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!