Tools of the Trade
Every profession has its tools. If you’re a carpenter, you must have a collection of saws, hammers, drills, screwdrivers, planes, etc. to do the job properly, and you must know how to use them.
A writer has their own set of tools, and these tools are just as important to us as the tools of a carpenter are to him.
Here are the basic tools for a writer’s toolbox. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list, but it is a list of what I consider to be the minimum in order to achieve professional level work.
A Personal Computer – In this age nearly everyone has one or more. The writer’s computer must have certain specialized programs which enable them to do their job. Microsoft Word is the most essential of these programs. There are other word processing programs that you can write in, but to submit your work, you will almost universally be asked to submit it in a .doc or .docx format.
Your personal computer should also have a market search and submission tracking program. The days of thumbing through Writer’s Market or Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market are gone, as are the days of mailing your manuscript to an agent or publisher. Today it’s all done electronically. For market search and submission tracking, I recommend Duotrope. There is a user fee for this program, although it is quite affordable at $5/month or $50/year. If the budget is too tight for that, try Submission Grinder, a similar program which is free on-line.
There are many other programs available on-line which a writer might find helpful, but Microsoft Word and a good market finder/submission tracker are the essentials.
Professional Books – Certain books are as much a part of a professional toolkit as a Carpenter’s hammer. Here are some that I consider essential.
Chicago Manual of Style, The University of Chicago Press – This is the essential reference to style for most writing. Note: If you are writing articles, the AP Style Guide should be your reference, but I am focusing on fiction writers. CMOS contains everything a writer needs to know about grammar and punctuation, commas and italics. It is the single reference book which I use the most in both writing and editing.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Inc – This is my go-to work to check spelling and definitions. There are other excellent dictionaries available such as the Oxford Dictionary, but Webster’s is my choice.
Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, by David Auburn, Oxford University Press – A writer’s valuable guide to writing and selecting the right word to convey their meaning as well as to vary their word choices when they are repeating an idea in their work. Again, there are other, less expensive, and serviceable thesauri (bet you wouldn’t have gotten that plural right without a copy of Merriam-Webster or two years of high school Latin) available, but Oxford is my choice.
On Writing – A Memoir of he Craft, by Steven King, Pocket Books – In my opinion, this is the definitive work on the life of a writer. Well written and easy to follow, it both entertains and instructs. Every aspiring writer should read it.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, Pantheon Books – A humorous, sometimes painful, book on how to get off one’s duff and write, and to make a lifestyle of writing.
Writing Deep Point of View: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, Rayne Hall, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform – An essential guide to writing compelling fiction which will immerse your reader and keep them rapt within your story.
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure (Helping Writers Become Authors) (Volume 7), K. M. Weiland, PenForASword Publishing – A guide to making your characters come alive, and more importantly, making your reader care.
There are many other books in my professional toolkit, but these are the essentials. I would strongly urge any would be writer to read, especially the classics. There’s a reason that they are considered great literature. Pore over them. Suck them into your soul and make them a part of you.
Read everything you can get your hands on in your chosen genre, both good and bad. Think about what makes them one or the other. Read outside your genre, both fiction and non-fiction. See what others have done and where they have gone.
Just as a carpenter needs a frame-work before he can build a house, so does the writer. Books and reading are that framework.
All the best in your writing career. I hope to see you in print.