“Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t” by Steven Pressfield

This is not really a follow-up to Pressfield’s The War of Art (reviewed elsewhere), but something to be read alongside. It draws at greater length on the author’s personal and professional life, offering lessons and interesting anecdotes from his work as a non-fiction writer, novelist, screenwriter and advertising copywriter. Whereas the War of Art was aimed more broadly at creatives, this primarily serves writers – especially novelists and screenwriters (though it does also deal with non-fiction).

It is not as inspirational a book as War of Art, though it does provide more concrete advice. The reason nobody wants to read your shit (as he puts it), is that you’ve probably not done enough to make your shit worth reading. There is so much for people to read, so many things that they want to do with their time, that in order to stand a better chance of being read you have to stand out. And so, you need to work as hard as you can to make your writing as appealing and interesting as possible. This doesn’t mean selling out or using gimmicks or formulas – Pressfield is clear that a blatant attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator will not only likely fail to produce anything worth reading, but also probably fail commercially, and there is no magic recipe to follow. However, hone your craft, make the hard cuts, follow some basic guidelines, and do your best to make your writing shine, and you will at least produce something you can be proud of (whether or not success follows).

The nuts and bolts of the book – which I won’t go into – are the various aspects of writing that we need to concentrate on: identifying a central concept (a clever or interesting way of telling your story), a unifying theme (what the book is really about), giving the characters a story arc, identifying an inciting incident and a satisfying climax – and so on. None of these insights are particularly original – you will find them dealt with more fully and perhaps better in other books on writing – but if you’ve read and liked The War of Art, then this is a very useful, engaging and concise guide to your next steps. Its prime appeal, I suppose, is that here is a successful writer who has pursued a varied career and has some carefully considered observations on what has and hasn’t worked for him. If you like your advice with a personal, biographical flavour (and I do), then this is well worth reading. As with War of Art, the book favours brevity – most of the chapters are very short and pithy. Sometimes this is a little frustrating, and the approach can seem a little staccato at times – but overall there is a cohesive plan which will benefit careful study and application.

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Gareth Southwell is a philosopher, writer and illustrator from the UK. He is the author of the near-future sci-fi novel MUNKi, which concerns robots, the hunt for the Technological Singularity, and people swearing in Welsh.

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