These 3 Books Made me a Better Writer

One of them is illustrated

Ashwini Sriram
3 min readMar 28, 2022

After reading several books on writing, these are the ones that fundamentally improved my writing.

1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

This is a classic, and is one of the funniest books I’ve read on the subject of writing. It is warm, big-hearted, practical, and entirely original in terms of the content and style.

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Her insights on finding your intuition again as an adult moved me deeply:

When we listened to our intuition when we were small and then told grown-ups what we believed to be true, we were often either corrected, ridiculed, or punished

As adults, she says, it is important to rediscover that part of us:

You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating

On perfectionism, that great enemy of a writer, Lamott says:

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway..

2. Story Genius by Lisa Cron

This book has been foundational in my writing journey. My job as a product manager involves a lot of writing and storytelling: presentations, product pitches, detailed product specifications, etc. I picked up this book after a particularly harrowing feedback session a few years ago, during which my manager told me that I need to get better at writing documents. Until then, I’d prided myself on my writing skills, and the feedback felt like a sharp slap across my face.

Since then, I have become more deliberate in my storytelling, thanks to this book and some practice.

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In Story Genius, the author uses insights from brain science to point out why humans like stories, and why we crave them. Writers typically tend to focus on external events, but the author points out the real reason we read stories: to know what happens to a person internally as a result of these events. It’s the inside stuff we really care about: the personal journey that external challenges force us to go on, and how these journeys transform us as people.

The author calls the internal journey the “third rail” of your story. There are two elements that make up this third rail: the first is the protagonist’s deep desire — something they have wanted for a while. The second element is a misbelief that prevents the protagonist from fulfilling that desire. Lisa argues that every good story, at its core, is about how the protagonist overcomes this misbelief to fulfill their deepest desire.

Lessons from this book helped me tell better stories about my customers. I am therefore confident that perspectives from this book can help any type of writer!

3. What It Is by Lynda Barry

This is a wild, surprising, twisty-turny, one-of-a-kind work of art.

Guess what?

It’s actually a dramatically illustrated book (the author’s own words !)— one full of deep, sage advice for writers. I love surprises, and this book is full of them by design. It’s also deeply vulnerable as Lynda illustrates some of her deepest insecurities as a writer.

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No description can accurately capture all that this book is, so I will leave it at this.

Buy it/borrow it — I promise that your life will be richer as a result.



Ashwini Sriram

Technology leader from Chennai living and writing in San Francisco.