Writing Down the Bones

Natalie Goldberg
Shambhala, 1986

Since I started writing seriously I have repeatedly heard or read references to this book as though it held some nugget of writing transport. I felt it a duty to respectfully read it. What I found is a good book of inspiration and a teacher’s understanding of the writing process for writers new to a commitment of writing. Conversationally and without pretension, Goldberg invites and explains. She allows new writers to understand they can write junk because the more important goal is to not be afraid of writing and everything can be revised.

People who journal and are familiar with Julia Cameron’s journaling techniques will recognize a lot of what Goldberg had to say years before Cameron wrote the Artist’s Way. Goldberg is a great believer in just sitting down, putting pen to paper in an inexpensive notebook and firing away for ten minutes to ten hours. She wants people to write past their inhibitions in whatever rambling way they have to get to their original voice that writes and tells the truth.

There is close to zero attention to today’s writing frenzy attention to market demands, genre popularity, dialogue rules, schedule disciplines and finding an agent. Instead, there is reference to what would be a now outdated New Yorker cartoon of a man with a rifle in front of passengers on a plane who says, “Now, sit still. No one is going to be hurt. I just want you to listen to a few of my poems.”  The real need of a poet to be heard feels quaint, nearing stupidly innocent in today’s uptight world.

That is the charm of Goldberg’s book. She presents the trite truths of real writers whose careers and talents only slowly grow through decades. It is arranged in sixty-four short one to three page topics that could be a thought for the day or week. She is a writing teacher who encourages the inner writer of anyone and everyone to work itself out onto the page through their gut, not their mind, in a truthful way that illuminates and shares.

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