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A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie
A Year of Writing Dangerously : Racing Hearts and Churning Stomachs

A Year of Writing Dangerously (Day 11)

Racing Hearts and
Churning Stomachs

By Barbara Abercrombie

“Finding the courage to write does not involve erasing or "conquering" one's fears. Working writers aren't those who have eliminated their anxiety. They are the ones who keep scribbling while their heart races and their stomach churns.” — Ralph Keyes

M. came to class eight years ago, flew into class, really, scared to death. When it was her turn to read in the workshop session, she panicked and fluttered and almost flew back out of the room. "I don't know what I'm writing!" she said. "I don't know if it's fiction or memoir. It's awful! I can't read it!"

"Just read," I said. And she did. Well, it wasn't awful. It was funny and weird, and we wanted to hear more. "Just keep writing," I said. She did. She brought back true stories of her life that made us laugh and cry. And she eventually got her memoir published by a big publisher in New York. Then she started another book, and one morning flew back into class, still scared, saying, "Well, I knew I had to bring something to read, so I brought this, this — mess. But I'm too embarrassed to read it."

"Just read," I said. And she did and it was wonderful. "Just keep writing," I said.

She agonized over what her family would say, think, do. What they did was get really, really mad. She changed her name and forged on.

When her second memoir came out, I went to a big party in Hollywood that her publisher threw for her. There was an open bar and little hot crab things and platters of cheeses and breads and sausages, and even pommes frites. (You have to understand how amazing this is because most of us writers, should we be lucky enough to get a book published and a bookstore to give us time and space, throw our own parties with Trader Joe's wine and baskets of pretzels.)

I tell you about M. because she was so scared, so insecure in the beginning (and in fact still is with every new piece of writing), but she didn't let that fear and insecurity stop her.

So know that you don't have to "like" your own writing. You don't have to be calm and self-assured. In fact, it's better if you're not. It keeps you honest. •

Next: Life Rafts »

Excerpted from A YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY: 365 Days of Inspiration & Encouragement Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Abercrombie. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. or 800/972-6657 ext. 52.

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 »