A Writer’s Bookshelf

“A writer must read incessantly.”

This is the advice I remember best from the first writing class I ever took – at the local library, when I was in fifth grade. It has stuck with me for the three decades (plus maybe just a little) since I took that class. If you want to write detective fiction, read detective fiction. If you want to be a travel writer, read the travel sites, zines and books. Besides reading what’s going on in your genre, a writer should also read about writing. You need to be careful, though – there’s a lot of drek out there, often somebody trying to cash in on the fact that there are enough hopeful writers to form an industry in and of itself.

I’ve spent bad money on my share of that drek. I’ve also had the good fortune to find a handful of books I recommend to anybody who seriously wants to make a career out of writing.

On Writing, by Stephen King. A “memoir of the craft,” this book consists of both King’s autobiography and a detailed account of King’s tools and tricks for the trade. You may or may not like King’s writing (I pretty much gave up on him in the late 80s) but you can’t deny that he knows a little something about writing for success.

Six-Figure Freelancing, by Kelley James-Enger. Nonfiction is the easiest way to break into writing full-time. James-Enger’s guide gives detailed instructions in the best ways to maximize your income as a freelance writer of nonfiction. It’s light on advice for breaking in to the field, and has little to say about the internet market, but overall a great tool for inspiration and practical advice.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block. This is a collection of essays Block wrote for the magazine Writer’s Digest. They’re hip, funny and topical – covering everything from research to industry tips to specific techniques for common stumbling points. I still use his advice for making up names every time I introduce a new character. Block has at least three of these collections in print, and this is the best of them. If you love it, get the others. As of 2010, the book is 30 years old – so don’t expect much advice about the “new media.”

Seven Years to Seven Figures by Michael Masterson. Not a writing book, this is a guide to some of the easiest ways to increase your net worth to $1,000,000 or more. Thing is, nearly all of the ways he mentions include writing – especially writing ad copy – and publishing. It’s a good source of ideas for how to make money with your writing, and was instrumental in getting me to make the move to full-time.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. If you don’t have this on your shelf, you have no business calling yourself a writer. Own it. Read it. Reread it. Refer to it often. As my most influential teacher, Ms. Day, used to have to tell me all the time: “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” S&W wrote down the rules.

There are others, and today’s list includes websites and podcasts. But above are the resources I find myself returning to year after year.

Thanks for listening.

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