Saturday, April 21, 2012

The hot heart and cold eye

The other day I mentioned I was on the hunt for a book. It still remains a sight unseen. Though in my half-hearted attempted to find it, I happily rediscovered another book. I abandoned the search and whittled away the afternoon re-reading ‘Naked, Drunk and Writing’ by Adair Lara.

I bought the book last year because of the title* and it’s promise to help the reader ‘craft a compelling memoir or personal essay.’ At this point I was half contemplating writing a travelogue about my impeding journey from London to Sydney. I was also starting to get steady requests to pen opinion columns in SpitPress.

On the first read I gobbled the book up. The pages are dog-eared and annotated with flashes of green highlighter and scribbles in the margins.  Adair Lara’s guide is personable and informative.  Lara addresses structure, subject matter, tone, narration, scene with a firm hand and wry wit.  Even Lara, a writing teacher, admits, “structure is not sexy”, yet I would consider her own book as delightfully playful. She blends anecdotes of working as a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and teacher, throughout the book. Thereby giving each lesson or writing task depth and relevance.

Lara also liberally quotes other writers including Chekhov - “Tear your story in half and start in the middle” or Marilynn Robinson’s description of writers starting out “At first less in love with structure or pattern and more in love with words in a foolish but sweet way.”

Lara herself is also full of quotable titbits (hence the heavy-handed green highlighting) “Apply part A (Butt) to part B (chair)….Don’t vow to write. Vow to show up at the desk.” Or “You must work. You start with your hot heart, spilling truth any old way onto the page. And then you bring in your cold eye.”

There is a plethora of writing exercises in the book. In all honesty I have completed few. I read the book quickly and with immense joy. Then I packed it in a box with 18kilos worth of other goods and shipped it from London to Sydney.  

Some of the writing advice stuck like glue throughout the rest of my trip and inferred astounding impacts on my journal writing. Lara recommends that you collect sensory rich images as well “those cranky, eccentric details that could come only from a frontier where no one else has been: your life…the most neurotics details resonate like a tuning fork”. So I wrote my journal with a hot heart. Now I just need a cold eye.

* The title itself is a cute story in itself “somebody at a party once remarked to me over sushi that books with ‘naked’ in the title always sell”

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