Books for People Who Want to Put a Dent in the Universe

We attract a different type of person — a person who doesn’t want to wait five or ten years to have someone take a giant risk on him or her. Someone who really wants to get in a little over his head and make a little dent in the universe.
— Steve Jobs

My friend Bradley and I hosted a webinar yesterday for creators who want to do public work. You can see it here, if you’re one of them—but that’s not what this post is about. During that webinar, several people asked me for book recommendations for people who want to start writing/speaking/podcasting but don’t know how to start/have trouble finding clarity/can’t get people to pay attention.

So, here are some of my favorites from my personal library. These are the actual books that helped me become a person who makes a living communicating and driving people to action.

On Facing Fear & Shame

There’s no way around it. Creating work for public consumption is a terrifying prospect. It means you have to tell your stories, and be accountable for what you say. It means you have to own your ideas and opinions. It means you have to face down the chorus of voices in your head that say, “yeah, but what do you have to say anyway, you idiot.”

This is very hard work. Therapy will help, but these books will help, too.

The War of Art - Honestly, this book should be handed out to high-school seniors, but they may not have struggled enough to appreciate it yet. Maybe you have. This book is about what happens in our heads and in our hearts when we try to create. Confession: I had to kick Resistance in the teeth this morning just to write this blog post.

Bird by Bird - This is probably the most emotive book possible in terms of what we face when we pull ideas out of our heads and onto the page. Don’t worry if you aren’t aspiring to write—this is true for any creative endeavor.

On Building Your Craft

Once you have the courage to put your work out, the small problem will be that your work will be terrible. Creative work is a craft, and even the most naturally talented craftsperson faces years of practice to make anything that isn’t shitty. So, grab an apron. You’re about to get messy.

On Writing Well - This book is the gold standard for writing well, which means it’s also useful for communicating well. I combined six sentences into that one sentence synopsis, in honor of the book.

Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit - It’s true. No one cares that you made something. This book is about how to make something people will enjoy and respond to. Hint: what you make is about your audience, not about you.

Save the Cat - This is how movies are made today. Structure and simplicity are the rails that effective storytelling runs on. Again, this is for anyone who communicates.

The Storytellers Secret - Have you ever noticed how viral TED talks are? Here’s whys.

The Seven Basic Plots - It’s like the Standard Model of Physics, but for storytelling. A massive tome that will ruin every movie you see for the rest of your life, but applied well teaches you how to tell stories people can’t turn away from.

On Building a Brand

Branding? Yuck, right? No. A brand is a way for an audience to relate to an organization or an idea. If your work matters, there will be an underlying idea that supports all of it. Branding is about you doing the work for your audience: they are busy and tired. So, make it obvious for them why why should pay attention to you. That’s branding.

Building a StoryBrand - Probably the most useful, practical book on marketing every written. Turn your brand into a story, and your audience will do what you want them to do.

How the World Sees You - Every interaction with someone is a branding moment. Here’s how to see what people see from you now.

Presence - Feel like no one pays attention to you? Here’s how to fix that.

Contagious - You can’t make something “viral,” but you can create work that encourages people to share.

What books/resources have helped you find the courage to create, hone your craft, or tell the world about it? Drop a comment below.

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Finding God in the Waves, Finally

I'm an author now. I never saw it coming, but with the release of Finding God in the Waves, I'm an-honest-to-goodness author. Words are my livelihood: podcasts, talks, articles, and now, books. I'm so thrilled, and so humbled. It's hard to explain.

I worked so hard on this book–to make it useful, evocative contribution to the intersection of science and faith. So many people today want to believe in God, but struggle to because of the (fantastic) insights we're offered by science. I've walked that road, and I couldn't find a better way to share it than 288 pages in book form.

I didn't expect to be so nervous. Or so excited. Or so moved by every tweet, every Facebook post, or every email where someone shares how the words on those pages moved them to laughter, or tears.

Or growth.

Criticism will come, probably when I least expect it. But for now, I will rejoice in this simple thing.

"My name is Mike McHargue, and I am an author."

In an age of cosmological insights, God can seem like an outdated concept-a relic from a more superstitious age. In this video, Mike McHargue explains why the word God still matters in this age of science.

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

A New Video Series

Hey friends,

I'm so excited to share this with you. I've been working on a series of videos exploring the questions and themes covered in my upcoming book, Finding God in the Waves. We're releasing the first one today, with more to come over the next 9 weeks.

This first video is about who I wrote this book for. As I worked on the manuscript, I actually printed out emails and tweets from a certain kind of person to help me stay focused on what message was needed in this book. But what kind of person was that? Watch the video to find out!

