Sunday, August 19, 2012

Top Two Writing Resources

Can you guess this week's theme? Yes, it's the writing books we can't live without.

This is the writing books shelf in my office, so I figure that, after all the moving and culling - along with my dramatically reduced shelf space in this house - these are the books I truly consider my go-to writing books.

Don't worry - I won't talk about them all.

"Writing Books" fall into two categories for me: ones that talk about how to write and the ones I use for reference. For today, I'll pick one of each.

Frankly, I don't really look at the how to write books much anymore. There comes a point in every writer's evolution, I think, where you realize you need to quit reading about it and just do it. Learning from other writers is invaluable - don't get me wrong - and I'll never stop going to workshops, etc. But writing, perhaps all art, is such a personal thing that, after a while, you find you just have to thrash your way through it on your own. When you hit those internal walls, no amount of external advice will solve the problem.

Alas for that.

However! Back when I was still trying to get started, flailing about with what the hell was I doing, this book really lit things up for me.

Note the copious number of sticky notes.

If You Want to Write was first published in 1938. Brenda Ueland lived to be 93 and built an unconventional life and career for herself, in a time when it was much more difficult for women to do those things. The book, a timeless classic, speaks as much to living a meaningful life as it does to writing. For me, those things are intertwined, so this book very much crystallized who I wanted to be as a writer - and how to get there.

A (semi-) random selection of quotes:

But the only way you can grow in understanding and discover whether a thing is good or bad, Blake says, is to do it. "Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires."

Chapter X. Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing

How does the creative impulse die in us? The English teacher who wrote fiercely on the margin of your theme in blue pencil: "Trite, rewrite," helped to kill it. Critics kill it, your family. Families are great murderers of the creative impulse, particularly husbands. Older brothers sneer at younger brothers and kill it. There is that great American pastime known as "kidding," - with the result that everyone is ashamed and hang-dog about showing the slightest enthusiasm or passion or sincere feeling about anything.

When we hear the word "inspiration" we imagine something that comes like a bolt of lightning, and at once with a rapt flashing of the eyes, tossed hair and feverish excitement, a poet or artist begins furiously to write....But this isn't so. Inspiration comes very slowly and quietly. Say that you want to write. Well, not much will come to you that first day. Perhaps nothing at all. You will sit before your typewriter or paper and look out of the window and begin to brush your hair absentmindedly for an hour or two. Never mind. That is all right. That is as it should be - though you must sit before your typewriter just the same and know, in this dreamy time, that you are going to write, to tell something on paper, sooner or later. And you must also know that you are going to sit here tomorrow for a while, and the next day and so on, forever and ever.
Those of you who follow my blog posts regularly will recognize the seeds for many of my ideas here.

And for the book I pull off the shelf the most regularly these days? Anyone want to take a guess?

It's the Synonym Finder.

Best reference book ever. FAR better than a Thesaurus. When I wrote Rogue's Pawn and needed ten thousand different ways to say "black" and "blue"? Synonym Finder to the rescue! When I need to brainstorm a new title? Synonym Finder is my inspiration. When I can't quite think of the word I want? Synonym Finder is my guide.

Now go forth and write!


  1. I love The Synonym Finder! It's my favorite, too, and always close at hand (during my edits especially).

  2. Thank you for reminding me that I have a darn good reason for neglecting housework. Will definitely check out Brenda Ueland!

  3. I am going to get the synonym finder! I can use some new adjectives in my reviews :)

    1. You'll seriously love it, Sharon - it's like crack!

  4. I am a stalker....I will be checking out the Synonym Finder.

  5. I have The Synonym Finder, too, and you're right-it is much better than a Thesaurus.