by Jennifer Ward
Writing has always been part of my life in one way or another. As a child, my journey began with writing short stories and poems about family summer vacations. As a teenager, I kept a journal for many years, writing about crushes and teenage drama. Today, I’m grateful that I can say it is a daily part of my life. As most people would expect, I write a lot as an English Teacher and an MFA student. But I also spend substantial time working on my creative writing. Whether our passion is technical writing, copywriting, creative writing, or something else, as writers, we never stop improving our craft or looking for work.
Over the years, I have found this small stack of books to be incredibly useful in the pursuit of writing. I hope you find them helpful too.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
When I finished college, I was still looking for ways to improve my writing. During an afternoon of Google searching, I came across Zinsser’s book. I immediately ordered a copy and read it on my subway commute to and from work in Midtown. In those days, I had at least two hours of reading, Monday through Friday, which I often took advantage of.
Although this book was first published in 1976, it is up-to-date, addressing changes in the writing world making it relevant today. If you want to learn more about writing nonfiction, Zinsser—a lifelong journalist—offers some very sound advice in a tone that I found to be warm and friendly. I learned a lot from him about words, usage, style, and different types of nonfiction writing. William Zinsser passed away in 2015, a few years after I read his book. He remains immortal through his words, leaving behind a strong legacy in the writing world.
His classic guide is timeless and something we can all learn from.
Writer’s Market 100th Edition: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published by Robert Lee Brewer
In 2020, a fellow MFA student in a fiction writing course suggested picking up a copy of Writer’s Market. I’m happy I took his advice. This big book of nearly 1,000 pages is a reliable source for anything and everything a writer will need. It even includes advice on how to format a query letter and a chapter explaining how much to charge as a freelance writer. The pay rate chart continues for several pages breaking jobs down by the hour, project, and industry. This valuable source contains information about where to submit your work and how. Other editions focus on fiction and literary agents for those more interested in creative writing.
This trusted guide has been around for over a century—you can’t beat that.
The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oats
Joyce Carol Oats, or as I call her, JCO, has been one of my favorite authors for decades. Her frequently anthologized short story, “Where Are you Going? Where Have You Been?” has left such an impression on me that I still think about it twenty years later. I’ve read several of her books and have found myself in awe of her writing and imagination. By the way, if you haven’t read her novel Zombie, you need to. I won’t say anything else. The less you know starting that book, the better.
Naturally, when I came across her book, The Faith of a Writer, I had to read it. Who wouldn’t want a glimpse into the private writing life of their favorite author? In a collection of essays, she elegantly writes about what makes a story striking and where she finds inspiration. Perhaps I am biased as a super fan, but I think everything she writes is brilliant.
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field Edited by Tara L. Masih
Looking further into my shelved writing books, I found another excellent source written by various experts in the field. This book offers some interesting prompts, such as one based on the Rorschach Test. There are several steps involved, but the overall goal here is to generate a list of images associated with an inkblot created by you. The writing assignment is to draft a flash fiction story using those images and words. Sounds challenging, right? It is, but it’s also fun.
What I like about this book is that it offers an example of a flash fiction story, an essay by the author, and a writing exercise for you to practice. If flash fiction isn’t your thing, Rose Metal Press has also published books on prose poetry and flash nonfiction.
The Freelancer’s Bible by Sara Horowitz with Toni Sciarra Poynter
I initially read The Freelancer’s Bible for a required business class I took while working on my master’s degree. Yet, since then, I have used this as a road map to building a new career which is growing into a small side business. This book often reads like a friend offering professional, no-nonsense advice. Who wouldn’t want that? Even if you aren’t new to the freelancing world, this book is filled with beneficial suggestions for continuing to grow your business, such as figuring out taxes, insurance, and all the other intricacies of self-employment. If you are interested in working as a freelance writer, I highly suggest picking up a copy of this informative guide.
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