What I’ve Been Reading – Furthering Education

Self-improvement is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Okay. Just kidding. I don’t actually know how much money the industry makes. One thing’s for sure: it’s got a monopoly on annoyance and self-importance, and if you could put a price on those two traits I’m sure the industry would be somewhere in the multi-billions. AMIRITE?

What I’ve Read:

On Writing – Stephen King

Content Strategy for the Web – Kristina Halvorson

The Elements of User Experience – Jesse James Garrett

I prefer my self-improvement to be self-driven. And for me, it often is.

It’s driven by a nagging feeling that I’m quickly being driven in to obsolescence by content mills and marketing directors who feel they can cut corners by writing their own copy. Driven by the knowledge that getting published requires an insane amount of collaboration between luck and circumstance, not to mention an actual amount of talent. Driven by the demons of self-doubt. By a writer’s constant sense of impending failure. By whatever it is that drives writers to write whatever it is they write.

On WritingSo sometimes I read books about writing. And, because I like the Web and writing for the Web and learning about the Web and adding skills and adding to the multi-billion dollar self-improvement industry, I read books about things that aren’t writing.

In terms of those books about writing (and I’ve read a few – see: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Elements of Style Illustrated by Strunk and White), Stephen King’s On Writing is easily the best. For real.

It’s easy to pass Stephen King off as mass-market pulp purveyor – the type of tripe you find on the stands at the airport – but, come on. The dude’s a very good writer.

How can you tell? Easy: he wrote an entertaining book on writing. As in, I’d recommend it to people who aren’t writers. I’d recommend it to writers who feel they’re too cool for Stephen King.

Elements of User ExperienceThe book actually splits itself into two parts: one part life story, one part “how to write.” The two play off of each other rather well – the “how to write” part driving his life story, the life story giving a human quality to his “how to write” part. Some things you’ll learn: how to edit, how to drink a lot and recover, how to forget a large part of your career thanks to alcoholism, how to stop over-explaining, how to hole up and just write, how to have a near death experience, how to start your own newspaper as a grade-schooler, how to submit stories and expect nothing, how to be humble, how to understand that writing fiction is about as scientific as Intelligent Design.

Sure, it was inspiring. So inspiring that I took all of the lessons and jumped headfirst into another field: User Experience. And, once I had finished that, I jumped headfirst into yet another field: Content Strategy. (Which, I now realize, takes the craft of writing (featured in King’s On Writing) and applies it to the Web by way of User Experience. So, really, everything came full circle and this trio of books made perfect sense without making perfect sense at all.)

Content Strategy for the WebA bunch of other people can discuss Elements of User Experience better than I am able to. And I’ve already touched on Content Strategy for the Web – or, at least, my newfound interest in the field. The books themselves don’t matter that much when it comes to a “What I’ve Been Reading” post; in fact, the three books featured serve as one entry, one stage in my life when I understood that I needed to become better at something and I accepted all available resources to make it happen.

Kerrie bought me On Writing for my birthday. Knowing that I’m always three days away from finally starting a short story, she may have figured it would serve as a kick start. Instead, it made me more introspective, pushing me toward redefining what I want my writing career to be.

It may not have made me a better writer – just as the other books may not have made me a better Web person – but it did help me focus on simply being a writer, for better or worse.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 25th, 2010