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My Favorite Books about the Writing Life

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

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As a writer, I love reading books about writing and writers – which I’ve written about here. But what about the actual writing life? I mean the hours spent, butt-in-chair, staring at a screen while your insides are being eaten up with anxiety over finances, organizing articles, assignment deadlines, and (self-imposed) pressure? What about the effect your writing might have on friends and family, and what that means? Here are some of my favorite books about the writing life – the good, bad, and ugly.

Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin. I LOVED this book. With contributors like Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, Meaghan O’Connell, and Emily Gould, I read through this in one sitting. By now it should be obvious that no one goes into writing for the money, and these essays take a frank and honest look at how writers actually make a living, and the role money plays (or doesn’t) in our lives.

The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey, edited by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner. For me, this is not so much a craft book as a book on the life of a memoir writer. Essays, interspersed with interviews (Mary Karr! Margo Jefferson! Azar Nafisi!), show not only the process of writing a memoir, but how it fits into the larger life of a writer. I find myself returning to this book again and again, like I’m picking up a conversation after a lull.

Mentor: A Memoir, by Tom Grimes. Oh, this is one of my all-time favorites. So much goodness here: Iowa Writers’ Workshop, family dynamics, a mentorship with an established writer, and the grind of writing. This is a book that, at its heart, is about connection, and isn’t that what writing is really all about?

We Wanted to be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, edited by Eric Olsen and Glenn Schaeffer. Another one of my favorites (and no, I did not go to Iowa), I picked this up from the bookstore on my last day of work there before I left to move North to start my MFA. I took it as a good sign that the book had just arrived to the store. It’s full of stories about the famed Writers’ Workshop, tips for writing, lists of what books are stacked on the bedside table, and everyday life as both a writing student and a working (or not) writer. I read this at least once a year.

What books give you a peek into the writing life?