As writers, there are some basic tools of the trade that we need at hand to find precisely the right words to shape our story. While we all have access to digital resources like dictionaries and grammar sites, there are a few old standbys that it’s good to have physical copies of on hand so we can actually thumb through them. Sometimes a relaxed, inquisitive foray into these pages can be far more productive than online searches which are often narrow in scope. With this in mind, here are five that The Writer magazine (September 2012) advises us to keep on tap:
Dictionary: Having a reasonably up to date dictionary, Merriam-Webster, for instance, is a must-have for any writer. I actually have four different dictionaries, one of which is a chunky old edition of The Oxford Universal Dictionary. I love to look up words in my blue-bound Oxford because it often has richer, more expansive definitions of words than my more up-to-date dictionary — and this gets my creative juices flowing.
Thesaurus: Sure, this is another tool that your word-processing software includes, but a tried-and-true hardbound copy of Roget’s Thesaurus is likely to give you far more options to choose from. Consider the word, “walk.” My handy-dandy old Roget’s (a gift from my mom that I treasure) lists tons of possibilities, from ramble, amble, hike and tramp to stroll, saunter, and promenade — each gives a slightly different spin, doesn’t it?
Style guides: There are a host of these to choose from: The Associated Press Stylebook, the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, and The Chicago Manual of Style. Any of these will do the job, but stick to one because consistency is the name of the game.
Idioms guide: Idioms add style and snap to your prose and there are rafts of them to choose from. That’s why a reader-friendly tool like Webster’s New World American Idioms Handbook can be a writer’s goldmine.
Poetry: Having a volume of poetry you really love readily at hand can be a creative booster. Just reading a poem or two aloud can get you into a new rhythm, reenergize your writing, and inspire you to try something adventurous. It can also remind you how a whole world can be captured in just a handful of well-chosen words.
Now that we’re each equipped as The Compleat Writer, let’s write on!