Writing Resources

Posts about useful books, materials, classes, and other resources for the freelance writer.

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Vacation is a time relax and leave your work behind, right? Not so fast. If you’re a writer, you’ll always take a piece of your work with you wherever you go. That piece is your brain and it never stops thinking about the next writing project or interesting tidbit to add to a current one. While you shouldn't work on vacation, you also shouldn't ignore what pops into your mind when you're away, since it could pay off big when you get back home. So go ahead, have fun and enjoy your trip, but take along these important writing tools that may come in handy and make your getaway productive too.

A Pen and Notebook

Whether you’re lounging by the pool or travelling the countryside in a bus, a pen and notebook are a must on vacation. You can use them to journal about the scenery, the food you ate last night, your mood, the weather, or anything you care to reflect on. You might brainstorm for topics for your next article or book. Notebooks and pens are also fun for doodling and sketching, both which can usher in all kinds of ideas pertinent to your writing.

A Pocket-sized Notepad

If a journal is too cumbersome, slip a small notepad into your backpack or back pocket. You never know when a thought will strike that you can apply to your writing. A site you're visiting or an activity you're doing might trigger something as simple as how to finish that sentence you've been struggling with for weeks. Never be without a notepad, especially on vacation. A relaxed state of mind can be exactly when your brain does its best work.

Your Phone or Tablet

Did someone on vacation use an interesting expression you’ve never heard before? Would your travel destination make a good setting for a historical novel? Your phone or tablet are not only portable, they’ll give you the means to look up words, do quick research, and even take notes for later use in your writing. Be sure to download any apps that might be of use to your writing life while on vacation, like a note-taking, translation, or dictionary app.

Books to Read

No vacation is complete without a book to read. Reading doesn’t just help pass time while in a car or plane; it’s an excellent writing tool for improving your writing skills. Books are easy to transport, slipped into a carry-on or handbag. Or, bring an e-reader on vacation and take as many books as you’d like. For a list of must reads for writers this summer, check out these ideas.

Your Curiosity

Don’t let your mind go dull on vacation. In fact, travelling is the perfect scenario for igniting your curiosity. Take full advantage of your trip and ask unlimited questions. Curiosity spurs deep thinking and creativity, both which benefit your writing life. Let your curiosity kick into full gear while you're away. It will make the return home that much more productive.

Embrace your summer vacation and enjoy it to the full. Just don’t forget to pack the above writing tools to complete the trip and make it profitable too.

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Sunshine and warm days. It’s the perfect setting for doing the thing every writer should do: read. Not only can you unwind with a good book, escape to another place, and take a break from your work; reading helps you cultivate your writing skills by teaching you how to use literary techniques effectively, broadening your vocabulary, and sparking creativity. The best part about summer reading is there’s no shortage of book options. But if you’re wondering what to read this summer, these ideas will give you plenty of satisfaction—and help you grow as a writer:

A Best Seller

Don’t let the summer go by without reading a book that everyone’s talking about, not only to experience all the hype for yourself but so you can contribute to the conversation too. Even better, best sellers can provide insight on what sells. Remember, a book becomes a best seller because it’s engaging, well written, and relatable. Pick one up; it might just help you on your journey to crafting one of your own.

A Nonfiction Book on a Favorite Subject

Reading nonfiction is a great way to learn about a real-life topic—and gain insight into a highly lucrative writing genre. Choose a nonfiction book with a subject that interests you, whether it be a political figure, historical event, or place to visit. As you read, consider how the author uses fictional tools to bring life to the facts. Don’t be surprised if you finish the book in one sitting. Nonfiction today is nothing like the mundane textbook-like stories of the past.

An Inspirational Read

Books that lift your spirits and give you confidence, comfort, and encouragement are worth a read for everyone. They can also inspire you in your writing life. A google search will uncover all kinds of inspirational books worthy of your time and attention, but here are a few top sellers to consider: The Time is Now by Joan Chittister, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, and any of Mitch Albom’s inspiring stories.

A Cookbook

Cookbooks aren’t exactly reading books, but they can be just as absorbing and useful to writers. Whether you enjoy cooking or not, browsing through a cookbook is a great way to pick up tips for meal prep, get a feel for how to organize a book, see how pictures enhance content, and learn more about the art of good eating. Besides that, cookbooks are just plain fun to read, plus they’re easy on the brain and appealing to the appetite.

