Books on Writing

This is a collection of some of the (most of) books I’ve read to help me along with writing the memoir and other personal essays and stories over the years. Great stuff.

The Eleventh Draft: ​Craft and the Writing Life 11th_draftfrom the Iowa Writers’ Workshop by Frank Conroy


The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick

Description:Vivian Gornick presents readers with examples of some of the best essays and memoirs of the past century, analyzing how the idea of the self has changed. Gornick explores the truth speaker in works by Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, and Oscar Wilde, and discusses how to recognize truth in your own work.

Published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Description:The author of the memoirs The Liars’ Club (Viking, 1995), Cherry (Viking, 2000), and Lit (Harper, 2009) draws from decades of experience as a writer, reader, and teacher to spotlight this complex and powerful form of storytelling. “Memoir done right is an art, a made thing,” she writes in the preface. Including unique insights and examples of the author’s personal favorites in the genre, The Art of Memoir provides a humorously candid examination of the literary form Karr has influenced over the past twenty years.

Published in 2015 by Harper

I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory by Patricia Hampl

Description:“A writer is, first and last, a reader.” Patricia Hampl’s collection of essays explores the depths of writing created from the most personal memories—in works by Anne Frank, Czeslaw Milosz, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and others—and provides insightful reflections on her own writing life as a memoirist.

Published in 1999 by Norton

Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Phillips, editor

Description:​”All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time​.” This book is a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s comments on writing and reflections about his own process, gathered from his stories, essays, letters, and interviews. Hemingway’s insights offer helpful advice to writers on the craft of writing, work habits, and the writing life.

Published in 1999 by Scribner

Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art by Judith Barrington

Description:Teacher and memoirist Judith Barrington offers practical advice drawn from years of personal experience on how to overcome difficulties, and take risks when writing your own memoir. The guide covers everything from questions about truth and ethics to craft, and each chapter concludes with writing exercises.

Published in 2002 by Eight Mountain Press

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Description:Author Steven Pressfield offers a practical guide to identify the enemy within and create a “battle plan” to overcome the obstacles faced in creative endeavors.

Published in 2012 by Black Irish Entertainment

Your Life Is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson & Sarah Jane Freymann

Description:Memoirist Brenda Peterson and literary agent Sarah Jane Freymann offer advice on crafting a memoir culled from decades of experience. Also included are writing exercises, interviews with publishing experts, and information about indie publishing.

Published in 2014 by Sasquatch Books

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

Description:First published in 1976, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction offers readers fundamental principles on writing across all subjects, as well as insights on craft, style, and process from distinguished writer and teacher William Zinsser.

Published in 2006 by Harper Perennial

Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide From the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call

Description:The country’s most prominent journalists and nonfiction authors gather each year at Harvard’s Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism. Telling True Stories presents their best advice on everything from finding a good topic, to structuring narrative stories, to writing and selling your first book.

Published in 2007 by Plume

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

Description:Anyone undertaking the project of writing a memoir knows that the events, memories, and emotions of the past often resist the orderly structure of a book. Inventing the Truth offers wisdom from nine notable memoirists about their process (Ian Frazier searched through generations of family papers to understand his parents’ lives), the hurdles they faced (Annie Dillard tackles the central dilemma of memoir: what to put in and what to leave out), and the unexpected joys of bringing their pasts to the page.

Published in 1998 by Mariner Books

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart


Author Beth Kephart explores the many personal and professional challenges of writing memoir. From remaining faithful to the searing language of truth, to navigating the thin line between remembering and imagining, the author offers practical advice for memoirists who seek wisdom regarding the craft as well as their legal rights.

Published in 2013 by Gotham

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

Description:This informative and instructive guide examines the three major incarnations of nonfiction: essays, memoirs, and narratives. By offering insightful analysis and expert advice, this entertaining and practical guide to writing nonfiction is ideal for both seasoned and beginner writers.

Published in 2013 by Random HouseISBN: 1400069750

The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life by Marion Roach Smith

Description:The author of The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning, and Sexual Power of Red Hair provides straight-forward tactics and advice for writing honest memoirs.

