4 Books That Shaped Me As A Writer


If you’re serious about writing, you need to read.

This mantra has been hammered deep into my brain from an early age. So much so, in fact, that it feels like a cliché (which, of course, doesn’t make it any less true).

Unfortunately, these days, I’m not reading as much as I’d like to.

At the moment, I’m woefully behind on my reading goal for 2016, partly because I’m having trouble finding books that really tickle my fancy. This got me thinking about my favourite books and, more specifically, about those books which really had an impact on me as a writer.

After much thought, I’ve narrowed it down to four. Here they are:

1. On Writing – Stephen King

Stephen King is, without a doubt, the writer who’s had the single biggest influence on me.

My love affair with his work started when, aged 13, I picked up ‘Salem’s Lot. And while he has written his fair share of self-indulgent (The Tommyknockers) and even downright terrible novels (Desperation and – ugh – The Regulators), the stinkers pale in comparison to all the good shit (I mean, my god, It still gives me goosebumps, 20 years later).

Funnily enough though, my favourite Stephen King book isn’t one of his novels, it’s his non-fiction book On Writing, which he published shortly after his brush with death in 1999.

Part memoir and part guide for would-be writers, it’s simply chock full of amazing writing tips and tricks, delivered in his inimitable style. It’s entertaining, it’s funny, it’s sad and it’s incredibly fucking useful.

I won’t list all the stuff I learned from it, because that’s a whole post (or, possibly, even a series of posts) all unto itself. Suffice it to say that, whether you’re an aspiring writer or an actual one, this is a must read. Period.

2. If You Want To Write – Barbara Ueland

It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be a professional writer today if it weren’t for this book.

I wrote fairly steadily throughout my childhood and teens. As I approached early adulthood, though, my writing started getting stilted and self-conscious until, at one point, I just gave it up altogether.

Enter this book.

If You Want To Write is amazing, simply because it addresses so many of the hangups that hold writers back.

The book is essentially a motivational quote from start to finish. You’ll learn all about why thinking you suck is a good thing and why it’s ok to feel exhausted even when you feel you haven’t accomplished anything. You’ll also learn a bunch of strategies to help you come up with ideas, find your voice and stick with it even on the bad days.

If you harbour an ambition to write but fear you don’t have it in you, you should definitely check this out.

3. Tested Advertising Methods – John Caples

As a copywriter, my list wouldn’t be complete without at least one book on copywriting.

This book, written by copywriting legend John Caples, was published more than 40 years ago.

At the time, no one could have possibly imagined the impact the digital revolution would have on modern advertising. This makes the timelessness of Caples’ advice all the more impressive. If anything, this book is even more relevant today, when grabbing customers’ attention has become a thousand times more difficult.

If you had to read only one book about copywriting, this should be your first choice, for sure.

4. Atlantis Found – Clive Cussler

Ok, I know. This isn’t a book about writing. It’s an adventure novel. And it isn’t a particularly good one, either.

In fact, quite frankly, it’s downright terrible.

The story is unoriginal, the dialogue falls flat and the characters are wet, sloppy cardboard cutouts you wouldn’t believe if they slapped you right in the face.

I grabbed this from the airport bookshop at the last minute, simply because it was the thickest book they had and I was in for a long plane ride. Little did I know it would take me almost three years of applied effort to finish the damn thing.

So, you may be asking, why did it make this list?

More to the point, why did I even finish it at all? Isn’t life too short to read bad books?

No it isn’t, actually. Especially if you want to be a good writer.

I firmly believe reading badly written books is just as important as reading good ones. (Incidentally, this is a lesson I also learned from Stephen King’s On Writing. That book really is the gift that keeps on giving.)

Good books teach you how to get it right. But bad books teach you an equally important lesson: how not to write.

There’s also a subtle form of encouragement involved. Whether you’re an actual writer or just an aspiring one, if you think hard enough I’m quite sure you can point to at least one book that made you go “Shit, I could write better than that!”

For me, this is that book.

Are there any books in particular that shaped you as a writer? Sound off in the comments below.