However, there are a few books that every writer should read. Some contain useful nuts-and-bolts information on the craft of writing, and some are more memoir in nature, giving an insight into the writing life itself. Here is a list of must-have books:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. An amazing book, even if you're not a Stephen King fan. Part memoir and part instruction, King excels at both, creating a book that is impossible to put down. He also uses one of his own short stories to demonstrate his process for the thing writers hate most: editing. It's a rare look into the mind of one of the most prolific writers of our times.
Writing Fiction by the Gotham Writer's Workshop. This book packs a lot of great information into its 300 pages. Each chapter tackles a specific aspect of fiction writing (plot, character, etc), and each is written by published authors who are members of the Gotham Writer's Workshop, New York's acclaimed creative writing school. There are points within each chapter at which you are given exercises that allow you immediately put what you've just learned into practice. This interactive approach is much more valuable than the simple lecture format of most books on writing.
Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. This book is so much a part of the culture of writing that most of the time it is simply referred to as "Strunk and White." It's the one most people never opened in college, but for the serious writer, no single book will be more helpful, especially when you begin the editing process. Interestingly, this is also a book highly recommended by Stephen King in his book, On Writing.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. By far the best book on the least-favorite part of the writing process. Editing your own work is extremely difficult, but the advice these two professional editors give will make your editing more effective, if not more fun. There are numerous illustrations for each point they make, all drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.
Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa. This is an excellent book, especially for novice writers. Peruvian novelist Llosa gives instruction to the young novelist of the title in the form of twelve letters. The book is wonderfully written, so well in fact that you learn things about the craft of writing without even realizing it at first. Llosa also does something few writing instructors have the guts to: he tells writers to break the "rules." All in all, much more fun than a stuffy textbook. And if you’ve never read Mario Vargas Llosa’s work, but his name seems familiar for some reason, it’s probably because he just won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
There are other books on writing that are very good, but you cannot go wrong starting with these five. They cover the full spectrum of the writing life and writing process, and won't take up much space on your bookshelf either.