Who Lives on Your Desk?

Have you ever wondered what books are sitting on your editor’s desk? What titles fellow writers refer to over and over? What new gems your agent has discovered? Well, I thought I’d share some of my tried-and-true “friends” with you, along with some that I’m just getting to know.

First, let me confess that my desk is a disaster. At least, that’s how it looks to anyone who comes in. Books and papers are scattered here and there in towering piles. My husband comes in and just shakes his head. But you know what? I’m comfortable with the piles. I call it “organized chaos,” because I know which pile holds what, so I can find what I need with a modicum of searching. I know that the pile to my immediate left is my program installation disks, flanked on one side by a pile of nonfiction books I want to read, and on the other side stand the books I want to tell you about today. These are some of the oldest “friends” who have lived on my desk  in my home office as well as in my offices at Tyndale, Multnomah, and Zondervan…

Two Bibles (the New Living Translation and the New American Standard Bible).  I love the beauty of the words in the latter, and the clarity in the former.

Streams in the Desert, a devotional I’ve read every year since 2001. Powerful words of truth in those pages.

Two Dictionaries: Webster’s Collegiate and Webster’s Unabridged. Yes, I use an online dictionary, but sometimes I just want to turn pages. Besides, I love the words you come across you’re looking for something!

And then there’s the pile of writing books. These are a combination of time-tested favorites and new books waiting to be examined:

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This book has been a standard on my desk since I first discovered it back in the 90s.
  • Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine. This is one I haven’t explored yet, but it’s waiting.
  • Fiction First Aid by Raymond Obstfeld. Helps you triage your manuscript and apply what the doctor orders!
  • First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Weisner. I think I keep this book on my desk because I want to believe it’s possible to do what Weisner says…
  • Advice to Writers by Jon Winokur. As the front sales copy says, “A compendium of quotes, anecdotes, and writerly wisdom from a dazzling array of literary lights.” GREAT fun! For example: “Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for publication” Fran Lebowitz.  And “”You do not create a style. You work and develop yourself; a style is an emanation from your own being” Katharine Ann Porter.
  • The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual  by  Victoria Mixon.  I just discovered this one last fall, and it’s become a favorite.
  • The Pocket Muse: Endless Inspiration by Monica Wood. This is a great little book to get you jump-started on those days when your mind is as blank as the screen you’re staring at.  Um…at which you’re staring.  Whatever. Grammar books come next week! Along with word books.

So…who lives on your desk? What writing books inhabit your world, bringing you comfort , wisdom, or clarity as you write?

Share with us all, so we can decide which new friends we want to bring home!


23 Responses to Who Lives on Your Desk?

  1. Tessa October 10, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing these with us. Looks like I need to start writing my Christmas list. 🙂

    I’m currently reading “The First Five Pages,” and I have found it very helpful.

  2. Diana Harkness October 10, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    On my desk right now are a book I just reviewed (it will remain nameless), Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon, Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch, and the manuscript of my novel . . . where it will remain until I hear from the publisher. The latest copy of Books & Culture is usually at my left hand, waiting for me log onto Amazon and put recommended books in my cart.

  3. Lisa October 10, 2012 at 5:22 am #

    I’m adding some books to my reading list! Thank you.

  4. Jeanne October 10, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    I love reading what books are on your desk. 🙂 It’s fun to hear about new-to-me craft books.

    On my “desk” are my Bible and my current Bible study. A couple of books that have impacted me are From the Inside…Out, by Susan May Warren and The Art of War For Writers, by James Scott Bell. I have a number of other craft books in my TBR pile, but won’t mention them until I’ve actually read them. 🙂

  5. Meghan Carver October 10, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Great selections — Amazon, here I come! I have benefited tremendously from The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Thanks for the list.

  6. Lindsay Harrel October 10, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    Awesome titles! The best books I’ve read on craft are PLOT AND STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell and SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS (on your list!). I’ve also got a book on deep POV that’s been sitting on my Kindle waiting for me.

    My dog chewed up my copy of STREAMS IN THE DESERT…grrr.

  7. Karen Ball October 10, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Ooo, BAD dog, Lindsay. I love that devotional.

    And I agree with those who love The Art of War for Writers by Jim Bell. It usually lives on my desk, but I took it with me on a trip and it seems to have run away. Don’t know if I left it in the hotel or if some desperate writer absconded with it. Gonna have to get a new copy.

