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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

Five Books Every Freelance Writer Should Have

As a lifelong book lover, I'm always looking to add to my collection of books about writing. Some of my finds have been incredibly helpful in teaching me spelling, grammar, punctuation, the art of fiction writing, business skills, and time management skills. Other books that I've bought with high hopes have been a waste of time and money.

If I had to pare down my extensive writing library to just five books, however, here are the ones that I couldn't bear to give up.

1. The Elements of Style (4th edition) by William Strunk and E.B. White

This slim volume (105 pages, counting the index) provides advice on the basic principles of grammar, composition, form, and style. My favorite section, however, is the one dealing with words and expressions that are commonly misspelled or misused. If you can afford only one reference book on style, this one will give you the greatest bang for your buck.

2. A Dictionary

Most word-processing programs have spell-check, and if you have Internet access, you can easily look up the definition of any word in the English language. Still, there are times when I still turn to a printed dictionary to check pronunciation, to pin down a word with multiple meanings, or to  get additional information that a brief Internet description may not provide. There are also times when I need to look up a word and my online connection is down. The dictionary I use is the 2001 Random House Webster's College Dictionary, but you can take your pick.

3. A Thesaurus

Microsoft Word, the program I use for most of my writing, has a thesaurus function, but it doesn't provide nearly as many alternatives as a written thesaurus. My thesaurus of choice is Roget's International Thesaurus (5th edition) edited by Robert L. Chapman. Published in 1992, it's a little dated now, especially where computer terms are concerned, but it still meets most of my writing needs.

4. Specialized Style Manuals

If you do copy editing, you'll probably want to pick up at least The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition). This seems to be the Bible for most publications, and the guide most of my clients ask me to use when I edit. I also own The Associate Press Stylebook Briefing on Media Law, and Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition). Both have come in handy a few times, especially when I'm proofreading papers for college students. For a fee, you can also sign up to receive Internet access and email updates to these stylebooks.

5. The Freelance Writer's Bible by David Trottier

This is the book that really gave me confidence and sparked my writing career. Trottier walks beginning authors through setting goals, overcoming negative attitudes, developing a writing process, marketing your work, and creating a business action plan. I still regularly refer to his challenges and goals.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of books that inspired and helped me along the way, but it is a start.

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