Anna Questerly

Anna Questerly
Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Writer's Shelf

Have you ever wanted to visit one of your favorite authors just to peek at their library? I would love to see which books influenced J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or Terry Goodkind. More importantly, as a writer, I would like to see which books helped them to become such amazing authors. Which books on the craft of writing do they frequently pull off the shelf? Which reference books would I find sitting open on their desk?

Working in a bookstore, I am privileged to see what many of my writer friends buy, discuss which books helped them, and squirrel away a few gems for my own library. As a beginning author, you will begin to collect your own books and build your own library, but which books should you put in it? There are so many to choose from; to simplify, let’s break it down into three categories.

First, you should have the books you love to read. Your all-time favorites should line your shelves. Not only will you probably enjoy them again as a reader, but you’ll want to read them as a writer. What is it about those books that you love? How did the author handle dialogue or description. As apprentice writers, this is how we learn from the masters.

I actually need two copies of these books. One for the love of the book. It might be a first edition, a signed copy, or a special illustrated or leather bound edition. The second is a working copy. This copy is dog-eared and it’s pages are well worn. There are notes tucked inside. This is the one I study to learn how my favorite authors write the way they do.

The second type of book will be for reference. A good dictionary is critical. Because I write historical fiction, I use the Oxford English Dictionary. This particular dictionary not only gives you definitions, but tells when the word first came into use and how the meaning has changed throughout time. Not everyone can afford such a dictionary. The set I have is seventeen volumes and takes up an entire shelf. It’s value is $1100 — used. I got my set for a bargain – only two hundred bucks. A new twenty-volume set sells for $11,000! My second choice for a good dictionary is the Merriam Webster’s collegiate edition is much more affordable.

You’ll also need a great thesaurus or two. I use The Oxford Thesaurus and The Synonym Finder. While not exactly a thesaurus or dictionary, Random House Word Menu is a wonderful resource for writers; it gives a list of words particular to a certain subject. You’ll need a style guide; I used to have several of these and they contradict each other occasionally. Since I want to stay consistent in my writing, I limit myself and use only the Chicago Manual of Style. It covers every situation you could think of. A world atlas is helpful, unless, of course, you write sci-fi or fantasy; then you’ll have to draw your own maps. If you want a useful book for choosing character names, get a baby name book.

Finally, books on the craft of writing. A few of my favorites; Bird by Bird by Anne LaMotte. Stephen King’s On Writing, and Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Throw in Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and Word Magic by Cindy Rogers, and you’ll have yourself an ideal beginning on your own writing library.

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