The point of my series Call Number 808 is to explore writers’ reference books. At most public libraries (i.e., those that use the Dewey Decimal Classification), these books have a call number that begins with “808.”
Today, I focus on books that I already own as a part of my writing library. I don’t have a very many books on writing for reasons unknown. (It can’t be because I almost never finish anything. Certainly not.) Maybe it’s because it’s hard to tell what’s worth your time and what’s not at the bookstore. Whenever the head of our teen writing group would pull out a book to have us do an exercise, I never found them that helpful or interesting. I already had an idea, why add extra scenes? I did the same thing with math and personal problems: I decided help is for the weak. This is a stupid way of thinking, which I’ve been slowly undoing since 2006, when my choices were “ask for help” or “fail Calculus.”
When Julie moved to Malaysia, she generously allowed me to raid her much more substantial writing library. Her books covered a diverse array of topics related to writing, they looked interesting, she could vouch for them, and, of course, they were free. That was low-risk enough for me. I’m ready to start using these books.
The first writers’ reference book I ever got was You Can Write a Mystery (yes, “can” is emphasized). I got it in the seventh grade. My typical routine on a summer morning in middle school was to go to swim team, catch a rerun of Murder, She Wrote followed by a rerun of Matlock. I wanted to be a mystery writer—possibly because I wanted to solve mysteries in real life. (How can Angela Lansbury get away with being at the center of so many murders on MSW? How do no other characters identify her as the common denominator in each case?)
The next book I bought was a guide to forensic pathology called something like Scene of the Crime, which my sister has since adopted into her extensive library of crime fiction reference guides. To date, I have never written one mystery (alternately: everything I write is the mystery of why I can’t consistently finish anything).
The next two books I bought were Brian Kitely’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany and The 4 A.M. Breakthrough. Both books are filled with writing exercises designed to stretch your fiction-writing abilities. Again, I’ve never been much of an exercise person, so I haven’t put them to good use. I’d like to be one of these people someday soon, so I will surely be dragging them out again.
So here’s what I’ve got. Most were adopted recently so I don’t know anything about them. In no particular order:
- You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts
- The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley
- The 4 A.M. Breakthrough: Unconventional Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley
- Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition 2012 edited by Robert Lee Brewer
- The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Style and Usage by Mary A. DeVries
- The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction by Michael Seidman
- 88 Money-Making Writing Jobs by Robert Bly
- The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood
- The Little Red Writing Book: 20 Powerful Principles of Structure, Style & Readability by Brandon Royal
- Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing by Jessica Page Morrell
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
- The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
(The entries I haven’t linked appear to be out of print. Sorry!)
If I find anything I can’t live without on my own shelf or on the taxpayers’ shelves, you’ll be hearing about it on Renegade Word.
Commentors: what are you favorite writing references? What can’t you live without? What do you wish you’d skipped?