There have been a few times in the past when I’ve been accused by some folks of being a somewhat skillful writer. Now it’s possible that these nice folks just don’t realize what skillful writing really looks like, so it’s also possible that opinions may vary widely among my readers (all three of them).

That being said, I was recently asked how I developed these skills. It all started with my mom. She was a stay-at-home mom when I was a wee lad, back in the early 60s; that’s the 1960s, not the 1860s. Anyway, mom took the time to teach me to read and write and appreciate books before I was in the 1st Grade. I will always be thankful for that.

Once I started on my educational journey, a classical Catholic school education, I was inculcated er… I mean educated by Sister Mary Himmler and her ilk at St. What-His-Name’s Catholic Penitentiary. While I rebelled against the incessant brain-washing and militaristic discipline, I did excel in those three fundamental Rs that were offered in schools during that era… Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic.

I guess that some modicum of knowledge and skills were absorbed via osmosis and cracks of that 16″ wooden ruler applied to my knuckles (of the non-writing hand) and my ass cheeks during my stretch in the care of the Poor Sisters of Capital Punishment. Seriously, though… I do not regret my Catholic school education in the least. If there’s anything to rue about, it’s that I did not take full advantage and excel to even greater heights when I had the opportunity.

What brought this post to fruition today was a conversation with a friend a week or so ago. She had been admiring some article I had written somewhere (forget which/where now) sometime in the past and took a moment to ask me what reference books and such did I keep within reach near my writing desk that assisted me in my writing endeavors.

This then is that list:

  • St. Martin’s Guide to Writing (1997)
  • The Complete Plain Words by Gowers/Fraser (1973)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (14th Edition)
  • Fowler’s Dictionary of Usage (1965)
  • Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition (1969)
  • Thorndike/Barnhart Dictionary (1962)
  • Wheelock’s Latin (6th Edition)
  • Cassell’s Latin Dictionary (1921)
  • Roget’s Thesaurus (1969)

And because of the occasional need to brush up on my rusty Spanish:

  • The Bantam New College Spanish/English Dictionary (1987)

*click to view the full sized image

Note the cool brown bag book covers. Bet you haven’t seen many of those around lately, huh? There’s a whole story about those covers on this blog. Check it out, if you’re interested.

I also regularly use Internet sources in my writing. A few listed below in no particular order:

So, you might be asking at this point, “What does it take to be a skillful writer?” Well, Hell if I know. When I become one, I’ll let you guys know. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by visiting with me for a bit.

Go learn something. It won’t hurt you none, I promise.



About V. T. Eric Layton

vtel57, Nocturnal Slacker

10 responses »

  1. Randy Brown says:

    Hi, Eric. I appreciate the list of writing resources. Have you ever seen/read “Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr.? It was required reading for me in a writing class and I found it to be a great resource. Probably the only “English” book that I have read cover-to-cover, but found it to be a great read. The version I read (4th Edition) had been expanded by one of Strunk’s famous students, E.B. White. Just thought I’d ask and let you know I still peruse your blogs. πŸ™‚

    • Hi, Randy…

      Yes, I have a copy (an old copy) stuffed in one of the boxes of books in my living room. One of these days, I need to dig it out. It was, as you say, a great resource.

      You still peruse my blogs, thankfully. You’re one of my three loyal readers. πŸ˜‰

    • PsiCop says:

      Hey there. Another good online resource is Bartleby, which has a collection of resource works, including Strunk & White (which Randy mentioned and which I’ve long used), Bartlett’s Quotations, Roget’s Thesaurus, literary references, and more.

      There’s also MIT’s Internet Classics archive:

      Oh, and the Library of Congress has a boatload of classic works online, too:

      Then there’s the venerable Project Gutenberg, which if memory serves is the very first major Internet resource I ever consulted (before there was a World Wide Web).

      • Hey, Psi…

        It’s been a while. Good to see you’re still out there kicking ascii and taking names.

        Good links. Thank you. I’m afraid I’ve bled Project Gutenberg dry over the years. I have been a supporter of that site for many years. Sadly, my donations have shrunk drastically in the last couple years, though. Gutenberg is one of those places that will definitely know when I’ve hit the lottery. πŸ˜‰

        I really must stop by your blog. It’s been a while. I’ve been hiding out in my own private forum and on G+ for the last few years.

        See you soon…

        ~Eric (still a Rays fan πŸ˜‰ )

  2. Funny how much 3 R’s we absorbed by osmosis and rulers. Father Joseph in Latin used the cut off end of a cue stick. If you have read any Shades of Grey you’d realize you do not need all of those reference books. Ya woulda made a great Copy Editor and headline maker in old days though.(think Mark Twain)

    • I missed a lot of opportunities back when I was young and foolish (as opposed to old and foolish). I would have enjoyed being a copy editor… or an editor of anything, actually. I once had aspirations to be a technical writer till I found out what a pain in the posterior area it is to break into that field, particularly if you’re not under 25 years of age.

      • I also intended on being a technical writer in 1970. I had edited a newsletter in Army and spent many a night with my staff howling with laughter at the headlines, photos, and print never to be. My first Media 101 course was devoid of anything pertinent. I think that both of us would have been GREAT technical writers. And unemployed!

        Eric, you wrote eloquently the day following Nov 7 election and also a day or two later. You put aside your own disappointment and spoke to much larger issues. That piece should have been published nationally. It was a β€œfair and balanced” commentary in every sense of a phrase that has now become double speak.

        I encourage you to write write write.

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