A Light Summer Page-turner

What summer is complete without a satisfyingly light page-turner? It can be anything from a humorous memoir to a steamy romance to a young adult fantasy novel. The point of a summer page-turner is pure enjoyment, so choose something that’s entertaining and uncomplicated. Check out summer picks at the bookstore, library, or get recommendations from friends. Then take a break from your craft and head to the beach or the hammock.

A Book on the Craft of Writing

Feel like your writing skills could use a little sharpening this summer? There’s no better way to do it than to educate yourself. Pick up a book on the craft of writing, especially one that teaches something you want to learn. Maybe you’ve wanted to try your hand at writing for children’s magazines or learn how to craft multi-dimensional characters. Books on writing instruction run the gamut. Just be sure to have your pen along when you read for note-taking.

Summertime is a great time to do some seriously fun reading. Get your summer reading list in order and start the season off right.

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Summer’s nearing an end and it’s time to start thinking about hitting the keyboard full force. But while you’re busy collecting ideas for your fall writing schedule, here’s one more idea to consider: planning a fall vacation. Wait a sec, didn’t I just take a vacation, you ask? Whether you did or not, fall’s one of the best times to travel, especially if you want to make autumn a lucrative, productive writing season. Here’s why:

You Need a Fall Vacation to Recharge

Let’s face it, summer vacations aren’t exactly restful and rejuvenating. Bustling beach adventures, hectic air travel, and multi-stop road trips to visit the relatives can be exciting—and exhausting. Fall vacations, on the other hand, tend to be less chaotic and tiring, giving your brain and body time to refresh and recharge so you can write full force when you return to your desk.

Fall Vacations Offer a Multitude of Writing Ideas

Beautiful colors, perfect weather, and popular destinations for less money describe a fall vacation. What more could you want? Actually, there’s plenty more. Vacationing during the autumn months is also an ideal way to jumpstart a new season of writing. All the advantages of fall travel translate to a long list of writing ideas—from interesting vacation spots to unique fall foods, activities, holidays, and foliage.

Motivation Comes from Something to Anticipate

You don’t have to take a fall vacation at the beginning of autumn, but you can start planning and getting excited about it, which will help motivate you to work hard now so you can relax and enjoy the trip in a month or two. Knowing you have something to look forward to in the short-term can be just what you need to be productive after a long, unstructured summer.

You Can Make It a Writing Vacation

A vacation doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. If you love your craft (and most writers do!) and it relaxes you, why not take it along? Choose a private, quiet spot to travel, and bring your writing materials and creativity with. Or, sign up for an autumn writing conference or retreat, where you get the opportunity to mingle with other writers, enjoy the beauty of the surroundings, and spend time honing and broadening your skills.

Fall is a great time to write. It’s also a great time to get away. Do yourself a favor and plan a fall vacation. It’ll do wonders for your mind, body, and writing life.

Image by David Whelan


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social-media-419944_640So you’re well on your way to a blossoming freelance writing career. You’ve got plenty of publishing credits to your name, clients with upcoming projects tailored just for you, and fresh ideas for writing pieces you plan to tackle this year. What more do you need to succeed? You might say nothing—but you’d be wrong. There are some key must-haves for experienced (and not-so-experienced) writers that fall outside the obvious. Here are five that come to mind:

