For more than twenty years Natalie Goldberg has been challenging and cheering on writers with her books and workshops. In her groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice—"it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind." This edition includes a new preface and an interview with the author.
Natalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six, when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe , which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twenty-four years old. She received a BA in English literature from George Washington University and an MA in humanities from St. John's University.
Goldberg has painted for as long as she has written, and her paintings can be seen in Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World and Top of My Lungs: Poems and Paintings. They can also be viewed at the Ernesto Mayans Gallery on Canyon Road in Sante Fe.
A dedicated teacher, Goldberg has taught writing and literature for the last thirty-five years. She also leads national workshops and retreats, and her schedule can be accessed via her website: nataliegoldberg.com
In 2006, she completed with the filmmaker Mary Feidt a one-hour documentary, Tangled Up in Bob, about Bob Dylan's childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. The film can be obtained on Amazon or the website tangledupinbob.com.
Goldberg has been a serious Zen practitioner since 1974 and studied with Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984.
You won't go wrong with Goldberg's message, but it is bog-standard, cheerleader style writing advice: "You can do it!" In that way, it's quite similar to Ray Bradbury's book on writing. I preferred King's On Writing to both of these.
I've owned this book for six years. My copy is the pocket-size version. Its cover is wrapped in packing tape to slow the dog-earing.
The first time I read this book in college, and many times since, I carried it everywhere with me, reading it before classes, and over lunch in the dining hall. Natalie Goldberg's short, friendly chapters filled with spiritual and practical wisdom and stories made me feel as though a very warm and welcoming teacher had sat down across the table from me and struck up a conversation about writing and the writing life.
I have read some criticisms of this book, and all I can say is that for me, it works. If you are looking for a book of writing exercises, instructions on prosody or advice on how to revise, this isn't that book. If you don't want to hear about Zen Buddhism, this book is not for you.
What this book does for me is make me want to write again. It is very much comfort reading, something I can carry around in my purse, pull out at a bus stop and read any chapter, then look out at the world with eyes a little more open and a mind a little more clear. And most importantly, it makes me want to write.
I heard about this book a lot while doing Nanowrimo last year, and thought I'd read it. It's a little amusing, written in 1984, so pre-computer really. And some of her advice was pretty repetitive, but I did get some glimmers out of there. "We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us."
"You're never free unless you are doing your art."
"I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or think a thing and then dare to write it down so you can never take it back is the most powerful thing I know."
"If you give yourself over to honesty in your practice, it will permeate your life.... Writing can teach us the dignity of speaking the truth, and it spreads out from the page into all of our life, and it should."
For those of you meant to write memoirs and light happy stories about light happy things, this book is for you.
For those of you who want to write about things of no consequence that have some consequence - The Light Coming Through The Window, Your Favorite Meal, Blue - this book is for you too.
For those of us who are busy thinking of short stories, who are thinking of horror, who think of sf that may deal with harder topics, that think of things that may not be so happy and want to write those things down. For those of us who are dedicated to our short stories and don't want to think in poetical terms (unless, of course, you are an Artiste!), this book does not have as much for us as I had wished.
It's not for lack of trying. Indeed, the thrust of this book is to free the idea of what it means to write. Stuck in a section? Why don't you try dressing up as someone else and move to a different location and write there! Sentences too boring? Why don't you change word order and play with that punctuation!
And yet, for each one of these things that it brings up, I felt less and less like Natalie Goldberg was talking to me and more like she was talking to the Poet across town. She speaks in a language meant for the Burl Ives of this world. And, you know, kudos to them! We need those folk just as much as we need the David Lynches. But I hoped for a little more. I wanted something that forced me to write. Because (and this is why I was "reading" this book for the last 9 months) I wrote for 10 minutes after each chapter. I wanted something that would gear my writing and yet, for 90% of those writings, I was just meandering about a phrase that I wanted to argue about or some other thing.
I'm sure there are many out there who want to read this book, and if you fall into one of those lists from the start, you will get TONS from this book. Otherwise, maybe read [Book: Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life] by Anne Lamott instead?
I picked up Writing Down the Bones when I was still teaching elementary school, and used ideas from it with my grades two to four students. My emphasis on these “10-minute writes” was on unedited (until later) free-writing. The rules were a condensed version of Natalie’s: -Keep your hand moving -Don’t cross out -Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar -Don’t think
I would set the timer, and on the word, “start”, pencils began moving, some faster than others. And of course I would be writing, too. Some students had no difficulty; others couldn’t let go. No matter; it wasn’t a competition. When the timer went off, I’d say, “Pencils down”, and pages were filed into their writing folders.
