Books on writing memoir

June 16, 2009

As a journalist in a newsroom, I never worried about how to write. I just did it. I put words on my computer screen to meet a deadline.

But memoir, in full-book form, is a different game. One of the ways I’ve adjusted is by reading books on the craft of writing. So during the last few months, I’ve asked writers and literary agents, through online forums, to recommend books on craft. They’ve repeated some of the same titles again and again. Several are specific to writing memoir, while others apply to any genre.

Here’s what’s on my reading list:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Just picked this one up from the library.)

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer

The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction: How to Write and Sell the Novel of True Events by Peter Rubie (I can recommend this one.)

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg.

Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir by William Zinsser

The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing: How to Transform Memories into Meaningful Stories by Sharon Lipppincott

Can you add any books to this list?

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    14 Replies to “Books on writing memoir”

    • Karen Walker says:

      Great list, Alexis. The only one I’d possibly add is Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,” even though it’s not specifically for memoir.
      Karen Walker

    • No, sorry, I can’t add any, but, I’m sure gonna make note of a couple and try to use ’em. On Writing Well, by Zinsser is a for sure candidate.

      Best Regards, Galen

    • I have a couple of these books and it looks like there are a few more I’ll have to check out. One book that’s not mentioned that I find helpful is Getting the Words Right by Theodore Cheney, which is for any genre.


    • kat says:

      The Writer’s Reader, by Willa McDonald and Susie Eisenhuth. Covers different genres of nonfiction. Each piece is followed by an interview with the writer about their writing process, tips and techniques.

    • Enid Wilson says:

      I like to read Writer\’s Digest. They often have very good articles.

      Steamy Darcy

    • I am new to your blog and I am loving it. I am writing memoir too and I am delighted to have this book list. One of my favorite books that kicks me in the motivation bone is “Making a literary life”. Her book is intended for fiction writers but I have gotten a lot out of it.

    • A little book, but helpful for memoir and fiction, is Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas
      I highly recommend it.

    • Ami says:

      I love your list. A few of them I’ve read, as you know, and several others are on my to-read list (Inventing the Truth, Writing the Memoir and Your Life Story). Let me know what you think of them!

    • Karen Brees says:

      Agree with Karen. Writing Down the Bones is a great help in getting the basics committed to paper. It’s so easy to get hung up on crafting the perfect sentence that you can lose sight of the big picture.

    • cynthia says:

      I agree with Patricia about Abigail Thomas’ Thinking About Memoir. Also this morning, from a tweet, discovered this great article on writing memoir:

      I’m enjoying your blog!

    • julielomoe says:

      Hi Alexis,
      I just quoted your first sentence in my post this morning -it’s a great description of the way I’ve been blogging. Like you as a journalist, I just sit at the computer and let the words flow. But I’ve resolved to keep the overall story arc more in mind.

      Great list for books about memoir and writing. I have several of them. I’d add Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and she has books on writing as well. And since I’ve just written about editing this morning, I’d add The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. It occupies a prominent place on my desk, and it’s too heavy for my cats to knock to the floor. Great for after the first rush of inspiration, when you’re getting down to your final edit.

      Julie Lomoe
      Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Another: Making of Story, by Laplante.

    • Sam J. Duckworth says:

      For exercises to help one generate tons of raw material for memoir writing, I’d recommend Bill Roorbach’s book “Writing Life Stories.” Use these exercises and an organizing/structuring software program like Scrivener–you can’t go wrong.

    • Judy Berna says:

      One of my all time favorite books about the craft of writing is “On Writing” by Stephen King. I can honestly say I’ve read very few of his novels (not a fiction kind of girl) but this book, about how he does what he does, is very helpful and encouraging. I’d highly recommend you find it at the library.

      Judy Berna
      Another Memoir Writer!

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