Good Books about Journal and Memoir Writing

booksThis list is not complete. I’ve included the books that I have found most useful. I have combined memoir and journal books, because in many ways the two practices are similar. After journaling for a time many writers focus on life story. Memoir writers can put the exercises in books about journal writing to good use in order to bring up memories and to work with them.

For your convenience, if you wish to order a book from, click on its title. (Amazon sells both new and used books and offers free shipping on most orders that total more than 25 dollars.)

Writing and Publishing Personal Essays
by Shelia Bender

Bender walks readers through a variety of personal essays including compare and contrast, argument, definition, cause and effect and how-to as well as narrative essays. This is a good book for those who want to turn their memories into personal experience articles for magazines. 

Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story
by Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.

The strength of this book lies in the exercises at the end of every chapter and the wonderfully inspiring examples of student writing. 

Writing the Stories of Your Life: How to Turn Memories into Memoir
by Elsa McKeithan, Ph.D.

If you are new to memoir writing and want an easy to understand book that is packed with practical tips, this is a definite must-read. McKeithan’s style is clear and encouraging, and the material she covers will help writers lift their memoirs to a new level. 

Turning Your Life’s Stories into a Literary Memoir 
by Peggy Lang and Robert Goodman

The goal of this book is to help you turn out a memoir people actually want to read. This brief, no-nonsense approach to using literary devices in your memior is a fantastic reference. It is available through Silver Threads Publishing. 

Beyond the Words: The Three Untapped Sources of Creative Fulfillment for Writers
by Bonnie Goldberg

Goldberg takes readers through three stages of writing, percolation, revision, and going public. This is a book about finding joy and growth in the writing process beyond craft alone. 

The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch
by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron keeps getting better. This is an extremely useful book for anyone suffering from a case of writer’s block or who has lost the joy of writing. 

Inventing the Truth : The Art and Craft of Memoir
by William Zinsser

Essays by authors Ressell Baker, Annie Dillard, Ian Frazier, Frank McCopurt, Toni Morrison and others, provide insight and practical suggestion on how to write memoirs. The book is considered a classic for good reason. 

barringtonWriting the Memoir from Truth to Art
by Judith Barrington

Topics in this how-to book include finding form, determining truth, writing about living people and your memoir and the world. If you plan to publish your work, you need this book. 

Living to Tell the Tale:A Guide to Writing Memoir
by Jane Taylor McDonnell

This is an excellent book on how to turn painful past experiences into literature. If you are attempting to write a “crisis menior,” this book can help you survive the writing and find the universal theme in your work. 

harvestingHarvesting Your Journals : Writing Tools to Enhance Your Growth & Creativity
by Rosalie Deer Heart and Alison Strickland.

This warm, wise and practical book inspires readers to examine their previous journals to find their values and organizing principles as writers. Deer Hart is a psychotherapist and Strickland is a creativity consultant. (Recommended by fellow creativity coach and friend, Barb Kobe from Minneapolis. Read about how Barb used doll making to help heal from a hip condition in the July 2002 issue of Natural Health.) 

Writing in Flow : Keys to Enhanced Creativity
by Susan K. Perry
(F&W Publications, 2001)
Perry, a Social Psychologist, has applied the theories of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about flow to the act of writing. This book contains interviews of 76 authors who share their insights about writing in the zone.

Memoirs of the Soul : Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography
by Nan Merrick Phifer and Jane Tompkins
(Walking Stick Press, 2001)
This book provides inspiration and practical suggestions for writing about your spiritual journey. The structure that Phifer, a creative writing teacher, provides eases the process of getting insights gained from introspection down in black and white.

Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice
by Linda Tricher Metcalf and Simon Tobin
(Ballantine Books, 2002)
Proprioception is a technique that synthesizes imagination and emotion. Metcalf intuitively discovered it in 1976 when she was an English professor. Requiring more discipline than stream of consciousness writing, sometimes called freewriting, this technique produces deeper and richer results.

messerPencil Dancing : New Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit 
by Mari Messer
(Walking Stick Press, 2001)
Messer, who teaches both creativity and writing workshops, provides exercises and insights on unleashing the creative genius that lives inside of you. Chapter titles include Wake Up and Notice the Fuzz on the Rose Petals and The Value of Being Weird. Not only is Pencil Dancing useful, it is a fun read.

Turning Life into Fiction
by Robin Hemley
(Cincinnati: Story Press, 1997)
This book guides writers to develop fictional plots and characters from events they witness as part of everyday life. It is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to write a memoir or family history without spilling all of the beans. (Recommended by Jean from Rapid City) 

A Voice of Her Own: Women and the Journal Writing Journey
by Marlene A. Schiwy, Marion Woodman
(New York: Fireside, 1996)
This book discusses why keeping a journal is such a powerful method of discovering intuitions and perceptions and gives advice about journal keeping from choosing blank books to coping with privacy issues. (Recommended by Renee)

leavingLeaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal
by Alexandra Johnson
(Little, Brown and Company, 2001)
Practical, moving, and inspirational – this one is my current favorite. Johnson draws from her reading of hundreds of historical and contemporary journals to share insights that speak to the heart. This is both an excellent book for a beginning journal writer and long term journal keepers who want to discover deeper meaning in the practice.

Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling our Stories Transforms our Lives
by Louise DeSalvo
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1999)
This is the best book I’ve read about personal experience writing in years. DeSalvo, a writing professor at Hunter College, discusses the studies that show how writing improves health. She examines the often-tragic stories of many famous writers to come up with instructions about how to discipline oneself to write about difficult material and how to nurture oneself while doing it.

daysA Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
by Judy Reeves
(New World Library)
Reeves divides the year into months. For each one, she covers techniques, musings and a writing prompt for every day. The emotional, physical and spiritual parts of writing are covered, as well as the creative. To own this book is like having a fantastic writing workshop leader at your beck and call anytime you need advice or encouragement.


Writing from Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story: A Journal of Self-Discovery for Women
by Susan Wittig Albert, Ph.D.
(New York: Tarcher, 1996)
Full of quotes, snippets of women’s writing and writing exercises this book delves deeply into feelings and spirit. Albert views memoir as a natural extension of storytelling. I especially like her take on the importance of the writing process. The book is divided into eight chapters, each of which offers a different way to approach autobiography.

Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays and Life into Literature
by Bill Roorbach
(Cincinnati: Story Press, 1998)
This is a serious book about the craft of memoir writing. Chapters include: Getting Started, Scenemaking, Big Ideas, Characters and Character, Metaphor and Meaning and Reaching Readers. It is written to be a hand-held writing workshop. Roorbach approaches the subject from a literary perspective. This is the book to read if you are considering writing your memoirs for publication.

Your Life as Story: Discovering the New Autobiography and Writing Memoir as Literature
by Tristine Rainer
(New York: Tarcher, 1997) 
Chapters in this book include the history of life story writing, elements of story structure, tricks memory plays on you and tricks you can play on it, portraying yourself and others, and truth in autobiographic writing. The chapter called How to Write What You Dare Not Say is especially useful. Of special interest to those wanting to write for publication is the information on legal and ehical concerns and selling your life for fame and fortune. This book also has an excellent bibliography of autobiographies and information on finding and forming a memoir group.

Writing for Self Discovery: A Personal Approach to Creative Writing
by Myra Schneidler and John Killick
(Boston: Element Books, 1998)
I like this book for its exercises. The authors, who teach workshops in England, use drawing and poetry, flow writing, clustering and other techniques, to access memories. Their material about writing about the body is good, as well as the exercises dealing with inner traits and outside influences. The book contains chapters on journals and autobiographies and several chapters on themes, such as self-image and spiritual development, life-stages, childhood memories and losses.

Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest
by Christina Baldwin
(New York: Bantam Books, 1990)
This book has become a classic – and for good reason. Baldwin’s writing style is both inspirational and compassionate. Topics in the book include how to combine meditation, dreams and intuition with journal writing. I especially liked her chapters on the four practices: love, forgiveness, trust and acceptance.

Writing Your Authentic Self
by Lois Guarino
(New York: Dell, 1999) 
Guarino, a visual artist, program director of New York’s Omega Institute, and a journal keeper for fifteen years, provides readers with an easy-to-digest synthesis of tips and topics gleaned from many sources. Because she is careful to give credit where credit is due, this is the perfect place to discover whether you feel an affinity for the programs of Julia Cameron, Dan Wakefield, Christina Baldwin or one of the several other popular journaling writers whose ideas are presented here.

Pain and Possibility: Writing Your Way through Personal Crisis
by Gabriele Rico
(New York: Tarcher, 1991)
Rico, the author of Writing the Natural Way, pulled herself up from a deep emotional crisis by writing through her pain. In this book she provides a step-by-step method for others to do the same. Pain and Possibility contains inspiring quotes and powerful exercises. Using the metaphor of the spiral, her exercises contain a visual element in addition to writing. I was especially moved by her discussion of writing in the midst of darkness and chaos.

Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth
by Kathleen Adams, M.A.
(New York: Warner Books, 1990)
This easy-to-read book contains thirteen tried and true techniques to get you writing in your journal. The book covers, not only information on why to write a journal, but also tips on how to use a journal to work through the pain of grief, childhood wounds and family alcoholism.

Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion for the Inner Worlds
by Deena Metzger
(San Francisco: Harper Sanfrancisco, 1992)
A writer and therapist, Metzger covers creativity, storymaking, archetypes, fairytales and myths, and writing as a spiritual practice. The exercises rely heavily on automatic writing, intuition, and active imagining to explore the deep and rich world of the collective consciousness.

Stirring the Waters: Writing to find your Spirit
by Janell Moon
(Boston: Journey Editions, 2001)
Moon, a hypnotherapist, poet and college writing instructor, sets forth a nine-week workshop in a book. Areas covered include, awareness of connection, acceptance, letting go of control, trusting our knowledge, sense of self, creativity, integration, peace of mind and appreciating the cycles of life. Her writing is filled with gentle grace and encouragement, and the techniques she teaches are sound.