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A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie
A Year of Writing Dangerously : Sailing from Context

A Year of Writing Dangerously (Day 309)

Sailing from Context

By Barbara Abercrombie

"What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense the writer is able to make of what happened." — Vivian Gornick

You might think that you need more experiences, more far-ranging adventure in your life, to be a writer. But sometimes experience and adventure can backfire on you.

I sailed to Greece from Los Angeles with my first husband in a forty-four-foot boat we had just bought that neither of us was too clear on how to sail. To say we had a few adventures is like saying Joyce Carol Oates has written a few stories. What we assumed to be pirates circled our boat for hours off the coast of Central America and then, thankfully, disappeared. We lost the engine during a storm at the entrance of the Panama Canal and nearly crashed on the rocks. In the Caribbean, the U.S. Coast Guard, thinking we were drug runners, sprang a surprise visit to us under sail in the middle of the night to search the boat (causing us to think they were drug runners). En route from Greece to Yugoslavia we sailed too close to Albania, and the Albanian navy, such as it was, held us at gunpoint for a few hours before letting us head on to Dubrovnik. One might think this is amazing material, and it is, of course, but other than three chapters of a very bad failed novel, I have never written about it. (Probably because I was having this tiny nervous breakdown for most of the trip.)

Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed that you can’t write. All you can do is take notes. And that’s what I did. Dozens of journals, pages and pages of notes. Finding the context was my problem. What did all this mean? And to this day I’m not sure. It was simply, and not so simply, a lot of experience. •

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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 »