Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Writing is a craft so you need tools

There's something of the geek in me — I get excited about reference books and free software. I like maps and encyclopedias. I even blogged about it once. And there are things about the writing life that appeal to that inner geek. Here are a few:

MacJournal is a truly nifty and useful journaling program. As I wrote in the post I mentioned earlier, I use it almost everyday and have entries related to all kinds of things I want to remember for work or for writing. I save song lyrics in MacJournal, or J. Mark Bertrand's essays about writing, or blog posts or just random thoughts. I still use the free version I got several months ago, but an updated and beefed up version is published by Mariner Software. At around $30 it's still pretty inexpensive.

I also find some books indispensible for writing: a good dictionary ( I use Webster's New World College Dictionary or the American Heritage Dictionary the most), of course. But I also like some other types of grammar references.

Working With Words, by Brian S. Brooks, James L. Pinson and Jean Gaddy Wilson (Bedford/St. Martin's) has been on my desk for years. It's marketed as a textbook, so it's not cheap, but you can find used copies in college towns. The authors give a clear, concise treatment of grammar, but the most helpful things in the book I find are the lists and guides -- a usage guide, words that present spelling challenges, a guide to avoiding stereotypical language (including words to avoid) and, most helpful to me, words that are (and are not) hyphenated.

I've also become something of a fan of Robert Hartwell Fiske. I own two of his books: The Dictionary of Disagreeable English (Writer's Digest Books) and The Dictionary of Concise Writing (Marion St. Press). Both books are good reads and helpful when you're wondering about usage or trying to reduce the fat in your prose.

There's more: I enjoy reading books about writing. They inspire, encourage and help me see where I might go with this. I've especially enjoyed Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Both books are engagingly written and deal with writing on a practical level, as well as addressing some of the more esoteric aspects of the craft.

So there's a few of the tools in my writer's toolbox. I'm sure you would have others. But that's what so great — no toolbox is ever too full.


Julana said...

How about Annie Dillard's The Writing Life? :-)
I also found Bonnie Friedman's Writing Past Dark interesting.

Gary Means said...

Thanks so much for your valuable and interesting posts.

I have Stephen King's "On Writing" on my desk. The first time I came across it was as a book on tape. It was great to listen to Mr. King narrate the book. When I actually read the book, I heard his voice with every page.

I haven't read "Bird by Bird" yet. I finished "Travelling Mercies" a month or two ago.

I'll also take a look at the recommendations from julana.

Thanks again. I'll spend some time digging through your blog and links soon.

Elleann said...

Linda G, I must agree! I loved Stephen King "on Writing' and have never forgotten a particular line from that book:

"If God gave you the talent to write, then why wouldn't you?'.


Dee said...

I loved stephen king's on writing, too. I wrote my second novel in three months this summer, because I didn't get bogged down in mechanics, but just wrote the story. That was freeing. And I have the momentum to do a few drafts to clean it up. Thanks for reminding me.

Paula said...

Thanks for your recommendations!

violet said...

Besides the books you recommend, I'm tempted by the software! (if only I had the nerve to install - that always gets me sweaty-palmed!). Great post!