Last updated on April 25, 2017
Writers’ resources definitely extend beyond simple reference books. However, on the craft of writing itself, books written by successful writers, editors and teachers of writing are a great way to get pointed in the right direction when you’re starting out.
I’m often asked about what sorts of writers’ resources I could suggest to someone at the beginning of honing their craft. I thought I’d share some of that here, because there’s probably more writers who are interested. This is in no way extensive or the final word on what can help you, but it’s a place to start. They’re all vetted through use myself and they’re a part of my own library.
And yes, I have a pretty exhaustive library myself, grown over many years picking up helpful items. Some books are pure research on a variety of subjects and quite a lot are accumulated writers’ resources gained through a pursuit of constant improvement of craft. I figure anything I plan to use more than a couple of times is worth the money and so an acceptable business expense. Okay, and any excuse to go to the bookstore, but let’s not… Hey, look over there!
Don’t get me wrong, not everything in my library is worth spending money on – I’ve picked up a lot of crap, too. But honestly? It was wasting money on the dogs that taught me how to pick out what was worthwhile. It’s a learning process. Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out, too.
This is my short-list of “must have” writers’ resources.
4 must-have writers’ resources for the new writer:
The Elements of Style – William Strunk and E.B. White (any edition)
• Why? As it says in the forth edition foreword by Roger Angell, “Writing is hard, even for authors who do it all the time.” This tiny book from its Elementary Rules of Usage to Principles of Composition to Misused Words and Expressions could be the single most powerful reference tool in your arsenal of writers’ resources. It’s the bible of editors and you should memorise it from cover-to-cover. If you spend money on no other writing reference book over the course of your lifetime, get this one–it costs all of about $15CAN. Seriously, just get it.
A college edition print hard cover dictionary
• Why? You’re going to have to trust me on this, but it doesn’t matter how many online and electronic dictionaries you have, they are going to fail you at some point and you’re going to need the real deal. Do I have a personal favourite? I have a big-ass Simon & Schuster Webster’s New World Dictionary, College Edition hard cover that weighs a good six pounds and that I will take with me to the grave. Depending on what your writing focus is, though, you may want to choose one that can be of specific help to your genre writing. I use this particular edition for its variations of words in American, Canadian, British and Australian English as well as archaic and obsolete words – something that sometimes come up for me when I’m writing historical fiction. Go to a book store and look at a lot of them until you can see the differences. Make your choice based on what best suits your avenue of writing.
The Writer’s Market – Writer’s Digest Books (newest edition)
• Why? If you’ve been working away in obscurity and feel it’s time for you to start sending out your writing, you could spend untold hours (and weeks) searching online for places to submit. It’s often difficult to get a sense of what genres publishers are looking for, if they pay cash, what the actual publishing house name is versus the imprint name, who the correct contact person is, etc.. In The Writer’s Market, you’ll find publishers sorted by category (periodical, book, script, greeting card as well as contests that are further broken down by genre) with the location of submission guidelines and physical addresses for traditional snail mail submissions. There’s also a handy little key in this one that notes which publishers pay, which pay the most, which pay in credits and other helpful info. This particular book has evolved over time and also has an online counterpart which is very time-saving with email addresses and websites. Because really, who the heck is still sending snail mail submissions unless specifically asked to do so? This one is well worth the money as an addition to your writers’ resources.
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) – Jack M. Bickham
• Why? It’s a short read, with common mistakes broken-out by category. There are no surprises here, which is why you need it. It’s all the stuff you should already know. When you’re done creating and into editing mode, that’s when this one comes in handy. Reminding you of what to look for, where to be brutal, where to improve what you’ve already written, where your plot or characters will be picked apart by a professional publishing house editor and rejected, it tells it like it is and doesn’t pull punches. Indispensable advice when you’ve got your head stuck so far up your story you need a compass to guide you back into objectivity. Again, trust me, if you’re starting out, go get it. Get it now.
Suggestions beyond these resources?
I’m in the camp that believes real writers, the story tellers, are born and it’s a natural talent. It’s an art, plain and simple. However, if you’re born with that natural ability, that doesn’t mean you get to sit on your laurels. Trust me, everyone has to practice and everyone has to work hard to hone their craft. You may be a story teller, but you still need to figure out how to cobble together the best vehicle for every story you tell. I’ve been writing for almost forty years and I continue to work at it every day. So practice, practice and most of all, practice some more.
My best piece of advice beyond reminding you to study your craft hard and urging you to get hold of some good writers’ resources? If you wake up one day and say to yourself, “I don’t need to get any better, I think I’m a good enough writer already.” put your pen or keyboard down and walk away.
No one’s that good. No one.