Dispatches | October 18, 2008

Here’s a question for you, writer. What do you keep in your writing toolkit these days?

What materials do you keep within arm’s reach when you work? What does your reference library look like? What, in other words, is vitally important to your job as a writer?

Do you still use your trusty old print thesaurus, or do you now get your synonyms and antonyms online or out of Microsoft Word? 

Do you have a book of quotations? A glossary of literary terms?

And what about your dictionaries? Are you periodically squatting down to relieve the Merriam-Webster’s pocket edition from its faithful duty of propping up the coffee table? Do you descend cold, stone staircases by candlelight and wind through ancient catacombs until you come at last to the chamber that houses your OED? 

Perhaps you have a variety of dictionaries. For instance, I’ve got a dictionary of clichés, not to blow my own horn — an expression meaning “to boast,” first used in the late 16th century by Abraham Flemming. 

(I’ve got a dictionary of puns, too, but most of my colleagues consider it canon fodder)  

To put it as a freshman composition essay writer might, specific tools have been used by humans since the dawn of time. The Acheulean hand ax and assorted stone scrapers got the job done for hunter gatherers for more than a million years.

That was primitive man’s basic toolkit. What’s yours?