    I forgot to mention that those are the writing books on my desk. I also have a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf full of “publishing” books, from writing and grammar books to marketing and promotion books to thesauruses (thesaurai?) and dictionaries. That’s one of the 6 floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and the 3 shorter bookshelves, in my office.

    Yeah…I LOVE books!

  8. Kathleen L. Maher October 10, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    I love Streams in the Desert, too! Ms. Cowman has gotten me through many a trial with her resolute faith. Looks like a great to be read pile of some new writing craft books for me! I love Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and King’s On Writing. About the only book by King I can do. LOL

  9. Robin Patchen October 10, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Hmm, I’m not blessed with a real desk, but I keep what I’m reading on my night stand. There, in my bible study basket, you’ll find my ESV study bible, a bible study on Philippians, Slave by John MacArthur, and Jesus Calling, my devotional for this year. Beside the basket is a pile of books including Finding your Voice by Les Edgerton and the novel I’m reading right now, The Girl in the Glass. In case of a reading emergency, I keep my Kindle there, too, loaded with choices.

  10. Renee Osborne October 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Let’s see. Within reach at this moment are the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition…I fawned all over that book when I bought it a couple months ago), Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, The Word Finder (thickest, heaviest thesaurus on earth), my NASB Bible, Jesus Calling, Beautiful Outlaw (that book has refreshed my relationship with and perspective of Jesus), a fun little ditty called The Emotion Thesaurus, and a bag of double chocolate Milano cookies…

    • Jeanne October 10, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      Oh, Renee. I think you and I would get along just fine if we lived closer together–from your book choices to your snack choices. 🙂 I love the Emotion Thesaurus. 🙂

      • Renee Osborne October 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

        How funny! Where do you live, Jeanne? I’m in NC. Look me up on Facebook. 🙂

    • Jeanne October 10, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

      I’m on the other side of the country. 🙂 I’m looking you up now.

    • Jenni Brummett October 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

      The Emotion Thesaurus is a fantastic resource.

  11. Steve Laube October 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    What does this say about me?

    The books within reach on my desk are as follows:
    The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale (great for brainstorming book titles)
    Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
    Selling Subsidiary Rights by Thomas Woll
    Kirsch’s Guide to the Book Contract
    Kirsch’s Guide to Publishing Law
    Author Law A-Z by Randolph, Davis, Elis, and Dustman

    Steve Laube

    • Jenni Brummett October 10, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

      That you are good at what you do, and desire to keep improving.

  12. Janet Hanson October 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    No desk for me either. Eclectic and precarious heaps of reading material (from The Synonym Finder to the poems of Emily Dickinson) on my coffee table by the couch, upon which I write so Pixie, my dog, can sit next to me. She gets cozy, I get back issues. Thanks for the new ideas. There will always be room for another book!

  13. Stephanie Karfelt October 10, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    Am with Kathleen on Stephen King’s book On Writing. Also have a well-worn copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I have Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art – also worn. Mostly I like to read piles and piles of fiction, and hopefully pick up mad skilz by osmosis.

    • Tessa October 11, 2012 at 3:45 am #

      I’ve heard The War of Art is ridiculously good. I will be placing it on my wish list…unless I buy it before then!

  14. Jenni Brummett October 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    I admit to perusing the dictionary and highlighting words that are witty or taste good when I say them (the louder the better).

    The stack of helpful titles teetering near me, in alphabetical order of course, are listed below.
    The Emotion Thesaurus-Angela Ackerman
    Write HIs Answer-Marlene Bagnull
    Plot & Structure-Jim Scott Bell
    Getting Into Character-Brandilyn Collins
    A Novel Idea-Jerry B. Jenkins & others
    Writing the Christian Romance-Gail Gaymer Martin
    Unleash the Writer Within-Cecil Murphey

    • Meghan Carver October 10, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      I didn’t want to confess it before, but in high school and college I underlined every word I looked up with the goal of reading the entire dictionary. College graduation was over twenty years ago, and I haven’t made it through the whole thing yet.

      • Jenni Brummett October 10, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

        I’m glad I’m not the only one perched over the dictionary with a pen. Great minds think alike I guess. 🙂

  15. Kristy L. Cambron October 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Great post, Karen!

    I recently picked up Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story” and have had it on my desk each day since. I’ve found it useful in my fiction writing as well as for instructional design at the office. If anyone out there is looking for a great resource to develop those skills in hooking readers on a story (from the very first sentence), this one is it. ; )

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