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Create a personalized reading list for your writing projects

Something magical happens when I’m reading analytically. I’m jolted by bursts of insight and inspiration for my own writing. Because I’ve seen the power of reading for myself, I advise other writers to create their own reading list for whatever projects they’re working on.

If you’re looking for inspiration on an element of craft, such as dialogue or structure, read how another writer pulled it off. One of the mind-altering effects of studying for an MFA came from reading and analyzing so much literature. Even reading stories that had nothing to do with my memoir sparked ideas for my own writing.

Here are several tips for creating a reading list:

Read books from multiple genres. If you’re writing a memoir, read fiction, memoirs, and poetry. Reading poetry helped me raise my consciousness of words and meaning. This carried over into my prose and spurred me to write poetry of my own.

Maintain your study of writing craft. One of the things I love about writing is that there is always more to know and practice. It’s a never-ending challenge. So I continue to learn by reading about various aspects of writing craft.

Diversify by reading authors from other cultures and backgrounds. Open your thinking and your own work by reading authors who may have different perspectives.

Read books similar to what you’re writing. You’ll see how your work is the same or unique, which will help you position your manuscript when you’re approaching agents. When I taught a memoir writing class, I created reading lists for each student based on the type of memoir they were writing. One student was writing about her life as a functioning cocaine addict and how she became clean. Another student was writing about living with Multiple Sclerosis.

Here’s a sample of books from my reading lists:


“The Essential Tales of Chekhov” by Anton Chekhov

“After the Quake: Stories” by Haruki Murakami

“The Collected Stories” by Grace Paley

“Atonement: A novel” by Ian McEwan

“Seventeen Syllables” by Hisaye Yamamoto

“The Stone Diaries” by Carol Shields

 Memoirs & Essays

“The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present,” by Philip Lopate

“The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory” by Kenny Fries

“Planet of the Blind” by Stephen Kuusisto

“Everything and Nothing” by Jorge Luis Borges

“Secret Girl” by Molly Bruce Jacobs

“A Shining Affliction” by Annie Rogers


“Collected Poems” by Jane Kenyon

“Alabanza” by Martin Espada

“New and Selected Poems” by Mary Oliver

Writing and Reading Craft

“Reading Like a Writer” by Francine Prose

“Writing Life Stories” by Bill Roorbach with Kristen Keckler

“Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft” by Janet Burroway

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good advice – although I’d have a different list, especially under Writing books (no book is complete for me without Sol Stein’s ‘On Writing’). But great blog.

    December 28, 2011

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How to create a project-specific reading list | onewildword
  2. Reading list for memoir writers | onewildword
  3. Three highlights from my reading practice: See how they could make you a better writer | onewildword

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