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!

2021: The Year You Write Your Book

Has 2020 given you a lot of material to work with?

As you evaluate your goals and hopes for the coming year, maybe this is the year you write your book. Or maybe you carved out the time during quarantine to draft your manuscript and you’re wondering what comes next. Well, I’m here to help!

How Does the Editing Process Work?

If you have a document hanging out on your computer with lots and lots of words, it’s time for some outside input. And hiring an editor is a great place to start! An editor provides an objective eye to your written work at both a macro level and a micro level.

If you’re just beginning to work on your book or you are workshopping some ideas, a developmental edit could prove beneficial. This type of edit will help you shape the direction of your book and ensure your idea has enough gas in the tank for a full-length book.

If you have more or less finished your book and have even done some self-editing, a substantive or line edit is the choice for you. A line edit looks at the whole arc of the manuscript from start to finish and ensures clarity, cohesiveness, and conciseness. It address issues like plot holes, order of chapters, and character details (like if you accidentally switched names on them midway through the book).

Once a line edit has been done, copy editing comes next. Copy editing zooms in on a micro level and addresses issues like grammar, typos, light formatting, and adherence to the Chicago Manual of Style. All the big changes have been made at this point, it’s just minor details that are being addressed at this point.

How I Can Help

My editing services are available to you! I offer a free discovery call + sample edit to see if we would be a good fit as an editor/author team. I offer developmental, line, and copy editing for non-fiction projects, but am open to just the right fiction project. So let’s chat!

Writing a book is one of the hardest things you can do, so if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! The real work is just beginning though. Take your project across the finish line by hiring an editor. Together, we can make your book shine.

Click here if you are interested in a free discovery call!

How Do I Put My Reader First? Part 2

In part 1 of putting your reader first, we discussed three questions you can ask yourself to help keep your readers’ needs top of mind during the writing process. But the truth is, you need to carry that mindset into the editing process as well, which is what we will cover here in part 2. During the writing process, it’s just you and the keyboard, banging out beautiful words and maybe you found it simple to adjust your mindset. But in the editing process, you are inviting other people to help get your manuscript to the next level. Which means you now have other people’s opinions and ideas surrounding your newborn piece of art. Nervous? That’s understandable. But don’t let nerves paralyze you from receiving and acting on crucial feedback to make your manuscript shine.

Where I find that authors get into trouble is thinking that sending their MS off to the editor is like leaving an apple pie on their doorstep, perfect and ready to be eaten. What you are really doing is inviting them into your kitchen so they can critique your crust and adjust the spices in your filling. Sending your manuscript to the editor is not the end of the process for you; it’s really the beginning. Keep in mind though, there are different types of editing and each one serves a different purpose. I talk about the purposes of each type of editing here.

So prepare yourself mentally: can you be willing to take their suggestions? Can you humble yourself enough to at least listen to their professional opinion, even if you end up going a different direction with character development, the arrangement of chapters, or “darling” details that are special to you?

As you prepare yourself mentally for the editing process, here are three things to consider to help shape a “Reader First” mindset.

1. Stay humble about your message

I edit quite a bit of material in the faith-based space and one of the disappointing things I see with new Christian authors is an arrogance about their message “because God gave it to them.” If you are a faith-based writer, the phrase “God gave me this book” is not a free pass on receiving feedback and edits on your manuscript. Trust me, God believes in editing. Specifically, if you are a Christian author, I would encourage you to recognize that you are being used as a channel to encourage and edify the body of Christ with a message from God; you are not the one being praised.

It can be tough to keep that in perspective though when you’re in the midst of writing and editing your book. To keep me grounded in my own work, I return to my “mission verse” often:

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.

Isaiah 50:4–5

The Sovereign Lord gives…He awakens me…He opens my ears…All of this language speaks of a great Initiator other than myself. Instead, my part is to listen and to obey; to receive and not turn away; to share what God has laid on my heart yes, but to do so humbly and to receive the help and guidance of other writers and editors that God has gifted with insight that I need. There may be one name on the front of the book, but a whole team of people stands behind that name. It’s a group effort.

Whether you write in the faith-based space or not, the truth is that most of the books that you love as a reader have undergone significant changes because of the “group effort.” You just may not realize it.

