Writing Fearlessly with Crescent Dragonwagon

It was the chance of a lifetime, and I knew it. A table for eight in New York. Expenses paid. The guest list? Chocked full of who’s who—including two authors recently lauded by the James Beard Foundation. And if I could make my way to New York, there was a space for me.


I weighed the pros and cons, and attempted my best creative financing. Every “con” was supported by a feeble “pro”, giving way to all rational thinking:

What about airfare?

Justifying the expense, I countered, “Flights are cheap right now.”


“I could stay with friends in Jersey. Three adults, and two kids in a tiny condo, no problem!”

You wouldn’t really fly to New York for dinner, would you?

The moment was slipping through my fingers. Suddenly the inner-child-cum-whiney-brat inside me began to wail. Rolling in a fit on the floor, she gasps for breath between sob-soaked words. “It’s. The. Chance. Of. A. Lifetime!”

Defiance was beginning to override all sensibilities, when the phone rang.

It was my friend Crescent. Hurried small talk precedes the true purpose of her call. Finally, she says, “I’m teaching a writing workshop in San Diego at the end of the month.” Crescent has taught writing workshops to a host of luminaries, including Julia Child and Alice Medrich, and is a James Beard Award-wining writer, currently under contract for a new book on Fearless Writing.

I think to myself, “Ah, Temptation, you have found me again!” Temptation perches himself in front of me. “We’re becoming old friends, aren’t we?”

Several years ago, I attended an abbreviated version of her Fearless Writing seminar. The largest room in King County’s library system overflowed--chairs filled instantly, latecomers claimed any available space, scrambling for seats on the floor. Her class had an indelible impact on me, and she knew it.

I’d seen a fraction of her work and frankly, two full days in a writing seminar sounded like heaven.

Lost in my thoughts, the voice on the phone continued. “I’d like to offer you a scholarship to the workshop.” Snapped back into the moment, my cheeks grew hot. “We’ve rented a house and there’s an extra bedroom for you.”

New York waffling? Gone.

Hellooooo San Diego!

I found a cheap flight and made my way to the beautiful adobe rental on the hill. Both bedrooms had French doors leading to a serene patio, which was surrounded by magenta bouganvillea. A nest of songbirds took residence in the palm tree, and the cool morning air was punctuated by jasmine in bloom.

The following day, we set to work. A small group gathered on the patio, notebooks at the ready. In lieu of introductions, we addressed the question, “What do you hope to get out of this workshop?” Answers ran the gamut. Some hoped to complete their first novel, others wanted to eliminate roadblocks and make more time for writing. Me? I’d like a byline someday.

Crescent’s parents were both notable writers, and with over 40 titles to her credit, she peppered the class with invaluable insights. As an aspiring writer, I found her anecdotes reassuring: “I’ve received 10-15 rejections for each publication I’ve ever done.”

Rejection? That’s a normal part of the process.

The small group of women leaned in close, as she emphasized her point. “Anxiety, risk and ‘I don’t know the outcome’ are the coin through which we purchase creative freedom.”

Can one truly write fearlessly? I’m not so sure. But with a proper set of tools, you can fear…less. And that’s the goal.

What resonated with me was the notion of habit:

· “Habit is one of the great underrated things with writing.” It’s important to create a routine around writing.
· “Flow” is that moment when the words practically write themselves. Flow comes from an unconscious corner of your mind--the more you show up, the more frequently it comes.
· “You must be in the studio if the Angel of creativity comes. Woe to you if he shows up and you are not there.”
· The majority of all writing is process- and habit-centered. Craft and technique are supporting players.
· Inspiration comes and goes, but you must write even when the inspiration is not there.
· Create a space for writing. Show up. Do the work.
· “Do shitty first drafts.” (Anne Lamont)

During a previous writing workshop, someone once asked, “Does writing get any easier?”

Julia Child attended the same workshop and by then, she was well into her 80’s. Crescent called out to her, “Julia, can you tell us…does it get any easier?”

Her response? “Absolutely NOT!”

The key is this: writing is a process, and having a set of tools helps alleviate the strain.

What’s in your toolbox?

Crescent’s book on Fearless Writing will be out in 2011. Stay tuned for updates on future workshops. Until then….

Recommended Reading:

How to Become a Better Writer, by Jennifer Jeffrey

Bird by Bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamont

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg

Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser

Will Write for Food, by Diane Jacob