Peace, love, entropy,
Science Mike

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

A Dream of Jesus

Last night, I had a dream where I walked the streets of modern-day Palestine with Jesus–near the wall in Bethlehem. I've been a Christian most of my life, but I've never dreamed of Jesus before.

It was an extraordinarily vivid dream. I could see the details of his face and our surroundings, and our conversation seemed lucid and clear–not the kind of surreal exchanges common to our sleep.

As we walked, I asked Jesus a question: "Teacher, what do you believe about Black Lives Matter?"

Jesus told me the parable of the Farmer from Matthew 13.

"A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field. While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn’t very deep. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots. Some other seeds fell where thornbushes grew up and choked the plants. But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered. If you have ears, pay attention!"

So I said, "I think I understand. Some people can't see the injustice faced by black people, others see, but can't process and accept the role their privilege plays in the oppression of black people, but a few see and understand and work to end it."

Jesus didn't say anything. So I said, "What can I say to hearts like the road or the shallow soil?"

Jesus said, "Tell them the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast a woman mixes into three batches of dough. Finally, this yeast will make all the dough rise."

I thought and then responded, "Teacher, what can I say to those who struggle for the cause of racial justice?"

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches."

There were a lot of other things in that dream. When I woke up and started to write it all down, I realized that Jesus spoke to me in passages from the Gospels–parts of Matthew 13.

I don't claim to speak for Jesus, or that my dream was some kind of prophesy. But, I do think we can read the Bible with an eye toward justice, and that the people who are walking on our city streets, working to show America what it's like for people of color in our nation.

Some of us can't see it. Others can, but won't accept. A few see and join the work.

For those who can't see, or see but can't accept, remember that the first-century movement we call Christianity was a subversive movement of marginalized people who lived under the rule of an empire–that the kingdom of heaven was yeast in dough that hadn't risen.

And for the people walking city streets, remember the mustard seed. One day, people will rest in the branches of the seed you plant today.

May all the people of God join the work of creating peace in our land.

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Review of How to Be Here by Rob Bell

Some books entertain you. Other books teach you something. Really good books do both. Then there are the rare books–the tomes that change your life. I just read one of those.

 Click to see How to Be Here on Amazon.

Click to see How to Be Here on Amazon.

I haven't always been Science Mike. In fact, Science Mike is a relatively new thing in my life.  In the first half of 2012, I hadn't written a book, hosted any podcasts, or done any speaking tours. In fact, I'd never done any of the things I do today to make a living.

I was a hard worker, sure. You could even say I was a workaholic. But, I was miserable. After a life of technical work, I found myself in the creative work of advertising, and it scared me to death. I felt a constant sense of dread, like I was going to let everyone down and then watch my family starve.

I imagined my coworkers in meetings. One would say, "Whatever happened to Mike?" And the other would look down at the desk with a look of melancholy before speaking softly, "He died of hunger, along with his poor wife and children. Some people just aren't meant for the ad business."

I'm kidding, but not by much.

And then I met Rob Bell. If you know me, you know that meeting represented a serious spiritual awakening. But what you may not know is I went back to those little conferences Rob put on several times. There was something in the air beyond the my questions about who God was. It resonated in my bones.

Rob described creative work unlike anyone I'd ever heard. Rob called out the overwhelming sense of shame so many people feel about their identity, or what they may have to offer the world as creative work. He told us how to face that shame and find the determination to start anyway.

And then he told us how he does his work. The process of scraping insights out of the world around us, assembling them, and speaking the truth of what we found to other people.

So, I tried it. I stared writing every day. I blogged. Despite incredible fear and feelings of being a phony, I collaborated with people with far more talent and experience than I had. I started podcasting, and every week I commit the simple, yet terrifying act of telling people what I'm learning about our world.

4 years worth of that writing recently turned into a book that I'm incredibly proud of.

I've often wished I could share what Rob told me with others. All of it. I wish other people could know that the little voice inside them that begs to come out, the part of them that says they should write, paint, sculpt, play, whatever, anything speaks truth. That they have a gift to share with the world.

Now I can. Because Rob assembled all the thoughts and insights I learned into a book called How to Be Here. I'm telling you the truth when I say the words in the book made me who I am today, that without them I would probably be a computer consultant in Tallahassee who blogs about atheism.

If you've ever dreamed that you could do something, but have been afraid to try, this book is for you.

If you play if safe instead of taking the big risk because of white-knuckled fear, this book is for you.

If you want to start living a life that you create with intention, instead of falling out of bed only to fall back into it, this book is for you.

I can't offer a higher recommendation. This work changed my life, and I believe it can change yours too.

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.