Best 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

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Writing Advice, Sites, Writers, and Links

Hemingway
Hemingway
I’m buckling down now that I have found all the information I wanted to boost me into actually sitting my ass down in the chair and outlining and piecing and writing the memoir bits that will, so help me God, come together someday. I spent the day researching basically, and then I got caught up in writing tips and advice and blunt honesty from author blogs, editor blogs and sites, writers, memoir writers, professors and teachers and other bloggers alike, and I, for now, have come up with a delightful collection I am going to print out and keep on my desk with me for motivation and, well, common sense. And this delightful collection I am sharing with you.

Ass. In. Chair. These words are coming from these people along with notes I took from writing podcasts, such as Debra Gwartney‘s podcast over at Tin House called “When the Action is Hot, Write Cool.” Here are just some of the things she said in my notes that hit home, that inspire me and turn me in the right direction. Writing a memoir is fucking overwhelming. There’s just so much.

So here’s some of Debra Gwartney’s words to inspire you right in the gut:

Pull them in don’t force them to see how bad the trauma was
–very off-putting
No over emotion
Convey emotion w/ a matter of fact tone and highly controlled language

Let readers feel for themselves not be instructed by you

Can’t be just about what happened

You have to focus on recitation of events but use EVENT AS PRY BAR TO OPEN UP AND ILLUMINATE THE DYNAMIC–REWRITE IT THAT WAY, FIGURE IT OUT

How you engage the reader, not just what happened

Something else has to happen to resonate

Don’t shove trauma into readers face to say how bad it was

Don’t demand they recognize the horror
–admirable elemtent –matter of fact in worst part, take breath away images, perfect verbs, no excess; pacing slows down, open up w/ great precision and care, avoid chaos you were feeling I the moment, you want the control of the narrator; CURIOSITY NOT DEFENSIVENESS; not contrived but taut, stretched, few images, careful verbs/words (when action is hot write cool)
Trust language and images you pick, let readre feel for herself
FLATTEN IT OUT, IT’S NOT THIS OH MY GOD, IT’S MATTER OF FACT
-here it is, go, don’t embellish what day it is blah blah blah
PRECISE DETAILS
Those images, very sparse
Don’t overload w/ images, be selective
SLOWER PACE, let them be in the moment

Avoid overwrought description–STAY OUT OF SENTIMENTALITY CAMP

POWER OF MOMENT COMES UP FROM UNDERNEATH SOMEWHERE

Indicate to reader –experience-not what the essay is about, essay is about …..

By writing this way, they know something even larger is happening–the point of the essay

NO ADVERBS

“I FRANTICALLY did this….”
No bodily functions******

NO NO NO CRYING–everyone will assume, you don’t have to tell that

“YOU HAVE TO NORMALIZE THE INCREDIBLE”

Take the emotion out, don’t add to
in essays–could use second person to distance self

RECORD THE PANIC BUT DON’T ALLOW THE WRITING TO BECOME PANICKED

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