This is a reading list for people who have enrolled in my webinar, How to Write about Your Life.
1. Writing online is about writing short.
And stories are the most fun to read online. Here are two books of very very short stories. They are good models for the kind of writing that fits into a blog post:
- Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories
- Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories
- Sudden Fiction International: 60 Short Stories
Writing about your life has a lot of structural implications. Your life unfolds day by day, but a story needs arc. Here are some ways to think about story structure:
Some authors tell their story in a series of snippets. Here are some examples:
- House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
- Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
- This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff
3. A larger arc.
Some memoirs have a more classic story arc, and in these cases the authors have to leave out everything that doesn’t fit. It’s interesting to read these memoirs and notice how much the author left out.
- Smashed: A Story of a Drunken Girlhood, by Koren Zailckas
- The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
- The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr
4. Some memoirs are a series of short stories.
They don’t try to present an arc; they stand on their own as a series of short stories.
A fascinating way to read Dorothy Allison is to read her short stories, Trash, and then read Bastard out of Carolina. The second book is when she took her short stories and turned them into a more classically told story with an arc. Reading the two books one after the other is a great lesson in how to structure a memoir.
4. Many blog posts about ourselves fall into the category of essay.
Here are some of my favorite essayists who almost always write about themselves.
And I could read this anthology of essays forever:
5. Read great writing to be a great writer!
Over and over again I will tell you that what you really need is great writing. A good way to understand great writing is to read poetry. Because there is no room for terrible or useless sentences in a poem. Here are books of poems that changed how I write: