The best craft books for essayists and memoirists

Who am I?

Dinty W. Moore is the author of the writing guides The Story Cure, Crafting the Personal Essay, and The Mindful Writer, among many other books. He has published essays and stories in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The Southern Review, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere, and has taught master classes and workshops on memoir and essay writing across the United States as well as in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, and Mexico.


I wrote...

Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Non-Fiction

By Dinty W. Moore,

Book cover of Crafting The Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Non-Fiction

What is my book about?

Award winning essayist Scott Russell Sanders once compared the art of essay writing to "the pursuit of mental rabbits"—a rambling through thickets of thought in search of some brief glimmer of fuzzy truth. While some people persist in the belief that essays are stuffy and antiquated, the truth is that the personal essay is an ever-changing creative medium that provides an ideal vehicle for satisfying the human urge to document truths as we experience them and share them with others—to capture a bit of life on paper.

The books I picked & why

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The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

By Vivian Gornick,

Book cover of The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

Why this book?

Gornick’s The Situation and the Story is a powerful lesson in what makes a true story more than just anecdote and how the best memoirists deepen their work to achieve universal appeal. Gornick is a master of the memoir form herself, as well as a respected teacher, and her valuable insights into the constructed “I’ on the page are strengthened by the numerous authors and books she examines in order to make her lucid points. A meticulously assembled craft handbook for anyone wanting to examine the engine of memoir to see how the various moving parts come together to create beauty and power.

The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

By Vivian Gornick,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Situation and the Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A guide to the art of personal writing, by the author of Fierce Attachments and The End of the Novel of Love

All narrative writing must pull from the raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform event, deliver a bit of wisdom. In a story or a novel the "I" who tells this tale can be, and often is, an unreliable narrator but in nonfiction the reader must always be persuaded that the narrator is speaking truth.

How does one pull from one's own boring, agitated self the truth-speaker who will tell the story a personal…


Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

By Sue William Silverman,

Book cover of Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

Why this book?

A friendly and accessible guide for anyone wanting to tell their own life story, Fearless Confessions looks at several craft issues in writing – plot, style, voice, point-of-view, metaphor, language – as well as marketing, and ethics. Silverman’s exceptional book offers also provides insight from her own writing journey, useful writing exercises, a helpful discussion of nonfiction sub-genres, and a valuable “Reading List of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction.” A welcoming and supportive text packed with nuggets of pure wisdom.

Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

By Sue William Silverman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fearless Confessions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This title shows how to craft compelling art out of personal experience. Everyone has a story to tell. ""Fearless Confessions"" is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper - or in a Web site or e-book. Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers. The rise of interest in memoir recognizes the power of the genre to…


A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

By David Mura,

Book cover of A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

Why this book?

Master teacher David Mura’s A Stranger's Journey addresses long-overlooked issues of race and identity in publishing and in the standard teaching of creative writing and he brilliantly advocates for a more inclusive and expansive definition of writing craft. Though this book is partly aimed at educators, he offers incredibly useful craft lessons as well, primarily through his deft analysis of work done by writers ranging from James Baldwin to Mary Karr to ZZ Packer. In a world that no longer accepts the notion that our greatest authors have to be “dead white men,” Mura offers a necessary window into the intersection of race, literature, and culture.

A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

By David Mura,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Stranger's Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Long recognized as a master teacher at writing programs like VONA, the Loft, and the Stonecoast MFA, with A Stranger's Journey, David Mura has written a book on creative writing that addresses our increasingly diverse American literature. Mura argues for a more inclusive and expansive definition of craft, particularly in relationship to race, even as he elucidates timeless rules of narrative construction in fiction and memoir. His essays offer technique-focused readings of writers such as Junot Diaz, ZZ Packer, Maxine Hong Kingston, Mary Karr, and Sherman Alexie, while making compelling connections to Mura's own life and work as a Japanese…


You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction

By Lee Gutkind,

Book cover of You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction

Why this book?

Gutkind founded the journal Creative Nonfiction and has been a tireless advocate of the CNF genre for decades, as a writer, teacher, public speaker, and publisher. His nuts and bolts guidebook, You Can't Make This Stuff Up, offers a wide-ranging examination of the craft of writing true stories – dialogue, description, beginnings, endings, intimate detail, reflection, point-of-view, framing – as well as clear and helpful chapters about forming a writing habit and learning to live one’s life as a writer. Gutkind has generously packed decades of wisdom and knowledge into perhaps the most comprehensive nonfiction guide available.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction

By Lee Gutkind,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked You Can't Make This Stuff Up as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From rags-to-riches-to-rags tell-alls to personal health sagas to literary journalism everyone seems to want to try their hand at creative nonfiction. Now, Lee Gutkind, the go-to expert for all things creative nonfiction, taps into one of the fastest-growing genres with this new writing guide. Frank and to-the-point, with depth and clarity, Gutkind describes and illustrates each and every aspect of the genre, from defining a concept and establishing a writing process to the final product. Offering new ways of understanding genre and invaluable tools for writers to learn and experiment with, You Can't Make This Stuff Up allows writers of…


The Art of Memoir

By Mary Karr,

Book cover of The Art of Memoir

Why this book?

Mary Karr brings the lively irreverent voice found in her classic memoir The Liar’s Club to this inspiring guide to the memoir craft. Offering excerpts from her favorite memoirs, stories other successful writers have shared with her over the years, and honest examples from her own struggles on and off the page, Karr addresses not just the difficulties of forming sentences and writing powerful scenes but also the more complex emotional challenges of writing about one’s own pain and heartbreak. Simultaneously practical and inspirational, The Art of Memoir contains Karr’s energy and amazing wit on every page.

The Art of Memoir

By Mary Karr,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Memoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr's The Liars' Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well. For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning teaching prizes at Syracuse. (The writing program there produced such acclaimed authors as Cheryl Strayed, Keith Gessen, and Koren Zailckas.) In The Art of Memoir, she synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and "black belt sinner," providing a unique window…


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