Ernest Hemingway, I’ll bet, was not a fan of books on writing—or things like MFA programs. His advice to novelists was famously pithy: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” But many of us find solace in the advice of others, and need inspiration when we get stuck.
My favorite part of the writing process comes at the beginning: I go the Library of Congress and search for everything ever written on my subject. Then I find a carrel and wait for books to be delivered to me. One of those was a delightful book called The Garden of Eloquence, published in 1577. Another was a little book self-published by Mark Twain called English As She Is Taught, which collected the hilarious impressions schoolchildren hold of grammar.
Here are other books that have become my favorites, whether because I discovered them at the Library of Congress, or because I’ve turned to them again and again when I’ve been in trouble. The list also includes books recommended by writers I trust. They are listed alphabetically, so make sure to read to the end!
Getting the facts right always matters, whether you’re a Tom Wolfe wannabe, an ambitious novelist or a tourist with an itch to publish. Every writer needs to know how to separate fact from fiction and how to gather the real-life details that make a narrative rich.
Whether I’m writing an article about Hawaiian cowboys or a book on the intricacies of a sentence, I keep my journalist hat tugged on tight. Part of why I’m a professional writer is that I love research (and learning new things). But another part is that I find the process of getting things right to be challenging—and satisfying.