One great writer, for example, might urge you to outline carefully before you write anything, while another equally great writer will tell you outlines are straitjackets that destroy creativity and lead to dull prose. In the end, only you can decide on the way you approach the process, but understanding what other writers have done can help inform your decisions.
I spent ten years as a book reviewer for The Writer magazine (a monthly), reading books about writing and evaluating their merits. Most of the advice contained in these books was repetitive and predictable: use fewer adjectives and adverbs, write with strong nouns, revise your work aggressively, have a plan before you write (or not), read more and write more, make mistakes and learn from them, etc.
Opinions about how to write well differ radically, and writers are quite passionate about advocating their approach to writing as the "right" approach. Although a writer might have the "right" approach that works for them, nobody has the "right" approach for you.
Anyway, I do want to recommend four classic writing books for your consideration, books that have provided me both with reading pleasure and actionable insights about the writing process. If you haven't already read them, add them to your list:
1. The Paris Review Interviews are an amazing resource for any writer interested in the craft. Over the course of several decades, The Paris Review has interviewed all the great contemporary writers of fiction and nonfiction, from Hemingway and Faulkner to Didion and Franzen. You can now read these interview online (see the link above) or you can read the collected interviews in book form.
2. On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This is the best book on nonfiction writing ever published. Zinsser is a passionate, warm, and brilliant writing teacher who meticulously explains the importance of clear and direct language, how to structure your work, and how to revise it. Zinsser asks that writers serve the reader first and only, and he's 100% right. I've read this book a dozen times, and it gets better with each re-reading.
3. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White. The most famous writing book ever written, and for good reason. It isn't just about good grammar and usage, but shows writers how to develop their own writing voice. The book's demand that you "cut out all unnecessary words" should be taped to every writer's keyboard. A short book that can be read in one sitting. Much of its advice should be put to memory.
4. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Ms. Lamott is an amazingly patient writing teacher who has nurtured countless writers. She asks you to accept the inherent messiness of the writing process, to be comfortable (for example) writing "a shitty first draft" and then working to make it better. This book is an antidote to perfectionism, and may be the most inspiring writing book you'll ever read.
What writing books would you recommend to other writers? Feel free to share in the comments box below!