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A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie
A Year of Writing Dangerously : Barbara Abercrombie Book Interview

Barbara Abercrombie:
A Year of Writing Dangerously

A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie"Through her years teaching writing at UCLA Extension, Barbara Abercrombie has heard repeatedly that writing is painful, scary, even dangerous. Her students worry they might have to hold themselves accountable for their thoughts and feelings, that they might disappoint or be disappointed, that they might have to tell their secrets, or betray the privacy of those they love. So Abercrombie set out to help writers feel safe, to help them figure out how to write the truth about real events or to transform truth into fiction, to encourage them and help them understand that they aren't alone in their fears." — New World Library

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: The title came to me first and for a while I didn't know what to do with it. I'd already written two books about creative writing and felt I didn't have anything more to say on the subject, but I couldn't let go of the title. For a while I thought maybe I'd write it month by month, twelve sections, but a writer friend said, "No, it has to be day by day. That's the kind of book I need!" The idea of a book to read daily for comfort and inspiration and company suddenly seemed very appealing to me and unlike anything I'd written before.

Q: Why writing "dangerously"?

A: Because I think there's always a sense of risk when you write — fear that maybe someone will deny your version of things, or that they'll get mad and disown you, or that maybe you'll make a fool of yourself and expose too much or too little. One of my favorite quotes on the subject is by Terry Tempest Williams who said: "I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts…I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words." And that's what it feels like sometimes, a bloody risk to form the words.

Q: Why a year?

A: Because if you want to write a novel or autobiography or memoir you'll need at least a year of focused work to get from the idea in your head to the reality of a first draft. Or if you want to write short pieces a year could get you from dreaming about being a writer to actually completing and marketing one or more personal essays or short stories. I think a year is a manageable amount of time for a writer — long enough to get serious work done, yet short enough to give yourself a realistic deadline.

Q: How does your book differ from other books on creative writing?

A: There are 365 entries of anecdotes and quotes that offer inspiration and also commiseration from a lot of famous and successful writers who go through the same struggles all of us have getting our work done. I've always found it encouraging to read about the problems of writers I admire. It makes me feel like I'm in good company. While the book does gives you some advice about the nuts and bolts of writing and getting published, as well as weekly writing prompts, it's more of a day book — a book to keep on your desk to dip into for a daily dose of encouragement and some company. To my knowledge there isn't any other book out there quite like it.

Q: Who is the book for?

A: It's for anyone who wants to write or is writing, published or not yet published. It's for people who are writing novels or memoirs, essays or short stories or an autobiography for their families, or for those who simply want to start a journal to keep track of their life.

Q: Why do you think it's so important for writers to read other writers?

A: Because they're the reason we wanted to become writers in the first place. Reading good writing fuels and informs our own writing. We can't write in a vacuum. Many of us, when we were kids, were told to put that book down and do our homework or go outside. But when we're writers, reading is our homework! It's one of the perks of being a writer. I always tell my students that their best teachers are their favorite writers.

Q: What is it that you hope a reader will take away from the book?

A: That it's important to write our stories, no matter how hard it might be. No one can tell your story the way you can. And each story is unique and precious and needs to be told. Also that when you write you're part of a whole community of writers. You'll learn everything you need to know about writing from your favorite writers. •

Next: Switchbacks up the Mountain »

Barbara AbercrombieBarbara Abercrombie teaches in the writing program at UCLA Extension. The author of novels, children's books, and many essays and articles in national publications, her fourteenth book is "A Year of Writing Dangerously." More »