10 best books on writing memoir

Books on writing memoir can be an excellent resource for anyone looking to share their life story in a meaningful way. Seasoned writers and beginners can use these books for valuable insights and practical advice on crafting a compelling memoir that resonates with readers. By exploring different approaches to structure, style and point of view, you can learn how to bring your own experiences to life on the page with clarity, honesty and authenticity.

So, if you are ready to embark on the journey of writing a memoir, read this blog post, which brings you the 10 best books on memoir writing (including their Amazon and Goodreads ratings). In addition, it provides other tips on polishing your memoir manuscript beyond reading books on writing memoir.

Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir (1998) edited by William Zinsser

Amazon rating: 4.4Goodreads rating: 3.9
"Inventing the Truth," one of the best books on writing memoir

Inventing the Truth is a compilation of essays by prominent memoirists, offering diverse perspectives on the art and craft of memoir writing. Unlike typical books on writing memoir, this anthology provides a multifaceted exploration of the genre, highlighting the various approaches and techniques employed by different writers.

With contributions from renowned authors such as Annie Dillard and Toni Morrison, the book offers valuable insights and practical advice for aspiring memoirists. Through a combination of personal anecdotes and literary analysis, the essays in this collection shed light on the complexities of truth-telling and storytelling in memoir writing.

Your Life as Story: Discovering the ‘New Autobiography’ and Writing Memoir as Literature (1998) by Tristine Rainer

Amazon rating: 4.5Goodreads rating: 4.1
"Your Life as Story," one of the best books on writing memoir

Tristine Rainer’s Your Life as Story offers a fresh perspective on memoir writing, exploring the concept of the ‘new autobiography’ as a literary form. Unlike traditional books on writing memoir, Rainer challenges writers to elevate their personal narratives into works of literature. She helps writers delve deep into their memories and emotions through a series of thought-provoking exercises and prompts, uncovering the universal truths within their personal stories.

Rainer’s emphasis on the intersection of autobiography and literature sets this book apart, offering aspiring memoirists a unique framework for crafting compelling narratives.

Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art (2000) by Judith Barrington

Amazon rating: 4.5Goodreads rating: 4.0
"Writing the Memoir," one of the best books on writing memoir

Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir is a comprehensive guide that goes beyond conventional books on writing memoir. Barrington offers practical advice on every aspect of the memoir-writing process, from finding your story to crafting compelling prose. With clear and concise instructions, she helps writers navigate the challenges of memoir writing, offering insightful exercises and examples.

Barrington’s focus on the artistic elements encourages writers to elevate their personal stories into works of art.

The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative (2002) by Vivian Gornick

Amazon rating: 4.5Goodreads rating: 3.9

The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick offers a nuanced exploration of the art of personal narrative, delving into the complexities of memoir writing. Unlike conventional books on writing memoir, Gornick emphasises the importance of distinguishing between the ‘situation’ (the events of a memoir) and the ‘story’ (the narrative constructed around those events). Through insightful analysis and vivid examples, the author explores how memoirists can craft compelling narratives that transcend mere recounting of events.

In sum, Gornick focuses on narrative structure and voice, offering aspiring memoirists invaluable guidance for bringing their stories to life on the page.

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir (2007) by Natalie Goldberg

Amazon rating: 4.6Goodreads rating: 4.2

Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg focuses on the importance of practice and discipline. Unlike traditional books on writing memoir, Goldberg encourages writers to approach their craft with a sense of curiosity and openness. Through engaging exercises and prompts, Goldberg helps writers tap into their memories and emotions. In turn, this will help their goal of unlocking the true essence of their stories.

With her signature blend of wisdom and humour, Goldberg empowers writers to embrace the messiness of life and transform it into compelling memoirs.

The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life (2011) by Marion Roach Smith

Amazon rating: 4.6Goodreads rating: 4.3

Marion Roach Smith’s The Memoir Project offers a refreshingly unconventional approach to crafting memoirs. Smith emphasises the importance of personal storytelling and provides practical exercises to guide writers through the process. With a focus on authenticity, this book helps aspiring memoirists uncover their unique stories and transform them into compelling narratives.

