Favorite Books on Writing

When you are a freelance writer/indie author, you don’t just get to “write.” You have to be your own marketer, HR department, project manager, and boss. That means the ethereal writer side of you that wants to gaze into the forest and wait for inspiration will have to meet up with “boss you” who wants “writer you” to put your bottom in the chair and write. But that’s easier said than done.

And reading books on the craft of writing and the business of writing has helped me accomplish just that. Of course, reading books on writing and not ever actually practicing the craft of writing will get you nowhere. You have to get out there and run the drills and rehearse and train. But hearing what your fellow authors have to say about their process and their journey is absolutely beneficial. The truth is that authors need help and encouragement in other areas of life beyond just writing in order to be a successful writer. And that’s where I’ve tried to educate myself on the business of writing by reading books that unpack marketing, planning, goal setting, and staying motivated.

The following is not an exhaustive list but does highlight some key books that have proved crucial in refining my writing process or helped me with the business side of writing. I hope they will encourage and help you as much as they did me!

“The Art of Slow Writing” by Louise DeSalvo

This gem has some of the most practical, relatable, and easily implementable writing advice. Drawing from her own vast writing experience and a treasure trove of other renowned authors’ experiences, the tip that made the most impact on me had to do with documenting your writing process for your projects to highlight themes and patterns…all to help you with future projects. With the previous four books I’ve written, I obviously still have early notes and drafts, but it never occurred to me to write down how I developed ideas or moved through obstacles during the drafting. I definitely have never done that with shorter projects, but now I see the value. I’ve started my own writing journal to specifically document my thought processes when I’m working on new material. Already it’s proved helpful!

“Finish” by Jon Acuff

All of Jon Acuff’s books have helped me think critically about my job as a writer and I wish I had come across his books sooner in my career. They will help you take your work seriously and evaluate decisions about your day job (if applicable), structure your projects, and set goals. In the case of “Finish,” it will help you actually get across the finish line of whatever dream project you’ve been working away at.

Also, it’s Jon Acuff and so you’ll be laughing AND learning. Bonus points if you listen to the audiobook versions of any of his books because he narrates them all and throws in extra tidbits that aren’t in the print versions.

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear

There are many quality books out there about creating healthy habits and rhythms, but James’ book still stands out to me because of his focus on starting small in building new habits, which I think is particularly helpful for writers. It’s tempting to make lofty writing goals. If you make a goal of “finally writing that book” but you’ve never strung five days together of writing consistently, writing an entire book may not ever happen for you. You have to start small, like by committing to write for 30 minutes a day, then go from there. If you want to be a writer, the sole goal is not necessarily to write a book, but to create a replicable writing process that reliably gets your ideas from your brain and refines them on paper. Without that process, a blog post, let alone a full-length book, will elude you.

“Stein on Writing” by Sol Stein

This is such a classic writing craft book. I was first introduced to it in college and got my own copy when I started writing full time. It is the most referenced book of mine when it comes to refining the mechanics on writing and the resource I used the most when I was teaching writing to high schoolers. His section on “Show Don’t Tell,” which is always a hard concept to articulate, is very accessible and helpful.

“On Writing” by Stephen King

This is the only Stephen King book I’ve finished (I’ve started and then abandoned a few) but it’s still a fascinating look behind the curtain. Writing is HARD and King makes no bones about it. New authors always seem to underestimate the time a book takes from drafting to editing and revising to finally getting out in the world. I know I did when I was just beginning. King presents an unvarnished look at the process along with practical writing tips. And you need that does of truth if you’re ever going to learn how to pace yourself in this job.

“Bandersnatch” by Diana P. Glyer

I read this book last summer after listening to an interview with the author. It will probably help to be somewhat familiar with Tolkien and Lewis’ work before diving into this one, but it’s not necessarily required. Writing can be very isolating, but the truth is we need other authors and writers who get us and our work and can help critique, encourage, and refine us through all of our writing projects. I had known before that Lewis and Tolkien influenced each other in the writing of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Glyer reveals in grander detail just how much the legendary authors really did influence each other. And it blew my mind. Don’t discount the power of community in your writing!

The amount of “craft books” available can be overwhelming, so I stick to this rule of thumb borrowed from another author: I tried to read (or listen to) one craft book a month. You may be able to absorb more or less, but I find this pace plenty doable along with your actual writing.

What has been your favorite craft book that you’ve read? Leave some titles in the comments below!

100 Books in 2020

Are we sick of the word unprecedented yet?

At the risk of overusing the word, I have to share this was indeed an unprecedented year of reading for me: it’s my first year to hit triple digits for my book count as an adult! I set the goal of 100 books when I was a naive thing in January of 2020 but quickly felt the pressure of trying to get to that number rather than just enjoying reading. So I adjusted. I moved the goal back down to 80, but over the months as I could better gauge my pace of reading, I readjusted it up to 90 and then back to 100.

I’m already a big mood reader, but the pandemic definitely influenced my reading habits. I delved into far more fiction (my mix is usually 50/50), and some of the stand-out gems were from the YA section. I found I couldn’t move through non-fiction at the pace I normally do; I read some top-notch NF, but I just found I needed to give myself more time to absorb the ideas.

