inspirational books/biographies about the non-fiction writing life?
July 18, 2014 5:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm neck deep in writing an academic book at the moment, and on the worst days I lose the will to live. To dislodge myself from the daily temptation to nuke the whole manuscript, slit my wrists and be done with it all, I've been trying to keep motivated by reading good accounts of the life of writers. I would love recommendations! Details inside.

In the past month I've found it incredibly inspiring to read this wonderful biography of John Steinbeck, whose writing I love to pieces. Especially after a bad day of writing, it's been deeply comforting to read about Steinbeck's own literary struggles and daily self-doubts, and how he dealt with them to become the incredible writer he did. I especially love the biographical genre for this, since it lets you pan out over someone's life, and place the struggles they had during particular projects in perspective, seeing them as momentary challenges in a longer arc of a successful creative life. That sort of perspective is hard to get from inside that life (as I am finding, day by soul-crushing day).

So: I'd love to read more of this sort of thing as soul sustenance, and I'd love to hear recommendations. But, having read the Steinbeck biography, my sense was that fiction seems to be a slightly different kind of struggle from writing I do - more calling up worlds from within oneself and trying to ignore the critics, less need to marshall a jumble of research into sense, less stubbornly plowing on in the face of not knowing what one is saying, a different kind of daily discipline. So I'd particularly like recommendations for biographies of non-fiction and/or academic writers - historians, journalists, essayists, philosophers, writers, maybe even politicians if they had a literary vocation - rather than of fiction writers. I wouldn't mind more fiction-writer recommendations though, if they're especially good. Many thanks in advance!

PS. I also enjoy dipping occasionally into Daily Rituals: How Artists Work for similar reasons, though again that skews toward creative rather than non-fiction writing.
posted by starcrust to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.
posted by brujita at 6:08 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Essay: Why I Write, George Orwell.
posted by IfIShouldEverComeBack at 6:37 PM on July 18, 2014

Best answer: William Dalrymple (historian) author of books including In Xanadu (1989); City of Djinns (1994); From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997); The Age of Kali (1998); White Mughals (2002); The Last Mughal, The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 (2006); Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan (2012), describes his writing regime here.
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:49 AM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: that. is. awesome.
posted by starcrust at 11:02 AM on July 19, 2014

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