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.

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