As an editor and publisher for the past 15 years, I’ve spent a lot of my time coaching writers through the process of writing, editing and marketing their books. It can be a challenging process even for the most ambitious and confident individual. All creators need encouragement, inspiration, and a kick in the pants sometimes. I’d like to share with you a list of ten books I frequently recommend to authors.
This book is fascinating because it explains the neuroscience behind how stories work and why they are important to human development. It teaches how our brains are hardwired to respond to story, to pay attention to them and learn about the world and human emotion. It delves into the specific aspects that the brain is hungry for in every story it encounters and how by being aware of and strategically utilizing those hardwired expectations as cues, the writer can craft stories that will captivate and transform readers. For a glimpse into this concept you can watch this TED talk by the author.
I’m going to assume that you’re familiar with The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. That old chestnut was written for a different era and, if followed too rigidly will lead, in this author’s opinion, to “dead writing.” While I still consider the original a classic and a must read for all manipulators of language, Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik is the next step in a writer’s evolution. In this age of increasingly short attention spans and overwhelming media input, writing must have “punch and vibrancy” to capture a reader’s interest. This clear and entertaining instruction guide seeks to energize and liberate writers from outdated style conventions.
“Know the enemy, know yourself,” wrote Sun Tzu in his classic The Art of War, “and your victory will be certain.” This book does a great job of defining the inner demons, “Resistance,” that all creative people face. A somewhat philosophical read, this book may just give you the dose of tough love and inspiration you need to overcome your own creative blocks and authentically express yourself.
People I’ve recommended this book to either love it or hate it. It’s a workbook that take you through a twelve-week program for overcoming creative blocks and achieving artistic confidence. Even if you don’t read this book, there is one very useful lesson that I’d like to share with you: the concept of “morning pages.” Morning pages are, as author Julia Cameron puts it “spiritual windshield wipers,” longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. What matters is not what you write but the process of doing it, and it’s the most cost effective therapy I’ve ever discovered. If you find yourself constantly preoccupied with distracting thoughts and looking for the key to getting your brain to settle down and focus I recommend trying this for a week to see what effect it may have on you.
Not a book on writing or creativity but an essential read for anyone seeking an audience. Written by a media strategist and marketer, this book explains how modern media works. Ever wonder why there are so many click bait articles online? You know, the ones that have inflammatory headlines but are really about nothing. This book explains how marketers benefit from controversy and why no media is bad media. After reading, you may come away a little bit disgusted by the current state of things, but a little bit wiser as well. I wouldn’t recommend using all of the tactics described in this book, but I find it useful to understand the reality of marketing on the internet and what the competition may be up to.
I just started reading this one, but I already know I’ll be recommending it. A no-nonsense guide to screenwriting whose principles can just as easily be applied to novel writing. If The Artist’s Way is too self indulgent for you, then Save the Cat will balance you out.
Looking for some mentors in your creative life? This well researched work shares the daily work habits of writers, composers, artists and other creative types. Some are inspiring, some are just amusing, but this is always a fun book to grab when you want a little inspiration to break out of your routine and try something new.
This book was first recommended to me by Cory Doctorow (journalist, and science fiction author who serves as co-editor of the blog Boing Boing), the most efficiently effective person I’ve ever met. Getting Things Done, commonly referred to as GTD, has spawned an entire culture of productivity tools and websites. This book replaced Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People on my go-to bookshelf and I reread it at least once a year. I recommend this book for writers because one of the most challenging parts of the craft is managing your time in a way that allows you to feel free and relaxed when it comes time to create.
Published in 2009, when things like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were still just gaining popularity, this book was the first of its kind to offer insight about the realities of being a writer in today’s literary landscape. It does a great job addressing the challenges of balancing self-promotion and the craft of writing with plenty of the author’s own creative insights as well as input from other working writers. Consider this book your insider’s guide to the world of writing as a career and getting published written by a friend who’s been in the trenches.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” When faced with the task of writing a book, who hasn’t felt this immobilizing sense of hugeness from time to time? This anecdotal book is beautifully written and packed full of useful wisdom for creative types. Funny, honest, witty, and down-to-earth, this book is a classic.
There are many many more books on writing and creativity that I could recommend but I hope that this gives you a few new tools for your toolbox. What do you think? Are there books you would have put on this list? What inspires and informs you as a writer? I’d love to hear from you!
by Rose O’Keefe, publisher and owner of Eraserhead Press.