  1. Social media presence. If you haven’t opened an account on Facebook, twitter, or linked in yet, it’s time to get on the bandwagon. Having a social media presence is essential for today’s freelance writer. Not only does social media help you network with other writers, it’s also one of the best ways to promote yourself and your work and to find new gigs—all key to success.
  2. Goals. Without goals, you won’t get very far in your freelance writing career. Goals give you something to work toward and help you complete steps along your writing journey. Goals can be short term or long term, simple or complex. They are also subject to alteration. The most important thing is to write goals down and take them seriously. Then, feel the joy and rewards of crossing them off, one by one.
  3. Daily inspiration. This might come in the form of a book of daily writing prompts, a tweet from a favorite author, or an activity that spurs you on and gives you motivation. You can also get daily inspiration by simply reading a chapter of an engaging novel. Anything that gets your creative juices flowing, even if it’s just a morning jog or a cup of joe, can be all the inspiration you need.
  4. Writing support. Writing is a solo act, but it shouldn’t be a lonely one. In fact, acquiring writing friends, mentors, and supporters is a necessary part of becoming a successful freelance writer. Social media is a great way to round up writing friends, but don’t leave out those who have helped advance your career by encouraging you to pursue your dreams, like spouses, long-time friends, librarians, and teachers.
  5. Desire to improve. Writing is an ongoing process that always has room for improvement. The more you strive to improve, the more developed your writing will become. You may write what you think is your best effort, but it won’t be the best piece you can ever write. A desire to improve is a necessary mindset for success. Without it, you may miss out on drafting some of your most amazing work yet.

If you’re an experienced writer, a novice, or anything in between, what must-haves make your list?

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book-92771_640Fall is back-to-school time for many young people, but you don’t have to be young or a student to take a class. In fact, anyone can benefit from classes, no matter what the subject. That’s especially true for writers. Taking a class on art or health or business can give writers new knowledge on a topic they may have never before explored. And that new knowledge can lead to valuable expertise—and a new avenue for their writing. No matter where you live, there are plenty of places that offer classes—libraries, writing centers, universities, historical societies, and many other private and nonprofit organizations. Minnesota writers have a slew of opportunities available statewide. Here are a few worthy options to consider:

  1. University of Minnesota’s LearningLife Program. The Learning Life Program at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Continuing Education offers learning opportunities that include short classes, weekly seminars, and one-day immersions. Class subjects range from art and design to to science and the environment. There is usually a course fee, but prices are reasonable—from $15 to $160.
  2. Whole foods co-op classes.  Check with your local whole foods co-op for a listing of classes on a variety of health, cooking, and nutrition courses. These courses provide insight into healthy living and offer many hands-on opportunities for learning. Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville, for example, has a variety of courses for both members and nonmembers, from gardening classes to gluten-free eating. Class size is usually limited, so be sure to enroll early.
  3. Hennepin County Library courses. Any county library will likely have a range of classes for adults on many topics, but the Hennepin County Library has an extensive listing. Depending on which library within the Hennepin County Library system you choose, classes cover everything from art to languages to knitting. Most library classes are free and open to the public.
  4. Science Museum of Minnesota’s Computer Education Center. The Science Museum of Minnesota offers over 200 courses in 80+ computer-related subjects through its Computer Education Center. If you want to learn basic computer skills, how to be effective with social media, or something more specific or complex, like JavaScript or PhotoShop, check out this listing of learning possibilities.

Along with the changing leaves, fall is a great time to switch gears. Take a class, and learn something new. You may not become an expert on the subject with just one class, but you will gain valuable knowledge that you can apply to your writing. And who knows? It may open up a whole new chapter in your writing life.

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thesaurus pageIf you don’t already own a good thesaurus, now’s the time to invest in one. A thesaurus isn’t just a useful writing tool; it can turn out to be one of your most valuable resources and one you’ll find hard to live without. I like to compare a thesaurus to a best friend. Here’s why:

It makes you better. The purpose of a thesaurus is to help you discover the right word choice. No two words are exactly the same; synonyms have similar meanings but different connotations. Sometimes, a dictionary is necessary to use alongside a thesaurus to help you determine the best word fit. But a thesaurus is the tool that helps you choose exactly which word you mean to use so that your message is accurately and clearly conveyed.

It’s there for you every day. And, trust me, you’ll refer to it every day. A thesaurus is by your side as you write, there at every minute to advise you. It’s accessible, convenient, easy to follow, reliable, and full of good ideas…just like a best friend.

You’ll wish you had two. The only thing better than one best friend is two best friends. Thesauruses are no different. I have a large hardcover thesaurus and a smaller, paperback one. They are completely different in design and format, but they both serve me well. When one thesaurus doesn’t come through, the other invariably does.

It’ll help you out of tricky situations. When you’re stuck, do you call on your best friend? In writing, a thesaurus serves the same function. Often, we writers get stuck mid-sentence, hung up on trying to find that perfect word. Thesauruses can whisk you out of a roadblock and get you back on track. You may not know right away what word you’re looking for, but one word leads to another and another, until finally, there it is—the word!—dancing on the page, luring you back to work.

