Meet Richard Gilbert, author of Shepherd: a Memoir

 Not only is Richard Gilbert an accomplished writer (author of Shepherd: a memoir) and a writing instructor (at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio), he also publishes a blog which can help you learn to write better.

Intermediate and advanced writers of creative non-fiction can learn to write more engaging, thoughtful, readable prose by subscribing to, Richard’s instructive blog for writers (Draft No. 4).
Here’s how to engage with Richard Gilbert’s blog (like you’re auditing a University-level writing class):

  • Read the posts;
  • think about his posts and the comments, and thoughtfully enter the conversation going on there;
  • do the writing prompts and exercises he mentions;
  • and read the books he discusses.

Richard’s writing and teaching style are accessible, not avant-garde, and not intellectually arrogant. He’s a writer who crosses the borders between the two literary cultures in America, academic and New York. His writing is thought-provoking; he also knows how to tell a good story.
One of the best ways to learn to write better is to studiously read a well-written book in the genre you hope to publish. Therefore I encourage writers on a track toward publication to invest time in Richard Gilbert’s memoir; give it close, studious, multiple readings.
Click here to read my 5-star review of Shepherd: a Memoir on Goodreads, to learn why I admire his writing.
If you want to write a memoir, study Shepherd: a memoir, in the following manner.

  1. Read it, just for the story and its insights. I think you’ll enjoy it (I happened to love it). It’s a good book.
  2. Read Shirley Hershey Showalter’s insightful review of Shepherd, and then re-read Shepherd, paying special attention to the quest themes and the braided structure of the book.
  3. Think about your own story in light of a quest (what was your dream; how did you pursue it, what got in the way and how did you react to the challenges).
  4. Map out a possible structure (in outline form) for telling your adventure.
  5. Write your story, episode by episode.
  6. Read the prologue and a few of your favorite chapters of Shepherd again, paying particular attention to the way Richard uses imagery, sensory details, particularities of place, and dialogue to bring his story to life.
  7. Look at your own story, and improve it by applying what you’ve learned from Richard.
  8. And write him a letter of appreciation.

Generous writers and teachers work their hearts out to give their best to the world. They deserve to know that they’ve succeeded, that they’ve enriched our lives.
Thank you, Richard Gilbert, for being the best kind of writer and writing instructor.

From whose books (and/or blogs) have you learned how to write better?


21 thoughts on “Meet Richard Gilbert, author of Shepherd: a Memoir”

  1. I can’t say there’s been a single one in my case, but that’s due to my primarily skeptical nature. It always seems to g something like this: 1-get instruction but mostly miss the finer points because I am only partly engaged. 2-slowly integrate some parts of what I was exposed to into daily work. 3-realize much too late to know the source that somewhere along the way I have been changed. There are some, who like to stick labels on/pathologize things, who would say I “have ADD,” but my response would be, “that is just me; I am most comfortable when dealing with multiple things, as I prefer thinking slowly so working on multiple things allows me to do just that while remaining productive.”
    I will be sure to visit the site and the review soon–both are currently open in tabs on the browser bit it might take a while before I get there.

    1. Actually, I process very similar to you, Maurice. I’m always looking into a lot of things all at once, and it takes me a slow, long time to assimilate it all. I do, however, keep pretty good notes so that I can usually locate my sources (but not always! 🙂 )
      And I agree, a person should have a number of mentors / teachers, in order to get a broad range of options and perspectives. I tried, once, to list my influences. It turned into a very unwieldy project.

  2. I probably read through Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” about eight times as I was writing my memoir. Structurally, I think it’s among the most perfect memoirs I’ve ever read. She masterfully brings each chapter full circle, and the book as a whole also runs full circle.

    1. I think that multiple re-readings is perhaps the only way to deeply understand that structure of a book that seems to work organically.
      And a circular structure is always one of my favorites; it feels like “homecoming” to me. Very comforting on a deep level, especially if the underlying themes are dark or tragic.

  3. I don’t think I have one. Since I yearn to be humorous, I go way back to Erma Bombeck. As a teenager, I loved her stories about everyday life — poignant and humorous. I also love Dave Barry and Nora Ephron. There are dribs and drabs of different writers that I love. The one thing I have learned is that I like so many different styles, there isn’t a pattern I can mimic. So I’m struggling to find my own stride.

    1. I think you’re right now, Kate. The goal isn’t to mimic, but to assimilate what works with our own personality and writing objective into our own style/voice. (And you’ve clearly done that.)

  4. Thank you for introducing us to Richard, Tracy. A 5 star review from you speaks volumes I read/study inspirational fiction and women’s fiction. I do love reading memoirs, but I don’t think my life is exciting enough to ever write one. 🙂
    Have a great weekend, Tracy!

  5. Tracy, you write: “Thank you, Richard Gilbert, for being the best kind of writer and writing instructor.” I trust your details and your instincts, so I’ll check this out.
    I write: “Thank you, Tracy, for sharing your research and insights and talents with all of us, and for being a wonderful writer and a generous instructor.”

  6. I am always hoping to improve my writing, I cannot pinpoint one particular source of inspiration – probably because I don’t read widely or indeed enough. However nothing is wasted and if I am reading a newspaper I will often be as interested (or more sometimes!) in the sentence construction as I am in the content of an article. Thank you for this post and I will check out Richard S. Gilbert’s blog. 😉

  7. Thank you Tracy for the link to this writer and for the tips on writing. For my own inspiration, I look at what works for me when I read other people’s memoirs and books. You know long chapters or short chapters; headings and sub-headings; whether to divide the book into chapters or parts divided into chapters etc.
    So there are many many mentors along the way.

  8. Tracy … Like Kate Crimmins, I’ve been inspired by many writers such as Erma Bombeck and Nora Ephron. I also love Elmore Leonard, Tom Robbins, Michael Crichton and many others.
    I want to thank you and your guest writers for sharing your/their time and talent to those of us who want to improve on our craft. 😉

  9. Thank you for this Tracy, I found it very interesting (and your tips are so helpful). I will definitely be checking out Richard Gilbert and Shepherd: A Memoir…

    1. I’m glad it was helpful, Sherri. Memoir writing is a very difficult process, and we need all the help/encouragement we can find!
      One of the things about the process, which requires a lot of passion and patience, is the great people that are met through learning about the craft of memoir writing. People who share their stories are usually such compassionate, helpful people.

  10. I am reading Gilbert’s memoir at the moment, so this was a timely post for me. Thanks so much for those tips. I’ve actually done this with a few memoirs, Strayed’s WILD being one. What I find interesting is that my own thoughts about structure change as I read and analyze new ones. Thinking, “Oh, that’s the way to do it!” But what I think ultimately I need to do is listen closely to myself and what my story is really about. Reading others helps hone what the themes are, what the journey is, and then… trust myself to move forward and get. it. on. the. page. Love your blog, Tracy. 😉

    1. Thanks, Sarah, it means a lot to me (the affirmation). I often get derailed by the knowledge that what I end up writing is always only a shadow of my original idea–it’s so everlastingly difficult to put “ideas” into words!
      And I always wish there was a simple formula, a magic answer, but you’re so right… the only answer is to read and analyze others, and then trust ourselves.
      And coincidentally, I’m finally going to read Wild this month. Interesting, how our lives are, in some ways, running somewhat parallel.

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