How I Got My MOJO Back +10 Must-Read Books for Aspiring Authors

Last November my husband had the audacity to look me square in the face and say, “Sarah, this whole book-writing process has really messed with your mojo.”

{Mojo: a power that may seem magical and that allows someone to be very effective or successful}

My measured response through gritted teeth was, “Really. Lost my mojo, huh? Would you please elaborate?”

He said he believed the external pressure of a possible book deal was causing me to be hyper-critical and indecisive in my work.

He went on to explain how confident I used to be in my abilities as a writer.

How I was never one to vacillate or second-guess myself….until I started writing sample chapters for my first book.

He wrapped up his little sermon by saying, “You’ve got to find a way to get it back, Honey.”

I wanted to be mad at him, to somehow turn it all around on him, but then I remembered the old adage, “don’t shoot the messenger.”

He WAS right.

I had been hyper-critical of my writing and begun second-guessing myself to death.

And as a result, I was failing to live out the very simple truth of Ephesians 4:14.

Ephesians 4:14 says, “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.”

As a writer, I’m still young and a bit immature.

I have talent, but it needs to be honed, sharpened, refined.

There are lots of lies floating around, lots of people trying to tell me who I need to be and what I need to do in order to be successful.

It becomes difficult to discern the truth.

So, how in the world did I get my mojo back?

I’m so glad you asked!

As I continued to read the passage in Ephesians, I eventually stumbled upon the secret that helped me get out of my funk.

Verse 17 says, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.”

No longer live as the Gentiles.

Or, in other words…

No longer live according to the rules of this world.

My problem was that I was trying to order my life according to the standards of this world, trying to find success in my career by mimicking what I see other successful people doing.

But those other people aren’t ME!

Their story isn’t my story, their passions aren’t my passions, their gift isn’t my gift, their calling isn’t my calling.

I got my mojo back when I STOPPED trying to please the world and STARTED living my life for Christ alone.

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death (or loss of one’s mojo).”

It took some time to RE-direct, RE-calibrate, and RE-vise my plans and my person.

But I did eventually get my mojo back.

Here are the 10 books that I believe every aspiring author should read before they start their manuscript (or at least, before they submit their manuscript). These books helped calm the storm of insecurity that once raged inside my soul. They showed me that there is no "right" way to write a book, or land a publishing deal, or build a platform. They gave me practical advice on how to improve my writing skills and prepared my heart to open my manuscript and try again.

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There was freedom on the other side of my struggle!

Over the holidays, I made a decision that (I believe) forever altered the course of my writing career.

I decided to take a break from writing my book.

I contacted the three publishers that were interested in my project and told them that I would not be sending them sample chapters anytime soon.

It was so scary to push the “stop” button, to close the door on those opportunities, yet my heart assured me I was making the right decision.

My husband’s observations helped me realize I wasn’t quite ready to dive into the world of publishers, deadlines,  and book contracts.

And there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

I put my manuscript away and refocused my attention on honing, sharpening, and refining my writing skills.

I read dozens of books, including many on the writing process and publishing industry.

These books helped calm the storm of insecurity that once raged inside my soul.

They showed me that there is no “right” way to write a book, or land a publishing deal, or build a platform.

They gave me practical advice on how to improve my writing skills and prepared my heart to open my manuscript and try again.

I will NOT misplace my MOJO this time around!

Here are the 10 books that I believe every aspiring author should read before they start their manuscript (or at least, before they submit their manuscript).


10 Helpful Books for Aspiring Authors


1.  The Secret Miracle

This book is a collection of answers from several dozen published authors about the details of novel writing, from the personal and esoteric to the most practical. How, exactly, do they do what they do? How do they get started? How do they finish? How do they do everything in between, and how do they cope once it's done?This book is a collection of answers from several dozen published authors about the details of novel writing, from the personal and esoteric to the most practical.  How, exactly, do they do what they do? How do they get started? How do they finish? How do they do everything in between, and how do they cope once it’s done?

Why I love it: This book was fascinating! It gave me a sneak peek inside the habits, thoughts, and processes of many notable authors.  It revealed that there is no right way and no wrong way to be a successful author, the secret is finding what works best for you.


2. Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book

Are you looking for an expert to hold your hand as you dip your toe into the scary world of book publishing? Susan Page's proven system includes step-by-step advice, easy-to-follow strategies, and emotional support for the aspiring author.Are you looking for an expert to hold your hand as you dip your toe into the scary world of book publishing?  Susan Page’s proven system includes step-by-step advice, easy-to-follow strategies, and emotional support for the aspiring author.