It’s different from the others. Though full of words, like a style guide or a dictionary or a usage manual, a thesaurus isn’t one of them at all. It holds a unique place in a writer’s life. It’s a gift of just words—a stockpile of vocabulary, neatly arranged, simple yet not superficial, and unlike any other resource of its kind.

So, like a best friend, a good thesaurus is indispensable…and well worth the time and effort it takes to find a good one. Be sure to research thesauruses thoroughly before investing in one. Each thesaurus has different features from the others. If, for example, you prefer an all-in-one dictionary and thesaurus book, take a look at Merriam Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus. Want your thesaurus to include handy usage notes and real-life sample sentences? Check out the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. For a classic, comprehensive thesaurus, you might consider Roget’s International Thesaurus.

Of course, you can always refer to an online thesaurus, such as Thesaurus.com; however, I find that having a physical book to page through makes my job of finding that perfect word easier, handier, and—most importantly—more fruitful.


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There’s a lot to love about the state of Minnesota, but if you’re a writer living here, there’s even more to appreciate—all the great writing-related organizations. Whether you’re looking for an editor, a place to meet and network with other writers, or a writing class, the six listed below offer invaluable help, resources, and support. Take a look:

  • Professional Editors Network (PEN). An organization for editors and others who work with words, PEN offers many benefits to its members, including monthly meetings, resources for writers and editors, and a place to network with other writing professionals. PEN’s website includes a directory of mostly local editors. Yearly dues: $35.
  • The MidTown Writers Meetup Group. For a fun, no pressure morning of writing, you can join the MidTown Writers Meetup Group Saturday mornings at A La Salsa restaurant in Minneapolis. The group is given a prompt to begin the writing session. No critiquing is done, but you have the option to share your writing with the group.
  • The Loft Literary Center. This well-known literary center in the Open Book building on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis offers writing classes, contests, conferences, resources, readings, and more. You do not need to become a member to use The Loft, but a membership contribution provides you with discounts to Loft events.


  • MN Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.The local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrators, the MN SCBWI is a great resource for those interested in networking with other children’s writers in the area. This group hosts “monthly mixers,” workshops, and conferences at various locations around the Twin Cities. Free with national SCBWI annual membership.
  • Midwest Fiction Writers. According to its website, the MFW is a “professional writing organization that includes approximately 100 published or aspiring writers. Under the broad umbrella of romance, our members write historical, contemporaries, time travels, suspense, erotic, women’s fiction – to name just a few.” The MFW meets every second Saturday at the Edina Community Center. Annual dues: $35.
  • Minnesota Center for Book Arts. A place for anyone interested in celebrating book arts, from papermaking to book binding to self-publishing techniques. The MCBA is located in the Open Book building, along with The Loft, and offers a variety of workshops, artists programs, and events. Membership includes discounts and invitations to MCBA-sponsored events. Individual membership: $40.

If you’ve joined or heard of any other Minnesota writing organizations that have helped you or inspired your writing life, please share them here!

Image by Grn1749

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I am one of those people who don’t throw much away, so it’s been hard for me to part with my dictionary. It’s a jacketless Merriam Webster that’s decades old and worn. Any other writer would have replaced it long ago.

But now that Christmas is around the corner, I’ve got a new dictionary on my list. Choosing a specific dictionary was a big decision for me, especially given the number of dictionaries out there to consider. I wanted to make sure that the one I settled on would serve me well as a writer.

So how did I narrow down my choice?  I began by asking myself three important questions:

  1. What don’t I like about my current dictionary? Age isn’t the only problem with my current dictionary. Other things about it bother me, like the way it’s organized, the fact that I can’t always find a word I’m looking for, and the lack of useful front and back matter. By reflecting on what I don’t like about my dictionary, I came up with criteria that I wanted for my new one.
  2. Does size matter? For me, the answer was no. I have space to use and store any size dictionary. The advantage of big dictionaries is that they’re generally more comprehensive. But big dictionaries take up desk space, weigh more, and can be cumbersome for some people. Medium and smaller dictionaries are more compact and convenient but may not contain many extras.
  3. How much am I willing to spend? Or, in my case, how much is my husband willing to spend on a dictionary? It’s a valid question because, as I quickly discovered, dictionaries can be costly. The one I chose isn’t cheap, but I felt it was worth the money. Since my current dictionary has lasted me nearly twenty years, I expect I won’t be replacing my new one for quite some time.

