Writers on Writing: 8 Author Memoirs and Nonfiction Essentials

November 17 2021
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If you’re a writer, you know the truth: writing is hard work. Too many hours are spent staring at a blank page, willing a story to write itself. While this feeling is tough to work through, just know you are not alone. Writer’s block plagues even the greatest of authors. With that in mind, when I’m feeling stuck I often turn to the advice of some of my favorite word-wielders. Here are eight enlightening and inspiring memoirs, written by writers for writers.

Four Seasons in Rome
by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr’s commitment to the craft of writing is unmatched. The awards he has won speak for themselves. After Doerr won the Rome Prize, one of the most prestigious awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which included a stipend and a writing studio in Rome for a year, he wrote FOUR SEASONS IN ROME. This memoir describes his various adventures around the inspiring city, backed by fascinating notes on his own writing craft. Fans of Anthony Doerr’s award-winning novels will be completely enchanted by this intimate and celebratory story.

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Four Seasons in Rome
Anthony Doerr

Exquisitely observed, in this book Doerr describes his varied adventures in one of the most enchanting cities in the world. He reads Pliny, Dante, and Keats and visits the piazzas, temples, and ancient cisterns they describe. He attends the vigil of a dying Pope John Paul II and takes his twins to the Pantheon in December to wait for snow to fall through the oculus. He and his family are embraced by the butchers, grocers, and bakers of the neighborhood, whose clamor of stories and idiosyncratic child-rearing advice is as compelling as the city itself.

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On Writing
by Stephen King

Stephen King, the master storyteller himself, gives emerging writers the foundational tools needed to succeed. Through vivid accounts of life as a bestselling writer, King provides snappy and digestible writing advice. If anything, ON WRITING shows writers that even the most talented of storytellers live with their own struggles. King brings readers through his early life as a writer, when money and inspiration were hard to come by. He describes how he worked through family problems, addiction, and recovery. King makes the act of writing feel very human. This book stands as a perfect inspiration for those working through their own writing upheavals.

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On Writing
Stephen King

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King

Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

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Hungry Heart
by Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner’s books are known to be packed with wit, humor, and power. Her writing is a friendly reminder that the female experience is often messy and confusing. With its conversational tone, her memoir taught me how to write from experience. HUNGRY HEART executes this so well. This book, full of intimate and honest essays, will bring readers through a roller coaster of emotions as it solidifies Jennifer Weiner’s impeccable talent and the trials it took to get where she is today.

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Hungry Heart
Jennifer Weiner

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Craft in the Real World
by Matthew Salesses

The craft of writing, as we understand it today, was molded with the Western white male in mind. But as our understanding and perspective as a society change, we’re gratefully making space for more new perspectives in storytelling. CRAFT IN THE REAL WORLD pushes readers to question the foundational elements of writing, such as plot, character, and conflict, and asks how we can rethink the way we appreciate literature. This book is geared toward teachers, as it provides advice on syllabi, grading, and teaching methods. But all writers can appreciate and learn from this exceptional statement on the necessity for diversity in fiction writing.

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Craft in the Real World
Matthew Salesses

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Literary Life
by Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry’s LITERARY LIFE is a deeply personal sequel to his first memoir, BOOKS. Fans of his bestselling tales like LONESOME DOVE will appreciate the moving anecdotes McMurtry provides as he details his life’s journey as an author. This read is a must for aspiring writers aiming to make their own mark on American literature—but also for readers who appreciate an honest life’s reflection.

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Literary Life
Larry McMurtry

Pulitzer Prize–winner Larry McMurtry follows up his memoir Books with this engrossing and deeply personal reflection on the life of a writer.

Larry McMurtry is that rarest of artists, a prolific and genre-transcending writer who has delighted generations with his witty and elegant prose. In Literary Life, the sequel to Books, he expounds on the private trials and triumphs of being a writer. From his earliest inkling of his future career while at Rice University, to his tenure as a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford with Ken Kesey in 1960, to his incredible triumphs as a bestselling author, this intimate and charming autobiography is replete with literary anecdotes and packed with memorable observations about writing, writers, and the author himself. It is a work to be cherished not only by McMurtry’s admirers, but by the innumerable aspiring writers who seek to make their own mark on American literature.

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MENTIONED IN:

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Sailor and Fiddler
by Herman Wouk

Herman Wouk pairs his wisdom as an enduring writer with charming wit as he chronicles his journey from comedic writer to Pulitzer Prize–winning author. His well-lived life of literature and fame is bursting with wise words that feel a whole lot like a conversation with an old friend. Wouk’s reflection over his hundred years of life is truly a piece to be cherished.

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Sailor and Fiddler
Herman Wouk

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A Swim in a Pond in the Rain
by George Saunders

This master class on writing by Booker Prize–winning author George Saunders was recommended to me by several of my writing friends. For twenty years, Saunders has been teaching a class on Russian short stories to his MFA students. A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN provides a version of this class. Saunders reminds us all that writing is more than just a hobby—it involves training the mind to view the world with a new lens. It prompts readers to be open and curious in their own pursuits of fine craft.

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A Swim in a Pond in the Rain
George Saunders

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The Writing Life
by Annie Dillard

THE WRITING LIFE is another essential memoir for writers. This beautiful mediation on the life of a writer focuses more on why we write and less on actionable tips and tricks. Through short essays, Dillard describes not only her own writing experiences but also the passion that writers everywhere hold within themselves. Between the joys of creating a story and the burdens of sitting in the discomfort of writer’s block, Dillard pieces together the wild and unexplainable dedication we have toward the craft.

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The Writing Life
Annie Dillard

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MENTIONED IN:

Author Picks: 6 Literary Quotes That Stuck with Me

By Ash Davidson | November 29, 2021

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Photo credit: iStock / Garsya

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