7 Insanely Useful Books That Helped My Writing Career
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I eat people’s brains…
I love to crack open their skulls and peek into the inner workings of their mind.
Metaphorically, of course.
Reading feeds your brain, fosters creativity, and makes you a better writer.
“To be a great writer, you need to be a great reader.” – Thousands of writers.
Today I wanted to share some of the books that have helped me most in my writing career. Some taught me personal development skills, some taught me how to market my work, and all have taught me something simply through imagining the process the authors went through to create them.
I have dozens of books I’ve bought and haven’t read because I know how important they are to my career.
If any of these books look helpful, I encourage you to check them out.
Without further ado, here’s the list:
“The War of Art” – by Steven Pressfield
If this book doesn’t convince you to pursue your creative career–give up. It’s the most motivational creative manifesto in the history of writing. The book talks about the Evil Resistance, more commonly known as self-doubt, and gives you the weapons to defeat it.
I remember the day I went to the library to read this book. I was feeling a bit stuck and needed some motivation for my writing. After I read the book, I went into a blind range and wrote about 2,500 words in one hour.
Yeah, it’s that good.
I’d also check out his other books on creativity and writing because they’re all amazing and will give you the kick in the ass you need in your writing career.
“Steal Like an Artist” – by Austin Kleon
The book itself is beautiful. It’s worth buying just to have on your bookshelf. Austin Kleon is a writer/drawer and Steal Like an Artist is a combination of sage pieces of wisdom and interesting artwork.
The premise of the book is the idea that nobody’s original. You must steal from other artists and remix their work to create something unique.
This book taught me to study and borrow from masters to create something only I can make. The point isn’t to steal from one — it’s to steal from hundreds. Great artists honor those that came before them and stand on their shoulders.
Also, consider reading his other book, Show Your Work!, which is about building a loyal tribe of fans for your work by letting them get a glimpse into your process.
“The Obstacle Is the Way” – By Ryan Holiday
This book has nothing and everything to do with writing. It’s a modern rendition of the tenets of stoic philosophy. Holiday uses carefully selected stories and anecdotes to describe how some of the world’s most successful people found their success through their obstacles, not by trying to avoid them.
The book teaches you to accept your life as it is instead of the way you wish it was. It teaches you to stay level headed when you’re under pressure. It teaches you that perspective matters above all else, and that you’re always in control of your reaction to circumstances in your life.
The book has helped me when I face setbacks in my writing career. It’s also filled with damn good writing and storytelling, which is something I’m learning to improve every day.
The book is also the by-product of a research technique I learned from holiday, where you use note cards to collect quotes, facts, and anecdotes to use in your writing. I use this technique with every book I read and it’s quite helpful. You can read more about it here.
“Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger
Do you want your next blog post to go viral?
Read Contagious and the author will tell you how. Berger spent years researching the reasons why ideas spread and created a framework for creating things that catch on. The S.T.E.P.P.S. framework for creating contagious content, products, and ideas is as follows:
- Social Currency – People like looking smart in front of their friends. Create something that helps them do that and they will share it with others.
- Trigger – People share things that are top of mind and tip of the tongue, e.g., the terrible song “Friday” by Rebecca Black seeing a spike in views every Friday.
- Emotional – Create something that stirs people’s emotions and it will spread. They have to be high arousal emotions, e.g., anger, awe, and joy. Think Donald Trump. For better or worse, he’s a master at tapping into high arousal emotions, which is why you can’t escape hearing his name on a daily basis.
- Practical – People like helping people. This is why people share “how to,” type content.
- Public – Your content, product, or idea has to be visible for people to share and talk about it.
- Story – People learn through stories and love hearing them. If you’re able to master storytelling you have massive power and an unfair advantage.
I haven’t read this book in a while, but now I’m going to re-read it and try to follow the framework for everything I create.
As a writer, you can use the S.T.E.P.P.S framework with the blog posts and books you write. If you’re a creative trying to market your work, you can use these techniques to get your ideas to spread.
“Mastery” – by Robert Greene
Greene tells amazing stories. Mastery is about finding your life’s task and dedicating the time it requires to master that task.
If you want to learn to become a master writer — a true craftsman or woman — read this book.
More than anything I use this book as inspiration for creating amazing work. The book itself is a testament to painstaking care and patience, which is something I need to continue to learn in my writing career.
Ryan Holiday learned his research and note taking techniques from Greene while he was his assistant. Both of these authors have taught me the importance of leveling up my game and doing the necessary prep work before I even sit down to write something monumental like a book.
“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” – By Robert Cialdini
It’s not enough to write well. You have to influence people with your writing and persuade them to read it.
This book teaches you how people influence one another by exploiting the cognitive biases we all have. For example, Social Proof is huge when it comes to decision making. The more we see people doing something, the more likely we are to do it ourselves.
It’s why marketers use testimonials to sell their products and bloggers put logos of the sites they’ve written for on their own sites. They’re utilizing the subtle cues our brains use to make decisions. There are tons of ways to use these techniques for either good or evil, and they’re being used on you all the time.
Learn how to use them yourself and it will improve the way you write and in the way you promote your writing. This is the only book I’d say is a must read if you haven’t read it already.
“Where Good Ideas Come From” – by Steven Johnson
Creativity comes from the adjacent possible. The adjacent possible is where the fringes of ideas meet.
If you want to be creative and come up with good ideas, treat everything around you as material and work to combine different ideas together.
Creativity also comes from collaboration. The author even says moving to a more populated area will increase your creativity because you’ll have more contributors to the adjacent possible around you. I’ve learned a ton by collaborating with other writers — things I wouldn’t have if I didn’t take the leap to reach out to them.
It’s important to read widely and deeply to become a great writer or be creative in general. You never know how your ideas will connect, so it’s in your best interest to gather as much information as possible.
The book makes crazy connections between ideas and tells stories about some of the world’s more important inventions. It’s another book to read and imbibe the language of the author and learn from it from a pure storytelling standpoint.
“I thought this was going to be a list of books about writing.”
None of these books are straightforward “how to write,” books, but they’ve been immensely helpful in my writing career for many reasons.
I encourage everyone, not just writers, to read as many books as possible because reading adds richness to your life in mysterious ways.
What about you?
If you have any suggestions for books you think I should read, leave me a comment, and I’ll buy them.
You can never have enough books.