Breakneck Book Report: Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing

It wasn’t until I was 21 that I realized I could be funny.

I had just transferred to Emerson College and, after workshopping a series of overwrought essays about my last romantic relationship, I wrote about running out of underwear, finding a gaping hole in the street where my laundromat used to be, and finally going commando.

My classmates looked at me, perplexed. It was obvious they didn’t think I had it in me. Either to write with such humor OR to go frolicking about without my cotton granny panties. But as blindsided as they were, they loved it. And I loved that they loved it. The humorous personal essay? Alright then. I was hooked!

At the beginning of February, Susan Johnston of The Urban Muse wrote a post that charted out where, exactly, her income was coming from, based upon writing type.

While my own income sources are more easily broken up by job type (career coach | permalance editor | freelance writer | freelance copy editor | funeral singer), Susan’s post made me look more closely at the types of writing I was doing on a regular basis (sex, sex, listicles, and sex) and — even more importantly — the types of writing I wasn’t doing.

Soon afterward, I began reading Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing, and I fell into the sort of love that causes hand tremors and hot flashes. I carried the book with me everywhere. I snuggled with it in bed. I neglected my husband.

I realized that I was no longer doing the writing I loved.

It’s the perpetual dilemma of the freelance writer: If you want to write for a living, you have to write the stuff that pays the bills. And more often than not, the fun — or the most fulfilling — stuff doesn’t. Soon enough, you find that you’re always writing to pay the bills, and never finding the time to… just write.

Lara’s book reminded me of why I started writing. And I love it for that.

But it did so much more than that:

  • It got into the nitty-gritty of essay and memoir construction.
  • It reminded me that smaller can be better (at least in terms of the focus of your narrative).
  • It pointed out that a personal story should have a definitive end before you delve into it in your writing (a lesson previously learned from Emerson College professor Kristin Lund… who, coincidentally enough, happened to be a student of Lara’s).
  • It stressed the importance of writing partners and writing groups, making me realize that accountability, above all, was what I was lacking.
  • It also got down to the business of revising, market research, book proposals, essay submissions, and more.

I want to make out with this book.

Still, I’m not a jealous person. I think you should make out with this book, too. You heard me. Buy it, and snuggle with it in bed. Let it spend the night. Let it remind you what true love is.

But before you do that, tell me:

Which type of writing is your true love? And have you been neglecting it?

Related: Breakneck Book Report: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Baring It All: Personal Essays Are Tough, Cornering The Market? Or Feeling Cornered?


  1. Great post–and as always, you seem to be reading my mind 🙂

    My current dilemma: I don’t have answer. I used to think my one true love was the personal essay. Maybe it still is–but it hasn’t really been doing it for me lately and I’ve got a wandering eye. So I’m feeling a little stuck now. I want to try my hand at short story writing, but am scared of failing–it reminds me of how I felt when I first started writing professionally, actually.

    For the record, I’ve always loved your personal essays. Write more of them, please!

  2. Love, love, loved this book, and I knew you’d adore it, too, Steph!

    One thing jumped out at me in this book and that was Adair’s observation that “fluent” writers (those who write quickly and words just seem to flow out of them) often have the hardest time with essays because they’re not used to digging deep down and answering the tough questions that essays require of us. That really hit home for me and may partly explain why I don’t write as many essays as I’d like to. I still do write them, but I sometimes struggle with digging deep.

    Lately, though, I’ve been drawn to longer form narrative. Not so much my stories, but the stories of people who inspire me. The artist turning her passion into a business, the social entrepreneur using technology to fight hunger, the teen who’s publishing her first book.

  3. i love writing my column. i get paid barely enough to cover one sushi lunch for each column, but i don’t mind. i like to daydream that one day my publisher (when i have a publisher) will ask me to pull the best one’s for a “best of” book.

    one day.

    one day.

    • You never know! One of my clients just had an agent contact her because he spotted a personal essay she’d published in a larger paper. Now she’s working on a book proposal for a memoir!

  4. Poetry. And children’s stories. Love writing them both. At the moment, I’m rediscovering poetry, but thanks for the reminder to pick up that other thread of writing. 🙂

  5. I am so with you. The writing I love to do and the writing that GOT ME HERE in the first place is not the writing I do anymore.

  6. I just picked up this book and I’m dying to read it. Except since it’s one of these manual-thingies, I don’t know if it’s best to just read it cover to cover or pick through the chapters that I think will be most helpful. And I’m so embarrassed to read this thing on the subway, which is where most of my reading gets done, anyways.

    • Ha. Honestly? I wanted to dog-ear every single page (though most of the content at the end, on submitting to publications, I already knew). But for me, the layout and organization of the book made perfect sense for a cover-to-cover read.

      As for reading it in public, as a sex writer, I’ve read much more… um… eye-catching stuff on the bus and on the subway, and it sort of makes me giggle to see people staring at the covers of my books.

  7. I have that book and love it! Now I just need to find one that covers fiction in such a clear way.


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