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Barbara Abercrombie

While going through a recent writing "dry spell," I came across Barbara Abercrombie's new book, A Year of Writing Dangerously. Finding much inspiration from her and the other authors about whom she writes, I contacted Barbara to ask if she would be willing to share some excerpts with the readers of the Survivor's Review. She very graciously agreed.

From A Year of Writing Dangerously ...

Why write?

Because you have to. You have to write down this story that's banging around in your head and in your heart, or it'll be lost. No one else will tell it. And it'll just keep banging or humming away in there, driving you nuts. These are your thoughts and your feelings, your imagination, and your memories. This is how you put the vast chaos of your life into order, how you get to the other side. Writing is also how you nail down and get to keep the good moments. How you live more deeply and become more conscious.

Maybe you're new to writing. Or maybe you've been writing for years and are simply in a temporary funk and need to get unstuck...Or maybe you're not antsy and crazy and just happen to be in a rare group of calm, secure, and dignified individuals who simply want to write their story. That's fine, and I hope you'll find all the encouragement you need in this book. However, a little desperation and unsettledness certainly never hurt a writer; we all go through strange and painful periods in our lives, and one of the reasons we read is to find out how other people, real or fictional, navigate the hard times.

On Writing about a Loved One's Cancer

Robin Romm worried whether to publish the memoir she had written about the last three weeks of her mother's life. She wrote thirty pages of notes during those weeks, then ninety pages in the ten days after her mother died. Romm felt there were more reasons not to write a memoir than to write it, and asked herself the questions many of us struggle with: "Will people think I am using a tragedy for personal gain? Would my mother like being portrayed sick in a book? Is it a trespass to tell other people's stories? What right did I have to them? Will I be disowned? Will critics be mean? Will some petty blogger go, 'Egads, another cancer book!' I could fill a page with these questions."

But then she read her mother's journals and came across an entry in which her mother, who was an attorney, wrote that she felt her sphere of influence had been so small in this world. "And I had a moment of thinking," says Romm, "that maybe her story, my story, our story, would find its way into the hands of others in the middle of a tragedy, or those trying to help someone in tragedy's clutches. That this story - so small, really, just a mother's death - might have the power to be more universal."

Concluding Questions and Things to Remember

Have you written toward your own moments of grace? Have you taken risks and gone from safe places into danger in order to write what you need to write?

Did you dive into the past and write the things you were told never to air in public? Did you find some humor in the chaos of your life? Did you write during the days and months when your head felt empty and you had doubts? Did you get something on the page? Because that's all we can ask for and expect every day - something on the page.

Remember that you have a story to tell that no one else on earth can tell the same way you can.

Remember that your story is important; someone needs to read it.

Remember what a connected community you're part of when you write.

Remember that you can find the most inspiring teachers in every book you love.

Remember that you can be awash in doubt and fear and still write.

Remember that the way out of doubt and fear is through them, one word after another.

Selected Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can help you get started when you're stuck. Sometimes they knock down walls and lead you into surprising and deeper territory.

Giving yourself a tight time limit for writing exercises is like having a mini deadline - it creates pressure, gets you moving. When using any of these prompts, try writing for five minutes without pausing. (Of course, if you get on a roll, just keep going.) Don't spend a lot of time thinking about these prompts; just start writing and figure it out on paper as you go - surprise yourself. -- Barbara Abercrombie.

In her book, Abercrombie lists fifty-two prompts, one for each week of the year. With her permission, I've chosen a handful to share with you today:

Write about a time you dug your heels in and got stubborn.

Write about trying to bluff your way through.

Write the word "perfection" and then whatever words come into your head.

Take your notebook to a public place and spy. Write down what you see and hear.

Write about a time you didn't show up.

Write about a gift you received and lied about liking.

Write about a raft, metaphoric or literal.

Write about a teacher or mentor who changed your life, either for good or bad.

Write two or three things you know for sure.

Barbara Abercrombie has published novels, children's picture books, including the award winning Charlie Anderson, and books of non-fiction. Her personal essays have appeared in national publications as well as in many anthologies. Her most recent books are Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They've Loved & Lost and A Year of Writing Dangerously, which was chosen by Poets & Writers Magazine as one of the best books for writers. Her fifteenth book, Kicking In The Wall was just published by New World Library. She's received the Outstanding Instructor award and the Distinguished Instructor Award at UCLA Extension where she teaches creative writing. She also conducts private writing retreats and writes two weekly blogs: at www.WritingTime.typepad.com and www.TheIntimidatedCook.com

She lives with her husband, Robert V. Adams, and their rescue dog, Nelson, in Santa Monica and Lake Arrowhead, California.

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