Excited to plunge into the actual writing of an autobiography or memoir?
For a very long time, writing a memoir was the province of celebrities, politicians, or just anyone with a story to tell.
There’s something about finding time to think and write about someone’s life story. Writing a memoir is like writing a novel. Both tell a story, but unlike a novel, a memoir is 100 percent truthful.
However, before you become a writer, you have to be a reader. There are actually a lot of books about the art of writing.
Below is a curated collection of books to help you master the craft of writing a memoir.
The 10 Best Books on Writing a Memoir
1. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
The Art of Memoir is an elegant and brilliant exploration of one of today’s most popular literary forms by Mary Karr, three-times award-winning author of best-selling memoirs.
Karr’s take on the subject is a perfect place to start your memoir writing endeavors. She is a rare genius and a brilliant teacher, and her expertise is certainly reflected in this book.
The Art of Memoir is a theoretical overview of memoir and memoir writing. This book answers the why and how an individual embarks on this particular writing project. This is surely one of the best books on the subject available.
2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Family nuggets of wisdom for writing and life passed on to succeeding generations.
Bird by Bird is a modern classic that is worth reading solely for Anne Lamott’s elegant, moving, and often-hilarious prose.
Lamott is a brilliant author of several novels and non-fiction books. The book reads like a collection of anecdotes on writing.
The book starts with a simple introduction describing her lifelong love of books and the influence her father has had on her life and writing. The expression “Bird by Bird” here means one small step at a time, a principle that the author takes to heart in her writing.
3. Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir by Sue William Silverman
With practical guidance and exercises in accessing the recesses of your memory and mustering the courage in telling even the bitter truths.
Fearless Confessions is Sue William Silverman’s guidebook for both veteran and novice writers who want to put their life experiences down on a book, website, or e-book.
This book gets into the intricate details of writing, starting from the first draft and going all the way to publishing and marketing.
She has included illustrative examples from many writers and writing exercises to help you navigate the unchartered territories of memoir writing. This is a practical how-to guide that teaches some unique concepts and techniques for writing one’s life story.
4. Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay by Adair Lara
A practical guide for finishing writing projects and finding success as a memoirist or essayist.
Naked, Drunk, and Writing by award-winning author and seasoned columnist, Adair Lara, is a gift to anyone looking to learn how to write a sensational memoir.
No list of “best books on writing a memoir” would be complete without Lara’s writing guidebook.
This book is a brilliant culmination of her vast experience as a writer, editor, and teacher. She explains what goes in and what doesn’t in a memoir. Once you finish the book, you’ll know how to write essays and memoirs, how to revise your work, and how to get it published.
5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Stephen King shared his thought process, writing habits, and his personal journey from a humble beginning to becoming a bestselling author.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft brilliantly combines memoir-writing and storytelling by one of the most successful fiction writers of all time, the legendary storyteller Stephen King.
This is a practical viewpoint of the writer’s craft, highlighting key moments that shaped him as an author.
Although it’s not one of his favorite genres, it’s hard not to be blown away by his memoir. Part memoir and part craft book, it has all the resources and tools writers need to tell a good life story.
This is a must-read if you want to write a sensational memoir.
6. Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg
A practical guide into achieving an attentive state of thought to retrieve memories from the recesses of your mind and put them on paper.
Old Friend from Far Away brings a new perspective on memoir-writing. It teaches writers how to tap into their unique memories to tell their stories.
If you’re struggling to write a memoir or feeling like you don’t have a story to tell, this book by Natalie Goldberg will snap you out of the doldrums.
Each chapter is a writing exercise, more like a roadmap to getting started and following through. As a writer, you gain a solid understanding of your mind and learn to connect with your senses to find the right thoughts to put down on paper.
7. The Nonfictionist’s Guide: On Reading and Writing Creative Nonfiction by Robert Root
Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. This book will teach you how to present riveting true-life stories.
The Nonfictionist’s Guide is a must-read for writers and teachers of creative non-fiction.
Now that you know the basics of writing a memoir, this book gets you into the poetics of non-fiction. Robert Root points to the many tools of poetry that can be used in other non-fiction works.
It is practically labeled as literary non-fiction, but subdivided into essays, memoirs, literary journalism, and narratives of nature and travel. The author discusses the non-fiction motive and offers a lively exploration of the elements of contemporary non-fiction.
8. Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington
Each chapter not only teaches essential writing concepts and principles but also fosters practical applications through writing exercises.
The first edition of Writing the Memoir came out in early 1997 and was consistently praised as “one of the best books on writing a memoir” out there.
It is an encouraging book that sheds light on the personal challenges and ethical dilemmas of writing your true stories.
This is a comprehensive guidebook for beginners which explains everything you need to get started and gives that push to encourage you to keep writing.
Judith Barrington starts from the very basic, such as “What is a memoir?” and answers all the questions you’ll probably have as a novice memoirist.
9. Where To Go From Here by James Birren & Linda Feldman
Where To Go From Here is a guided autobiography that focuses on exploring your life via themes and sensitizing questions.
This book helps you discover your own life’s wisdom and realize your value and potential. It presents a unique approach to writing one’s life story, thus earning a spot in our list of best books on writing a memoir.
This book encourages you to take control of your own life so you can move forward into a vital, rewarding future. James Birren teaches you the ability to let go of the fears from the past and to see the future as a wonderful opportunity to move forward.
10. The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith
It presents radical yet fun tactics on how to tell a compelling life story.
The Memoir Project is a practical resource for beginners looking to write a memoir.
You must have heard so many stories from your mum, dad, or grandmother. Each of them had a unique story to tell, or at least a distinctive viewpoint on certain tales. But when it comes to telling your own story, words seem so scarce.
This book has got everything you’d need to get started. Marion Roach Smith uses a blend of anecdotes and unusual tips to help steer would-be writers in the right direction.
She rarely refers to famous personalities. Instead, she uses real-life examples from her existence, particularly her mother.
Best Memoirs of All Time
Just like fiction, memoirs do not follow a traditional narrative and there are as many flavors of memoirs as there are human experiences.
We have rounded up some of the best-selling memoirs of all time. These true-life tales are absolute eye-openers.
- Educated by Tara Westover (2018)
- Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)
- The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr (1995)
- Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (2013)
- In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado (2019)
- Fierce Attachments: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick
- Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
- Set the Boy Free: The Autobiography by Johnny Marr
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- I Am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
Just like an engine has tons of moving parts that work together to power a vehicle, a story has a bunch of things all working together to power a memoir.
Before you even start writing a memoir, you need to do some preparatory reading and creative thinking before going any further. That is why it’s advisable to learn from the experts who wrote some of the best books on writing a memoir.
Writing is all about learning. And these books are the best guides to get you prepared to succeed with writing a memoir. All these books serve as stepping stones to everything you need to know about getting your life story ready.
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