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Writer resources: 10 books I keep on my desk

Right reads for writers

The best writers are rabid readers. Real writers have a passion for the printed word. Visit any wordsmith’s workshop, and you will likely find mountains of magazines and bookcases filled with hardcover and paperback books. I’ve been writing and editing for decades, and I can clearly confess my habit and hunger for an ever-increasing diet of reading material. My bookshelves overflow with biographies, histories, novels, and more.

But a few key titles stay close at hand in my office.

What are they?

Writers’ book collections may vary, depending on individual reading tastes, writing genres they pursue and professional goals. However, several writing and language related books may be universally helpful to writers.

10 wonderful writing resources

Although today’s writers regularly access helpful information online, several tried-and-true writing resources still remain prerequisites for the practicing writer. Sure, lots of writing references are readily available online. Still, a few trusted volumes are worth keeping around.

Here’s what’s at my desk (listed alphabetically here, by title), and I refer to these writer resources regularly. The titles link to these works on Amazon, in case readers wish to examine these books more closely.

This is the gold standard rulebook for publishing journalists. Concise and user-friendly, the AP Stylebook lists pertinent rules for language and usage. The sections on appropriate documentation and citation of sources alone are worth the purchase price.)

For creative writing concepts, devotional writing, personal journaling and Scriptural studies, this resource is essential. Although many Bible translations are available, the New International Version is linguistically authentic, but also clear for modern readers.

This resource contains helpful information about preparing manuscripts for submission to publishers and subsequent publication. Professional writers and editors have long considered The Chicago Manual of Style as the gold standard of formatting and organization.

This classic volume is a great cure for writer’s block.  Quotations from famous speakers and authors are listed topically. A witty, thought-provoking or otherwise appropriate quote can jump-start an idea.

This little bitty book clearly outlines the foundations of good writing. Most writing class teachers consider The Elements of Style to be required reading.

6. English Grammar and Composition, by John Warriner
This grammar textbook, a mainstay of high school English classes, contains all the ins-and-outs of grammar and mechanics, arranged in an easy-reference fashion. It may be out of print these days, but I still reach for it in a pinch.

Every good writer keeps a solid dictionary close at hand. Real writers don’t rely on spell-checkers. It’s far too easy to find oneself tripped up by homonyms.

A thesaurus lists synonyms, offering writers alternative wordings. Although online writers love to echo keywords, skilled wordsmiths do like to provide variety and interest. Also, seemingly synonymous words may carry different shades of meanings. I don’t use a thesaurus often, but when I need a new word, it sure helps. Roget’s is the original thesaurus, and it’s still the best. Call me a traditionalist, but I like the thumb-indexed version.

Published annually, The Writer’s Market lists magazine and book publishers by topic. Editorial departments, editors’ names, and contact details are included. This is an excellent resource for writers pursuing publication of their work. The current year’s edition is usually available at a local library, if writers prefer not to purchase personal copies.

I received a free copy of this weighty book, back when I wrote monthly columns for several Yahoo properties. This handy volume is easy to navigate and contains helpful examples for numerous stylistic principles.

What books do you keep on your own writing desk?

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Is freelance writing burning you out?

Feeling frazzled, frustrated, or simply fed-up with freelancing?

Oh, baby. I’ve been there.

Online content writers may echo this sentiment, particularly in light of countless closures of web writing sites, internet news organizations, and content farms (aka content mills). Many of us have spent years (Count ‘em. Years!) building up extensive libraries of evergreen articles, hoping to enjoy readership residuals for many years to come. This used to sound like an attractive someday retirement account of sorts.

With that goal in mind, web writers have poured figurative and literal hearts and souls into pounding out prodigious amounts of copy and publishing it to multiple such websites. Alas, such enterprises have largely vanished. Remember AOL’s Seed, Associated Content/Yahoo Contributor Network, Break Studios, BubbleWS, Demand Studios, eHow, Examiner, Helium, Mahalo, Squidoo, Suite 101, and Triond?

How about sites that kept articles up after shutting the doors to writers?

Sure, a few web-based, crowd-sourced news sites remain.

What does "crowd-sourced" mean? Many such sites accept all who apply. Examiner and a few others required applications, writing samples, and editorial approval for sign-ups.

