Adair Lara wrote a twice-weekly column for the San Francisco Chronicle for twelve years, taught in the MFA program at Mills College, and won the Associated Press Award for Best Columnist in California. She leads sold-out workshops in San, Francisco, CA.
And she was gracious enough to answers some of my questions about writing and her book “Naked Drunk and Writing: Shed your Inhibitions and Craft Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay” which also happens to be our November Book Club pick! You can buy Adair’s book here.
I’m so excited to have your book Naked, Drunk and Writing as our November Book Club selection! You outline memoir and personal essay writing in such an approachable away, which I loved because I can often feel uneasy when writing about myself. What propelled you to write this book?
Thank you! I’d begun teaching private essay classes, and it seemed natural to keep notes from them for a writing book. There are a lot of inspirational writing books, and I wanted to write something more practical –not so much inspire writers to sit down and begin, but to help them bring a piece home, finish it and publish it. I’d written a personal column for the San Francisco Chronicle for 16 years, and I learned a lot about writing for an audience. No blogs –that’s easier, although you still need an engaging voice.
On page 10, you describe your book as a way to help loosen inhibitions and defenses, as well as “the terror and beauty of being exposed and vulnerable to something bigger than you ever thought you were.” Why do you think we are so terrified to share our truth? What do you find beautiful in the act of being vulnerable through writing?
It gives others the courage to share their own secrets, and it helps us all to discover what it’s like to be human and flawed and that writing reflects people’s own lives back to them in a way that makes them feel less alone.
Why do you think nonfiction got a hold of you more so than fiction? What is your favorite aspect of the genre?
You have a right to tell your story. It happened to you, and no one but you can tell it. Of course that doesn’t mean blurting it out: it means turning it into art—something that will have meaning for strangers.
Can you share some of your favorite writing advice you have received from other writers?
Where to start? Everybody already knows to follow Anne Lamott’s advice to write a shitty first draft. And how much of it is applying butt to chair, on a schedule you put on your calendar. And remembering Mary Karr’s admonition: a memoir depends 100% on voice. I’m writing a second writing book, on voice in the memoir in fact: working title, Make Your Memoir Suck Less.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Do you have a special writing ritual? What does your writing process look like?
It’s funny, but I don’t remember ever not just assuming that that was what I was, a slave to the written word. [As far as a writing ritual] I don’t these days, I should take my own advice. I’d say get a dog. Walks are very good for writing. A border collie is best. We’re talking walks all day long.