Bad Advice Wednesday: Teaching Creative Nonfiction? Here’s the Best Craft Book on the Market!

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence



Are you teaching writing?  Is it about time to order books for fall semester?  May I suggest Writing Life Stories?  No reason to be humble–it’s the original and greatest book on making creative nonfiction–and the best by far, often imitated.  And while it’s aimed at the creative writing crowd, it’s also very useful in the composition classroom, a complete course, and perhaps particularly suited to the community college setting, or anywhere non-traditional students appear, from high school to grad school and beyond.  You get from it what you bring to it, in other words, and it self-adapts to whatever level the reader/writer/teacher approaches from.  It moves seamlessly from Getting Started to writing memoir, then uses the memoir exercises as evidence for the writing of personal essays, then uses both to aim at public writing, including journalism and the formal essay.  It’s got advice on publishing, too.  It’s fun for students, which makes it fun for teachers, and it’s filled with exercises to do both in-class and on the fly, or to assign.  Or for teachers who’d like to get some of their own writing done, goddamn it!  The tenth anniversary edition, with Kristen Keckler, is thoroughly up to date, and replaces the old edition.  Several sample essays form a mini-anthology, and the huge reading list in an appendix collecting great books in all creative nonfiction genres is famous, often borrowed!  Among the many charms of Writing Life Stories is its price: $16.95, which means students actually afford to buy it,  and most opt keep it.  Plus, you know me! I’ll do an email chat with your class. I’ll walk to your university no matter where in the world, and I’ll talk to your class while you put your feet up and plot your novel!

“Bill Roorbach’s WRITING LIFE STORIES is brimming with valuable suggestions, evocative assignments, insights into the writing process, and shrewd common sense. I can’t wait to try some of this ideas in the classroom and on myself. This writing guide delivers the goods.”

Writing Life Stories in Japanese

Writing Life Stories in Japanese

“WRITING LIFE STORIES is an inspiring way to begin writing a memoir. Roorbach is a fine author whose enthusiasm is infectious.”
–Lee Gutkin, Editor of Creative Nonfiction Magazine

“I would never have written word one without Bill Roorbach. It’s as simple as that.”

“This is the book that I have been searching for for a long time. As a busy mom of three, I needed a “teaching book” that would give me concrete activities that I could work into my writing time. Reading this book and working on the subsequent “assignments” gives purpose to my very short writing time that I can squeeze into a day. If you are interested in writing memoir, but don’t know where or how to start…this is the book for you.”
–Logan Fisher

Writing Life Stories has changed my teaching. I’ve taught mostly ENG 101 and 102 classes at different universities (now at Arizona State), and I’ve always tried to supplement department books (which focus so heavily on ‘social issues’) with more creative ways to tap into inner voice and passion. My students always respond so positively to the chapters I use from your book; their topics are better, they have more confidence in their own experiences, and they finally admit to liking the readings I assign :). I’m an aspiring writer myself–mostly screenwriting at the moment and a teaching memoir. Aside from your book being great in and of itself, the conversations from the readings have helped me open up about my own writing process to students. This, I know, has allowed me to be expressive and show more of who I really am. I’m not being overdramatic when I say your book has been a big part in my development as a teacher and person. –Meghan Bacino
co-author for the tenth-anniversary edition, Kristen Keckler, PhD

co-author for the tenth-anniversary edition, Kristen Keckler, PhD

Here are some quotes from GoodReads:

*****I’m reading this book in preparation for a class I’m teaching this fall. It’s a great guide to memoir writing. Breaks down writing technique into applicable, useful lessons. Writing exercises are useful and productive.–Sarah

*****This is now my new favorite writing book. I’ll keep the library copy until my own copy arrives and then carefully go through the 14 pages I folded the corners of and transpose them to my keeper. What amazes me is that there are ONLY 14 pages. In a book chock full of incredible coaching, there is also page after page of great tactics and sterling advice. Writing memoir is the hardest writing I’ve done and Bill’s book softens up the effort and lets me feel that yes, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. –Rena

First edition--Don't use this one! the new one is thoroughly updated!

First edition–Don’t use this one! the new one is thoroughly updated!

*****A great book for anyone interested in the Art and Craft of creative non-fiction. This one will have a permanent home on my desk to be referred to over and over again. –Elizabeth

*****An excellent and entertaining guide for writing aimed most specifically at memoir, although what it covers can be applied to forming any sort of story. Chris
*****loved this book. for someone terrified of writing (I avoided all essays and literature classes like the plague)this was a wonderful confidence builder. great ideas, great exercises, funny, helpful. I am glad I own it. –Teisha

*****There is a ton of information packed into this book. A ton. It is geared toward nonfiction writers, but even so a fiction writer can bring away a new way of looking at their writing.  –Sarah G.

*****This is the best book about writing I’ve ever read. Roorbach explains gesture, scene and dialog so writers never forget these three basic elements of good writing. –Jean
“Writing Life Stories is a classic text that appears on countless creative nonfiction and composition syllabi the world over. This updated 10th anniversary edition gives readers the same friendly instruction and stimulating exercises along with updated information on current memoir writing trends, ethics, Internet research, and even marketing ideas. Readers will discover how to turn their untold life stories into vivid personal essays and riveting memoirs by learning to open up memory, access emotions, shape scenes from experience, develop characters, and research supporting details. With creativity sparking ideas from signing a form releasing yourself to take risks in your work to drawing a map of a remembered neighborhood, this book is full of innovative techniques that prove that real stories are often the best ones.”
Available everywhere great books are sold.  And on Kindle.

  1. Debora writes:

    My students really enjoyed working from this book. And I got to read really good writing instead of all the blah of uninspired words and uninspired topics.

  2. Jeff writes:

    How would you compare this to William Zinsser’s “Writing About Your Life”?

    • Bill writes:

      You mean the other Bill? That’s a great book, too, published 2005, a memoir that serves as a text, his least academic book, probably not as useful for teaching as Writing Life Stories, though he’s a great teacher, of course! I had 25 years in the game myself, and my goal was to reach all writers at all levels with endlessly elastic exercises…

      • Jeff writes:

        Yeah, the other guy… “Writing About Your Life” may not be as academic as “On Writing Well” and it fails all together to be a Spiritual Classic like “Spring Training” to those of us who hope upon hope the Pirates will one day make it back into the Series!

  3. sarah writes:

    YO! How many years has this been in print and the dang thing still isn’t available for Kindle!? I’ve always wanted to read this but I live at the end of the road in Costa Rica, so getting the paperback is….way hard. 😉