Written By Alexandra Romanov

The Top 8 Resources Every Freelance Writer Needs and Why

A lot of you frequently email me (which I LOVE!) and ask me what books you need to buy, references you need and so forth. Thanks to the Internet you don’t really need a ton of books or reference guides. There are, of course, a few that you probably should have on your desk just because it is often easier to grab the book and find the information than it is to wade through the tons of hits that come up through Google.

There are really only 8 references that every writer should have sitting on their desk at any given point. Technically, I recommend 10 but I’ll get to that in a minute. These references will enable you to write pretty much anything necessary in 90% of your projects. Only 8 are absolutely mandatory the other two will be optional, as you will see.

Please keep in mind, these are general references to have handy. If you are specializing in a particular niche, such as gardening, you might want to add one or two additional references that are specific to that. Try not to get bogged down with so many references that you can’t write because you spend all of your time trying to find the right book. Less is more in many cases.

A Dictionary

I recommend the American Heritage dictionary because it’s the best current dictionary out there. It’s got everything you need and is topical and lively. It’s a book that you can keep and use for the rest of your life.

Here is where the first option comes into play. Depending on your audience, you might want to pick up an older dictionary as well. I have one from the 1950’s and it has a bunch of words and terms that no one hears much anymore but are still in actual use. This can be helpful in decoding reference and research documents that were once common knowledge. That said, the older dictionaries don’t have many of the words in current use such as Internet or Website. You can see why the two might be more useful than one. You can generally pick up an older dictionary very inexpensively at a used bookstore or even yard sales.

“Woe Is I” by Patricia O’Conner

“Woe Is I” is without a doubt my absolute favorite grammar guide! This book is hysterically funny and you never forget grammar that makes you laugh. This book is so funny that not only will you enjoy reading it but also you will be recommending it to friends as entertainment! That says a great deal about a guide to grammar.

This is the second option I warned you about. There is a little book known generally as ‘Strunk and White’ which is interesting because the actual title of the book is The Elements of Style.’ Still the name of the authors tends to be how people refer to the book. It’s a great book, fast and easy to use reference. It’s just not as entertaining as ‘Woe is I.’ In fact, if I am being completely honest, it’s kind of dry and boring. Why I recommend both is simply because you will enjoy ‘Woe is I’ a great deal and learn a lot from it. However you might find, as I do, that when I need to do a quick grammar check, ‘Strunk and White’ is faster and easier. Plus I don’t get started rereading it. Once that happens the next couple of hours finds me chuckling away and getting nothing productive done at work.

The Synonym Finder by Jerome Irving Rodale

This is simply the best thesaurus available. I know, MS Word has one but to be honest, it’s not even close to as good as The Synonym Finder.’

If there is one thing you are eventually going to desperately need as a freelance writer it’s another way to say the same thing again without using the same words. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been hired to write copy that equated to 20 articles all saying the same thing. I am good until the 15th one and then my brain begins to turn into mush. I can whip out this little gem and presto I have a new article!

One little bit of warning to fellow wordsmiths, this book is highly addictive! When I first got it I ended up playing with it for hours. It’s a blast!

Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations

This is a big book and it contains around 25,000 quotations from the famous and the infamous. The 1500 odd pages make for some fascinating reading (Are we seeing a theme here?) that can give you something interesting to do on a cold winter day. The arrangement of the quotes makes it easy to find exactly the kind of quote you need in a hurry.

Something interesting about quotes should probably be mentioned: For some strange reason quotes carry a lot of weight and authority. If it’s a quote by some guy that has been dead for 300 years it’s even more potent. Slip on into your writing and suddenly you are the end all, be all expert on the topic. Give it a try and you will see what I mean!

Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations by James Simpson

This is a great modern companion to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in that it covers notable quotes from the 1950’s to the present. Yes, it’s another fun book to read in your spare time. What is important here is that the combination of the two books makes it possible for you to have the perfect quote for any occasion and will enhance the authority of your writing.

Just so you know, while these quotes will also add credibility to your writing, it seems that the older the quote, the more credibility it seems to have. The quotes in Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations’ are outstanding, but if the person quoted is still living they will carry less weight. I tell you that so if you have two quotes to pick from, choose to quote the dead guy whenever possible.

The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manuel from Addison Wesley

OK, as much as we would all like to create our own style and work from there, there are simply going to be times when you need this information because a client wants their project completed in a specific manner. This is currently the most prominent stylebook and the one being used the most by news agencies, Internet media and even some major universities have switched to it. Get one.

The MLA Style Manual

This is the other most prominent style manual out there. Chances are good if the client wants a format that isn’t from the Associated Press Stylebook, this is what they want. This is also still the most widely used style manual for universities so if you plan to do much work with them or take on clients that need projects compiled in the appropriate style, you will need this as well.

The Yahoo! Style Guide

No, I’m not kidding. This is probably the single best overall style guide for anyone writing on the Internet. It goes into great detail on SEO, editing and creating content for a digital world. This style guide will work far better for you in the online world than the other two combined.

As a heads up, there are a few other style guides out there but none of them are in use nationally the way the above three guides are and most of them borrow quite a bit from the top two. In case you were wondering, The Yahoo! Guide is pretty funny in places and can be entertaining to read, the other two, not so much.

Those are the top 8 resources that every writer needs to have on their desk, close at hand and ready to go. There will be others as I mentioned previously. Niche writers in particular will want a good overall reference for their topic and perhaps a couple of good specific ones as well. Beyond that, you will probably be good with results you find on the Internet as long as you make it a habit of collecting authoritative and credible cites. It’s rare to have a client want you to cite your sources but when they do you want to have great sites to hand over.

Happy Writing!


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