Thirty years ago, at age 38, artist, writer, teacher and poet Natalie Goldberg wrote the bestselling Writing Down the Bones. It’s one of the books on writing and it’s always recommended. Her continuing career includes more books, ten total thus far, painting and ongoing instruction to others about “freeing the writer within.”
Written in response to the trend of disciplined and structured writing techniques, Ms. Goldberg offers advice, insights on why we write, loose writing parameters, defense against writer’s block, thoughts on how to get out of your head while using what you already have in your head, a few writing exercises, and comfort for when it seems like everything has gone sideways.
The mini chapter format allows the reader to pick up and begin reading at any point. Chapters affirm and others push. It’s like a conversation with a dear friend, one who loves and supports you, while also challenging you with the truth in a situation. Judith Guest closes the forward with the superb summary of “it’s (the book) simply the best aid and comfort around today.”
The best aid includes her honesty about the human condition. Ms. Goldberg using a Zen approach, she formally studied with Dainin Katagiri Roshi for twelve years, addresses fear and difficulty associated with your chosen interest whether it is writing, painting, or running a business. She talks about monkey mind – imagine a monkey sitting on your shoulder – which makes the writer all critic instead of creator. She reviews syntax and word choices by providing clever approaches to digging deeper. Her well-crafted anecdotes feel like they’ve been pulled from your own writing experiences. She knows the pain, suffering, joy and happiness of creating and she skillfully shows how to let it all go and find peace with your writing.
Ms. Goldberg’s timeless phrase Writing Down the Bones is best translated as writing clearly with great honesty. This book captures the creative journey and offers a strong propellant for advancing in the practice.