Books on Memoir Writing

Below is my evolving list of books on the craft of memoir writing and personal history.

Writing the Memoir: A practical guide to the craft, the personal challenges, and ethical dilemmas of writing your true stories by Judith Barrington: The first guide I ever picked up on memoir writing and one of the most practical, addressing issues of craft, ethics, structure, with writing suggestions following each chapter. Take a look at the chapter headings for quick look-see at the helpful topics covered.


Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg: “Through timed, associative, and meditative exercises, Old Friend from Far Away guides you to the attentive state of thought in which you discover and open forgotten doors of memory.” Writers are invited to respond to varied and creative prompts, from writing about relentless dreams, to radishes and salmon, to everything you know about ice cream. With excerpts from established memoir writers.


Stephen King on Writing: a Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King: The master story-teller chronicles, in the first half of this book, how he became a writer, illustrating how memoir can work even without masses of details (think of the descriptions Mary Karr can summon from the deep past). The second half is a delightfully succinct guide to the craft, enhanced by a markup of the author’s own early manuscript.


Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History  by Linda Spence: A practical guide to capturing long-ago events with questions to help in unlocking the memories that make up a life. Aimed at writers wishing to create a legacy for family rather than a commercial memoir, but helpful in beginning the process of remembering.
Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir  by William Zinsser: Authors Russell Baker, Jill Kerr Conway, Annie Dillard, Frank McCourt, Toni Morrison, and Zinsser “explore the craft of memoir, defined here as a portion of a life, narrower in scope than autobiography.” Great insight into the process of structuring vastly different memoirs from family history to coming-of-age stories and more.


Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past by William Zinsser: My favorite guide of all, in which the author takes the reader “on a memoir of his own” recalling “dramatic, amusing, and often surprising moments in his long and varied life as a writer, editor, teacher, and traveler.” A master teacher as well as celebrated writer, Zinsser uses his own experience to explain technical decisions such as selection, condensation, focus, attitude, voice, and tone.


Modern American Memoirs, an anthology edited by Annie Dillard and Cort Conley: Samples from 35 of the finest memoirs written in this century, including contributions by such diverse writers as Margaret Mead, Malcolm X, Maxine Hong Kingston, Loren Eisely, and Zora Neale Hurston.