After doing a number of these exercises, when a student thought there might be a story to develop, the raw material of the “stream-of-consciousness” draft was used to expand on the idea, rewrite, and then edit. Eventually, each student improved in fluency and was able to create a “hard-cover” book. Some stories contained a line per page with an illustration. Others filled their book with writing, and the odd illustration. The “published” copy contained a picture of the author on the back, along with a short bio.
Quite a number of years later, I participated in a workshop facilitated by a friend and fan of Natalie Goldberg. Most of the exercises began with the words, “I remember….”
To this day I still use a pen and paper, instead of the computer, to begin a new chapter or scene, or if I get ‘stuck’ in the middle of one.
I would recommend this book for all writers, but especially for beginning writers. And for teachers who might want to incorporate this exercise into their writing curriculum. As the title suggests, “Writing Down the Bones” is actually “Freeing the writer within.” This is a book, not about the revision required for all “published” writing, but about generating and recording the essential ideas in the first place.
Reading Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott struck me as reading two very similar books from two distinct voices. Writing Down The Bones is a personal reflection on the craft and what works for Goldberg and might work for you. It's easy to digest, coming in short chapters, and it really does make you think about what you write, how you sit down to work, whether you're really dedicated to writing. The allusions to Buddhism and Judaism and how they affect her writing are also interesting. Some of her advice seems contradictory, but really it's just that it comes from different places in the process. Some of it is the average advice you get from all writers -- keep a notebook, take it everywhere, write in it every day, just as an example -- but coupled with her experience of doing that.
I felt like it was a little bit repetitive and it didn't focus much on what to do with the writing once you've done it, but it was still worth reading.
It took my ego fifteen years to crack open Stephen King's memoir, On Writing. When I finally did, I was transformed. How could his writing process be so similar to mine? Why do he and I have the same strange thoughts?
The deep connection to that book led me to rethink this book, Writing Down the Bones, that has sat, barely touched, upon my night stand for nearly a decade.
I have come to realize, through these two excellent books, that it's good to journey outside of your powerfully resistant ego and your own short-sightedness when it comes to seeking help. It's not even about "help." Natalie Goldberg wants you to remember that, if you are provoked to write, it's for a reason, and the only way to set yourself free is to validate your expression by working at it, daily.
Whether you're a veteran or a novice, you need this book.
Having heard great praise for this book from several people I respect I had high hopes. Like many, I found it lacking. Golberg wrote a book not about writing but about using Zen to overcoming self doubt. I am sure this could be quite helpful to many prospective writers. Judging by the many positive reviews this is the case. And to those of you I say, “More power to ya”. I rarely wallow in self doubt of my writing ability. I fail to write not because I am afraid, but because I am lazy and easily distracted. Natalie Goldberg spends most of the short chapters in this short book talking about her Zen teacher and about embracing irrationality. Maybe this technique helps poets but it seems unhelpful to prose writers. She highlights this in one chapter where she lists several poems. They are a gibberish and incoherent jumble of unconnected words. I did glean two actual pieces of practical advice from this fifteen dollar book. First, write a lot. This should not shock anyone since this every book, article, and seminar about writing contains the same advice. I found the second idea far more helpful. We need to separate the writer in us from the editor. Put simply, don’t edit your work as you are writing. Just get the words on the page. Don’t like something in that sentence? Ignore it and just keep writing. Come back later and edit it. There I’ve given you the two things you will actually get from this book and just saved you fifteen dollars.
This book changed my life as a writer, a teacher of writing, and as an individual!
I use this book currently in my high school Creative Writing I class. I read chapters to the students; we talk about what they might mean, and how the advice given could change their writing. I wasn't sure if this approach would be successful with high school age students, but within weeks I have seen more free writing, more stream of consciousness writing, and more unedited writing than ever before! My students are enjoying the drafting and brainstorming stages of writing because they seem to be less intimidating. If they don't know what to write, they free write until an idea comes to mind!
I went to a Writing Group in the Hague today for the first time. Seeing the half-read paperback "Writing Down the Bones" on someone's table made me curious as I had heard of it before.
I simply couldn't put it down.
So I negotiated with the owner of the book, the friend who introduced me to the writing group, to swap the book I was reading (something about taking back your life, another self-help book I was half-way through and wanted to finish and give away because there were too many of such books on my shelf and repertoire) -- for her book to finish reading by tomorrow.
I read Goldberg's bestseller on the steps next to the famous Dr Anton Philipzaal (concert hall) after a much-needed salt-and-pepper squid and rice take-out meal. I continued reading it on the train back to Utrecht, hoping the train ride would not end.
