True Talk: Writers on Writing: A List of My 12 Favorite Truthtelling Books
Happy March! As Women For One’s content alchemist, I’m excited about a trend that occurs without fail every year: Submissions, submissions, submissions! As we move from the more sedentary and soul-searching winter months, I routinely notice a burst of writerly inspiration that feels apropos as the Earth blossoms into new life.
To whet your appetite for writing your story and honing the art and craft of creating a personal narrative, I’ve included my 12 favorite list of books about writing, by writers. And don’t worry—this ain’t no college textbook list! Don’t get me wrong; I love William Strunk’s The Elements of Style as much as any other word nerd, but in the spirit of Women For One’s celebration of feminine genius and truthtelling, these books weave gorgeous stories into grounded wisdom centered on what it means for women to fully embrace our voices.
1. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is arguably one of the greatest living authors. With this collection of essays, she offers her characteristic wit and insightfulness as she engages with questions of authorship, morality, grasping one’s calling as a writer, and dancing with real and imagined audiences. The book also reveals Atwood’s exquisite breadth of knowledge of the literary canon—as well as her willingness to transcend it.
2. The Heart of a Woman, by Maya Angelou
This sprawling memoir by Wf1 Featured Truthteller Maya Angelou isn’t expressly about writing, but it offers an intimate glimpse into the world of being a black writer and proudly claiming the stories that are part and parcel of one’s identity. It’s a beautiful book that chronicles the inimitable journey of being a woman, a writer, and a survivor.
3. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron
Required reading for anyone who’s ever simultaneously feared and longed to claim their calling as an artist, Julia Cameron’s classic 12-week curriculum challenges would-be artists to express themselves unabashedly. Each week feature sa series of exercises and tips laced with time-honored wisdom. The book is especially fun to work through with a friend or two!
4. A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, by Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros is one of the most lyrical essayists and storytellers I can think of, and this collection of personal essays is like a poetic patchwork quilt of memories that you just want to pull over you so that you can bask in its warmth. Cisneros writes about her artistic influences over three illustrious decades as a writer, while evoking the places and voices that continue to haunt and impact her.
5. The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story, by Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat’s poignant memoir about her mother’s cancer and journey toward death is beautiful in and of itself, but what’s truly extraordinary is the manner in which she reflects on her own identity as a writer and her desire to make sense of the big moments and losses in life through language.
6. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
This classic compendium of essays by Annie Dillard delves into the unspoken rituals at the heart of every writer’s creative process, while simultaneously managing to be a memorable collection of unforgettable metaphors and sage life advice.
7. Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors, by Louise Erdrich
Bestselling novelist Louise Erdrich’s work is rooted in lush descriptions of the American landscape—full of idiosyncratic myths and histories. In this book, she takes readers through the lands of her Ojibwe ancestors in southern Ontario and explores how language, song, memories, and the stories of her culture have created libraries of spiritual and creative influence that are still palpable today.
8. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg
Perhaps my favorite book in the writerly advice genre, Natalie Goldberg’s infinitely readable volume of meditations, exercises, and writer’s block turnarounds weds astute spiritual observation with tried-and-true methods for turning our tiniest creations into epic treasures. Get it, read it, and read it again.
9. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
Reading this passionate and funny book is a lot like having Anne Lamott standing beside you and cheering your creative process on, with plenty of humor and heart. From getting past the first draft blues to claiming your creative voice regardless of all the haters, this book is one of the best I’ve read on busting the myth of writer’s block by simply appreciating the process of writing.
10. What Moves at the Margin, by Toni Morrison
Most of us are familiar with Toni Morrison’s exquisite fiction—but her essays about work, literature, and American culture are required reading. This collection spans several decades of her career and includes speeches, reviews, and other pieces that demonstrate Morrison’s capacity to garner inspiration and wield wisdom from unexpected places.
11. Upstream, by Mary Oliverrenda Ueland
Beloved poet Mary Oliver’s most recent collection of essays is a beautiful rumination on childhood and rites of passage, the lure of the imagination, and the power of poetry to help us understand the true meaning of beauty.
12. If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland
Brenda Ueland wants you to know that “everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.” This pithy exploration of what it means to discover your truest self and to write from there is also packed with practical tips to refer to over and over again when you write.