Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Writing Down the Bones

I’m finishing off Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones at the moment.  My friend & former teacher Colin suggested it to me after I decided to set up a writing blog with another friend.  I had recently returned from a trip to New Mexico, so he said, “She lives in Taos, which I know you didn’t think much of, but don’t hold that against her.”  I promised I wouldn’t.  🙂

The majority of the writing books I own are prompt-heavy.  Imaginative Writing, Room to Write, The Pocket Muse: all of them meant to spur you into producing work.  Granted, I have some that are different like Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird .  The approach is different, focusing more on a writer’s interior life.  But, I didn’t respond to them the same way.

With that said, I’m taken with Goldberg’s work.  Maybe it’s just where I am in my life & my writing career, but her chapters are compact & soothing, like thoughts to ponder while completing corpse pose.  (My metaphors aren’t entirely a coincidence; Goldberg avidly practices Zen meditation.)

For instance, her statement that writers live twice, once as conventional people, secondly as recorders of every single detail.  Or her advice to write in cafes & laundromats to be influenced by outside forces like other people or another space.  Or her realization that setting up the “perfect” studio space is an excuse to actually keep from writing.

Reading these familiar, direct statements helps my state of mind.  Mainly because many of her observations inspire those “Oh, I do that” moments.  All of the excuses, expectations & tensions I bring to my writing space unwind.

Another tactic I appreciate in her writing is that she often quotes her own teachers, both in writing and in meditation.  In my opinion, any teacher whose worth their salt often references their own mentors & talks candidly about their own learning process.  It demystifies the learning process & inspires more trust.

Anyway, I would recommend Writing Down the Bones to any writer that needs a healthy break from their work & are looking for a moment to catch their breath while remaining focused on their goal.