My writer friends and I often talk about the tools we’ve discovered to actually help us put words on a page. Those tools range everything from hardware to software, pens to moleskine journals, settings to environments, snacks to libations. I’ve decided to sing the praises of a few of my writing tools here in a series of posts.
In earlier posts I’ve shared the computer hardware and software that powers my writing endeavors. Today I want to champion a few old-school tools–the reference books and resources I turn to as I write. To be sure, there are online versions of writer’s tools, and I utilize several. But for the most part, I still like to pick up the book and hold it in my hands, dog-ear or otherwise mark important pages, highlight and underline.
Of necessity: A great reference set includes a good Dictionary, Thesaurus, Dictionary of Synonyms & Antonyms, Rhyming Dictionary and Etymology Dictionary. The dictionary and thesaurus need no explanation. The Synonyms and Antonyms tool I use less often, but frequently enough so as to highly recommend it. I don’t suspect you need me to remind you what synonyms and antonyms are, but suffice to say when you’re working on a manuscript and trying to avoid monotonous word repetition, or looking to make a strong contrast, this tool is a friend. It can help paint a scene. Rhyming Dictionaries are most helpful in you’re writing poetry or song lyrics. The best of them rhyme sound fragments, not just words. I attempt poetry and compose lyrics. I use this often. Finally, the Etymology Dictionary is important to me because some of my writing is of the historical fiction genre. It’s important not to use words or phrases before they originated. Understanding where it came from, and the earliest appearances of a word or phrase in literature is a huge help.
Of these tools, I possess two sets of all the above by Merriam-Webster–one kept on my desk in my den at home, the other on my desk at my office. I also have online versions of all the above set in my laptop browser for quick access. I do have a couple of deeper-intellect dictionaries around, too, in case I need to impress someone from Oxford or something.
Less-often used, but still valuable to me, I have a few Famous Quotations and Familiar Quotations books. I always sound smarter when I share someone else’s wisdom and can properly attribute it.
On the craft of writing: I highly recommend four books. Stephen King’s On Writing–A Memoir of the Craft is a great read. Lots of wisdom for my writing life in there. I’ve revisited it a number of times. My writing coach Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Author Before You’re Dead is another I put in the must-read category for anyone seriously desiring to cultivate a writing life. The standard Elements of Style by Strunk & White and the entertaining Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, are also books I highly recommend every writer own and enjoy.
Last but not least in this area, I’m convinced a good writer must also be a great reader. I have a set aside time to read built into each day. I have a pretty good collection of books that I own. But invaluable to me are also my library card and my Kindle Paperwhite. They help assure that I am never without good reads at my fingertips.
How about you? Any reference tool suggestions you can offer up? How about reading tools or strategies?