Naked, Drunk, and Writing
Your book rocks SO fuckin hard. I can’t put it down and it is one that I have recommended to every single friend that wants to write essays and memoir! So funny and thorough! ~ Rashena Wilson
the perfect how-to guide for bloggers! ~ Claudine Wolk
I have been devouring your book since opening it. It reads like a steamy novel for us fledgling authors hungry for technique and guidance. ~ Jana Gullick
If I had to pare my collection of books on writing down to one, I’d choose yours. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
~ Mary Whittemore
My latest book – on how to “shed your inhibitions and craft a compelling memoir or personal essay” – is now out from Ten Speed Press:
The award-winning author of an autobiographical newspaper column, Adair Lara has written more than ten books, including the memoir Hold Me Close, Let Me Go. Packed with insight and wit, Naked, Drunk, and Writing is the culmination of her extensive experience as a writer, editor, and teacher. In this instructive and refreshingly irreverent guide, she shows aspiring writers how to cast off self-doubt and become skilled storytellers.
This is not one of those inspirational writing books that tell you to go to a café and write about your mother; it’s one that tells you what to do with what you wrote in the café.
Jon Carroll wrote a fabulous review of Naked, Drunk, and Writing in The San Francisco Chronicle when it first came out – here’s an excerpt:
She’s studied writing, is what I’m trying to say. She has chosen apposite quotations and instructive anecdotes. She talks a lot about the students in her justly famous writing classes, and the good things they have gone on to do, and she quotes from their works – which, oddly enough, illustrate exactly the points that she’s trying to make.
So I do sincerely recommend this book, even though it was written by a friend of mine who knows more than I do – the very worst kind. Read the whole thing here.
Below is more praise for the book from your fellow writers, and a short excerpt.
Yesterday I received Adair’s Lara’s “Naked, Drunk, and Writing,” absolutely the best title for a writing book ever. I started reading and kept reading and kept reading. It’s full of good advice and techniques; I intend to steal from it outrageously.
~ Don Fry, national writing coach
When I took Adair’s classes, which I did over and over again, her enthusiasm and understanding of the process of writing led me to make that quantum leap to being a published author.
~ Jacqueline Winspear, author of the “Maisie Dobbs” series
Naked/Drunk is just terrific. So warm, frank, funny, generous. It’s truly juicy with concrete detail and anecdote. Yet methodical. The examples are exuberant, irrepressible.
~ Joan Frank, author
In 233 pages, she manages to supply writers with more useful information and tips than that contained in the sum of all the writing books on my shelves.
~ Marie Estorge, author
This is a really wonderful book. One of the best (and most helpful) books on writing I’ve read. And unlike most practical guides, never pedantic or boring.
~ Janis Cooke Newman, author of Mary
Half of the people I know seem to have taken classes and workshops with San Francisco’s legendary writer and teacher Adair Lara. She is very savvy and smart and hugely entertaining.
~ Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird
I have been devouring your book since opening it. It reads like a steamy novel for us fledgling authors hungry for technique and guidance. Because of your book, I finally found a home for my writing style. I believe I am an essayist. It feels good to know that.
~ Jana Gullick
A few months ago, my father gave me a copy of Naked, Drunk & Writing, which is the first book about writing that has truly helped me.
~ Cindy Nooney
I recommend Naked, Drunk, and Writing to everyone! I wrote Good Grief after Adair advised, “If there’s something that’s keeping you from writing, write about that thing.”
~ Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief.
I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed and found valuable your recent article in Writers Digest, “Find an Angle to Bring Your Subject to Life” [which is excerpted from the book]. I write editorials for the local newspaper plus I manage people who write for businesses. I’ve often suggested that people “try to find an angle” to set the story apart and make it interesting, but I’ve struggled to go beyond those words with meaningful examples. I’m now routing my copy of the magazine among my team.
~ Gordon MacKinney
Thank you for writing the best writing book I’ve read in two years! You combine the humor of Anne Lamott, the demystification of Stephen King (writers are people who write), the personal anecdotes of Natalie Goldberg, and the practical wisdom of the craft handbook. I’m now determined to paper my bathroom with rejection letters… and be happy about it! If I had to pare my collection of books on writing down to one, I’d choose yours. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
~ Mary Whittemore
Why an essay needs an angle
What do you want to write about? Falling in love, flat tires, dental surgery, strange engine noises, notices from the IRS, making mistakes with your kids? Whatever it is, it has been said before. Your job is to find a new way to say an old thing, and for that you need your wonderful voice and details that could have come only from your life. And you need a surprise approach: an angle.
An angle is to the essay what a premise is to a book, or a handle is to advertising, or high concept is to a movie (dinosaurs brought back to life for a theme park!). It’s a gimmick or twist or conceit that grabs our attention long enough for you to say what you want to say. Like the outline of a narrative essay, the angle tells you what to put in, what to leave out.
An angle can be how your mutual loathing for the couples counselor brought you back together. Or how Halloween was the one day you could out-shine the rich kids. How dating never ends, because when you’re a couple, you have to find other couples willing to go out with you. It can be how great your hair always starts to looks on your way to the hair salon (and how suddenly better you feel when you’re sitting in the doctor’s waiting room).
Think of the angle as the Christmas tree. Once you have that six-foot pine standing up next to the piano, it’s pretty easy to see where the decorations go. Without the tree, what have you got? A lot of pretty balls on the floor.
Where Should You Start Your Essay?
A piece about your divorce should probably not start with, “Once I had a bulldog named Clyde.” Don’t begin with the alarm clock going off or the drive to the party or the day you met the person you’re writing about. If your piece is about not wanting to push your angry brother up a hill in his wheelchair, don’t start in the hospital where you learned the extent of his injuries. An injured person became injured, a person on a hike always started out on a hike, a car on the side of the road was once on the road, a person getting a divorce once met her husband and married him.
Try starting where the trouble starts — at the bottom of the hill, your loathed brother smoking a forbidden cigar and cursing you for your weak arms — and flash back to the past as needed to fill us in.
If you start too far back you will be forced to summarize, skip over stuff, and generalize to catch up — little of which produces good writing or tension. You also risk boring us by giving us background information we don’t yet care about and thus won’t remember anyway. Chekhov knew this. His advice? “Tear your story in half and start in the middle.”
Why Do We Need Reflective Voice?
It’s not enough to tell us that you did 100 jigsaw puzzles in a row after your sister died. We want to know why you did. That way your story is about human nature — about us, not you. We assume you are telling us your story because you now have some insight into it: insight into why you and others behaved as you did, into why things happened as they did.
In a memoir, you are two people. First, you are the harried, clueless, sweaty person living through the events as they unfold on the page, with no perspective, no idea of what’s going to happen, and perhaps no idea why you behave as you do. For example, the you then, in the story, may think of her son as just a little eccentric. But you now is also the author, looking back, and knows that you were missing the signs of autism.
Reflective voice tells us why you think you missed those signs: “I didn’t want it to be true, so I told myself lots of kids sing jingles from commercials.”