Such sites often promise to pay writers based on merit, readership, advertising participation, and other criteria. Sometimes the formula is cloaked in mystery. Frequently, pay thresholds are set, and writers whose earnings do not meet such standards receive nothing. Some of these crowd-sourced sites require writers to continue publishing new content to keep their accounts current.

The pay generally isn’t much with such sites. Many web writers could easily earn more each week by tapping a cash register or folding clothes in a local store than cranking out content. But long-time earnings can add up to real money, if such sites stick around. And that hope tempts us to persist in the pursuit. Plus, lots of us are passionate about writing.

Back to the burnout thing.

After investing tons of time and energy into writing and promoting (Read as: Hyperlinking and social network sharing) scads of content, only to witness website after website vanishing, more than a few freelance web writers may be experiencing something of an end-of-one’s-rope burnout. Yes, we banked some bonuses, built our portfolios, picked up piles of press passes, forged fine friendships with fellow wordsmiths, and gained some green in our PayPal accounts over the years.

But, poof! Oceans of articles have slipped off cyberspace, as such scores of sites have shut down. Maybe it goes with the territory that these types of online enterprises seem to run out of steam (Read as: Financial backing or potential buyers) within a few years.

What’s more, many of us have run our own work through copyright checks and found it republished without permission on unknown blogs and scraper sites.


Before we jump on-board with the next content mill or slug our way through creating and building more blogs of our own, maybe it’s time to look at the symptoms of burnout. How can we avoid it next time?

Fortune Magazine just ran an article titled “6 Signs That Work Is Consuming Too Much of Your Life.” Actually, the article first appeared on Entrepreneur with this title: “6 Signs You Work Too Much and Need to Get a Life.” In a nutshell, the half-dozen signs point to a lack of free time, working alone and without backup, a loss of non-job-related goals, a constant mental focus on work, an inability to converse on non-job topics, and a diminishing interest in non-work-related pursuits.

Freelance writers may be at particular risk, primarily because we live where we work. We never really punch out. Our computers constantly blink and beep and beckon us back to tap out one more article, hoping this one will go viral and score measurable earnings. Some web writers even dictate articles on smart phones, adding content when they are out and about. It’s easy to lose one’s own internal off-switch.


I can remember a seasoned and seemingly successful web writer offering this advice: “Where can you get new article ideas? Write about anything you do, anything you make, anywhere you go, any products you use, anything you eat, and anything you read.”

Can you say, “Total focus on the job”?

Professional focus, commitment, concentration, and purpose are surely commendable. But a lack of balance can lead anyone to the brink of burnout.

Another web news site closed about 10 days ago. I wrote 10 regular columns for them, contributing more than 20 articles each month. Now they’ve been reduced to screenshots, PDF files, and internet archive files.

Maybe jumping back in so fast after that debacle wasn’t such a good idea.

Several fellow web writers have joined another web news site. A few are enthusiastically reporting initial earnings on their first articles there. Hungry for such good news, lots of us have been watching for more.

I poked around there, somewhat gingerly. I submitted a trial-balloon news article on a topic that happened to be trending online at the time). The process did not go well, although the article finally appeared on the site (almost 24 hours after the initial submission and several messages to site staff). By then, it was stale news.

Frustrated by the process (and the circuitous responses I had received from site staff), I requested that my account (and the article) be deleted. That issue still awaits resolution, although I have sent multiple emails to various contact addresses offered on the site.

In the meantime, I have done some digging online (which I should have done before signing up) and found extremely mixed reviews about that particular site. Some have offered glowing reports, while others have complained about apparent credibility, exposure, payment, staff response, and technical service issues.

What am I going to do next?

First, I’m taking a breather to regroup, reevaluate, and retrieve my enthusiasm for the whole process. Then, I will begin sorting my own copyrighted content base and creating new material for my own sites and perhaps some additional books.

Will I ever write for a web news site again?

“Never” can be a dangerous word. But I will certainly bump up my advance research game before applying for any new news sites. And I will aim for better balance of my own time management and personal immersion in upcoming projects.

Perspective is paramount, if a freelancer wants to banish burnout.

That may be a tall order. But sometimes stepping away for a bit can actually boost a writer’s attention span, creativity, editorial focus, and overall quality.

So here’s to that.
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