With those three questions answered, I decided on The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th Ed.). Of course, I won’t know if my choice was right until I actually start using it. But for now, I eagerly await Christmas morning and my new writing resource—not to mention the look on my kids’ faces when they see how excited I’ll be over a dictionary!

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When I moved to Minnesota, I didn’t spend much time at my local public library. I would drop in now and then and check out children’s books for my young kids. Every once in a while, I’d browse through the adult section, but I was more likely to head to Barnes & Noble for reading material. Little did I know back then how important the public library would become to me—not so much as a reader but as a writer.

Today, the library is the first place I go for research, even if it’s just background reading on a subject. I take full advantage of all the books, periodicals, microfilm, databases, and more that my library has to offer. If I can’t find something I’m looking for, the reference librarians are usually able to find it at another library or direct me to where I might have better luck. But I don’t just go to the public library for research; I sometimes spend entire afternoons writing in a cubicle at the library. And why not? It’s close by, easy to navigate, welcoming, peaceful—and free!

Whether you’re new to writing or not, making friends with your public library is something you’ll definitely want to do. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your relationship:

  • If your public library has a website, visit it first. Sometimes, the information you need is available online, plus it’s a good idea to learn about the library, its branches, and its holdings before going there in person.
  • Get acquainted with the reference librarians at your library, and let them know you’re a writer. Not only are librarians extraordinarily helpful and knowledgeable, they make good contacts for writers.
  • Remember to take advantage of interlibrary loan possibilities. Public libraries may not carry the type of research you’re looking for, but they often have access to other libraries that do.
  • Interested in joining a critique group, taking a class, or attending an author visit? Check to see if your library hosts any writing-related events in their meeting rooms.
  • Give back to your library by donating any books or other materials that you no longer need, volunteering, or becoming a member of a Friends of the Library group, which is dedicated to supporting the public library.

If you haven’t already, get to know your public library, and enjoy the many benefits this indispensable “friend” has to offer.

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Attending a writing event is a great way for writers to learn, network, and make some friends. And with so many options offered, it’s easy to find something that suits your needs or wants. But before registering for a writing event – which may or may not involve a fee – I have one recommendation: know what you’re signing up for.

I learned this recently, when I attended a writer’s workshop that was led by a local author. While I was expecting a lengthy presentation on the topic, followed by some writing and discussion, I got a brief presentation, a bit of discussion, but mostly writers doing exercises, reading from their manuscripts, and critiquing each other’s work. Yes, workshop implies work – and in this case, lots of it.

No one can predict exactly what will go on during a writing event, not even the event coordinator (who, in my situation, led me a tad astray), but knowing something about the typical format in advance helps. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of writing events available and what you might expect to get from each one:

  • Conference – an organized, day or longer writing event that involves large-group presentations and smaller, breakout sessions. Keynote speakers, book signings, manuscript critiques, social hours, and meals are often included.
  • Workshop – a hands-on learning session where participants perform writing exercises, discuss writing issues, and share their work for feedback.
  • Round table – implies an open discussion, where everyone has an equal voice; there is no leader or “head” of the table.
  • Forum – a general term that refers to a place where writers congregate to discuss, ask questions, get information, or conference, online or in person; sometimes a presenter leads.
  • Critique group – a meeting with a group of writers to read and analyze each other’s work.
  • Class – a course of study on a particular aspect of writing, led by an instructor.
  • Presentation – a writing professional speaks to a group, sharing expertise on a topic or experience; often includes a question-and-answer period.
  • Reading – a published author reads from his or her work; may involve a short presentation.

If you’re still confused about the format of an event, contact the person or organization hosting the event and try to get answers to your questions. And be sure to find out if preregistration is necessary and whether a fee is involved. Writing events are great resources for writers, but to make them worth your time and money, do the research first.

(Image by Rick Audet)