Published in 2011 by Grand Central Publishing

The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays From Tin House by Tin House authors

Description:A follow-up to The Writer’s Notebook, published in 2009, this collection includes essays based on workshop lectures from Tin House’s annual Summer Writers Workshop, plus freshly commissioned pieces that together guide writers on the craft of writing fiction. Contributors include Steve Almond, Andrea Barrett, Christopher R. Beha, Aimee Bender, Adam Breaver, Anthony Doerr, Ann Hood, Bret Anthony Johnston, Jim Krusoe, Antonya Nelson, Maggie Nelson, Benjamin Percy, Karen Russell, Elissa Schappell, and Mary Szybist, with an introduction by Francine Prose.

Published in 2012 by Tin House Books

Writers on Writing by The New York Times, editor

Description:With an introduction by John Darnton, Writers on Writing: Collected Essays From The New York Times features contributions from more than forty authors, including André Aciman, Russell Banks, Richard Ford, Kent Haruf,Alice Hoffman, Jamaica Kincaid, Barbara Kingsolver, Sue Miller, Walter Mosley, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Alice Walker, and Elie Wiesel, who share what inspires them to keep at it.

Published in 2002 by Times Books

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind

Description:In this comprehensive how-to guide for the genre, Lee Gutkind, founder of Creative Nonfiction magazine, provides insights on writing creative nonfiction–from memoir to literary journalism and everything in between, including chapters on point of view, narrative, research, structure, and more.

Published in 2012 by Da Capo Press

The Autobiographer’s Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir by Jennifer Traig, editor

Description:Edited by memoirist and 826 Valencia tutor and workshop teacher Jennifer Traig, this resource offers advice from contemporary memoirists, including Steve Almond, Jonathan Ames, Ishmael Beah, Elizabeth Gilbert, Nick Hornby, Maxine Hong Kingston, Tobias Wolff, and many more, plus writing exercises and work plans to get writers started.

Published in 2008 by Holt Paperbacks

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

Description:Written by Natalie Goldberg, author of the best-selling classic Writing Down the Bones, Old Friend From Far Away is a meditation on the capacity of the written word to remember the past, free us from any stifling effects it may have on our voice, and transform the way we think—and write—about ourselves and our lives.

Published in 2008 by Free Press

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Description:Anne Lamott, best-selling author of seven novels and five books of nonfiction, offers witty step-by-step instructions on writing and how to manage a writer’s life—including challenges such as writer’s block, jealousy, and unsatisfactory drafts—in this classic guide.

Published in 1995 by Anchor Books

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart

Description:Jack Hart, former managing editor of the Oregonian, has created a guide to the methods and mechanics of crafting narrative nonfiction. Hart covers what writers in this genre need to know, from understanding story theory and structure, to mastering point of view and such basic elements as scene, action, and character, to drafting, revising, and editing work for publication.

Published in 2011 by University of Chicago Press

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Description:In The Writing Life, Pulizer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard gives insight into her own writing process and what it means to write. In a series of short, personal essays, she details the solitude and challenges faced by an individual who devotes her life to words.

Published in 1990 by HarperPerennial

Views From the Loft: A Portable Writer’s Workshop by Daniel Slager, editor

Description:Founded nearly four decades ago by a group of young writers, the Loft has become the nation’s largest independent literary center. Views From the Loft brings together the collected wisdom of the Loft community—its authors, students, and editors—on the subject of writing and craft. Chapters are divided into sections on writing, teaching, critiquing, and publication.

Published in 2010 by Milkweed Editions

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg


In Writing Down the Bones, painter and writing instructor Natalie Goldberg gives clear, accessible writing advice that approaches the art of writing as spiritual practice.

Published in 1986 by Shambhala Publications

ISBN: 0877733759

The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays From Tin House by Dorothy Allison, Steve Almond, Rick Bass, Susan Bell, Aimee Bender, Kate Bernheimer, Lucy Corin, Tom Grimes, Matthea Harvey, and more

Description:The Writer’s Notebook compiles the best craft seminars in the history of the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, along with a variety of craft essays from some of Tin House’s favorite writers. With how-tos, close readings, and personal anecdotes, The Writer’s Notebook offers aspiring writers advice and inspiration to hone their own craft.

Published in 2009 by Tin House Books
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