September 03, 2014

Never Stop Learning -- Steph Beth Nickel

How to confound your family in one easy step . . .

Curl up on the couch reading Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves and laugh uproariously while your family is trying to watch television in the same room.

“Only a writer,” you say. And you’d be right. Or an editor, agent, or publisher.

That scenario actually happened, by the way. Truss’s book is still one of my favourites.

And who else would read The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style cover to cover and get excited when he or she came across the wonderful reference tool by Kathy Ide titled Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors?

Would you consider an online subscription to The Chicago Manual of Style one of your best professional investments?

Those of us in the writing industry think differently than others, but you already knew that.

Two years ago, I sat in on literary agent Steve Laube’s continuing class at Write Canada. It was a great class, overflowing with so much insight. After all, he has been in the industry over three decades and has learned a lot over the years. One of the best takeaways was a list of books Steve considers must-reads for authors. I have been building my reference library based on his suggestions.

When I saw Steve at The Word Awards in June, I suggested he add Don McNair’s book Editor-Proof Your Writing to his list. I would encourage all fiction writers to get a copy of McNair’s book. It is well worth reading and referring to often. In it he shares 21 ways to almost instantly make your writing better.

I have quite a backlog of Web posts I would love to read by industry professionals like Jane Friedman, Jeff Goins, and Kristen Lamb. And I know there are countless others, many of which are tucked away in folders connected to my email accounts.

Stacks of books. Piles of back copies of Writer’s Digest. Websites galore. It can all be very overwhelming. But I have to keep learning, and so should you.

Life is all about maintaining tension (some say balance) and we must be careful not to spend so much time learning that we neglect doing. Writers must write. Editors must edit. Publishers must publish. (I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t work for agents.)

Whatever our pursuit in the writing industry – and elsewhere – we must continue to do what we do to the best of our ability while continuing to learn at every opportunity.

Here are six tips on how to expand your knowledge:

1. Each day look up at least one word you come across that you can’t readily define. Keep a list of words and their definitions and review it often.

2. Pull one of your favourite reference books off the shelf and re-read it.

3. Purchase one new reference book and commit to reading it before the end of the year. I would suggest Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors or Editor-Proof Your Writing.

4. Search the Web for webinars or blogs directed at writers. Read at least one post and/or “attend” one webinar per week – or one per month, if that’s more doable for you.

5. Be humble. If you think something is right but aren’t 100 percent sure, look it up in a reference work like The Chicago Manual of Style. (As I mentioned, the online version is extremely handy.)

6. Attend the InScribe conference in the fall.

What is your favourite skills development book or website?

Steph Beth Nickel invites you to contact her by e-mail . . . or visit her website,  blog or  Facebook page.


  1. Thank-you for a great practical way of getting back into discipline after the summer, I plan to follow up on a few of your books. I'd already signed up for a weekly webinar, missed the first one today, but ...
    Great & timely post-Thanks!

  2. A lot of great information. Thanks!

  3. Great references! Thank you so much.

    I would add, if you're not completely sure of something, ask on the InScribe listserve or facebook group. You'll be sure to get informed answers from the best!

    See you at conference!

  4. Very interesting info. Thank you.

  5. Steph,
    Informative and motivating. Thanks. I have a question. Would you be willing to share the list of must-reads that Steve Laube gave you? I would be very interested in knowing. Thanks.

  6. Thank you Steph. I will look up the Chicago Manual of Style online as you suggested. And that is a great idea to attend a webinar once a month or so. I find that they are very motivating for me!


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