Writing is My Drink is the second book of this cycle by Theo Pauline Nestor. The first was Book 16 of 52: How to Sleep Alone in a King-Sized Bed, which I read after attending a memoir writing retreat organized by Nestor.
While How to Sleep Alone in a King-Sized Bed is a full on memoir, Writing is My Drink is part memoir but the memoir part is set up to support the writing instruction that is given throughout, from personal lessons that Nestor learned on her path to publication, to lessons that she uses in her writing classes, to check lists of writing activities at the end of each chapter.
I’ve been writing professionally now for a while – 15 years if you count when I started earning something for my writing, almost eight years if you start the clock from when I became a full time freelance writer. I’ve written a lot of personal stuff and what could be considered memoirs in essay length since then.
So some of this advice is basic to me, but not all. I dog eared a lot of pages with writing actives that I’d like to try later. I don’t really aspire to do the big memoir anymore. I did when I was younger (my master’s thesis was a 30-page memoir that made the agent rounds and got a lot of nice rejections), back when memoirs by young women were the hot new thing. But I’ve really found my groove in journalism. I often use the personal in those articles – like this piece that ran today, the bulk of which I wrote in one long stream while in Chicago.
But I don’t sit down to write out my guts like I used to. Maybe that’s a phase I’m in right now, or maybe I found what works best for me. I know that some of the exercises in this book will be helpful with what I write now, or will be should I chose to write more personally in the future. Even if I’m not going to go full blown memoir, sharpening the personal when I chose to use it can only make me a better writer, and this book can help with that.
One of the exercises struck me, and I’m going to do that here. Chapter 8 is all about finding your tribe, and Nestor writes about identifying those authors and musicians and artists whose work spoke to her. It took her a while to admit that these folks were in her tribe because she tried to hide some of her favorites for a long time because she thought other people would look down on her because of her tastes.
I used to live with someone who did not like my music. At all. I didn’t like a lot of his music either, but I didn’t try to prove something about him or myself because it. However, I became the one with the unsophisticated ear, and by proxy, the less sophisticated person in the couple.
Well fuck that. Here’s my tribe, and I am proud to share it:
Caroline Knapp, Tom Stoppard, Nora Ephron, Bill Bryson, Guster, Matt Pond, Angels & Airwaves, Anberlin, Eloisa James, ELO, Katherine Paterson, Elin Hilderbrand, J.K. Rowling, Aziz Ansari, Robert Zemeckis, Tom & Lorenzo, James B. Stewart, J. Courtney Sullivan, Jon Stewart, Michael Lewis, Tom Perrotta, Mindy Kaling, Jennifer Lawrence.
Random list? Perhaps. I’m not going to explain why each one is there (though if you ask, I’ll be happy to tell you). The common thread is that their work speaks or has spoken volumes to me, and I have learned and been inspired by every single one.
So I’ll hang on to Writing is My Drink for when I need some help with the personal. It’s a wonderful book for a beginner if you’re looking to start this kind of writing, and a good tune up for those of us in the thick of things.
My only quibble is a throw away line about writing for low or no money. No no no. That was one of my quibbles with the conference, too, especially when Very Famous Wonderful Writer suggested to the crowd that they write for free (and then mentioned that her husband supported her through a lot of her rambling around in writing before she wrote Book that I Really Do Love).
I can’t agree with writing for free, for reasons I have written about many times before. I earn my keep from writing and writing only, and I’m the only one whose work is keeping the lights on and paying the mortgage. I can’t give this stuff away. I don’t want you to either. It’s not an okay practice, and writers should stop doing this immediately.
Small quibble, but to me an important one.
Oh, Katherine Paterson! Jacob Have I Loved. . .