Good Books Are Great Inspiration

For EveryoneYou keep hearing about that amazing memoir everyone’s reading, that book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for months now, but you really don’t want to read it. Best-selling memoirs can throw you off track with your own writing.

Sound like you?

As a memoir teacher and coach for thousands of writers over the last two decades, I’ve heard this complaint too many times. The truth is this: Reading successful memoirs can be one of the best things you do for your writing.

All artists have mentors. Painters visit museums and art galleries to learn from other painters, musicians listen to esteemed musicians. As writers, some of your best mentors are successful writers in your genre.

But you have to read them! Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

To King’s list, I would add three more essentials:

1. Consider the writers you admire to be your mentors. Read them, learn from them. Don’t run from them.

2. Immerse yourself in your genre, reading popular memoirs to see what the authors do that attracts readers. Be aware of your own impressions as you read.

3. Remember: Your story is as important as any bestselling memoirist’s. Every writer with a successful book has put in the time it takes to get there.

Read the Best of the Best

When you read current bestsellers and older classics, notice writing styles, voices, be aware of what you like and don’t like. Notice the author’s use of scene and dialog, how they handle the passage of time. Read like a writer.

Some of my favorite memoirs are Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam, Russell Baker’s Growing Up, James McBride’s The Color of Water, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (Gilbert’s memoir of a personal journey to find true happiness sold more than 10 million copies worldwide). I like each of these authors for different reasons, and I could (and have) read these books again and again.

Novelists sometimes write memoirs, too. Hemingway’s memoir is A Moveable Feast. Amy Tan wrote The Opposite of Fate, Isabelle Allende, The Sum of Our Days. Joan Didion’s memoir is The Year of Magical Thinking, Alice Walker’s wrote The Chicken Chronicles. And there are many others (including Stephen King). Look up a few of your favorite novelists and read their memoirs.

When you feel your own worthiness in the presence of greatness, that exciting spark that can help you become the best writer you can be. Remember: there are a lot of great writers A.nd there’s room for more at the table.

About Suzanne

Suzanne Sherman is a veteran publishing professional, with thirty-five years in the field and a specialization in memoir and other nonfiction. Her clients have published with Wiley & Sons, Chronicle Books, Ten Speed Press, and a number of smaller publishers. She has also helped many authors successfully self-publish. Some of Suzanne’s memoir students and coaching clients prefer to write for personal pleasure or to create books for family, and they call her an invaluable guide.


Start Writing Right!

These 7 easy-to-follow essentials can get you started right or help you fine-tune your writing in progress. It’s a short, info-packed resource to help you improve on a good idea and give you the tools to build your exceptional story.