2. Stay humble about your edits

In her book The Art of Slow Writing, author Louise DeSalvo makes this observation:

None of my books and none of my friends’ books have been published without considerable changes. So, if seasoned writers take editorial advice, and beginning writers seem less willing, I think one reason is because beginning writers don’t know many changes published writers must make to their work because of editorial input. After meeting with their editors, I’ve often heard well-known writers say, “I have to rewrite the whole thing,” or “I have to rethink the way I present the central character,” or “I realize the structure of the book isn’t working.” These writers listen and make fundamental, large-scale changes in the works they’ve labored over for years. What they thought was the end of the process was, in fact, the beginning of yet another round of work.

The Art of Slow Writing, Chapter 26 “Writing as Collaboration”

In the editing process, you’ll probably be asked to reexamine tough points of your book, even things you hold strongly to because of feedback from your editor(s) and/or beta readers. I would encourage you to stay humble and keep your ears open.

Author Krissi Dallas shares how she did just that after listening to her beta readers:

Contrary to many popular authors who write in the teen and young adult genre, I actually consider my teen audience first in everything that I write. While I know a lot of adults read teen books and are comfortable with varying levels of romantic or violent content, they are not my primary audience. I want my teen readers to connect to my stories FIRST in safe and healthy ways. It’s also hugely important to me that teachers, librarians, parents (and other adults who have responsibility or influence in young people’s lives) have books they are comfortable recommending to others without feeling like they have to disclaim content. That’s why I always let my books go through both teenage beta readers and parents-of-teens beta readers and I really listen to their feedback.

In FIRETRAP, the fifth book of my Phantom Island series releasing this month, I made some important changes after consulting with some teen girls between the ages of 13 and 16…one of them was over a curse word. To be clear, there are no curse words in my books. But in this new installment, the characters are older and there was a particularly major event that occurred. As a writer, I felt like in a real situation like that, a very strong word would have slipped out of an 18-year-old character’s mouth. It was the ONLY curse word in five books, but I just couldn’t decide if it should stay or go. I tested it out first on my teen girls and they very honestly said that it was a little jolting and even though it was probably true to life, they liked having a series they could recommend to their friends and their younger siblings without worrying over language. I agreed and changed it. Of course, then it took us a while to find the RIGHT true-to-life reaction from that character, but we eventually did, and I think it works even better! Avoiding curse words makes me try harder at creative dialogue and storytelling.

All in all, I feel very strongly that one of the most important revision steps I follow before I finalize a book is to go back through and read specifically with my audience in mind and then consult a selection of beta readers from that audience. I ALWAYS end up making changes from that step of the process and I’m so glad I do!

3. Communicate with your editor

But let’s be real. At some point, a beta reader or editor will make a suggested edit that you. do. not. like. For whatever reason, it crosses an internal boundary and you have a choice to make. Do you stick with your original version? Maybe. Or do you trust the professional instinct of your editor? Maybe. Whichever you choose, if a proposed change is producing that much inner turmoil, open a dialogue with your editor. Ask what prompted that suggestion. Ask them to share similar changes in other manuscripts. Ask if you can have some time to think about it. Ask for a compromise. But whatever you do, do not ignore a big suggested edit, or a comment that relates to providing more clarity or context for your reader and do not change it back without first dialoguing with your editor. It’s unprofessional to ignore the time and effort your editor put in. Yes, you can probably make the final call as the author, but remember it’s a team effort.

Keeping your reader first is a journey that all authors are on and each project will present different challenges on this front. But stick with it. Keep your ears open and stay humble about your work. Changes and edits can seem scary, but you just may be surprised at the improvements they lead to in your work. Like I said in the first post, writing a book is HARD WORK. Editing a book is HARD WORK. But your readers will thank you by not putting your down your book until they’ve finished it.

Worth the effort? I think so.

Missed part 1? Click here to read it.

Before You Hit Send: 4 Editing Tips

You’ve typed “The End” on your manuscript. You’re about to send it off to your editor. But is your manuscript actually ready to send to your editor? In today’s post, I’ll be sharing four common areas of editing problems that authors can easily review before sending their beloved manuscript off to the editor.

