My Favorite Books about the Writer’s Life

I love a good memoir. It’s fascinating to get inside someone else’s head, to feel their emotions and appreciate their life vicariously.

Even better when they are a writer with a gift for words. After puzzling about why I’m drawn to memoir’s about the writer’s life, I uncovered four reasons.

1. Every artist is blazing a new trail.  

Everyone has a different journey. 

No one reaches the goals in the same way. 

It’s okay to be a wannabe, because everyone starts out there.

2. Writers often articulate their journeys well.

It makes sense. They’re writers, after all. Sometimes they pour all the expertise they use in creating fiction or crafting a story arc into the narrative of their life.

3. Today’s journey to becoming a published author looks different than in the past.

The books I’ve chosen tell stories of when traditional publishing was king and hundreds of rejections were par for the course.

The internet is full of successful writers telling you how to do it today, given the changing landscape.

But, the principles remain.  And human nature hasn’t changed.   

The perseverance still has to be there.  The self-doubt is always a dragon to slay.  The spaghetti flinging experimentation still has to happen. 

There’s plenty of evidence that even those at the pinnacle can be assailed by self-doubt. 

Perseverance is critical.  What about lucky breaks?  Sometimes they do play a part.  But, they never determine a successful career without consistent hard work behind it all. 

4. A writer’s memoir is not about a step by step process.  

It’s more about inspiration and encouragement and a behind the scenes look at the journey.  

Even if you’re not a writer or an aspiring writer, if you enjoy a good memoir, you will enjoy a peek behind the curtain of the writer’s life.  

Here’s my favorites.

On Writing by Stephen King

I don’t read Stephen King books or watch movies based on his books.

But, it is a well-respected fact that he is a master story teller.  Why not learn from him?

On Writing is one of the best books out there about writing and the writer’s life.


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott has a gift with words and a wry, self-deprecating humor. 

I love her memiors.  I tried reading her novels and didn’t enjoy them. 

Even though I don’t agree with her theology or her politics, I certainly appreciate her writing. 

Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks

My husband went through a phase when he was reading a lot of Terry Brooks books.  I read one or two.  Fantasy isn’t really my genre. 

But, once again, I can appreciate a good storyteller and love hearing behind the scenes of the reading life.  His journey emphasizes the importance of a good editor and publisher, often unsung heroes in the writing game. 

Deer on the Bicycle by Patrick McManus

Great humor writing is in a class by itself, and Patrick McManus does it so well. 

He mostly writes quasi-autobiographical stories about outdoor adventures.  But, his ability to lead up to a laugh is unparalleled. 

Although I agree that a gift like that can’t be taught, it can be appreciated and learning what it’s like to have it and use it is pretty fun, too. 

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine Le’Engle

I think it’s always encouraging when an author’s journey isn’t a straight line between two points.  That’s certainly true for Madleine L’Engle.  She was distracted by marriage and family life.  She went through periods of discouragement and low productivity.  

She created on a typewriter in the kitchen with the chaos swirling around her. 

Some how in the midst of the chaos, she managed to produce a Newbery Award winning children’s novel.  

I feel Madeleine is someone who learned to juggle her professional ambitions along with her family needs. 

Before We Get Started by Bret Lott

Bret Lott’s story is one of hard work and perseverance and a wife who believed in him.  He exemplifies the classic path of investing and investing and investing while waiting for the payoff.  

Writers have to pay their dues, sometimes way longer than seems necessary.  

Sometimes the payoff comes.  But there are no guarantees and no one cracking the whip.  Putting in the time and staying the course can be long and lonely.  

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

This book wasn’t written about the writing life.  It’s told as a love story. 

But, it is about the writer’s life.  It’s a very intimate behind the scenes look at the writing life— not only C.S. Lewis’ writing life, but Joy Davidman’s as well. 

It’s a well-kept secret that she collaborated on some of Lewis’ works and that Joy Davidman herself was a writer, poet and editor. 

Do you have a favorite writer’s memoir? I’d love to hear about it.

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