As soon as I got home, I sat in the garden in the setting northern European sun, anxious to digest the remaining pearls of wisdom before the sun disappeared from the roof tops of the monument houses.
I finished the book in less than a day.
I guess I was desperate.
I had not read a book about writing in a long time. I had loads to write, but I could not even do the "free writing" of today's writing session, only jotting down bullet points and ideas from my head, flushing out the burden of responsibility to write reviews and more. I had not kept a journal for more than a year. I was stuck.
Reading Natalie Goldberg's book freed the writer within me.
This is an encouraging and motivating little volume, filled with an assortment of anecdotes, advice, and exercises for writing practice; it is a good way to get into the habit of writing. It has, however, one of the ugliest book covers I have ever seen.
Writing Down the Bones promotes a Zen-like writing practice, in which no errors are possible, provided that one be present and continue to write. Goldberg gives the student permission to write badly, and creates a liberating safe-space that helps a lot of students find the courage to write, and eventually to discover that they have something valuable within them.
It was interesting and made sense, but just not really my thing. Too much of Zen and Buddhism and it's not like I'm against it or something, but it's just not what I expected from this book, I guess. Might come back to it someday, though.
Classic that it is, I didn’t like this one quite as much as Goldberg’s second book Wild Mind (above), perhaps because I read the other first. Still, Writing Down the Bones offers up its fair share of authorial soul-bearing and pithy snippets of advice for the loosing of the creative spirit.
I read this book again every few years. I love it. It takes me back to the fundamentals of writing & gives me pages of notes , thoughts, lines of poetry & my own inspiration and memory. A must for all writers.
I put it under inspirational, since it does have a lot of that, but this is also the best writing book I have read. I got it on the recommendation of a colleague of mine when I was still teaching high school English. It has inspired me to be a better writer myself. And it is just a good book to read when you need something that is easy and relaxing. Goldberg is very encouraging, inspiring, and gentle with a bit of an erotic element. I am finally adding it now as I am rereading it yet again. True, it was written before computers really took off, but I am sure a lot of the advice is still very applicable. For instance, I am sure instead of notebooks and diners, you may be using a laptop in a coffee shop with wifi. Overall, the book remains very effective and timeless.
I love, love, love this book with all of my beating heart.
There's a kind of fuzzy warmth, like standing present on a balcony overlooking autumnal woods and hearing the sounds of bird songs, as I finished Writing Down the Bones.
I want to tape this book to my chest and keep it with me always. (But my desk will have to do.) And I want to memorize every revelation. (But it was almost every other page.)
Goldberg is a gift to this world. And Writing Down the Bones is the best book on writing I have ever read!!!
There is so much insight and wisdom, guidance and soul healing, that no amount of words could explain. All I can say is...
Read it! Read it! Read it!
Re-read 2020: Each time I open up Writing Down the Bones, it brings me great peace & recconects my heart to trust again. To believe. To write. I adore this wholeheartedly. My favourite book on writing.
La scrittura. Natalie Goldberg la spiega prendendo ad esempio lo sport: come puoi aspettarti di poter correre alla maratona di New York, se non ti sei allenato per anni, magari in corsettine di paese? E incoraggia, sprona, si scopre in una maniera così semplice ed ingenua che è impossibile resisterle!
Sequel Ah. Sono felice che questa recensione sia stata copiata quasi parola per parola su un blog. Con altra firma chiaramente. Vuol dire che malaccio non scrivo.
Però leggersi un libro ogni tanto... No? Arrangiarsi... No?
This book was written in the '80s, and boy, is it a book written in the '80s. A post-'70s '80s book. Example?
"A friend once told me: 'Trust in love and it will take you where you need to go.' I want to add, 'Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.' And don’t worry too much about security. You will eventually have a deep security when you begin to do what you want. How many of us with our big salaries are actually secure anyway?"
That's from the introduction.
I plodded through about 25 percent of the book and I had to give up, because reading it was turning out to be about as useful as the hours I spent perfecting my Snake game on my old Nokia c. 2002. Don't get me wrong--I'm sure lots of people will find this book great and inspiring. My problem is that my brain is completely immune, resistant to this sort of thing. Seriously--like Teflon. This kind of content just plops against my brain and doesn't stick. It slides right off. I've literally just finished the 25 percent, and I can't tell you anything of substance I've read.
