Monday, June 25, 2012

Barbara Abercrombie talks about A Year of Writing Dangerously, teaching, obsessions, and more

Barbara Abercrombie is a fellow UCLA instructor and winner of the Outstanding Instructor of the year award, and in 2010, she also won the Distinguished Instructor Award for the Writers Program. She's the author of 13 books and she's one of the warmest, funniest, most generous writers around. A Year of Writing Dangerously is one of those books you want to buy multiple copies of to give to friends. Not only is it packed with great advice, but it feels like a comforting voice whispering to you not to give up, to take heart, to keep going. I'm honored to have Barbara here! And Barbara, the answer to your last questions is thank you and yes, yes yes!

I find the structure of the book invaluable. It's the kind of book you can keep at your desk, leaf through, and find little nuggets to push you forward, inspire or just generally help out. Did you always know you wanted to structure the book like this?

Thank you, I love that it works for you! I got the title first and for ages I couldn’t figure out the structure and the voice for it. For awhile I was thinking maybe divide it into twelve months but then my friend, writer and teacher Billy Mernit said it had to be daily cause then working, published writers would read it too. 
Finally I thought of the book as a party – all my favorite writers offering advice and commiseration and telling funny stories. Writing can be so lonely and such a weird way to spend our time – we need company and to know what a huge wonderful community we’re part of when we write. So that’s what I hope this book offers – daily company – and a good party.

What surprised you in the writing of this book? Did you get any tips or advice that you couldn't use--or didn't want to?

Originally I had a writing prompt for every day – and I got advice pro and con on that. Finally it just felt clunky and geared more toward beginning writers, so I have a prompt for each week at the end of the book now and saved all the other prompts for my next book (Kicking in the Wall) which is all prompts, exercises and quotes, plus what my students came up with for some of the exercises.

What would be your best advice for writers (besides "don't give up!")

I tell my new students: This is how you become a writer (and they all take out their notebooks like I’m going to say something profound.) 1. Read 2. Write. I think one of the most important things is to continue to write even when you think it’s all crap. You just keep writing your way through the despair, the second guessing, the doubt, the fear – I guess it’s just another version of “don’t give up”. Also - if you’re flailing around in a huge project – memoir or novel – take a break and try writing a short personal essay. I was once blocked up the ying yang in the middle of a terrible novel, and felt like I wasn’t a real writer any more. So I started writing personal essays and sending them out – some got published – and it did wonders for my attitude. 

You also are a fellow UCLA instructor, and I'd like to ask how teaching impacts your own work. 

Teaching is the joy of my life. I love people who want to write. They get honest and real so fast in a writing course. And I get paid to talk about writers and books I love. What a dream job! However I can’t write on the days I teach cause for me teaching is about giving and listening and being available and writing is the opposite. I’m really selfish and cranky and obsessed when I write. (I have an entry in the book about this.)
I also think we teach the class we need to take. I don’t find writing easy so I teach what inspires me, what I need to remember and to discover to get unstuck. 

What's your daily writing life like?

 It’s about going to the office. I go there every day to work on a deadline, my blog, marketing, getting a class prepared. It’s not a big deal and has nothing to do with inspiration. It’s not as orderly as it was when I had kids at home and kept to a real schedule – kids out the door at 8:30 write until 3:00. 
My husband loves to travel so I’ve found that trips can be wonderful for getting my work done. Sightseeing isn’t my thing and I love to write in hotel rooms without any distractions. 

What's obsessing you now and why?

Everything. Work, family, my students – 
Most of all A YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY. Since it was published this week I’ve plunged into marketing and have become the Marketing Whore again. (As you well know, it’s so strange to be alone and working on a project for a year – and then kaboom! It’s out there.) And my next book, KICKING IN THE WALL will be published next year and the deadline is September so I’m obsessed and busy at work on that. 
I’m also renovating an old cabin in Lake Arrowhead – which is crazy – but I’m a bit obsessed about that too. 
And I’m constantly obsessed about my grandchildren – who are the funniest, most curious, and creative people I know.  And my dog, Nelson, the sweetest dog on the planet. (I’m in Montana right now and missing him like crazy.)vI guess I’m just obsessive period.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Can’t think of any. Such good questions. A thousand thank you’s!! Will you come to my blog WritingTime when your new novel is published? Or any time you want?


Laura B. said...

What a fun interview. Just like listening to Barbara talk.

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