Friday, February 23, 2024

Five Writing Books Every Creative Marketer Should Own

Part one of five (or Fit the First)

I’m a rabid BookWyrm, and I have an acceptable office library that comes and goes, but there are a few books I’ve carried around, like much-loved luggage, as constant sources of inspiration in my work. Some are old, and some are relatively new. All are good. 

In final proofing, I realize this is somewhat lengthy at twenty-five suggestions, especially how I ramble on, so I’ll spit it up into more assessable posts. From video production to web design and marketing theory to graphic design, these are the works I’d recommend to anyone starting out in our chosen profession or looking to inspire their output. Should you want to read this as a single list without the added filler, I’ve posted it to LinkedIn.


Let’s start with the basics.


On Writing Well by William Zinseer

"On Writing Well" is universally lorded for its practical advice, clear delivery, and accessible tone—and justifiably so. I picked this up because it was recommended by Stephen King. It's an absolute must-read for anyone looking to improve their writing skills, especially non-fiction, and for me (a copywriter without an English degree), it was pure fried gold. Advocating for simplicity and the proximity of a Thesaurus, it shares the essential principles and wisdom of a seasoned writer and teacher from the trenches. With over a million copies sold, it's a timeless chaperon for writers at any level. It’s also on Blinkist and Audible if that’s more your jam, as are many of these books, but you can grab one on eBay for a couple of quid. It’s the absolute foundation of the storytellers’ art, and you won’t regret it.

And speaking of Stephen King…


A Memoir of The Craft by Stephen King

As a Gen X white male and only child, I read. In my formative years, I found Stephen King, Clive Barker, Hunter S Thomson, and Douglas Adams. Few things have influenced me more, even to this day. 


There’s a reason King is one of the best-selling authors of all time, and getting a look behind the curtain into his process and ‘rules’ is a masterclass in the bread and butter of the writer’s craft. This book is friendly, inspiring, and marvelously anecdotal. It's not the sort of thing you can dip into, but it’s still a read worthy of Rats and The Fog. Not just about the process itself, he discusses the foibles of the world of publishing and delves deep into the industry and the discipline with an insightful clarity only a master can offer. Perfect night-time reading for anyone keen on improving their writing or curious about his methods. 


The man is an astronaut among monkeys. Ten shiny gold stars.


Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, as the song goes, is the greatest sci-fi writer in history (with a quiet punt to Asimov, Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson, Orwell, Mary Shelley, Frank Herbert, and Philip K. Dick). 


Bradbury feels like some caring companion cheering us on, saying, "You can do it!” through a series of accessible essays. His passion jumps right off the page, energizing us mere mortals with enough momentum to dive into our own writing projects, be they as humble as writing our own D&D campaigns, that novel that lurks inside us all, or an 1800-word blog post on microsegmentation tools


A little dated, perhaps, his infectious style points the finger to say, "Get serious about this or get out." More for the novelist than the content creator, perhaps, it’s nevertheless one of the finest books on writing ever. What we do is a job, and a better modern translation of the Zen may be, “If you can’t get out of it, get into it,” but it’s a treat to read and a chef-d'oeuvre in creative motivation and making our imagination pay the bills.


Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

On day one of my HND scriptwriting class, I was told that bad guys kick the skinny puppy, and good guys give it their lunch. That’s how we know who to root for; even if that good guy goes on to be a murder hobo with zero social graces, it’s ok cos he likes dogs. When John Wick goes postal, we all shrug and say, “Fair enough. I would, too.” There are certain metaphors and indicators, not quite tropes, more like visual triggers, that are irresistible storytelling cues for the audience.


Clearly written and accessibly structured, "Save the Cat" is a well-thumbed guide for creating marketable ideas and engaging scripts. It’s packed tightly with indispensable advice like crafting winning loglines and understanding screenplay assembly. It tells us how to categorize movies by genre and how to align our lead character with our core ideas. Sometimes useful for organizing my thoughts, it walks through fashioning a story with emotional depth and critical conflict, offers troubleshooting advice to fix common script issues, and tells us how to make a screenplay irresistible by simply saving the cat (or by shooting the hero's dog).


Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clarke

With a mantra of “You need tools, not rules,” Peter Clarke has collated a list of fifty essentials that writers of all kinds can use every day, notwithstanding the purpose of our output. I believe the modern iteration has fifty-five tools, but I have the fifty. 


This was one of the first books I read about the writing process, and it blew my mind. From golden nuggets like giving words space and activating verbs to creating structural story blueprints and learning from criticism, it’s a handy toolkit brimming with practical tips that writers of every stripe can use to spark our creativity. Under a fiver on eBay, I’d say, if you’re going to get one of these books with the purpose of making a difference in your work, this is the badger. 


Well, that should keep you busy. I hope you find them useful, and please let me know how you get on (via Threads, where I often get my book geek on).

Please also consider:

Buy them. Steal them. Borrow them. Read them. Put them on a shelf. Revel in the bibliosmia. Dip into them again. Lend them to a colleague. Lose them. Seek them out again in second-hand shops. Put permanent searches on eBay and revel in bargains. Repurchase them. Reread them. Enjoy.