Writer’s Tool Box: Reference Materials

I know what you are thinking, and you are correct: no one asked. That doesn’t make the information any less crucial, however. As a writer, I depend on reference materials just like any other professional would — mechanics rely on repair manuals, doctors and surgeons refer to anatomy text, and carpenters rely on blue prints to build houses. Also like those professionals, I have a preference to what reference materials that I keep with me. For this week’s blog, I wanted to share my favorite reference sources for your enjoyment!

[DISCLAIMER]: This is what works for me, you may have a different system and that is perfectly fine. Hopefully I’ve turned you on to something and if you have a suggestion for me, please let me know.

No. 1: Webster’s New World College Dictionary – but A.P., you silly bastid (bastid, slang, “bastard” as spoken in an urban North Eastern United States dialect), with websites like Dictionary.com, why would you need an actual dictionary? That answer is simple: because I like to turn off distraction when I write, and going to Dictionary.com is one step away from ringing the Devil’s Doorbell (read: social media). Dictionary.com is an AMAZING resource; I visit that site regularly to build my vocabulary and have for a while. I keep the hulking dictionary with me because as good as I am with words, I am not always certain on their proper usage. Remember when Jewel used the word “casualty” as a noun derivative of the word “casual”? Kurt Loader called her out on that and it was brutal — I never want to find myself in that spot.

I’m also very proud of my dictionary because its a beast and I got it for a buck at my county library’s book sale.

No. 2: Rogett’s II New Thesaurus – The reasons why are the same as the dictionary. The thesaurus comes in handy because it finds alternatives to words that you are in direct danger of overusing. Say you are writing a story about a jewelry salesman, you can only say “placed the ring on the woman’s finger” so many times; but with a thesaurus, you will can find the alternatives to finger, which include phalange, digit, extremity, and so on. Thesauri (plural of thesaurus?) are invaluable to keeping your word selections fresh and interesting.

I also got this lethal weapon at the same book sale, also for a buck!

No. 3: The Writer’s Market Guide (Yearly) – Not one of the most essential tomes in my journey towards masterful wordsmithing, but crucial for the business aspects. Every year, the Writer’s Market Guide is released; it has contact information for literary agents, publishers, publications — anywhere that will accept solicitations of your work and possibly pay you for them. The beginning section has great advice for formatting query letters and other business correspondence for writers!

No. 4: “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr & E.B. White – Throughout my years of formal education, I’ve had excellent English teachers. You can tell them I said that too, I didn’t have a single English teacher that let me down. Through their instruction, I learned how sentences are put together, punctuation, and even the finer stylizations of formatting prose — as much as they did teach, there is still so much more to be learned. “The Elements of Style” is the go-to manual for a lot of writers. It is like the Magna Carta of how prose should be written. Not certain about how dialogue should be quoted or how you should punctuate a multiple paragraph diatribe? The answers are all in there.

No. 5: “How I Write” by Janet Evanovich – This one wasn’t intended as a reference manual, but I sure as hell use it like one. “How I Write” is like having a mentor in the pages of a book. Janet Evanovich is a brilliant author who has a real gift for wielding humor, but to actually get the brass tacks of how her day is structured, it’s insightful and inspiring! Its also comforting to know that such a highly successful author like Janet Evanovich is as susceptible to such human vices like junk food and television. Her section on “A Day in the Life Of” is also very motivating.

Honorable Mentions

  • “On Writing” by Stephen King
  • “Anatomy of Story” by John Truby (and a super sincere “thank you” to autor Craytus Jones for suggesting it!)

Don’t forget to tell your friends: “Days of the Phoenix” comes out on May 7th, EXCLUSIVELY through Amazon.com! The follow up to “Broken Promise Records” has received some pretty strong reviews from beta readers, so don’t miss out on what the buzz is about!

Until your next trip across the Millerverse!

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