Why I love it: This book truly demystifies the publishing process.  Susan warns of common pitfalls and obstacles that often delay and frustrate writers; offering insight and wisdom to help keep hopes high and expectations realistic throughout the entire process. I know that I will refer to this book time and again!

 


3. Bird by Bird

No book list for aspiring authors would be complete without this gem from AnneLamott. A lifetime of writing wisdom broken down into easy-to-digest antidotes and stories. A must read!No book list for aspiring authors would be complete without this gem from AnneLamott.  A lifetime of writing wisdom broken down into easy-to-digest antidotes and stories.  A must read!

Why I love it: Anne is fun to read.  She is witty, frank, and deep.  My biggest take away’s from this book are: don’t be scared of writing a sh**** first draft, take it one step at a time (bird by bird), and learn to love the process more than the publication. I plan on re-reading this book at least once per year.

 


4. Writing Under Pressure

The author of this book co-founded the Writing Program at MIT; need I say more? He created a system for writing under pressure that is simple and duplicatable. This book helps writers produce clear, honest, and powerful work regardless of time constraints and external pressures.The author of this book co-founded the Writing Program at MIT; need I say more?  He created a system for writing under pressure that is simple and duplicatable.  This book helps writers produce clear, honest, and powerful work regardless of time constraints and external pressures.

Why I love it: Sometimes I feel like I am writing in circles: wasting time and energy and not really getting where I need to be going.  The process laid out in this book renewed my hope and gave me clear direction for how to streamline my own writing process.  Perfect for the first-time author!

 


5. The Forest for the Trees

Betsy Learner invites writers to take a peek inside the mind of an acquisitions editor turned agent. She willingly shares her insight, experience, and wisdom "from the other half" of the publishing industry.Betsy Learner invites writers to take a peek inside the mind of an acquisitions editor turned agent.  She willingly shares her insight, experience, and wisdom “from the other half” of the publishing industry.

Why I love it: Betsy offers an insider’s understanding of the publishing process and shares real stories of authors who hurt or help their own cause as they seek publication.  She helped me discover my “writing personality” and helped me better understand the business side of the publishing industry.

 


6. Why We Write About Ourselves

Some of America's most successful memoirists share the nuts and bolts of writing, ethics, story-telling, and what they love most about revealing themselves in print.Some of America’s most successful memoirists share the nuts and bolts of writing, ethics, story-telling, and what they love most about revealing themselves in print.

Why I love it:  This book opened my mind and my heart to the idea of writing memoir.  Each interview offered fresh insight into the writing process and exposed the emotional price authors pay to write honestly about their lives.  This was by far one of my favorite books on this list; it introduced me to many interesting writers and inspired me to add a few new memoirs to my “wish list” on Amazon.


7. Beyond the Writers’ Workshop

Carol Bly combines techniques from social work, psychotherapy, and neuroscience with traditional teachings of metaphor, dialogue, and pace. Her purpose is to give writers practical advice and constructive help, enabling them to improve their work from within.Carol Bly combines techniques from social work, psychotherapy, and neuroscience with traditional teachings of metaphor, dialogue, and pace. Her purpose is to give writers practical advice and constructive help, enabling them to improve their work from within.

Why I love it: This book is packed with out-of-the-box thinking and writing exercises.  I enjoyed learning a bit about the psychology of writing, and appreciated her encouragement to “protect your inspiration.” I  was especially fascinated with the idea of the “spiritual deepening of a first-draft by examining what lies beneath inspiration.”


8. Writing Down the Bones

Natalie Goldberg has written 14 books and led workshops and writers' retreats for 40 years. WOW! This book encourages writers to establish a habit of "writing practice," regularly refine their writing voice, and drop below discursive thinking.Natalie Goldberg has written 14 books and led workshops and writers’ retreats for 40 years.  WOW! This book encourages writers to establish a habit of “writing practice,” regularly refine their writing voice, and drop below discursive thinking.

Why I love it: Although the book is not written from a Christian Perspective, I found so many nuggets of wisdom within its pages.  I love the idea of writing practice, and focusing on craft rather than getting published.  My favorite takeaway was the importance of first thoughts; I also appreciated the short sections and the beautiful stories.


9. Secrets of Dynamic Communication

Ken Davis is a Christian author, speaker, humorist, and teacher. He wrote this handbook to teach the art of delivering powerful speeches. This book teaches the reader how to develop a message by giving it focus, fleshing it out, and communicating it well.Ken Davis is a Christian author, speaker, humorist, and teacher. He wrote this handbook to teach the art of delivering powerful speeches.  This book teaches the reader how to develop a message by giving it focus, fleshing it out, and communicating it well.

