I’ve put together a list of the best resources that have helped me in writing, creativity, and building a business. The list is divided into several categories:
- Blogging Tools
- Business Tools
- Writing Tools
- Audio & Video Tools
Some of these resources are free; some are not. But I have personal experience with all of them and can enthusiastically recommend them to you.
In addition, some of the links included here are affiliate links, which means that I make a small percentage of income if you purchase the product via my link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it does support my effort to provide resources for awesome people like yourself. Thanks in advance!
Books on Art & Creativity
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. Written by one of the leaders of Pixar, this chronicles the company’s journey through (mostly) triumphs and failures. I love the honesty of the book and its practical lessons for all creative people.
The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry. I love this book’s practical focus on everyday creativity. We think of creativity as something that only belongs to a gifted few, but everyone can practice creative thinking no matter what they are.
The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life Into a Work of Art by Erwin McManus. This book is almost like a devotional for artists. Don’t let that fool you, because it’s very powerful. I appreciated Erwin’s openness about his failure, which is something we can all relate to. This book is required reading for my sophomore class Introduction to the Arts course at St. Louis Christian College.
Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. This is the text of a speech the bestselling author gave in 2012. It’s extremely quotable and inspiring. Plus, you can read it in about 20 minutes (although you shouldn’t speed through it). He reminds us to chart our own course in life.
The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern, 2nd ed. by Carol Strickland. Every artist, no matter what kind of work they do, should know something about art history. This book is a crash course on art from ancient times through today. It’s organized really well and has tons of pictures. There are endless books about art history, but this one is the most fun.
Leonardo da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings by Frank Zollner. This is a massive work, but if you can find it cheaply at a bookstore, or get the paperback version, it’s well worth it. We’ll never plumb the depths of the mind of da Vinci, arguably history’s greatest artist, but this gives you a glimpse of his genius. I get inspired every time I open this book.
The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? by Seth Godin. Seth Godin sees all types of work as art, and I’m inclined to agree with him. As always, he is insightful, inspiring, and practical.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. You see a lot of creative types refer to this book, and for good reason: it’s amazing. Pressfield talks about the Resistance, the inner force you must battle to do your best work. I love his writing style and transparency.
Roaring Lambs: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World by Bob Briner. This book has been out for a couple of decades now, but its message is more relevant than ever. We need people of faith to do their art in all types of creative endeavors in society. He challenges artists to be salt and light through the excellence of their craft. This book changed the way I think about “ministry.”
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon. This is a short but very powerful book about the creative process. It’s amazing how simple and practical his advice is. Plus, it’s a square book and I always appreciate it when publishers do something a little different with the physical book.
Books on Writing
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. The classic, indispensable guide on writing well. Read it, learn it, and use it.
On Writing by Stephen King. One of the best-selling authors of all time breaks down his writing process and gives indispensable advice for getting the work done. This is one of my favorite books on writing just because King tells it like it is and doesn’t pull any punches.
The Authentic Swing, Turning Pro, Do the Work, and Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield. Of all the writers who write about writing (wow, that was a convoluted beginning of a sentence), Pressfield is my favorite. These four books, along with The War of Art, have impacted me deeply and helped me find my voice (as well as the courage to write). The discussion of a “shadow career” in Turning Pro is worth the price of the whole book.
Story by Robert McKee. McKee’s popular explanation of how to write a story has impacted countless screenwriters, authors, and storytellers in every medium and genre. It’s a pretty thick book, but if you are serious about making an impact through writing—and especially if you are writing stories—this book has to be on your shelf (and more importantly, in your hands).
Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies by Blake Snyder. Blake Snyder was a screenwriter who decided there needed to be a simpler way to teach how to structure a story. Judging by the impact this book has had on writers and communicators of every kind, he definitely succeeded. Snyder does a great job helping you understand what makes a story work. The second book breaks down the various types of movies and drives home the importance of genre. Snyder is sort of the anti-Robert McKee in some ways, but I think both writers’ books are essential if you want to write better stories.
Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. This is the best book I know on self-publishing. The authors walk you through everything you need to know to navigate the complex world of getting your book written, making it available to readers in various formats, and building an audience.
Books on Business & Leadership
Color Outside the Lines: A Revolutionary Approach to Creative Leadership by Howard Hendricks. You wouldn’t think a book like this would come from a seminary professor, but Howard Hendricks was one of a kind. I like how this book blends the themes of leadership and creativity, two topics that you don’t often find together. That’s a shame because all artists are influencers, and all leaders should be creative.
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. This is one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years. The authors talk about breaking the normal rules for success. It’s not a typical dry business book. I’m glad I read it on Kindle because I highlighted lots of passages and could easily export it.
The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. This book has impacted countless people because it’s engaging (it’s written in a parable format), simple, and gets back to the truth that so many of us feel in our guts: it’s better to give than receive. The Go-Giver will inspire you to live life differently and start thinking more about how to serve others. (Side note: I know the authors personally and can verify that they truly live the message of the book. They are two of the most kind and generous people that I know.)
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (Updated & Expanded) by Keith Ferrazzi. I loved the stories in this book. They’re a great reminder of the importance of relationships in all areas of your life, and how business is really is all about people.
In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen. Aside from the Bible, this book has impacted me more than any other. Nouwen presents a radical view of leadership and ministry that is rooted in the fact that we are broken and powerless. But it’s out of that weakness that we can truly minister in Jesus’ name. The book isn’t about creativity or art, but it presents a view of leadership that is desperately needed today. Every artist and creative person will be impacted by it.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. This is my favorite of Godin’s books. I don’t think I’ve ever underlined so many passages and written so many notes in the margins of a book. So many great ideas here on connecting with people and building a following.
