Wednesday, April 28, 2010


BEACON FLASH #44 (May 2010)

I thought it would be fun for writers to know which reference books I have close at hand in my office -- the ones I use most and can't live without while I write, and those I use less often but find essential once in a while.

I have a book shelf right above my computer screen.
The books are so close, I don't even have to get up to pull one out. I've culled these books over the years because I use online resources when I can (a thesaurus and etymological dictionary, for example). But the volumes that made the shelf can only be accessed in print unless you are prepared to pay hefty subscriptions for the online versions.

I cannot write without two books. They are well-thumbed and a bit dogeared now, despite being fairly new editions :

  • The Chicago Manual of Style: The CMS tells me when to use an en dash or an em dash, the correct form of bulleted list to use, abbreviations that are both correct and acceptable, formatting conventions, how to cite, and when to use italics. I could go on! The CMS prevents me goofing in a ms that I submit to a book or magazine editor and making myself look unprofessional. Editors use this style manual all the time and I love it!
  • The Oxford Canadian Dictionary: The OCD saves me making spelling mistakes certainly, but I tend to use it to ensure I hyphenate correctly. Many words in Canadian English don't have hyphens where the American English has them, and vice versa. I cannot remember which are which. If I'm writing for the US market, I use
The other books on my reachable shelf include:
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White 
  • Canadian Copyright Law by Lesley Ellen Harris
  • A big medical dictionary
  • A good French dictionary
  • A current atlas - I use this surprisingly often
  • Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript by Jack and Glenda Neff, and Don Prues
  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William K. Zinsser ( invaluable for novelists too)
  • Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
  • The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia
  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia
  • The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English
  • Photoshop CS4 for Dummies  
What reference books are essential for you as a writer?
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