A writer cannot operate in a vacuum. Ideas come from everywhere. But after getting ideas, they have to be researched. And for that a writer needs a good reference library.
Over 30 years and hundreds of books later, I can truthfully say I’ve amassed a good reference library. Setting up a basic reference library needn’t be expensive. I found almanacs, dictionaries, directories of various kinds, thesauruses, and atlases in paperback. I had several dictionaries left over from my college days. And while they weren’t the most current, they worked fine when I was just starting out.
The focus of any writer’s reference library is the subject matter he or she writes about. I started out writing about travel, so from the start, I was on the lookout for travel guidebooks from countries and parts of the United States that I was interested in writing about. Back then, online booksellers such as Amazon.com didn’t exist. In fact, compared to today, that was the Stone Age (I kept my club in the closet and only used it to go hunting.). Over time, I gathered several hundred travel guides, mostly from library and used book sales. For my purposes, it didn’t matter if they were a year or two old. The basic information never changed.
Along the way, I began to write about antiques. This subject required its own specialized library of reference books. Again, I kept an eye out for antiques books—traditionally expensive—at local library sales. Some are small reference books on furniture styles, etc. while others are massive coffee-table-sized volumes with lots of photographs. Mixed in are a number of antiques encyclopedias for easy reference. As with my travel books, these soon grew to 100 or so.
Another of my specialties is writing about Mexico. One Mexico guidebook wasn’t enough. As a specialist, I needed detailed information. I acquired many books on trips to Mexico. Often, this was the only place I could find them. While there, I constantly looked for brochures, booklets, and maps that would give me detailed information not available to me once I headed north of the border.
Over the last five or six years, I’ve written a number of books. Each book required its own set of reference books—in fact, each has its own mini library.
Besides writing, I also teach it to adults in evening classes. As the number of courses grew over the years, I needed writing reference books as well. I’ve gathered 50 to 75 books on various types of writing and writing techniques to help myself and my students. Most of these I obtained through Writer’s Digest Book Club and still purchase the occasional volume through the Writer’s Digest Book Store online.
In also created my own photographs to illustrate my articles. My interest in photography developed before my writing, so I began with basic how-to books on photographic techniques. Over the years, I’ve used these many times. Today, I not only take digital photographs but teach others how to. This has necessitated starting a small library of digital photography books, used mostly to develop the courses I teach.
As you can see, my basic writing library has grown considerably. Most of the rooms in my house contain books. And while I can easily find information online on just about any subject, there’s still information I need to look up in my library.