Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Suggested Reading

When I went begging on facebook for blog post ideas, my dear friend Mel bravely proposed a reading list of books I recommended for writers. Obviously this list could be many pages long, but having too many options tends to lead to inaction. I’d prefer to just give you a small handful of really good ones that you might actually chase up.

First of all, let me preface this by saying I think writers should read all the books on how to write, how to get published, how to market, how to self publish, sociology and psychology they can get their hands on. However, as all these areas are developing at a mind-boggling pace, I suggest you focus on the ones published in the past 5 years.

I also recommend starting with the people you respect, who have vibrant careers, because there is also a lot of misinformation out there. However the more you read, the more you can compare different ideas, theories and tactics. Yes, you end up reading a lot of the same stuff phrased slightly differently. It’s worth it, in my opinion, to actually feel confident about the subject.

That said, here are my very top resources that I regularly refer to:

- On Writing – Stephen King
A classic and one I have re-read dozens of times. He gives fantastic stylistic advice, though I don’t support all of his beliefs RE: talent. A great ‘where to start’ guide when it comes to improving your style.

- Breakout Novelist – Donald Maass
Some of the information in this one is outdated now, and Donald writes very much from the perspective of an agent, when agents were critical to publishing and the literary process. Lots of good advice, but remember when and who it’s coming from.

- Million Dollar Outlines – David Farland
Just keep reading it every single month of your life until you can repeat the whole thing verbatim. Probably more of an intermediate read, rather than for beginners, but there is no one who couldn’t benefit from reading this book.

- 2k to 10k – Rachel Aaron
Short and a little disjointed, as its made up from a heap of blog posts, but an interesting method to try if you want to vastly increase your word count. For best results, commit to doing it 100% her way for a month.

- Make a Killing on Kindle – Michael Alvear
This book comes across as really sleazy, however the advice for marketing and optimising sales on Amazon is practical and effective. You do feel oddly like you are being scammed by a telemarketer while reading it though, which is a shame.

- Happiness by Design – Paul Dolan
A lot of you are already planning to skip this one, because it’s not about writing. Maybe you think you’re already happy, or maybe you hate self help books. However this isn’t a self help book, nor is it promising to make you happy if you read it. This is one of those sociology/psychology books I was talking about, which aims to teach you to understand happiness.

Contrary to the ‘tortured artist’ trope, it’s virtually impossible to have a career as an author if you are unhappy. Those romanticised tortured artists? Most of them only produced a handful of works in their time and fewer still made enough money to survive off those works. To have a career, you need to produce work quickly and confidently. Being stressed, depressed, anxious or overly dramatic makes that very unlikely.

I consider my physical and mental health to be about 50% of my production. The rest is discipline and planning. So I consider understanding happiness to be AT LEAST a quarter of my work. To make up the other 25% of that equation, I also recommend:

- The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet – CSIRO
Which lists the foods, portions and exercises you should do to maintain optimum health. Not to lose weight, not to feel good, not to look amazing, just to be the healthiest you can be. There are also five recipe books, so you can never, ever possibly be bored with the options. Because my diet is stupid limited, and I like to cut out unnecessary decision making, I just have 2-3 lunches and 2-3 dinners I eat every day that meet the dietary requirements outlined.

Don’t think of happiness and health as being part of a separate system to writing.  Happiness, health and writing are all brain things and as much as we think of ourselves as being more than a lump of meat, the brain is an organic organ, literally just meat tissue, and it is bound by the same physical limits as, say, your lungs and colon. Since we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting, any deprivation of calories, is going to mean energy is redirected to critical systems like running the heart and muscles, so you will have less thinking energy. Diets are bad for writing. Empty calories in junk food are even worse for writing. EAT HEALTHY. (Literally just had soda and chocolate for breakfast. Do as I say, etc)

I’d also like to list about 8000 psychology and sociology books, but they can be tricky to track down. So instead, just go to your local library and read everything they have, starting with the newest titles. Also buy copies of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks & The Naked Ape – Desmond Morris because everyone should own those two, despite their age.

In a few more weeks, I’ll be getting back to my character series. Then I may do an extended series on productivity. However, before then, is there any one-off topics you would like me to cover on the blog? Hit me up on facebook or post a comment here with suggestions.


  1. What i like about this is it is left of centre. The well beong book as a book for writers? Great.
    May i soup you a copy of The hero With a thousand faces?

    1. I have not read that one yet. Is it a must see?

  2. One-off topics? I've been thinking about this and an immediate list of my current problems to be solved jumped into my head! But my focus is not on the writing side at the moment, it's on the publishing side. How to run a competition? How to build my email list? How to create an awesome landing page on my website. Sigh. I press on. I managed to create a print ready pdf yesterday. Phew!
    Love you work.

    1. I haven't tried any of those things yet, so I don't think I'd be qualified to write a blog post on them. However I will be working on my website this year, so maybe if I have some success with that, I'll be able to write a blog post on landing pages. I understand the theory, at least!