Book Review: “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg

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It isn’t every day that I can say a book fundamentally changed the way I view writing and how I write.  Such is the case with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Somehow, I thought I read the book nearly a decade ago.  No. No I didn’t. That became clear when I picked it up recently.  I wish I read it ten years ago! Better late than never, I suppose.

I finished the book several weeks ago at this point, but I couldn’t quite capture the impression it left.  I took my time reading her essays and highlighted (in my Kindle version) what I perceived to be the best writing advice contained in each essay.  That is one feature I love about this book. Her advice is all nice and neatly wrapped up in small essays that make you feel as if you know her. So, how did it change the way I write?

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Well, here are a few changes that I made as a result of her book:

  1.  I finally got journaling right.  Finally.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have had a love/hate relationship with journaling for as long as I can remember.  I love the idea of journaling every day. Better yet is starting a new journal. Add online journals into the mix, and the entire thing is one huge mess.  I collect journals. I hate actually writing in the more beautiful ones at times. Beautiful journals call for beautiful words. No one gets it right the first time.  After a short period of time, I always wanted to start all over again. Repeat.

So, what changed?  Well, I started acknowledging there is a need to get the junk out of the way first.  That is where 750words comes in. By writing daily in this online journal daily – no frills, just the junk that comes to mind – I tend to become much more focused when I write a blog post or in one of my beautiful traditional journals.  I limit what I write in a traditional journal to one short page a day. It is much more focused.

Natalie refers to the “junk” as monkey mind, and that concept deserves its own blog post. The idea is that we all tend to think in circles. We have to write through our wandering thoughts before we can write something meaningful.  She discusses this concept throughout several of her essays.

  1.  Find What Works for You.

This seems so cliche, but she suggests experimenting to find what processes work for you.  No judgement regarding pen versus typing, morning versus evening, and so on. Writers need to write when and where they can.  She provides several wonderful examples of this and how the local atmosphere can seep into writing.

What really made the difference for me was her discussion of what works for her – writing in cheap one subject notebooks until she fills them up.  She goes on to say that the tools truly do not matter. While I knew that wouldn’t work for me, it did get me thinking. It finally hit me. A three-ring binder I could decorate with my favorite writing quotes and fill with tab dividers and loose-leaf notebook paper would work well.  I could plan, write, and revise blog posts without having to worry about destroying bound notebooks. A binder would allow me to reorganize different pieces as I see fit. So far, I love it. I also included some of my favorite blog posts, lists of topics, and writing prompts – anything to keep me writing.

  1.  Don’t Beat Yourself Up.

I would love to write full-time.  The reality is that I substitute teach, spend summers working in the family business, and so much more.  I am trying hard to find time to write everyday, but every once in a while, I don’t. I am learning to just pick up the next day.  I don’t need to stress about it. It is a little thing, but it helps. Creating a simple writing routine helped simplify everything.

I love the fact that she embraces the fact that everyone writes garbage.  We have to work through the garbage to get to the good stuff. Authentic details are everywhere.  Even when not writing, we are still hard at work collecting details, situations, characters, stories, ideas, and so much more.  In fact, that is one reason why I started blogging: I wanted to experiment with and collect different story ideas – to think out loud.

  1.  Write Everywhere and Anywhere.

Write.  Write. Write.  Writers spend so much time avoiding writing.  Plotting, planning, organizing, and even cleaning are all brilliant distractions from the actual writing itself. This is one reason why I head somewhere else when I actually want to get something done.  I can always find something to distract me when I am at home. Natalie goes so far as to offer tips on how to effectively use cafes and coffee shops as places to write. My dream is to have a wonderful coffee shop near my house.  It won’t happen any time soon, but a girl can dream.

Conclusions

Writing Down the Bones may mean different things to different writers, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves to write.  I think there is something in there for everyone. It is a book I will come back to time and time again. Writing Down the Bones already fundamentally changed the way I write.

Writing Down The Bones

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