Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past

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Written with elegance, warmth, and humor, this highly original "teaching memoir" by William Zinsser—renowned bestselling author of On Writing Well gives you the tools to organize and recover your past, and the confidence to believe in your life narrative. His method is to take you on a memoir of his own: 13 chapters in which he recalls dramatic, amusing, and often surprising moments in his long and varied life as a writer, editor, teacher, and traveler. Along the way, Zinsser pauses to explain the technical decisions he made as he wrote about his life. They are the same decisions you'll have to make as you write about your own life: matters of selection, condensation, focus, attitude, voice, and tone.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (March 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569243794
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569243794
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces

Customer Reviews

Zinsser is entertaining and concise

 on January 13, 2014
By Amanda Rose Adams
This book was helpful for me when I planned to write my own book. As I began to work on my second book I decided to purchase this (I’d read a library copy previously). I have a small collection of books about writing that I own. All of them were first borrowed from the library and purchased later because of their value and contribution to my understanding and appreciation of the craft. This particular book reads so easily and enjoyably that sometimes it needs to be reread to revisit the point of his example or assessment. This isn’t a failing of the book, it’s simply not as dry as other instructional texts.


 on December 15, 2013
By eclecticCritiques
As a writer, I love Prof. William Zinsser’s work. His teaching is down to earth, enjoyable and gets the point across. Can’t go wrong with any of his writing tools.


2 helpful votes
 on May 25, 2013
By C. Rollo
Since I am revisiting and reigniting my interest in writing my own stories, this book is wonderfully written, inspiring and instructive. Kinsser doesn’t preach or teach but shares his own writings not only as examples of the elements of good writing about his (and your) life (memoir) but humbly reveals where he feels he has fallen short in his own writing (and even that is good reading). Very readable and entertaining, as well as instructive.


1 helpful vote
 on May 18, 2013
By Literati
I teach memoir and am familiar with Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” which includes a bit of memoir. I found this book vey familiar, as Zinsser’s voice is so recognizable. There are a number of chapters that are an expansion of “On Writing Well” which is nice to see. There are no writing prompts or assignments, however. This book covers a few writers’ decisions, techniques and mindset for memoir writing, with several examples from his own life experiences. It is his memoir, in essence.

Fresh Inspiration for Writers

 on September 27, 2012
By Shirley Brosius
If you want to be a writer, start by reading this book. If you already are a writer, refresh your passion by reading this book. By sharing varied facets of his life story, Zinsser illustrates the points he makes about the various genres. Both his life and his insights into the world of words keep you turning the pages. On the final pages of each chapter I wrote summaries that I know will serve me well as I pursue the writing life.

Five Stars

 on October 2, 2017
By LaoC
A great book with many useful tips. Love it.


 on December 15, 2016
By Amanecer
A great book. I found at least forty jewels in the book. One of my favorites is on page 118 where what resonated with him was “the talk is of crops and tractors and the men never take off their hats.”

Wished It Had Been a Class Reading Assignment

 on May 11, 2016
By C. L. Morton
I enjoyed this so much that I’m likely to expand my Zinsser collection beyond this and “On Writing Well.” I’m sorry it wasn’t required reading in an online memoir writing class I took through Stanford several years ago.

Solid Foundation for Your Life…

3 helpful votes
 on February 7, 2011
By Bradley C.
As always with Mr. Zinser, he has broken down the complicated and made it for those who may not consider to write about their life to pass down from generation to generation. My family history is all over the map and my views on life may shed light on those who either experience similar experiences or who want to trace back and find out what really happened when, how and why? A solid read and look forward to taking what I have gained from this book to writing my little life experience both within and without a family. You may too.

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