WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW does not mean you don’t check your facts. Accuracy counts. Memoir demands fact-checking since memory, by its very definition, is subjective.
What to do? Have reference books nearby at all times, including:
- A good modern dictionary
- Roget’s Thesaurus. We will not even discuss using the one on your computer, except to say that it’s forbidden.
- Bartlett’s Quotations
- A rhyming dictionary
- The Bible
- A book of days, referencing famous things that happened on various dates
- The Complete Shakespeare
- Several standard texts of language usage, such as The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer, and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage
- A word and phrase origins book
- A dictionary of symbolism
- One up-to-date, and one hopelessly out-of-date, atlas (country names change)
- Any other old damn thing you want. A full 24-volume standard encyclopedia is nearby for me, as are horticultural encyclopedias; a complete set of field guides to bugs, birds, plants, and mammals; several books on how things work and how they were invented and the like; as well as my copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson and The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, either of which I open at random every time I think about getting up from my office chair before the piece is done.
If you’re working in a library, you’re all set. They have all of these. If you’re at home, buy them used at any reputable online used book dealer, like alibris, or ABEbooks. Without them, you will make things up or get stuck, and there is never any reason to get stuck.