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Speaks to every writer who struggles to tell the truth.

Book Review: ‘Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (and a Guide to How You Can Too)’ by Theo Pauline Nestor

The memoir genre is at its best when the author shows us all that she learns through her own writing process. This was never more true than here in Writing Is My Drink, by Theo Pauline Nestor. Here, the author gives us two books in one, as she writes her own memoir and teaches us the essentials of doing the same, as she moves through phases of her life as teacher, parent, and finally published author.

Along the way, as you get to know Nestor, you’ll learn that writing your truth in a memoir means writing past doubt. She equates the strength and fortitude a writer needs to the grip others have on their own sources of strength. Sometimes, for writers, that strength comes from drink. The book’s title references Nestor’s efforts to understand her mother’s reliance on drinking.

Nestor exposes many of her insecurities, when she commits to writing an truthful memoir, and has to fight her way through agonizing issues, such as acceptance vs. repression, and the blunt truths that result from honest self-exploration.

In some important way, Writing Is My Drink, speaks to every writer who struggles to tell the truth. It is Nestor’s ability to finally say what she really thinks even if it means the loss of everything that made her a true writer who could begin to consider memoir.

Much of the good advice comes from her personal experience both as a reader and a writer. She is a champion of writing groups. “As a writer I long to break the isolation of the unarticulated experience, the trap of the ineffable. And as a reader, I am hungry for the literary representations of the self. It’s not so much that I’m eager to know the details of others’ lives or that I believe my own experience is so compelling that they should want to know mine; it’s that I adore the wizardry of the alchemical process in which life is spun into story.”

Yet, no writer will give you the permissions you crave. “Given approval once, you’re not set for life — busily writing and overcoming every obstacle, steadily nurtured by the nod you received ten years ago. No matter how potent, once a shot of approval has faded in your bloodstream, you’ll be wanting another one. Sounds decidedly like addiction, doesn’t it?”

Some of Nestor’s good advice comes from what she learned at Al-Anon meetings, where they help people understand the instruction: “Do your part and then let go of the results.” See how that advice can work for you as a writer as she says: “The list of what we can’t control is endless. We can’t control how others will read our work, who will like it and who will not. We can’t control acceptance.”

Throughout Writing Is My Drink, the author weaves in personal details of her life situation as it occurs, and then goes beyond so we, along with Nestor, can begin to process, learn, and move on. Once ready to tell the truth, Nestor wrote for herself, failing and trying again. We can all learn to be as courageous.

About Helen Gallagher

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