1-Sentence-Summary: Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t combines countless lessons Steven Pressfield has learned from succeeding as a writer in advertising, the movie industry, fiction, non-fiction, and self-help, in order to help you write like a pro.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
This is the best book I’ve read about writing so far. With a 50-year writing career under his belt, Steven Pressfield sure has a thing or two to share about what makes a good sentence, paragraph and book. What’s more, since he’s succeeded in various fields, you’ll learn to approach from various angles.
Sometimes, you need to think like a marketer or screenwriter, other times you’d best wear your novelist hat. Pressfield delivers 119 lessons in his usual, clear-cut, no-BS, witty style, which have already changed my writing style several times over this year. I feel like it’s helped me constantly learn as I write, because it’s a form of deliberate practice.
In today’s world, this is more important than ever. Your writing can never become stale, because what writing succeeds changes every day. Hence, the following 3 lessons will help you stay relevant for years to come:
- If you don’t have a concept, don’t start writing.
- Find the problem your text solves and it’ll be easier to get it on paper.
- Break everything you write into three parts: beginning, middle and end.
Ready to fix the sobering fact that Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t? Here we go!
Lesson 1: Every piece of writing must have a concept.
Steve started his writing career as a copywriter when he was 19. One of the first things he learned in the world of slogans is that each campaign must put a unique spin on an existing idea. Everyone hates commercials and most people even hate reading, so whatever you float in front of their eyes better cause strong emotions.
Whether the reaction is “interesting,” “outrageous,” or “wow,” the perspective you provide has to temporarily shut out all other perspectives by approaching a known issue from a completely different angle. An example Steve makes is that number two players in big industries, like fast food, the soda market or rental cars, can turn their silver medal into gold by embracing it. That’s why 7Up calls itself the “uncola” and Avis promises to “try harder.”
In the same vein, when diamonds were first marketed as a token of eternal love, this allowed them to displace all other rare commodities in the jewelry market. After all, if you’re not proposing to someone you’ll love forever, what the hell are you doing?
Before you write the first line, come up with a concept.
Lesson 2: Writers solve problems.
Thousands of hours of writer’s block are caused around the world each and every single day by two seemingly simple questions:
- What do I write about?
- How am I going to say what I want to say?
Much Resistance can be eliminated by replacing those two with one, much simpler question: What’s the problem here? When you think of your writing as a way to solve a problem, you’re well on your way towards the solution, because the solution always lies within the problem itself.
For example, the problem of the companies we talked about was that their product was good, but not selling as much as their main competitor. Once you see you’re trailing behind, you can think about what to do with that. You could openly admit it and state how you plan to win, or distance yourself from playing that game altogether.
All writing solves problems, whether it shows us how to make a lasagna in seven easy steps or transforms our sense of self through an epic, 700-page journey. Figure out the problem and you’ll find the solution.
Lesson 3: Three-act structure applies to all writing.
Boy loses his father, evil servant takes the throne, orphan prince grows up and wins it back. That’s The Lion King. And, with a few tweaks, a sub-plot in Lord of the Rings, Aladdin and Prince of Persia. All fantastic stories with the exact same three-act structure. That’s how universal this idea is.
From Aesop to Plato to Shakespeare to George R. R. Martin, all great storytellers through the ages have used the holy trinity of writing structure: beginning, middle and end. Steve argues that, like the Hero’s Journey, three-act structure is how we connect with stories on the level of the soul, and, therefore, not optional.
Whether you call it hook, build, and payoff, setup, progression, and punchline, or beginning, middle and end, the rules remain the same. Every story, every piece of text, must pull us in, string us along, and then reward us with a grand finale. The first part kicks off the story and makes us curious as to what’ll happen. The second act puts the villain on the scene, with events getting darker and darker until, in the last act, the hero saves the day.
This applies to fiction, non-fiction, page 17 news articles and anything in-between. The characters can be humans, animals, or constructs of the mind. Everything is variable, as long as you stick to the path that all of the world’s greatest writers have followed you before.
My personal take-aways
If you’re a writer, especially a young writer, get this book. You’ll learn all the most important fundamentals you haven’t heard of, and then some. If you’ve honed your craft for a while already, and have consumed all the classics, Steve might not tell you anything new, but it’ll be a refreshing reminder of core writing concepts nonetheless. This belongs in every writer’s arsenal, in my opinion.
What else can you learn from the blinks?
- Why even the people who like reading don’t want to read your sh*t
- The reason Steve was happy to work for a guy who always showed up an hour late
- What the concept of Homer’s Iliad is
- Which theme made Breaking Bad such a great show
- Why sometimes, you just have to live your life to become a better writer
- The one other framework that works, besides three-act structure
- What lessons we can learn about stories from The Silver Linings Playbook
- Which part of your book you must figure out first
Who would I recommend the Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t summary to?
The 26 year old writer, who wants to make a living writing books and articles about stuff that fascinates him, the 50 year old working mother, who knows she’s got a book inside her, and anyone who tells their story online in video, writing or audio.