Writing Down The Bones

I promised you must-read writing books. Let’s start with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. It has been a beacon to scribes and wannabes for over 30 years. I discovered it late and have compensated by reading it two or three times a year since.

Goldberg’s fundamental principle is just write. If you want to be a writer, write. That’s been sound advice since Epictetus dished it a couple of thousand years ago. Goldberg picks up the Stoic philosopher’s thread with brief, punchy chapters that are so elegantly written as to make writing seem infinitely appealing, even when she’s telling you how hard it is.

My feeble descriptive capacity does Natalie no justice so, with respect, I’ll let a few snippets speak for themselves.

Writing Down The Bones

“It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes becomes the most important thing on earth — anything that will divert you from writing. Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write. That is painful.” p26

“Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth.” p47

“Be specific. Don’t say “fruit.” Tell what kind of fruit — “It is a pomegranate.” Give things the dignity of their names.” p77

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Sunrise, Ibiza

“Another friend told me about her father who left the family suddenly when she was twelve and became a born-again Christian and embezzled money from the churches of three states. It was her personal tragedy. I told her it was a great story. Her face lit up. She realized she could transform her life in a new way — as material for writing.” p85

“Push yourself beyond when you think you are done with what you  have to say. Go a little further. Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real.” p112

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Penn campus, West Philadelphia

“Continue under all circumstances. Don’t be rigid, though. If one day you have to take your kids to the dentist when it is your time to write, write in the dentist’s office or don’t write. Just stay in touch underneath with your commitment for this wild, silly, and wonderful writing practice. Always stay friendly toward it. It’s easier to come back to a good friend than an enemy.” p145

“When I reread my notebooks it never fails to remind me that I have a life, that I felt and thought and saw. It is very reaffirm, because sometimes writing seems useless and a waste of time. Suddenly you are sitting in your chair fascinated by your own mundane life. That’s the great value of art — making the ordinary extraordinary.” p172

Visit Natalie’s website. She has a new book out soon in paperback!

Really, you have to read it for yourself. Get it!

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Above the clouds