Reading About Writing

Menéndez y Pelayo with a book at the National Library of Spain, Madrid.

Statue of Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo at the Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, Spain. (Photo: Merce Divad CC BY-SA 3.0)

If “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” what is reading about writing like?

Well, it’s not as useless as the oft-quoted and oft-misattributed comparison I cite above. On a scale of usefulness, I would rank it fourth: behind writing daily, reading both in and out of your genre, and networking with other writers. That said, advice about writing has it’s place. What are some good resources for the aspiring writer?

Here are a few off my bookshelf: just a sample of the many titles out there, and not intended to be an exhaustive list.

Books about memoir writing:

  • Writing Your Life – Lou Willett Stanek
  • Your Life as Story – Tristine Rainer
  • Writing About Your Life – William Zinsser
  • Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg
  • Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir Writing – various authors

Books about writing in general:

  • On Writing Well – William Zinsser
  • Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
  • The Writer’s Workout – Christina Katz
  • Writers on Writing – New York Times
  • The Pocket Muse – Monica Wood

Books about the business of writing;

  • Get Known Before the Book Deal – Christina Katz
  • A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction – Elizabeth Lyon
  • Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write – Elizabeth Lyon
  • The AJSA Guide to Freelance Writing – Timothy Harper, ed
  • A subscription to Writer’s Digest and/or The Writer

Reference Books

  • Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript – Chuck Sambuchino
  • Guide to Literary Agents – Chuck Sambuchino, ed.
  • The Writer’s Market – Robert Lee Brewer, ed.
  • A dictionary and a thesaurus
  • A broad selection of style guides (e.g. Chicago Manual of Style, Associated Press Style Guide, and Strunk and White)

Again, no book on writing is a substitute for writing every day, but books like these can help.


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