No, I’m not naked or drunk, but I am writing. I haven’t quite finished reading Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing, but I can’t wait to share it with you. The subtitle: Shed Your inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay tell you what this book published in 2010 by Ten Speed Press is about.
I have been writing essays and memoir for decades, but I have never found a book or a teacher that made the process so incredibly clear. It comes at a perfect time for me as I struggle to figure out what to do with almost 800 pages of journals I’m trying to turn into a memoir. Now, thanks to this book, I know how.
Lara, a longtime columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of 13 books, as well as a popular teacher and writing coach, has packed this book with information that will help you write personal nonfiction that will get published. She uses her own experiences and that of her friends, offers tons of examples, lots of great exercises, and clear steps to crafting an essay designed to please your editor, not your English teacher, and memoirs that read like the best fiction.
Topics include: finding the question that drives your essay or memoir, establishing tone and voice, mining your emotions, figuring out what to keep and what to take out, how to craft a scene, how to submit your work to editors, and more. Lara presents it all in a voice that makes you want to keep reading.
Read this book. Get inspired. Write.
I find it distracting to be naked or drunk while writing. Lara wasn’t naked or drunk either. She just thought the title would get people’s attention. So, put on your clothes, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, and let’s write.
Book review: Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
by Dani Shapiro, Grove Press, 2013
Still writing? It turns out I’m not the only writer who gets that question. I usually reply with some variation of “If I’m still breathing, I’m still writing.” Dani Shapiro, author of two memoirs and five novels, as well as Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, is also asked that question. She says she usually nods and smiles then changes the subject, but adds: “Here is what I would like to put down my fork and say: Yes, yes, I am. I will write until the day I die, or until I am robbed of y capacity to reason. Even if my fingers were to clench and wither, even if I were to grow deaf or blind, even if I were unable to move a muscle in my body save for the blink of one eye, I would still write.” Amen!
Sections of this book address all kinds of things about the writing life. Shapiro talks about writer’s block and finding time to write, common subjects in books for writers, but she also discusses insecurity, trust, envy, and luck. She shares generously of her own life, of her successes and failures and her struggles to balance family and art. Her reflections are personal yet universal because we are all equals as we face the blank page.
It took me months to read Still Writing because it was too beautiful to rush. It is filled with wisdom, inspiration and truth for the writer. Sermonettes is the word I keep coming up with. I recommend writers read this book not just once, but at least once every year, pausing between sections to reflect on what has been said. You will not find grammar advice, marketing tips, or how to build a platform here. It’s all about the writing, without which the rest is useless.
I recently purchased Your Life is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann. I haven’t read it yet, but the one section I read in the sample pages on Amazon.com changed my whole outlook on the memoir I’m working on for National Nonfiction Writing Month. Years ago, Freymann was the literary agent who spent a half hour on the phone with me explaining why she was rejecting my book and what I needed to change to make it work. She was so right. That book is Childless by Marriage, which I published in 2012. I’ll report back to you after I finish reading Your Life is a Book, but I suspect I’m going to love this book.
Meanwhile, we’ve got some writing to do.
Let’s go write.
Once a week I am offering three quick tips that you can take and use right away. For those of us who would rather be writing than reading blogs, this is a place you can grab something useful and get back to work.
Writing Metrical Poetry by William Baer, Writer’s Digest Books, 2006. Remember how boring it seemed when your high school teachers forced you to read and analyze poetry? Well, this isn’t. Read some of the world’s most famous poems, see how they work, then try writing some yourself.
At her Practicing Writer newsletter and blogs, Erika Dreifus offers a steady stream of advice and resources, paying markets, jobs and opportunities for writers. Don’t miss it. Click on http://www.erikadreifus.com/blogs/practicing-writing.
Stuck for a writing idea? Reach into your purse or pocket and pull out one thing, anything. Set it on the desk or table in front of you. Study it. What does it bring to mind? For example, a key might make you think of the door it opens or how you got that key or how you lost your keys on a special occasion. A receipt might bring to mind what you bought and why you bought it and who you met at the store . . . Give it a try. In live classes, I let students pick one more thing if they just can’t stand their first choice. Don’t have a purse and there’s nothing in your pocket? Try the junk drawer.
Now go write.
Let’s be honest. A lot of people say they want to be writers. Of those, about half want it badly enough to invest in books, magazines, conferences, workshops, software and other items that promise to give them the keys to the writing kingdom. Smart entrepreneurs have recognized a market exists in supplying these things to would-be writers. We all buy these things. I have at least a dozen writing books waiting to be read. I’m almost a year behind in my writing magazines and I usually have at least 25 unread online newsletters. I’m as much a patsy for the things people sell to writers as anyone else.
With my articles and books for writers (Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market, Quill Driver Books, 2007), I have even been part of the industry marketing products to people who want to do what I have done—write, publish and make money. This column is part of it.
I could say that I’m sharing what I have learned. That’s true. I love to teach about writing and the business of being a writer. I enjoy giving workshops and inspiring people to write. But I also recognize a market, a place where I can sell my knowledge and make some money to support the other writing that so far isn’t paying as well. So do lots of other people with less noble motives. They know, as I do, that fewer than a quarter of the people who say they want to be writers will persist long enough to succeed. When I teach at conferences, I look around the room and know that maybe five of those students will actually use the information I have provided. Writing is hard. Many people drop out along the way. But for some folks, it’s a profitable business.
We writers need to beware of buying too many products or services promising to make us famous authors. One can easily become so overwhelmed in the onslaught of instructional materials for writers that we don’t have time to write. We must be stingy with our money and our time. The only way to really become a writer is to write, revise, study the markets and submit our work. We must do this over and over for as long we want to be writers.
There are certainly good products that will help you hone your writing skills and teach the basics of how to offer your work to editors. Others will offer inspiration when you’re feeling empty. Buy the ones that appeal to you. I list some good ones on my website at suelick.com. Although craft books help, don’t lose sight of the goal. Like playing the piano, lessons are important, but the only thing that will really make you a good at it is practice.