Through concise and engaging prose, Smith encourages writers to embrace the messiness of life and harness its richness to create impactful memoirs.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (2013) by Beth Kephart

Amazon rating: 4.5Goodreads rating: 4.2

In Handling the Truth, Beth Kephart delves deep into the intricacies of memoir writing, offering invaluable insights for aspiring authors. Unlike other books on writing memoir, Kephart explores the complex relationship between memory, truth and narrative voice. With eloquent prose and thought-provoking exercises, Kephart guides writers through excavating and shaping their memories into cohesive narratives.

Handling the Truth’s emphasis on honesty and vulnerability sets this book apart, encouraging writers to embrace the messy truths of their lives and weave them into powerful stories.

The Art of Memoir (2015) by Mary Karr

Amazon rating: 4.5Goodreads rating: 4.1

Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir is a masterclass in memoir writing, offering practical advice and candid insights from a seasoned memoirist. Unlike other books on writing memoir, Karr draws on her own experiences to illustrate key concepts and techniques. With her trademark wit and honesty, she explores the challenges of capturing one’s life on the page and offers invaluable tips for navigating the process.

The Art of Memoir  is a classic with insights into authenticity and voice sets this book apart, inspiring writers to dig deep and tell their stories with courage and integrity.

The Memoir Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Brainstorm, Organize, and Write Your Unique Story (2017) by C. S. Lakin

Amazon rating: 4.5Goodreads rating: 4.1

The Memoir Workbook by C. S. Lakin is a comprehensive resource for aspiring memoirists. It provides practical guidance for those who beginners who want to to share their life experiences. Through structured exercises and writing prompts, readers are encouraged to explore their memories and craft a coherent narrative within the workbook’s pages. Lakin covers essential aspects of memoir writing, including identifying a unique story, structuring the narrative and developing engaging dialogue.

Additionally, it offers insights into writing from a mature perspective, protecting oneself and others, defining themes and selecting an appropriate title. The Memoir Workbook guides individuals embarking on the heartfelt journey of writing their life stories.

Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative (2022) by Melissa Febos

Amazon rating: 4.8Goodreads rating: 4.3

Melissa Febos’s Body Work intertwines memoir and writing guidance to delve into the profound work of intimate storytelling. She navigates the emotional, psychological and physical aspects of writing memoirs. Thanks to this personal reflection on addiction and recovery, Febos offers a fresh perspective on the challenges in revealing one’s life story. Febos prompts readers to contemplate how to authentically depict the relationships and experiences that shape them, including desires and traumas.

Body Work is an empowering resource for readers and writers, offering insights and occasional cautionary advice for those seeking to express their true selves through memoir writing.

How to prepare your memoir manuscript for publication?

Except for reader books on memoir writing, there are other ways to improve your manuscript and prepare it for publication. For instance, to prepare a memoir manuscript for publication, consider using professional editing services. Professional editors can provide valuable feedback and help refine your manuscript to ensure it meets industry standards. Before submitting your manuscript, thoroughly revise and proofread it to address any inconsistencies or errors. 

  • Developmental editing focuses on the overall structure, plot, character development and pacing of the memoir manuscript. Furthermore, it provides suggestions to enhance its coherence and impact.
  • Line editing reviews the language and style of the manuscript at a sentence level. In addition, it refines prose for clarity and coherence while preserving the author’s voice.
  • Copyediting corrects grammar, punctuation, spelling and formatting errors. In short, it ensures the manuscript adheres to publishing standards and is correct and consistent.
  • Proofreading performs a final check for typos, formatting inconsistencies and minor errors before publication. In sum, it ensures the manuscript is polished and error-free.

Additionally, research potential publishers or literary agents specialising in memoirs and follow their submission guidelines carefully. Consider joining writing groups or workshops to receive peer feedback and support throughout the publishing process. Finally, be prepared for potential rejections and setbacks, but remain persistent in pursuing your publishing goals. With dedication and perseverance, you can navigate the publishing process and share your memoir with the world.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, the 10 best books on writing memoir offer a wealth of knowledge and guidance for aspiring memoirists. From exploring the intricacies of personal narrative to providing practical exercises, these books serve as invaluable resources on self-discovery through storytelling. Each book offers a unique perspective and empowers writers to share their life stories with authenticity and impact.

Contact me for a free sample edit of your memoir manuscript (and remember to use my early bird discount). I am an experienced editor working with non-fiction, academic and business texts. I can help prepare your text for publication, from a big-picture analysis through highlighting your authorial voice to ensuring the correctness and consistency of the language.

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I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).