Why I love it:  New York Times Bestselling author, Ruth Soukup, asked me to read this book before submitting a guest post for her blog.  I was quite impressed with the material. Although this is a book on speaking, Ken’s advice on message development has also helped my writing.


10. Speak like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln

The author of this book was a speechwriter for 5 different presidents and a personal friend of Winston Churchill. This valuable and practical guide shows you how great leaders through the ages used simple yet incredibly effective tricks to speak, persuade, and win throngs of fans and followers.The author of this book was a speechwriter for 5 different presidents and a personal friend of Winston Churchill.  This valuable and practical guide shows you how great leaders through the ages used simple yet incredibly effective tricks to speak, persuade, and win throngs of fans and followers.

Why I love it: We live in the age of youtube and facebook live.  Most successful authors are also sought after speakers, and I have yet to find a better guidebook for speakers than this title. The 21 secrets are well documented and easy to implement; James simplifies the speaking process and teaches you how to focus on what truly matters.


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Here are the 10 books that I believe every aspiring author should read before they start their manuscript (or at least, before they submit their manuscript). These books helped calm the storm of insecurity that once raged inside my soul. They showed me that there is no "right" way to write a book, or land a publishing deal, or build a platform. They gave me practical advice on how to improve my writing skills and prepared my heart to open my manuscript and try again.

Thanks for sticking with me all the way to the end of this VERY LONG post!

If you made it this far, you are definitely an aspiring author.

Let’s discuss about our shared love for writing and books in the comments…..I can’t wait!

Wishing you all the best in your writing adventures!

In the words of Anne Lamott, “Write your story; risk freeing someone else.”

This article has been shared at my favorite Faith & Family Linkups.

Sarah Koontz

About Sarah Koontz

  Sarah Koontz invites Christians of all ages to explore the beauty of God’s design. She is a passionate storyteller who enjoys using illustrations to communicate deep spiritual truths. Sarah lives on 13-acres in South Dakota with her husband, two daughters and a rowdy flock of 30 chickens. She revels in their simple, uncluttered life. Follow Sarah on FacebookInstagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Read Sarah's full Bio Here.

35 thoughts on “How I Got My MOJO Back +10 Must-Read Books for Aspiring Authors

    1. Bless your heart! Yes! I would encourage you to check your local library, I found many of these titles there. You would really enjoy the book by Susan Page as it demystifies the whole publishing process. I also really liked the behind the scenes Betsy gives in The Forest for Trees. And if you haven’t read Ann Lamott’s book, it is a must read, girl!

  1. Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing this post and for sharing your list of must reads on writing, I’ve already downloaded one on my Kindle app!

    I love when other writers share about the writing process and the road blocks they face from time to time. I come alive when I prepare to teach at church and/or write a piece for my blog, but I’m still figuring this whole writing thing. Thank you for sharing your struggle! Fellow aspiring writers/authors will be encouraged by your post. I am one of those. 🙂

    1. Awesome! It took me forever to find books to capture my attention and equip me for this crazy journey. Happy to share! If you like a sneak peek into writers’ internal battles be sure to read Why We Write. Even if you aren’t interested in memoir you will enjoy their stories and how normal they make you feel.

  2. I totally respect you for being able to put your book writing on hold until you felt inspired to write again without all that pressure. I could spend a year just reading all these wonderful books! Which one is your favorite? Thank you so much for this great list!

    1. Well that depends. I consider Bird by Bird a must read. But I think you would benefit from reading Susan Page’s book. It really gives you a step by step model for walking through the traditional publishing process.

  3. This list is so helpful! Bird by Bird is already sitting in my pile if books to read this year and all the rest are getting added to my “to read” list.

    1. I found many of them at the local library. I’m slowly working my way through the writing instruction section. You will love Bird by Bird. Ann is so entertaining.

  4. Your post really spoke to me. I’m not trying to write a book, but I’ve been doing all the same things you were when it comes to my blog. Constantly trying to do what everyone else is doing and constantly finding my head swimming. I’ve been taking a step back the last few days and reminding myself of who I am. It’s good to know that I’m not alone.

    1. Girl, we’ve all been there! I got stuck in the mud about a year into my blogging career. Just keep taking one thing at a time and trusting that you are the only you on the internet. That in and of itself is something beautiful to offer your readers.

  5. Love your transparency and beautiful heart, dear friend. So blessed to be on this journey with you and looking forward to reading some of these. “Bird by Bird” is my favorite!!

