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Originally published Friday, November 15, 2013 at 5:04 AM

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‘Writing is My Drink’: overcoming obstacles to writing

In “Writing is My Drink,” Seattle author Theo Pauline Nestor presents a guide for examining your own emotional landscape to find what’s blocking your writing life. Nestor will give a workshop on personal narrative Nov. 18 at the Ballard branch of the Seattle Public Library.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Theo Pauline Nestor

The author of “Writing is My Drink” will give a workshop on how to begin writing a personal narrative at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at the Ballard Branch of the Seattle Public Library, 5614 22nd Ave. N.W., Seattle, free (206-684-4089 or

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You can read Theo Pauline Nestor’s “Writing is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Own Voice (And a Guide to How You Can Too)” (Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 272 pp., $15) as a how-to guide to becoming a more engaged, and therefore engaging writer, but that is only part of the reason why it makes for good reading.

This is really a personal account about finding the courage to look at your own life and confront the things you’ve never been willing to discuss or even acknowledge.

The Seattle-based author is the perfect person to teach a class on memoir writing for the University of Washington’s Professional and Continuing Education program, a job she’s held for seven years. Her expertise and confidence in the value of memoirs are hard-won.

For years Nestor was unable to face her parents’ alcoholism, particularly her mother’s. Her awakening as a writer parallels, and relies greatly on, her increasing willingness to deal with it on an emotional level.

Nestor traces her evolution back to her days of being a bottled-up 20-something with big dreams and empty pockets, barely able to churn out a few pages worth of “uncut gems” here and there. Unable to see her writing through to the end, she ends up avoiding writing rather than pushing herself.

Here creative impulse comes and goes like lightning, and it frustrates her. How awful to feel as if there’s a great writer inside of you just itching to dazzle humanity with scintillating prose, but not trust yourself enough to dig into your own experiences and imagination for material.

Nestor has plenty of life experiences to draw from. Her problem isn’t necessarily a lack of discipline. It is a failure, she tells us in the book, to listen to her own voice.

When she finally allows herself to present her take — “Not the take. A take. Mine.” — on the world and her own life, the writer within emerges.

Not to say that this is an easy process. Finding your voice as a writer requires not just introspection and some level of talent, but a degree of emotional risk-taking that Nestor comes to only belatedly.

She includes pages-full of handy “Try This” tips and writing exercises for writers who similarly feel insecure, need inspiration, suffer from writer’s block or just can’t seem to make time to write. It’s challenging stuff. On one tip page, she asks the reader to write on this question: “How have you kept silent or limited your writing because you feel that somehow you owe this silence or limited articulation to another family member?”

Nestor never veers too far into academic jargon or armchair psychology, focusing instead on her own journey as a student and teacher of writing, a life partner, a daughter and a mother, with plenty of funny and sad memories — and pieces of practical advice — to bring a warm accessibility to this enterprise.

There’s something to inspire everyone here, even for those who simply want to keep a better daily journal that never meets the gaze of a college writing instructor or literary agent.

Tyrone Beason is a writer for Pacific Northwest Magazine.

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