Reading About Writing

I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember, and for nearly that long I’ve loved writing, too.  When I was very small, my first favorite “toy” was an old Remington manual typewriter my dad brought home from his office when they upgraded to the Smith Corona Electric.   I clearly recall sitting at the big desk in our attic, perched on a stack of telephone books, and pounding away at “stories” that were little more than gobbledygook on the page, but were fully developed in my head.

I still love to write, and blogging has certainly provided me with a very satisfying avenue for that avocation. One of my New Year’s intentions is to write even more, and I appear to be in good company in that resolve for many of my blogging friends have announced their hopes to do the same.

To that end, I recently purchased some new additions to my writing library.  Like most wannabe writers, I have quite a collection of inspirational and instructional books about writing.  As much as I believe in the power of reading, I know you can’t become a good writer simply by reading a how-to book.  Writing, after all, is not like knitting a scarf or changing a spark plug.  But I think you can gain a lot of insight, not to mention inspiration, into the writing process, by reading about other writers experiences,  successes, and failures.

Here’s what I’m currently reading about writing:

Writing the Memoir, From Truth to Art, by Judith Barrington

Writing Life Stories, by Bill Roorbach, with Kristen Keckler


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

Obviously memoir is the common theme.  I’m endlessly intrigued by the human story, and the way the stories of our lives influence the people we become and direct us toward the places we go. I liked the way Barrington described the form in Writing the Memoir:

…memoir is kind of a hybrid form, with elements of both fiction and essay, in which the author’s voice, musing conversationally on a true story, is all important.  Rather than simply telling a story from her life, the memoirist both tells the story, and muses upon it, trying to unravel what it means in the light of her current knowledge.

On my other blog, I write about “life in general and my own in particular,” which really means I write stories about my life and how they might relate to the human experience we all share.  I’d like to learn how to do that more effectively in the year ahead.

Do you do any reading about writing?  If so, what are some of your favorites?


17 thoughts on “Reading About Writing

  1. One of my favourites is If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. I like the 2 pictures in the later edition of the author when she was young and wrote the book and the picture of her in her 80’s–she won an over 80 swimming competition.

  2. I agree with Lilian, Ueland’s book is a must have (I’ve reread it many times and give it as a gift to new writers.) While I am not a writer it is on the list of things I’d like to be when I do grow up (along with a philanthropist, a genie, and an adventurer –at 39 I am glad I have a lot of time to decide before I grow up…)

    I Love:
    Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose
    On Writing by Stephen King (is one of my favorites)
    Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper by SARK

    Would have to venture to the bookshelf for more and there is more, much more there! Happy 2011!

  3. Stephen King’s On Writing is my favorite writing book – I turn to it all the time when I’m in need of inspiration. Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open is another favorite. There are definitely moments in my writing life when a book about writing is exactly the motivation I need.

    • I haven’t read the Berg book – I like her novels, though, and remember reading her columns when she wrote for the magazines back in the 80’s. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. I don’t really write write, but I’ve loved this book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird. It’s about both writing and life, so you might enjoy that (if you haven’t already).

  5. I recently discovered Twyla Tharpe’s The Creative Habit and really liked it. I’m not a big fan of how-to books, but she was talking about finding the right frame of mind for long-term creative practice and in my experience it really is all about the frame of mind. Good luck with the writing – I find memoir fascinating too!

    • I’ve heart of that book, and will look it up. It is vital to have the right mind set for creative pursuit, and you can’t just wait for it to happen on its own!

  6. Ahh, writing. Sometimes, I love reading about writing: it is amazing to learn about different processes. For a while, I was only a fiction reader and subsequently I only really thought of writing fiction. But as my writing has grown through my courses in college, I find myself leaning toward the memoir format. I have also been reading a lot more memoirs lately and I absolute love them.

  7. I was going to suggest On Writing by Stephen King but it seems others have beat me to it. I would also suggest Journal of a Novel by John Steinbeck. It is an interesting peak into one writer’s process.

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