’ve traveled around the world, over and over again I’ve found this wisdom to be true. Pretty much everywhere you go, nobody knows anything. This inspires me (and should inspire you) to the following modus vivendi: Keep giving them you until you is what they want.

By William Goldman,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Adventures in the Screen Trade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now available as an ebook for the first time!

No one knows the writer's Hollywood more intimately than William Goldman. Two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter and the bestselling author of Marathon Man, Tinsel, Boys and Girls Together, and other novels, Goldman now takes you into Hollywood's inner sanctums...on and behind the scenes for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, and other films...into the plush offices of Hollywood producers...into the working lives of acting greats such as Redford, Olivier, Newman, and Hoffman...and into his own professional experiences and creative thought processes in the crafting of screenplays. You get…

Book cover of The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

Why did I love this book?

Why include a book for artists in a list for writers? Because writing is art, of course, but also because writing is a practice, a craft, and the tools for getting better at one’s craft are the same tools whether one’s medium is words, paint, music, dance or macramé, the ancient sailor’s art of knot tying. The key to understanding the artist’s (and writer’s) way can be found in the subtitle, “a spiritual path to higher creativity.” If you think that writing isn’t a spiritual path, you’re wrong. If you thank that the way to improve as a writer is to increase your spiritual awareness, you’re wrong. If you think you can be a thoughtful and resonant writer without reading The Artist’s Way, well, you might not be wrong, but why would you want to take that chance?

By Julia Cameron,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Artist's Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Artist's Way provides a twelve-week course that guides you through the process of recovering your creative self. It aims to dispel the 'I'm not talented enough' conditioning that holds many people back and helps you to unleash your own inner artist. Its step-by-step approach enables you to transform your life, overcome any artistic blocks you may suffer from, including limiting beliefs, fear, sabotage, jealousy and guilt, and replace them with self confidence and productivity. It helps demystify the creative process by making it a part of your daily life. Whatever your artistic leanings, this book will give you the…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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