A little background first on industry standards for editing and formatting. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is the industry standard for book publishing and it has been around for almost 115 years (click here for a PDF of the very first version), serving as the quintessential guide for those in the writing and publishing fields. The current edition is over 1,000 pages long and it’s intimidating even for those of us familiar with the contours of the guide. But even with this comprehensive guide, publishing houses also operate with their own house style that’s been curated based on the type of manuscripts they publish. You can ask your editor if there are any house style rules that you need to be aware of.

To help navigate some of those confusing rules, today I am providing four helpful editing tips. This won’t cover everything that will come up in your manuscript, but it will provide guidance in common areas of editing that produce the most confusion. The reason this matters is because a manuscript is such a large document with potentially a lot of people working on it. Unnecessary errors or incorrect formatting can make the document behave badly and distract from the task of writing your amazing new book. And it’s great because these are all simple items you can actually address before sending your manuscript off to the editor.

And why is that something you should even attempt? Aren’t editors supposed to like, fix all that? While editors are going to catch the mistakes that your subjective eye didn’t catch, I want to encourage authors to not be lazy. You don’t (or at least I hope you don’t!) put off brushing your teeth a month or a week before your regular cleaning because “it’s the dentist’s job to catch all that.” No, that’s called being lazy, and no matter what your job is, you shouldn’t be lazy.

So let’s dive in! I’ll be providing a reference number for specific CMOS rules so if you decide to investigate the guide, you’ll know where these rules came from!

Numbers

Do you spell them out? Do you use numerals? This is often the area that produces the most confusion. CMOS states that numbers 0-100 should be spelled out, but for 101+ you can use numerals. However, for large, even numbers, you can spell them out. This includes ages, amounts, numbers on addresses, etc. (CMOS 9.2)

Common errors on time:

  • 10:00 a.m./ 3:30 p.m. There should be a space between the time and the a.m./p.m. designator. Letters should be lowercased with a period in between each letter. (CMOS 9.37)
  • 60 BC but AD 33: BC comes AFTER the year, AD comes BEFORE. (CMOS 9.34)

Capitals

CMOS prefers “down-style,” meaning capitals are used sparingly. (CMOS 8.1) Degrees, unofficial titles, or references NOT PRECEEDING a name don’t need to be capitalized.

But pronoun references to God/Jesus are capitalized.

Examples: a master’s degree, a bachelor’s in science, The president stated; but President Lincoln said. The pastor encouraged, but Pastor Billy Graham spoke. He gave us His son Jesus.

Formatting

Formatting and layout come AFTER the manuscript has been fully edited. Do not waste your time manually putting in a table of contents before an editor has even looked at your MS because those page numbers are going to change. If you do insert a TOC using Word, it can be updated as you go, but it’s still best to leave page numbers, TOC, headers, etc. until the last stage.

Do not use the spacebar to make new paragraphs or to align things. Use the enter button, tab button, and the actual left/middle/right align buttons. You would be shocked at what I have to correct: (One author actually hit the space bar to center align subtitles…on every subtitle…in a 100+ page MS)

If you are a Christian author and plan to reference scripture, these are generally good examples to follow, but always check if there is a house style to adhere to when it comes to scripture.

  • (Ruth 2:12) Short book names don’t need to be abbreviated, space between the name of book and chapter/verse, but no spaces around the colon.
  • (Prov. 31:30) Abbreviate longer book names.
  • (Phil. 2:3–4) When showing a range of verses, use the en dash, not a hyphen.

You can’t go wrong with double-spaced (it’s SO hard to edit single-spaced docs) 12-pt. Times New Roman. You can bold chapter titles or subtitles, but don’t get fancy. Now is not the time for that.

Punctuation

Don’t make it weird. Don’t double up the punctuation, don’t put spaces between the last letter of the sentence and the punctuation, and commas and periods ALWAYS go inside quotation marks. If you have an item that’s going to be repeated a bunch and you’re just not sure how to punctuate it, send your editor a message ahead of time, or can you leave me a message on Twitter!

And, as always, you will bless your editor if you can show you know how to use their/there/they’re and your/you’re.

Now get to editing!

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

CMOS Home Page