15 Memoirs About Writing That Every Young Writer Needs To Read
If there's anything that writers like more than writing, it's writing about writing (that, and talking about writing about writing). And it makes sense: writing is a weird, lonely pursuit. You spend hours in a room, alone, typing and deleting one sentence over and over again until you give up and eat a bunch of dry cereal and call your mom to declare that you'll never write again. It's tough. You need to vent about it every once in a while. And if you're a young writer who's just starting to figure out how you like to write and what you like to write about, it can help to read memoirs from writers who have been there, too. Here are some of the funniest, most beautiful, and all-around greatest memoirs for young writers to read.
To be clear, these memoirs aren't necessarily instruction manuals on how to be a writer. Some focus more on craft, while others focus more on the road that led this particular author to writing in the first place. All of them, though, are valuable for the young writer in search of a little direction. Whether you're drawn to comedic showbiz memoirs from successful TV writers or lovely, meditative memoirs from famous poets, there's a writerly memoir out there for every kind of writer:
'The Motion of Light in Water' by Samuel R. Delany
Samuel R. Delany had published four novels by the time he was twenty-two (and he had written five). He was also married to a woman, having sex with men, and grappling with his identity at a time when there weren't many black, gay sci-fi authors in the public eye. The Motion of Light in Water is the stunning memoir of his youth in the East Village, and his unshakable love for writing.
'Why Not Me?' by Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling's writing is simply delightful. Reading her book is like hanging out with your best friend, if your best friend was a successful TV star. In Why Not Me?, her second memoir, she chronicles her career in television writing, her dating life, and her philosophy when it comes to working hard and putting yourself out there (after all, why not you?).
'On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft' by Stephen King
This is the memoir to read, if you're looking for writing advice. King chronicles his early childhood obsession with storytelling, his book-writing process, and the near-death experience that drastically altered his life. Even if you're too scared to read his novels, pick up his memoir for some timeless thoughts on the craft of fiction writing.
'The Writing Life' by Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard's The Writing Life is less about offering you concrete tips for your next novel, and more about meditating on what "the writing life" really means. Why do people spend their lives agonizing over sentence and semicolons, anyway? What are writers really after? Is writing truly a joy or a burden? You'll just have to read the book to find out.
'The Woman Warrior' by Maxine Hong Kingston
The Woman Warrior takes the classic childhood memoir and weaves in a whole bunch of ghosts. Kingston brilliantly tells her own story through the history of her mother, through ancient myths and legends, and through the woman warriors, both real and fictional, who have defined her life.
'Survival Lessons' by Alice Hoffman
For the young writer who's struggling to stay afloat, Survival Lessons is a necessary read. Alice Hoffman wrote this book after receiving a serious diagnosis, hoping to give herself a road map to staying alive and hopeful in the darkest moment of her life. The result is this slim but powerful book on survival in any circumstances.
'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou invented the memoir. OK, that's not quite true, but I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was a revelation when it first came out: a nonfiction autobiography that still had lyrical, literary style. It continues to be one of the best written, most heart-wrenching memoirs of all time.
'A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier' by Ishmael Beah
A Long Way Gone is the story of Ishmael Beah, who fled attacking rebels at age 12. At 13, he was picked up by the government army and turned into a soldier. His path to writing was far more traumatic than most, and his memoir is a breathtaking work of nonfiction. It's a must read for writers and non-writers alike.
'A Writer's Diary' by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf's diary is a collection of slice of life snapshots, writing exercises, comments on the books she was reading, and raw scenes that would turn into her later books. It's a peak behind the curtain at one of the greats, and an invaluable resource for any writer.
'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' by Haruki Murakami
Murakami's memoir is ostensibly about running. But even if you're not enthusiastic about recreational jogging, this book is a beautiful, thoughtful look at the creative process. If you're going to spend a lot of time in your own head, sometimes it's helpful to have an outlet in your own body.
'Fun Home' by Alison Bechdel
Fun Home explores Alison Bechdel's relationship with her father, as well as her childhood growing up in a funeral home. It's also a touching memoir on self-discovery, coming of age, and falling in love with writing (or in this case, cartooning) as an art-form.
'The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl' by Issa Rae
Writers are sometimes not that good at being in public or speaking to other human people. That's what makes Issa Rae's hilarious memoir so relatable: she gets it, from the awkward crushes to the awkward workplace drama to turning all of that awkwardness into genius script writing.
'The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life' by Amy Tan
One of the world's best-loved novelists opens up about her own childhood in all of its tragedy and comedy. The Opposite of Fate follow Tan and her evolution as a writer from girlhood to literary success, with plenty of computer ghosts and family arguments along the way.
'Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books' by Azar Nafisi
All the best writers are also great readers. For Azar Nafisi, though, reading was not just a leisure activity: for two years, she regularly met with seven of her female students and read forbidden Western classics in secret, avoiding raids from fundamentalist morality squads. This memoir is a tribute to the freeing power of literature, for dedicated writers and readers alike.
'The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath' by Sylvia Plath
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath are, indeed, unabridged. They show us the depth of Plath's struggles, both personal and literary. But they also show us her bravery, her disdain for literary sexism, and the sheer beauty and power of her writing.