Barbara Abercrombie's latest book distills the wisdom she has gained from years of writing and puts it on the page.
"Why dangerously?" Abercrombie—an author, editor, and teacher—asks the reader. "Because 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..."
Then why write at all? Because, she says, "writing is... how you nail down and get to keep the good moments. How you live more deeply and become more conscious."
Jump right in at the first page, where Abercrombie is talking about a dangerous road up to her mountain cabin. "Writing has always felt just like that road... scary," she says. It holds the possibility she will have nothing to say. Then she asks you to think of your own metaphor for beginning to write, and there you are, writing already.
Other pages have titles like "Sacred Space," "Choosing Story over Relatives," and "The Four Stages of Receiving Feedback." Abercrombie writes a few paragraphs on each topic and closes with a relevant quote from an accomplished writer. There is enough here to keep you going for a year, whatever you are writing.
What I like about this paperback is that you are not likely to sit down and read it all, neglecting your own writing. No, this is the kind of book you will keep at your desk, and each morning as you sit down to write, randomly choose a page, or read one page a day in order, then get to it: Do your own work. It's that encouraging.
At the end of the book are fifty-two writing prompts, an extensive bibliography of books and articles and an index of writers and artists quoted. The author advises using the prompts as five-minute exercises with the possibility of going on, because having a deadline creates the pressure to just get started. An interesting tip for me was to use the prompts in writing fiction, but substitute "you" with your character's name. For example, "Write about your father's hands" could be: "Write about Abigail's father's hands from her point of view."
And all at once, you see how easy it can be to just start writing. This book is like having a little tool box alongside you wherever you write. Or being at a party with your most supportive friends. Delightful.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Barbara Abercrombie has published novels, children's picture books, and nonfiction. Her personal essays have appeared in national publications and anthologies. She teaches creative writing in the Writers' Program at UCLA Extension and also conducts private writing retreats. Visit her blog and her website.
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