3 Essential tools for a writer. A dictionary, a grammar reference and a style guide.
Although writers live more in an electronic workspace of word processors, ebooks, social media and The Internet, there is still a definite need for reliable and accurate language reference, which only very thick, real books can deliver.
While there are thousands of language reference websites, online dictionaries and grammar and usage forums, they very often lack the depth of explanation required to fully understand parts of speech, spelling variations or international language differences.
Worse, is that many online reference sites are only an expression of the site owner’s understanding or belief.
Good writing is a matter of accuracy in form and use, so it is essential to have reputable and trustworthy sources of information.
Using a good reference book can also avoid embarrassment. Either by finding errors before you publish, before you blog, or even before you post on social media.
I would also suggest that some of those who take pleasure in finding spelling and grammatical errors on the Internet and then criticising, should also check before attacking.
A case in point today. I received a little social media blast regarding my spelling in one of my blog posts because I was deemed guilty of misspelling the word ‘spelled’. I had used the spelling, ‘spelt’. Once I pointed out that ‘spelt’ was indeed perfectly correct, all was well again, so no damage done.
Yet, I was quite annoyed. Criticising through ignorance, or from a clear lack of the habit to check first, before putting your foot in your mouth, is all too common nowadays.
Aside from silly episodes such as this, the most troublesome issue for me is that some writers, who are now furiously banging out ebooks on Amazon, clearly have limited grammatical knowledge, poor spelling skills, and set their trust in online or software embedded grammar and spell checkers.
However, it is not the furious writing, the lack of grammatical understanding or the electronic aids that are at fault. The fault comes from those writers who are not naturally inquisitive.
Good writers are always very inquisitive. And being inquisitive is the very best way to learn how to write well.
Inquisitive writers, who may not know the difference between the passive and the causative, will want to know and learn. Writers who do not know what Inversion is, and how it is used, will want to know.
Writers who come across an unusual spelling form will grab a dictionary and check, and probably learn something new. Writers who come across a debate about the over-use of the gerund, and may not know what the gerund is or how it should be used, will be inquisitive enough to want to know and understand.
Inquisitive writers, who may be confused as when to use the Perfect Simple or Perfect Continuous, will gain knowledge about the use of active and static verbs if they consult a grammar reference book for fifteen minutes.
I love the English language, and especially its variations, its different geographical lexis, and its conundrums. It fascinates me that the Present Perfect Continuous is in most common use in Indian English, whereas it is not so in US English.
While a good dictionary and grammar reference are essential tools for writers, I often consult my very old style guide. It may seem odd that it’s an Australian edition, but I love it because Australian English is very much a mixture of British, US and of course, Australian English, so this one volume gives me examples of the three variants.
However, having three thick books gathering dust on your bookshelf will not make you a better writer. But being inquisitive, and always wanting to know, by habit, will.