Ever searched for writing resources only to come up empty? The Internet and the current print implosion have created such an abundance of resources it’s all too easy to get lost on your way to finding what you really need.
In short: If you don’t zero in on a handful of writing resources from the start, you’ll end up wasting valuable time you could’ve spent writing.
I’ve used a set of resources—some since my college days—that have stood the test of time and thought I’d share them here. To make this short list they had to meet specific criteria and be succinct, comprehensive and affordable and their content couldn’t overlap.
This doesn’t mean other books aren’t as useful if they didn’t make the list. This is just my tested, go-to list of writing, editing and publishing books and tools and I hope you’ll find it useful.
Writing and editing
First on the list is my latest find. I picked up this book earlier this year and I’ve returned to it a few times since.
This comprehensive guide is packed with examples of the collaborative process of conceptualizing, crafting and birthing a book. Written with authors and editors in mind, it takes you through different methods of finding the “gold” and flaws in a manuscript and how to generate a thesis from a concept or idea. It also sets up each example from different perspectives: author, editor, publisher and freelancer to better illustrate each key player’s mindset and agenda.
Be forewarned: This book isn’t for newbies. It’s highly detailed (without reading like a textbook) but if you’re a confident novice who’s serious about writing marketable nonfiction it’s worth the small investment.
Grammarly is a free browser extension that instantly corrects grammar and spelling mistakes. Paid versions go much further and according to their website, offer “vocabulary enhancement, plagiarism detection, and citation suggestions.” I’ve used the free version to test headlines and marketing copy, which are key elements of effective book cover design, author websites and sales page copy.
I bought this book to help me with fiction, but it turned out to be very useful in writing memoirs.
Writers typical wrestle with one of two problems: they tell instead of show, saturating their manuscript with clichés or understated actions, or they go into soap opera mode and overdramatize even the most basic emotions.
The Emotion Thesaurus helps writers avoid nonverbal emotions and employ specific words for all types of situations. If your default descriptions include “she sighed,” “he murmured,” or “she shouted,” you can’t go wrong with this handbook.
My favourite part is the specialized list that accompanies each emotion: physical and internal signs, mental responses to the emotion, possible long-term signs and deeper conditions your chosen emotion can lead to.
For under $20, this is one of the best book investments I’ve made so far. If you’re a word nerd, this manual is for you. You’ll not only get words with similar meanings, but they’re also categorized based on context. At 1300+ pages, it’s so thick it actually sits on my desk as a part-time book end.
These classic short reads are friendly if you want quick access to English language rules that haven’t and won’t likely change in the next century.
Style: First published in 1959, this bite-size guide has inspired countless writers, students, editors and lovers of the English language. It’s so widely recognized that it once made Time’s list of top 100 influential books written in English.
Editing: The relationship between writer and editor greatly influences the finished product. This compact, friendly book is perfect for writers who want to edit without the minutiae of an extensive guide.
The subtitle, what writers need to know about what editors do, encapsulates what this book is about. Some will argue its validity given that its latest edition was released in 1994, but I always say it’s timeless advice to writers on what it takes to successfully collaborate with all types of editors.
The book is split in two parts, theory and practice, with chapters/essays written by an editor. If you’re a student and unfamiliar with how the publishing world has changed (i.e., your parents talk about photocopying or sending physical letters to a publisher versus scanning and emailing), this book offers sound advice.
It’s an affordable and powerful tool that has revolutionized the way professional writers write, format and publish books. I’d heard about this software after it first launched but didn’t test it until a few years ago. I haven’t looked back since.
So, what’s so great about Scrivener? It goes far beyond word processing and allows you to organize your book’s chapters, merge it with previous Word versions, store images or other reference files, outline your manuscript, format it for uploading to Amazon, apply a style guide template… the list goes on. You can even track your writing sessions to stay on target. If you want a writing studio at your fingertips, check it out.
The first of a four-book collection, this instalment covers the ins and outs of taking full control from publishing print and eBooks, marketing both formats, using print on demand services, finding professional designers and other service vendors to produce your book and more. And the best part: It’s free.
How’s that for a short list? If you’re serious about becoming an author, you don’t need the most popular book. You just need what works, be it a book series, set of online tools or comprehensive grammar and style guides.
Do invest time into finding the right resources. And once you do, use them to create, structure, write, revise and polish your manuscript into this best version before you send it to professional editors. You’ll be glad you did.