7 Insanely Useful Books That Helped My Writing Career in Many Ways

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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.

Other books:

Do the Work

Turning Pro

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is and What You Can Do About It

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. 

 

 

 

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About Ayodeji

  • Cynthia Ranjeeta

    Wow! What a great list, Ayo. I must admit I don’t read nonfiction. I started out as a creative writer, writing stories and novellas, so all my inspiration has come from the novelists I’ve grown up reading. I have read a couple of Ryan Holiday’s books, though, including the one you write about (the other was the Ego is the Enemy). Now that I read here, I might give the other books a read as well… Thanks for another great post!

    • Ayodeji Awosika

      Thanks Cynthia,

      Ryan is great, and I have Ego on my to read shelf already!

  • Hi Ayodeji,

    Truthfully, I’ve never heard of any of these books. Maybe I’ve been living under a rock or something! I swear every day my “to read” list gets just a little bit longer.

    Best,

    Brent

    • Ayodeji Awosika

      I’m glad I could add more books to your list. I am truly sad I won’t be able to read every book on my wish list. If only I had ten extra lifetimes.

  • Hi Ayodeji

    Great list. I’ve heard of them all but I’ve only read two of them so far.

    I really enjoyed “Mastery” by Robert Greene. I remember the passage about how John Coltrane’s bandmates in his school band thought his playing was totally undistinguished.

    Ten years later John Coltrane had firmly established himself as one of the greatest musicians of his generation.

    How did he get there?

    Obsessive practice of course. But also a deep passion for his art and a willingness to absorb and assimilate influences from outside his field.

    Clement

  • Mark Newsome

    Now that’s an impressive list indeed Ayodeji!

    And while I have yet to read Jonah Berger’s
    best selling book, “Contagious.” I did watch an awesome video
    he was featured on,with Marie Forleo.

    Which is where I was first introduced to it, which of course led to
    me joining his list, and down loading one of free, awesome special reports.

    I really like all the reasons you have given for becoming and remaining
    a serial reader!

    Because it’s definitely the mental spark which ignites
    our mental and emotional flames!

    Thanks for sharing another outstanding post!I’ll definitely help spread the word!

    • Ayodeji Awosika

      Thanks a lot Mark.

      I honestly think the quality of the world would improve if we all read more. The application of knowledge is power!

  • Gwen Irwin

    Hey Ayodeji,
    This is a great list! I am an avid reader but I am not familiar with some of these books–I love getting good recommendations. The War of Art has been recommended to me by a couple of people–I will put that at the top of my list! The Stepps process is also a good one to review. Thanks for another fantastic post!

    • Ayodeji Awosika

      Hey Gwen,

      The War or Art is like the Creative’s Bible! You must read it.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Great list, Ayo. I love “Contagious” and “Influence”, they’ve helped a lot. I’ll have to check the rest of the list!

    • Ayodeji Awosika

      Thanks Camilla,

      I read Influence at least once per year it’s that good!

      Happy future reading!

  • Hi, Ayo. ‘Writing tools’ by Roy Peter Clark is an awesome book I read that bettered my fiction writing. It’s easy to read and has specific advises on how to make your writing more interesting and hook the reader in.
    Another great book is ‘Reading like a writer’ by Francine Prose. It teaches you how to read which I find it fascinating.
    Your list is great, I’ll probably try to find few of them. (The War of Art sounds endearing)
    It is indeed true that you need to read to be a better writer. And this takes a lot of your time, especially if you’re a blogger, plus freelance writer. (plus partner, friend, parent, and so on).

  • Maria Angela Ocampo Nacpil

    Wow, what a great list! I will definitely consider buying one or two from your recommendations next time I go book shopping! Thanks for sharing, Ayo. 🙂

  • Maryann Maxson

    Highly recommending a book I was just turned on to–Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering.” If you want to write stories, it’s a must-read!

    • Ayodeji Awosika

      Hi Maryann,

      I’ll have to check this one out. Thanks for the comment!

  • I was surprised to see ON WRITING by Stephen King did not make your list. Why is that?

    • Ayodeji Awosika

      Hi Lorraine,

      I haven’t read it yet. It’s on my list though!

  • Great resource Ayo, too much to take in but will bookmark this article and will get on to these books through Kindle etc. You are absolutely right, reading is important and for us bloggers, it is ultra-important perhaps.

    Keep up the great work, best wishes. Your writing is always useful and full of information. Cheers.

    • Ayodeji Awosika

      Hey Ahmad,

      Thanks for stopping by again sir! I agree it’s ultra important for bloggers.

  • Taryn B. Morvillo

    Truth and Beauty, by Ann Patchett
    Patchett’s memior is not the book on writing you’re thinking of. It’s not like any book I’ve read. With her skillful prose and the ability to tell a story like few others, Patchett’s memoir starts when she is accepted into the University of Iowa’s coveted writing program, and moves into a house that’s cheap, freezing, and dominated by the presence of Lucy. With insight, humor, and much discussion of the writing life, Patchett always bring the focus back to her and Lucy’s complex yet selfless and unconditional love between the author and her poet-genius roommate and best friend the late poet and memoirist Lucy Grealy, author of the astonishing Pulitzer-Prize-winning memior “Autobiography of a Face”.
    Like Patchett’s novels, there are no “good guys” or bad guys, and the friendship and love between these two women is rivaled only by their love for writing, their dedication to the craft, and how this isolated life and the pursuit of something true, to be able to view life through the extraordinary ability to find beauty and dignity in the most unlikely places, bound these two writers to each other. I cannot say I expected this to be such a game changer for me – yet I have no reservations whatsoever in recommending it for the effect it will have on you as a writer, a friend, a son or daughter, a human.