As always, I struggled with how to pick/share my top reads. This year I’m grouping them into a few different categories such as YA finds and books that helped me process grief.

Bolded titles are my top top favorites out of each category.

I did read one pandemic historical fiction (As Bright as Heaven) which is about the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak in Philadelphia. I don’t know how I enjoyed the book as much as I did, because it starts off with a mom grieving the loss of an infant, then you have pandemic overtones (not escapist), and the protagonists are the town’s morticians (triple trigger). But I INHALED this book. Gah, Susan Meissner is amazing!

Of the 100+ books I did read:

  • Audiobooks: 7
  • Re-reads: 10
  • Short stories/plays: 5
  • Physical books: 27
  • Kindle ebooks (mostly checked out through library): everrrrrything else!

In the midst of everything else this year, I also was grieving the loss of my grandmother and the selling of her home, which had been the backdrop of our family’s gatherings for 35+ years. I found a quartet of books strangely cathartic in grieving those losses through reading:

Grief Reads:

  • The Dutch House (audiobook version) by Ann Patchett
  • The Switch by Beth O’Leary
  • The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
  • Everything Beautiful In Its Time by Jenna Bush Hager

Non-fiction:

  • Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo
  • Bandersnatch by Diana Glyer
  • Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel
  • Master of One by Jordan Raynor
  • The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
  • Sent by Heather and Ashley Holleman
  • Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung

Fiction:

  • Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
  • The Last Train to Key West (read it while in the Florida Keys and it was so fun!)
  • Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkein
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Scythe by Neal Schusterman

YA Reads That Pleasantly Surprised Me:

  • The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg
  • Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg
  • Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
  • The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

Re-reads:

  • All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Once Upon a Christmas Time by Thyra Ferre Bjorn
  • A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about how reading can or doesn’t fit into their daily schedule. When it comes down to it, you make time for what’s important, and that’s simply going to look different for different people. Reading is important to us individually and as a couple, and our reading totals this year reflect that value, but it definitely has taken a while to get to that point. I’ve been on an eight-year journey of rebuilding my reading habit since graduating from college, and it’s been in the last five years in particular that I’ve pushed myself to set reading goals.

As our cousin Daniel Ligon pointed out, as with anything in life, hopefully, a discipline moves to being a joy. Yes it takes discipline to build a habit, but then those habits can turn into sources of joy. Reading is a joy; I don’t view it as a chore.

Kurtis goes into more detail on his habit formation of reading, which I’ll link here, but here’s a snapshot at how reading works into my life:

Formats (almost always going at the same time). This is the main factor for me in being able to read more in a year!

  • Physical book
  • Kindle ebooks
  • Audiobooks

How My Reading Looks In a Day:

  • AM: Quiet time (spiritual focus book)
  • Afternoon: Could include reading a craft book for work or listening to an audiobook while going on a walk, driving, or doing chores. It’s been delightful listening to some audiobooks while we work on our home projects!
  • PM: Reading after dinner (instead of TV) and/or reading right before bed

I’d love to hear what books meant a lot to you this year!

Bloom Series: Christmas Gifts for Girls

Bible study for girls

The Christmas season is upon us! If you’re looking for a special gift for the young girl in your life, may I humbly offer the Bloom devotional series? Bloom is a three-book series for girls ages 9-14 that follows the spiritual development of a young believer from the inside out. Each book contains 90 devotions that include a short reading, a scripture, and then a prayer or action step. This series is great for girls to do on their own, with a parent, or in a small-group setting.

This year more than ever has shown us more than ever how crucial developing a habit of being in God’s word can anchor us in the craziest of times. But don’t forget about the kids! What a perfect time to help them develop a habit of spending time with God as they learn to deal with the unknowns of every-changing school arrangements, missing family members, and dealing with grief. As you are building and refining your own habits, equip the young girls in your life to build their own relationship with the Lord.

  • Bloom Book 1: Focuses on a girl’s relationship with the Lord and who He is
  • Bloom Book 2: Focuses on building healthy family and friend relationships
  • Bloom Book 3: Focuses on a girl’s impact in her community

If you’d like to check out the content before you buy, click over to the YouVersion app where I’ve shared 7-day plans for all three books!

If you are in the Oklahoma City metro area, you can purchase from me directly! Just send me an email at samantha@mrshanni.com.

Bloom Book 3 is One!

Bloom Book 3 is one today! The last year has flown by and it’s been so wonderful getting to share this third book in the Bloom series with all of you. If you’re looking for a Bible study for some young girls in your life, these books are a great place to start!

Bible study for girls

If you’re new around here or new to the Bloom books, welcome! Bloom is a three-book devotional series for girls ages 9-14. Mirroring the growth of flowers, the series starts in Book 1 with a girl’s relationship with God and blooms outward in Book 2 (friends and family relationships and Book 3 (community relationships). While that’s the design of the books, they can certainly be read in any order.

Friends, these are indeed strange times. Let us not forget that time spent in God’s word will keep us grounded no matter what life throws at us. But guess what? Kids need to know that too. And I believe with all my heart these books will encourage your daughter, your granddaughter, niece, student, or neighbor to sink her roots into God during this pandemic. You’re not just buying another book. You’re helping to equip the young girls in your life with truth and peace for years to come.

Peace to you and yours!

Buy Bloom on Amazon