The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success by Darren Hardy. It’s easy to feel discouraged when you see where you are, and where you want to be. It can seem like a huge chasm that you’ll never get across. Hardy helped me understand that success comes from doing a little bit each day. Pretty soon, those small changes add up to huge results.
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller. Keller challenges us to focus on the one thing we should be doing, and to do it well. My favorite chapter deals with the importance of sleep. Your success isn’t about working all the time; it’s the result of focus.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s easy to believe that we all have to be high-powered, outgoing personalities to make a difference. Cain shatters this myth and helps us understand how introverts can make a difference. I’m a pretty major introvert and really appreciate this book.
Mastery by Robert Greene. Greene typically takes several years to write his books. He digs deeply into each topic he writes about and organizes the content in ways that make sense. The result is an intriguing blend of scholarship and practical wisdom. In Mastery, he examines scores of artists, scientists and leaders throughout history who mastered their area of focus. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I love books like this that challenge my assumptions and call me to a higher level.
48 Days with Dan Miller. Dan is the man behind the best-seller 48 Days to the Work You Love. The show mainly consists of him answering listener’s questions about how to find or create work they love. I never get tired of listening to Dan.
The Accidental Creative with Todd Henry. This podcast focuses on the themes in the book by the same title. I like the fact that this show is aimed toward creative people, and that it’s short. You can listen to a bunch of them in one shot.
The Ray Edwards Show. Ray is a successful copywriter whose expertise and influence extend well beyond that area. This show is very relevant for anyone who wants to build a platform or an online business. He features an interesting blend of spirituality and business that you don’t often find.
Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn. Pat Flynn has a massive following because he is radically transparent and authentic, is a master of online business, and loves helping people. This podcast is in my top 5 for sure.
Ask Pat with Pat Flynn. This is Pat’s second podcast (yes, he has two!), and it’s every bit as good as SPI, if not better. The reason is because all the content comes from listener questions revolving around online business. Plus, this show is pretty short, and you can listen to several of them in one shot.
Unmistakable Creative with Srinivas Rao. I love this podcast because the guest list is very eclectic, and you always come away with new ideas. I love anything that helps me learn about topics outside my normal areas of interest.
Beyond the To-Do List with Erik Fisher. Erik interviews all kinds of guests and focuses on the topic of productivity. However, the show dives into all kinds of different topics because Erik is a master interviewer. I always come away with some practical tips to improve my life.
WordPress: By far the most popular tool to create a blog, and what I use at kentsanders.net. You can start a free blog at WordPress.com, which is hosted, but I definitely recommend getting a self-hosted site through WordPress.org. You’ll need to pay for hosting, but it’s very inexpensive to get started. Michael Hyatt created a great tutorial on how to do this.
Bluehost: The website hosting company I use. In several years of using Bluehost, I have only had problems with their servers going down one time. It’s reliable service, and the customer service reps are great when you need help.
ConvertKit: There are many popular email marketing services available, such as MailChimp and aWeber (which I used for several years). I switched to ConvertKit because it’s very simple to use, and it’s designed for bloggers. I have been very happy with CK so far.
CoSchedule: A social media editorial calendar for WordPress. This plugin makes it easy to schedule numerous posts at once (via the drag and drop functionality), as well as your social media content. I was very impressed when after signing up with CoSchedule, they sent me a handwritten note in the mail along with a small journal. They are a class act.
Paypal: The most convenient way to send and receive money online. If you are the vendor selling something, e-junkie is like a cash register that processes the payment. Paypal is like a bank that then collects the money and pays you (minus a fee, of course).
Square: When I’m selling books at live events, I use Square to process payments. It’s simple and easy to use.
Lastpass: Do you ever get tired of remembering your passwords to all the sites where you login? No need to do that anymore because Lastpass will do it for you. It’s a secure browser extension that automatically fills in your login info, saving you time in the process.
Dropbox: The cloud storage service I have used for years. I keep all my important files in Dropbox and can access them on any computer or device.
Unroll.me: If you’re like me and subscribe to a lot of newsletters from bloggers, companies, etc. then you’ll love Unroll.me (which is free). You can easily unsubscribe from an email list, and also combine your existing subscriptions into a daily digest. It has saved me lots of time.
Scrivener: Many writers swear by Scrivener. It’s a tool specifically for writers, and you can easily rearrange content, publish eBooks, and do many other helpful things. It does have a pretty significant learning curve. I don’t use Scrivener to compose, but I used it to produce the ebook version of The Artist’s Suitcase and was very happy with the results.
Evernote: The single most important digital tool I use every day. Evernote is a “digital brain” for keeping your notes, ideas, sketches, outlines, book or blog ideas, lists, and just about anything else.
Skitch: An Evernote app for annotating pics or documents with words, shapes or sketches. It’s very handy for capturing screen grabs. I also use it to grade student papers by importing a PDF into Skitch, marking it up with highlights and comments, then sending it back to the student. You can do the same for any pics or PDF’s.
Coffitivity: This site provides ambient coffeehouse noise. It may sound silly, but give it a try and see what you think. I have grown to like it quite a bit.
Audio & Video Tools
Audacity: A fantastic audio editing tool that happens to be free. It’s what I have used to record and edit podcasts, church sermons, and other audio. Check out the Audacity to Podcast show with Daniel J. Lewis for a ton of great tips for using Audacity.
Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB/XLR Microphone: This is the desk mic I use for any spoken audio. You can get it for around $50, but don’t be fooled by the price; it’s a fantastic mic for the money.
Garageband: I have used the Garageband app on my iPad and iPhone, with great results. It’s intuitive and makes for a great rehearsal tool, or to lay down musical ideas.
Screenflow: The video editing software I use. It has a bit of learning curve, but it’s a great investment of time if you want to use an affordable but robust video editing tool.