A Writer's Toolkit

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Even in a technical role, communication is paramount. If you don't read widely and communicate well, your progression suffers. And one of the primary modes of communication is writing. I've written several books, articles and blogs (see "Publications" on this page), but it isn't just writing books that requires clear communication skills. You should learn to write well for something as trivial e-mails - or perhaps you should especially learn to write well for e-mails, since those might not be that trivial.

Over the years I've found a few books that have helped me write. This list contains references on grammar, structure and plot, all of which are important for technical writing as well as fiction. In fact, writing fiction helps you write better in every other area.

This isn't a complete list of all writing books by any means - it's been said that there are more books about writing than there are books, and a quick web search makes me believe that to be believable. Even so, I have a "core" set of books that I kept printed copies of, even though my other thousands (yes thousands) of books I keep on an e-reader. I recently gave these away to a friend's son who I think will make an amazing author some day:

  • The Elements of Style - Small, concise, effective. It's on my desk all the time.
  • Writers Inc - A very old book, originally designed for pre-teens to use in school. It's one of the best I've ever used, very readable, and a lot of fun.
  • Elements of the Writing Craft - This is a great "read it and try it" book that has example texts and then what you can learn from that writing style.
  • Handbook for Freelance Writing - At some point you might want to make money at writing. This book is the one I used to learn to do that.
  • The Writer's Book of Checklists - I'm a checklist guy. A little outdated now, but I still refer to it when I write.
  • The Observation Deck - Not actually a book, it's a series of cards that helps you come up with writing ideas when you're stuck. And I get stuck a lot.
  • 20 Master Plots (And how to build them) - OK, this is my big secret. If you read this book and follow the plot contrivances in them, you can tell any kind of story to anyone. Spoiler alert: After you read this, you've seen every movie, TV show, read every book, and attended every play ever written. You have been warned.

I urge you to try these out - they've helped me tremendously. Do you have a favorite set of books that help you write well? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

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  • Thanks for the list Buck. I would recommend On Writing Well by William Zinsser as a book that has helped me advance my writing skills.

  • Yes, thanks, Buck. For the nuts and bolts of grammar, punctuation, style, pluralization and usage, my "trusty sidekick" is The Gregg Reference Manual, by William A. Sabin. I never seem to finish writing an article or a technical document without it.

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