Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tools of the Trade

By David Sennema

What do you have within arms’ reach besides your computer keyboard as you sit down to start working on a short story, novel or essay? Rather than using the on-line version, I keep my Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (copyright 1972), within easy reach. My college days were well before 1972, so I suppose I picked it up at a garage sale. Next to it, and probably my most-used tool is a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus. Again, it’s available on line, but while I’m writing I prefer to use the “real book” version rather than bouncing in and out of Windows.

Next in line is a book I picked up recently at yet another garage sale entitled The Writer’s Harbrace Handbook. It’s packed full of good stuff about writing, but I use it mostly for grammar and punctuation help. What can I tell you…when I should have been studying English in college I was out serenading the girls’ dorms with the Sigma Nu Quartet.

Then there’s a tiny book called Webster’s Instant Word Guide which is organized like a dictionary but without definitions. It’s really for spelling but does give helpful hints about such things as whether to use pare, pair, or pear.

Most of my stories seem to need names for characters and so I have a paperback at hand entitled 35,000+ Baby Names, which I use mostly for first names. For last names I tend to use the Columbia city telephone directory, although I don’t always use the names exactly as they appear. I also keep a notebook in which I jot down names with special flare that I pick up in the local obituary listings.

The last of my “easy reach” tools is the latest version of the paperback, Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market published by Writer’s Digest Books. Because of the way it’s organized it takes a lot reading to find just the right publisher or contest for my submissions, but it is 650 pages of good information all in one concise book ($27.99).

If I were writing poetry or verse I would keep a rhyming dictionary close at hand (I own two of them), but it’s not that often that I take a stab at something like the limerick with which I close...

Here in Columbia we
Are in love with the Palmetto Tree,
But if you expect
To find one erect,
You’ll have to drive down to the sea.

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