This is not a book about writing short stories or novels or essays, but it's a book about *finding your inner writer* through Zen and self-affirmation. It's fodder of creative writing courses aimed at helping you write about "your first memory" and "things that are pink," and about the precious miracle that is your self and your "magnificent life", and that kind of thing: not even writing a memoir, but just writing for writing's self-indulgent sake, as a form of therapy and, yes, again, self-affirmation. Sure, I think some of what Goldberg preaches (relentlessly)--about overcoming your personal limitations to actually sit on your ass and write, and not caring about what you're writing, just pumping out the pages--is useful at some stage, and perhaps to some writers. But certainly not to all, not even beginners.
The advice in this book is not about how to craft stories and make them better (there were close to none practical tips in the 25 percent I've read). Here is an example of how Goldberg approaches the dreary subject of style and craft:
"Katagiri Roshi [a Zen master, I think] said, 'Capability is like a water table below the surface of earth.' No one owns it, but you can tap it. You tap it with your effort and it will come through you. So just practice writing, and when you learn to trust your voice, direct it. If you want to write a novel, write a novel. If it’s essays you want or short stories, write them. In the process of writing them, you will learn how. You can have the confidence that you will gradually acquire the technique and craft you need."
Instead, you get advice such as this, this one concerning harnessing the use of metaphors (which, in case you wonder, you shouldn't force your mind to "make," because they will sound false):
"Your mind is leaping, your writing will leap, but it won’t be artificial. It will reflect the nature of first thoughts, the way we see the world when we are free from prejudice and can see the underlying principles. We are all connected. Metaphor knows this and therefore is religious. There is no separation between ants and elephants. All boundaries disappear, as though we were looking through rain or squinting our eyes at city lights."
So, uh, yeah. I guess it's the kind of book that needs to explain that metaphor is tricky and must be used with caution, but does so veiled in a New-Agey, me-me-me, depoliticized pseudo-philosophy sprinkled with pretty if sentimental and tired imagery. Literally any other book on any kind of writing will tell you the same thing, only in clearer, more applicable terms. What's also worrying is that Goldberg seems to be dispensing advice on prose and poetry at the same time, as if the two were the same kind of practice and came from the same place. I don't think they are and I don't think they do.
Also, the frequent anecdotes from her own life Goldberg uses to illutstrate certain points seem a bit vacuous, and not at all claryfing the point she's making (they're also boring).
All in all, it's a watered-down self-help book, not a creative writing book. What's more, I think that a really good creative writing book will not only help you write better, but will also help you read better. It will make you appreciate the good craft of writing more: recognize the strategies the author employed and the choices she made, see how carefully she structured the plot and how minutely she imagined and developed the characters, and value the kind of effort that went into making the story a better reading experience for you, the audience. This book won't do any of that; it will only encourage your "self-discovery" through writing.
If you enjoyed the quotations I put above, and you feel like it might be your cup of tea, or if you're interested in writing for yourself to sort out through your life and thoughts, read the book. If, like me, you're seriously put-off, steer way clear.
This book is what got me writing. Absolutely stunning in its simplicity, but also much more deep than one would think upon first glance. Natalie Goldberg is a brilliant teacher who compares writing to many other crafts that necessitate discipline and daily practice, including meditation, friendships/relationships, athletics, and just about everything else.
A (very!) paraphrased/off the TOP of my head quote:
[You may have $2 in the bank account, your children are screaming, your loved one is begging you to wash the dishes, the house is a wreck, you're hung over from the night before. Now get up, quietly move to the next room, and WRITE.]
Back in September I joined the newly formed Westfield Writer's Project https://www.facebook.com/groups/11641... and one of our writing assignments was to read a book on the craft of writing and and share our thoughts at our next meeting. I chose Writing Down The Bones!
Perhaps it was the curious title that included the words “bones” and “writing” that attracted me to this book. Or maybe because it came up so many times during my messaging conversations with the WWP moderator over several months that the seeds of familiarity sprouted and took root in my head. Regardless of how I got here, I am so pleased to read this wonderful primer on the craft of writing.
The idea of just digging in without goals or expectations of the next great America novel resonated with me as refreshing and truly liberating. Invariably I’ve approached my writing with lofty and unrealistic expectations of a perfectly polished product each and every time I sat down to write. And because I never could achieve those pie in the sky expectations, writing often felt like a frustrating chore wrought with failure. Goldberg has set me free! Beginner’s mind and mindfulness, staying in the moment without expectations or fear, are elements of my yoga practice that I never thought to apply to writing.
