Are you the type of person whose idea of bliss is a free evening, a mug of hot chocolate, and a good book? Do you drown out the cacophony of an oft loud world by immersing yourself in yellowed pages and a familiar story? Have you been told you have a way with words, a creative bent of mind, or perhaps the ability to tell an anecdote in a manner that leaves your audience spellbound and hooked on to every word? If the answer to any or all of those questions was in the affirmative, you might want to consider taking up a career in writing.
With the ease with which content can be accessed across the world today, it is no surprise that plenty of people who love writing are donning their authorial hats. Whether it be a career in blogging, writing content for a website, or even giving their first book a go, creators in the world over are benefiting from increased content consumption digitally and offline. Social media isn’t too far behind, with text-heavy websites like Reddit being hunting grounds for aspiring writers wanting to showcase their chops.
The elements that make a good and engaging writer are varied. It is an alchemy of multiple factors; from knowing your audience to being able to craft a masterful narrative. Sometimes technically proficient writers flounder and less talented writers surf the waves of public perception effortlessly. A universal factor that all aspiring writers hoping for a modicum of success must possess is that they must also be voracious readers.
It is through reading that one understands what one likes to read, and extrapolates that to what one would like to write. It is through reading and analysis of great writers that one’s grasp of writing theory solidifies, the structure of writing improves, and an understanding of pacing and character arcs develops. It is incontrovertible therefore, that great writers must be great readers first. With that in mind, here are 5 books that will help inspire you to take up a career in writing, while also becoming a better writer.
1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
An ever-present must-read book for every aspiring writer, Stephen King’s “On Writing” is an insight into the mind of one of the world’s bestselling authors. It is partly a treatise on what practices to follow while writing, and partly a memoir of the author’s journey. It is a useful first step; with practical advice on how to make your writing more entertaining and dozens of important nuggets on the art of being a productive writer.
King is a renowned horror author and a master storyteller, having sold millions of copies of books worldwide. His enthusiasm in detailing his writing processes is infectious and he often carves simple paths through conundrums that hound most writers. From insisting that would-be writers pen down 2000 words a day for three months, advising six weeks of reflection after finishing a draft, or the simple exhortation of making reading and writing the centre of your life, King’s words lay down the sacrifices that go into making a bestselling author. The book often feels like a friendly conversation with a favourite uncle who also happens to be a world-famous raconteur.
From equipping you with the fundamental tools of grammar and vocabulary that are crucial to any sort of writer, to suggestions on how to edit your words ruthlessly, King’s work is seminal to building strong writing foundations. Where it truly shines, however, is in giving you the quiet belief that you possess what it takes to ascend to those rarefied heights occupied by the most accomplished wordsmiths.
2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Some of the best books ever written aren’t massive tomes exploring complicated stories or the rise and fall of empires that need to be read over weeks, but instead highlight slice of life moments of individuals wanting to tell their own unique stories; taking up an enjoyable evening at best.
Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture is one such book. A computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University is asked to deliver a lecture as part of a Last Lecture series, which asks academics to imagine they are lecturing for the last time ever and candidly speak about topics that are relevant to them. The kicker? Pausch, who was 47 at the time and suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer, is acutely aware that this lecture might truly be his very last. He proceeds to stitch together a narrative from different phases of his life that ranges from moving to hilarious to inspirational, and is full of insights that stay with you long after the book has been put down. Pausch passed away within a year of the book (which was an extended transcript of the lecture) being published but his legacy remains undimmed.
The Last Lecture is proof that the most gripping pieces of writing do not need to be needlessly complicated to be engaging. They can be relevant in other ways, tell a deep, personal story, or glean from varied life experiences to connect with readers across generations and be accessible to those looking for a light read. Similar principles of writing can be applied to blogs, articles, or websites, which must often cater to people with a dozen potential distractions every minute.
Other books in the mould of The Last Lecture include When Breath Becomes Air and Tuesdays With Morrie, both being books that explore real lives of normal people to tell enchanting stories.
3. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
It may seem a bit redundant to include a book that was written a century ago on the principles of writing in a list that is otherwise modern and trying to apply to writers across the board from novelists to bloggers. There are undoubtedly more modern pieces of work that are perhaps more fleshed out from an all-round perspective or are specifically targeted to niche sections of writers. The Elements Of Style has held on to its place in the pantheon of guides for writers for a reason, however. It is to a budding writer what a grandmother’s kitchen was to a gourmet chef; a place where the basics are perfected and a deep-rooted love for the art emerges.
The book is approximately a hundred-page long manuscript that takes very little time to read and does a great job of nurturing a nascent writing talent. It has some flaws because of the evolution of writing styles and the changing demands of writing jobs, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more concise and accurate primer on the art of writing well for beginners. It is a simple but effective missive on how to write cleanly and without fluff. On your writing journey, you will at some point reach a stage where only some parts of writing guides apply to your writing style and flair. Most authors give writing advice that validates their own writing styles, after all, and what is essential to one scribe may be frivolous to another. One cannot claim any guide to writing that will be timeless, but The Elements Of Style shall perhaps come closest to owing to the simplicity it exhibits in a lot of its tenets.
4. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Fantasy and fiction are oft-derided genres of literature, with aficionados frequently the subject of condescension and mirth. Their place in history is incontrovertible, however, despite being regarded as less than serious writing. As prominent fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett once put it, “Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago, no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. It is a plasma in which other things can be carried.”
Now there are more than a hundred well written and famous books under this genre that could have been mentioned by this writer as an example of successful fantasy writing, but arguably the foremost example of fantasy done well is a book series concocted by a middle-aged British woman on a train journey that went on to outsell practically every other book series ever written and started a cultural phenomenon that persists undaunted in its fervour more than two decades after the first book came out.
The wizarding world of Harry Potter needs no introduction. It combined elements of humour, mystery, wonder, joy, and a youthful charm with a story that matured with its audience at the time. What makes it especially captivating from a writer’s perspective is how it represents the vast potential of a good story to snowball into something era-defining. It is this hope that all writers have when they sit down at their tables; that the next great story, the next trending article, or the next viral idea could live in the recesses of their minds. Harry Potter represents the pinnacle of this hope. It is a mark of how far a well-constructed story with beautifully written characters can go.
5. Deep Work by Cal Newport
Every writer, and every artist who has tried to create something from scratch must inevitably come up against that old enemy of productivity and invention – procrastination. We all yearn to have the intensity of attention and work ethic of a Daniel Day Lewis, soaking every pore of ourselves in nothing but the work. We all yearn to always be in a state of flow, rise to those moments when words are one with thoughts, surging from one point of inspiration to the next seamlessly. Sadly for most writers, such phases are sporadic. Writer’s block has been the bane of many creative ideas.
Enter Cal Newport. The author of a blog aptly named Study Hacks, Newport extols the virtues of what he calls “Deep Work” in this book. He explains that Deep Work consists of “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” He segregates the book into two major sections, with the former focused on the ideas of Deep Work and famous figures such as Carl Jung, Bill Gates, and JK Rowling, who gained magnificent insights by following the principles of working in the manner Newport goes on to describe. The latter details the strategies and practices that help attain this state of focus, along with examples of working professionals and companies that utilised them successfully.
Deep Work is perhaps not the book that inspires the newbie to take up writing and turn into a seasoned writer. It is instead the toolset that helps a writer hone their time management and reach deeper connectivity with their work. As alluded to earlier, the derailment of any writing ambitions due to poor time management has scuppered many inspired writers. In Deep Work there exists a solution to this problem.
Given the myriad tastes that vary from person to person, it is not a straightforward task to pick a universal list of books that inspire the same feelings in every individual or to limit it to five books. Each writer is created in the crucible of what he/she has read, and is always subtly influenced by it. This is why every reader has their own preferences for what makes them pick up the pen. A variety of careers in writing are available to motivated individuals who are adept at the craft. They are rewarding in their own ways, but you must probably be prepared to read far more than you are used to.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in writing, reach out to one of our experts here to have your queries answered.