My Favorite Books About Writing Nonfiction

41lhhayQO9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I always love reading about writing. I caution students about spending so much time reading about it that they never actually do it, but these books in particular have been invaluable in shaping my own approaches to writing. Some of them focus on nonfiction specifically, while many are great for any kind of writing:

The Artful Edit, by Susan Bell: I use this every time I do a self-edit on a manuscript. It’s also a fun book to read straight through. She uses the editing process for The Great Gatsby — detailed in letters between Fitzgerald and his editor — to show how editing makes everything better.

The New New Journalism, by Robert Boynton: Interviews with all the rock stars of current creative nonfiction — Ted Conover, Erik Larson, Susan Orlean. This is like a fan magazine for nerds like me.

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron: For anyone doing any kind of writing, or any kind of art, this is a go-to for kick-starting your creativity. It’s a practical, step-by-step process full of nutty self-helpy stuff that I just tune out. I resist what Tom Bissell once brilliantly called “tea and angels writing” — you know, workshops about finding yourself through writing and that sort of thing — and this book has a lot of that silly ’90s self-help language in spades. But underneath is an effective plan for getting your creative juices flowing. I’ve done it at least five times throughout my adulthood.

Storycraft, by Jack Hart: Helps with the hardest parts of nonfiction — making real life into great stories, while still telling the absolute truth.

Telling True Stories, by Mark Kramer: Covers journalism as well as book-length nonfiction, through written pieces by and interviews with writers and editors.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott: A classic. Great inspiration to just keep going with your work — even, especially, when you’re feeling despondent or overwhelmed.

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89 comments

  1. I have “the “Artist’s Way” in a box in my garage somewhere. A friend gave it to me about 15 years ago and I still have the notebook somewhere I started writing in out there, too. Maybe now since I am actually writing a book now, 2 chapter links can be found on the opening page at http://mynameisjamie.net .I have 4 completed chapters and about 3 partials started. It took 8 years of research and gathering info to get to the point of being able to write it. The blog is a way to get different issues categorized. It feels so right now. I’m glad I found you! Ill be back to read more, absolutely.

  2. I’m still on the Bukowski’s side. Or you have it or you don’t. Don’t force yourself into becoming a writer, if you don’t have guts. Many people believe it to be a great experience to write something, but they are just dodging the truth that their writing will never have any value. My advice for them would be to focus on some topic they love, say cooking, but in great detail. Blogs are great in this sense.

    I don’t say that it’s better not to write, I just don’t believe in writing as a learnt process. Julio Cortazar wrote his first book when he was eight, and became one of the most important writers from Latin America in the 20th century. How many people who tried to go to the writing schools can claim something similar?

  3. A few months ago, I discovered “Writing is My Drink” by Theo Pauline Nestor. Loved it! BTW: Can anyone tell me how to create a hyperlink in a comment/reply?

  4. Reblogged this on Meg Dunley and commented:
    There are some good books here. The Artists Way and Bird by Bird are both books that have been continually recommended over many years and I now dip in and out of.

  5. Good information. I loved Bird by Bird. I also found Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir extremely instructive, useful and fun to read. I had written several drafts of my memoir but after reading the book I felt Tales From the Family Crypt came together as a real, cohesive and compelling yet funny story and much less of a rant about our dysfunctional family. If you’re writing a memoir, check it out. It’s a quick read and well worth your time.

  6. Or The Artful Edit, I should say. Ah, the benefit of an aging brain! From the time I read the post to the time I scrolled down to comment, I completely re-wrote the name in my mind!

  7. thank you for the information. I love it. Even though I am not an English native speaker, I have a passion towards writing and blogging. This is surely going to help me a lot in the future! 🙂

  8. Lovely post. Over the years that I have been writing, one thing that has stuck with me is: Read books: Gain knowledge. I will check these books out and share with my writing friends.

  9. Reblogged this on Nancy Koziol and commented:
    I stumbled upon this via Freshly Pressed and just had to share. Creative nonfiction and memoir are hot right now, I’m actually editing a memoir for a local writer right now. If you write creative nonfiction/memoir (even as a blog) you should check out this list.

  10. Self editing is the most challenging aspect of my writing. My novel, Almost Human, comes out this spring (2015) and I have to say I struggled more with the editing than writing the book! I certainly plan to read this book.

  11. Thanks for this! As a professional editor, I’m always looking for good resources. A long-time favorite of mine is William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well,” but I’ll be sure to check these out as well.

  12. Stumbled “accidentally” upon The Artist’s Way a few years ago in the book collection of my sister. I was on a visit to Philadelphia then and got so hooked that by the time I returned home I had a collection of Morning Pages. It was this ritual of writing that eventually led to my blog.
    Yes, we writers love to read and reading about writing makes me read more and, relatively, write less! I will definitely read the others recommended by you. I have also read Bird by Bird. Thanks for the list.

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