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The 9 Best Books on Writing Memoir

Jan 7, 2018 Blog

This article was written by Meghan McCullough and originally appeared on Signature Reads.

The idea of writing your own story is a daunting one. At first, it may seem easy; after all, you know your own life better than anyone else, and who could be better equipped to tell the story of your life? But the act of putting pen to paper and actually beginning your own memoir is much harder than that. Where to begin? How to sift out the important things from the mundane? What if your writing upsets your loved ones? Or worse, what if no one cares enough to read it?

The books listed below tackle all of those questions and more. From inspiration that’ll get you started to practical tips as you make your way through your first draft, these books will get you remembering and writing your memoir in no time.

Having the Last Say by Alan Gelb

Having the Last Say

By Alan Gelb

Writing coach Alan Gelb’s book is targeted specifically towards baby boomers: when this book was first published in 2015, he felt that baby boomers were staring down the barrel of their lives’ third act, not knowing what to do with it. According to Gelb, your third act is best spent reflecting, and writing is... Read more >

Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart

Handling the Truth

By Beth Kephart

Acclaimed author of five memoirs Beth Kephart reflects on the form that she has seen such success with. The book is equal parts inspiring and practical as Kephart grapples with what makes writing a memoir so difficult, and why in surpassing those obstacles, writers find peace, success, and rest. She explores the... Read more >

Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer

Your Life as Story

By Tristine Rainer

Tristine Rainer discusses how writers can understand their own lives as narrative in order to write their autobiographies and memoirs. Story structure, she argues, can be found in the very pattern of our lives; it’s just up to us to uncover it. And finally, Rainer helps her readers to grapple with the struggles... Read more >

Living to Tell the Tale by Jane Taylor McDonnell

Living to Tell the Tale

By Jane Taylor McDonnell

This is a testament to the power that writing memoir has to give meaning to our lives. “Writing is a second chance at life,” McDonnell writes, and she proceeds to convince her readers of this by sharing her own experiences writing and teaching memoir, and providing exercises and techniques to get her readers... Read more >

Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise Desalvo

Writing as a Way of Healing

By Louise Desalvo

Based on her twenty years of research, Louise DeSalvo looks to memoir as a therapeutic tool. Emotional wounds are an inevitable part of life, but living entirely under their weight isn’t. DeSalvo teaches her readers how to do the right kind of writing that will tackle past traumas and give them the chance to... Read more >

When Memory Speaks by Jill Ker Conway

When Memory Speaks

By Jill Ker Conway

Acclaimed biographer Jill Ker Conway explores the genre of memoir via the work of some of the best memoirists in recent history, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Frank McCourt. She examines the urge we have to write about ourselves, and the ways in which we go about doing it. Through critical and close reading,... Read more >

Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara

Naked, Drunk, and Writing

By Adair Lara

Award-winning writer Adair Lara helps her readers rise to the task of writing a memoir. It seems easy at first — you’ve known yourself your whole life, after all — but actually culling your lifetime of memories for usable material can come to seem an insurmountable task. Lara’s advice runs the gamut, from... Read more >

Why We Write About Ourselves by

Why We Write About Ourselves


This indispensable anthology packs advice from acclaimed memoirists Cheryl Strayed, Sue Monk Kidd, Pat Conroy, and more. Edited by Meredith Maran, this is an inspirational collection of musings on the craft, purpose, and genre of memoir for memoir writers of all stripes, from the journaler to the columnist. The... Read more >

Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks

Writing Hard Stories

By Melanie Brooks

This anthology was put together by Melanie Brooks with the purpose of gathering words from authors who have dove into their darkest memories in the name of their art and writing. Why look back at times that you barely made it out of? How can you possibly begin to know how to write about them? And is it all worth... Read more >

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