Writing Advice | Getting Started in Writing.
We’re going to help you take your writing to the next level-to introduce you to the craft of writing. To become proficient at any trade or craft, you must first learn to handle the tools and raw materials at your disposal. As a writer, your raw material will be the words you use to express your ideas. To turn that raw material into a finished product-a story, an article, or a book-you’ll use a set of mechanical tools (hammers and pliers and screwdrivers, if you will) to put the words together in a meaningful, entertaining and informative way. And, whenever necessary, you’ll refer to set of informational tools (assembly directions and parts manuals, let’s call them) for additional help.
A Writer’s Professional Reference Shelf
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you will need certain basic writing references if you want to become a selling writer. Buy yourself a good pocket dictionary and a thesaurus. Later, you can add a current edition of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which contains biographies and geographical names at the back, or Funk and Wagnall’s Standard College Dictionary. Your word processing software probably came with a built-in thesaurus and a spell checker; some word processing programs include dictionaries and grammar checkers as well. When you’re on the Internet and need a quick reference, www.yourdictionary.com is a comprehensive resource of online dictionaries and other language references. It also features a dictionary and thesaurus word search on its home page (these are provided by Merriam-Webster Online, a good online resource in and of itself: www.m-w.com).
If you don’t have a set of encyclopedias at home, this is the time to scout around and buy one. A number of encyclopedias are available on CD. This is a relatively inexpensive alternative to a printed set, and especially convenient if you do your writing on the computer anyway. And, of course, Encarta and Encyclopedia.com, among others, offer online versions with searchable databases, multi-media presentations, and other special features (keep in mind, though, that the online versions are typically not as complete as their printed cousins).
Building Your Reference Library
The basic tools we just discussed will be enough to get you started, but you will inevitably want to add to your at-home library. Here are some “nice to have” reference works you can pick up as your checks come in:
The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style (in paper from Berkley, 2000) illustrates how our language is currently being used, with thousands of examples from current publications, pointing out where they went wrong (or occasionally, right).
Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia (HarperCollins, revised edition 1996) contains information about authors, places, characters, literary works and even words. The subjects are arranged in dictionary form. Turn to any page and you’ll pick up an idea for research or for a story.
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (Little, Brown & Co., revised edition 2001) is useful when you need a phrase to add a special touch to your piece, or you have to track down who said this or that on a certain subject. It is arranged alphabetically by authors quoted and also has a key-word index. There are several collections of quotations on the market, but this is the best. An older edition is available online (along with several other quotation resources) at Bartleby.com complete with a key word search feature.
The World Almanac and Book of Facts (World Alamanac Books, published annually) will supply you with information on events of the previous year, statistics on populations, profiles of famous people, facts about countries and more.