  6. Thank you for your transparency and honesty in this post. I imagine stopping the process of writing your book was one of the hardest things you have done but will be one of the best. Thank you for the book list. Oh if I only had all the time in the world to read!!!

  7. Love this Sarah-I too am in a season where I cannot devote the time or energy to this process, but also want to grow. Thanks for these suggestions, happy to share!

  8. Sarah, there’s just something about reading books about writing that gives me a thrill! I’m definitely going to reread Bird By Bird.
    Thank you compiling this list. I love how writers (yourself included) share their breakthroughs and their setbacks. It makes our writing journey less fretful, knowing we are not alone.
    Glad you heeded Scripture and let your project rest. I believe it will become something all the more beautiful because you did.

    1. I agree! It is wonderful to read “behind the scenes” articles/books written by other writers. I think you would enjoy the “why we write” book, it is a compilation of a ton of stories like the one I shared in this piece. I believe it will be more beautiful in time too, thank you for your support and encouragement.

  9. Hey Sarah!

    I love this post. And how brave of you to follow your heart and take a step back by putting the writing on hold. You know, one step back with God equals more steps forward in the future than we could ever imagine.

    I’m glad you got your mojo back. Your writing inspires me and makes me happy.

    Blessings,
    Tiffiney

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Tiffiney. It took me a long time to tell this story because I was healing from the trauma of it all. But now that it is in my rearview mirror, I am so grateful for all that I learned through this experience. I feel that these challenges have equipped me for the future I am working towards, and I’m in it for the long haul. Rain or shine, you are stuck with me!

  10. As always – amazing piece! I’ve been terrible with reading, but God definitely guides my writing to get out so much of what He wants me to know. I get consumed in “blog life” at times and forget about my world because I’m so consumed in everything else, beautiful reminder. Thanks to your husband.

    1. I have to make time for reading too, otherwise it doesn’t happen. I find that regular trips to the local library and a stack of books by my bed serves as a good reminder. I always have to remind myself of the big picture, so I don’t get bogged down in “all the things.” Reading equips us, it encourages us, and it enlarges our view. It can also save us from making the same mistakes others have made (which I appreciate most of all.)

  11. This article is exactly what I needed. I am starting my own blog, and was frustrated by seeing what so many others have laid out. It went against my instincts. I realize I need to trust God in what He is doing, not look to others and follow their blueprint. Thank you!

    1. Amy, just focus on the fact that God made you for a reason and trust that you have something important to share. Build a blog that you are proud of and don’t be afraid to learn from those who have walked this path before you. As bloggers, we must always remember that we are the ones who benefit most from blogging. It’s great to desire to be a blessing to others, but that is a difficult thing to measure. Better to focus our energy on being the kind of person God has called us to be and diligently working on the tasks He has asked us to accomplish. God bless you and your blogging adventures.

  12. Sarah,
    I love how you emphasize the point that the only way we will find our own voice is to find our identity in Christ. I remember, as a young writer, trying to write children’s stories. I read all the right stuff on how to do it, but was, in my mind an abysmal failure. You know, in God’s timing, it just wasn’t the right time for me to write. Fast forward 20 years (and I know what you’re thinking…20 years??) and I began to write again and for the first time I found my voice. And you know what? There may be a book inside me, in fact I think there is, but God has used my writing for a totally different purpose in His Kingdom – to bring the hope of Jesus to destitute and impoverished orphans in the Middle East…say what??? I guess what I’m saying is Seek HIM first and all these things will be added unto you. It may be a book… or your writing may take you in a totally different direction. Offer your gift of words up to God and see what He wants to do with it. Sorry if I sound like a mother, but you so remind me of me at your age 🙂
    With love and blessings,
    Bev xx

    1. Oh, Bev. I appreciate your perspective. You are welcome to “mother” me anytime. I am learning that so long as I follow Him, I will eventually accomplish His will for my life. If it’s not a book, I am excited to see what it is! Blessings to you, and if you ever do put that book together, I expect to receive an invite to your launch team.

  13. This is exactly what I needed to read today. I just posted yesterday about my own fears and insecurities as an aspiring author. I’ve finished my manuscript and I’m halfway through editing. It is SO painful to go back and read it carefully. I realize now it truly is a “blankety-blank” first draft!
    Thanks for your encouragement. I’m right there with you, Sister! How do you make the time to read so many books? I love to read but can’t seem to find a place to add it to my schedule now that I’m no longer nursing babies! 🙂

    1. Donna, I’m so glad to hear it! I was lucky to find most of these books at my local library. But I have since ordered many of them so I can keep them for future reference. God bless!

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