Goldberg suggests we approach writing as a practice. Like long distance running, playing the piano or baking pastries, the more we do it, the better we get at it. But the practice must be consistent and scheduled regardless of how we feel or the level of motivation. As Nike proclaims, just do it! When we practice, Goldberg suggests, sit with no expectations of yourself. You are free to write the worst junk in the world!
I'm loving the writer's group, loved this book and love writing the junk!
This is not a how-to guide, but a series of anecdotes, ideas and exercises for freeing up the voice, and getting unstuck. It's very different than most books on writing, and the best I know of at what it tries to do. It sure helped me.
There is nothing like rereading an old favorite. This time, I listened to this book on audio. The author read each chapter, and then popped back in to comment with thoughts about her book, from a distance of twenty-five years after the book was originally published.
If you can only read a few books on writing, let this be one of them.
THIRD READ THOUGHTS
Writing Down the Bones is my go-to book about writing. Whenever I need a little motivation, I pull out this book and reread a chapter or two.
Writing Down the Bones shares the idea of writing as a practice. Author Natalie Goldberg has six rules for writing practice:
1. Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.) 2. Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.) 3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.) 4. Lose control. 5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. 6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)
Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library) . Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
I keep these rules close to me when I do my writing practice.
There is a lot more wisdom in the book.
Katagiri Roshi said: “Your little will can’t do anything. It takes Great Determination. Great Determination doesn’t mean just you making an effort. It means the whole universe is behind you and with you—the birds, trees, sky, moon, and ten directions.” Suddenly, after much composting, you are in alignment with the stars or the moment or the dining-room chandelier above your head, and your body opens and speaks.
Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library) . Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
Basically, if you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things. Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot. And don’t think too much. Just enter the heat of words and sounds and colored sensations and keep your pen moving across the page.
Goldberg, Natalie. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library) . Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
This is an essential book for writers. So glad I read it.
I had a few hours to myself while staying with friends, and I found this book on their shelf. I like reading books about writing and editing, so I was eager to see what this one is like. Natalie Goldberg is very encouraging to all writers, and she makes a good point about honing a habit of writing all the time, and facing your own character flaws through your writing.
Unfortunately, that's about the only point she makes, and she makes it over and over. The "I'm one with the world and everything is peaceful" perspective is interesting, and very positive but, for me, about 30 pages of it was plenty; I read the first 75 pages of the book, and that was far too much. Maybe there's something more in the second half of the book, but it seems unlikely.
Goldberg suggests a number of good writing prompts, and I look forward to putting them into practice. But her instruction is only part of the discipline of writing. What she talks about would be good if you're just writing self-indulgent blog posts or a memoir, but if you're writing, say, a sci-fi novel, at some point you have to do research, and then integrate that into your writing in a natural way. Writing Down the Bones doesn't have anything to say about that part of writing. From what I remember of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (another book I read once when I had some time on my own at a friend's house, actually), it covers the same content as Goldberg's book, but with that additional level of research and other aspects of writing.
Writing Down the Bones is not a bad book, and I don't think it's meant to be read cover-to-cover all at once, so I came at it wrong. Still, I would have liked the content to cover a wider range of the writer's craft.
I tried to read this book many, many years ago and quit because I didn't get much out of it. There were occasional insights, but not nearly enough meat to keep me going. It is still on all the "must read" lists for writers, so I thought I'd give it another chance. After all, I was a teenager the last time I tried and I didn't have a lot of patience for things I didn't understand.
I should have trusted my teen self.
I was able to hit upon a few nuggets of wisdom, but for the most part, I was reading words -- just reading a series of words that held no interest or importance for me. I didn't find those words to be especially informative, nor did I find them to be especially inspiring.
Maybe if I wait another 35 years to read the book, I'll finally understand what all the hype is about.
Šis laikam ir tā reize, kad varu piekrist teicienam, ka izcilība slēpjas vienkāršās lietās. Grāmatā ietvertās atziņas noteikti var attiecināt uz visu, ko ikdienā darām - to uzskatāmi parāda ikdienišķie salīdzinājumi, kas ik pa laika manāmi grāmatas lapās. Pateicoties šai grāmatai, noteikti varu vairāk izprast arī savus līdzcilvēkus. Viss, kas ar mums notiek, ir rakstīšanas vērts, taču, manuprāt, svarīgi ir būt šeit un tagad.
"... un kaut arī nāve gaudo mums mugurā un dzīve rēc mums sejā, mēs varam tikai sākt rakstīt, vienkārši sākt rakstīt par to, kas mums sakāms."
This was a great read on writing. I enjoyed this compilation of essays on the various aspects of being a writer and building a writing practice. What I most appreciated about this book was that the author did not just describe ways to be a better writer or tell us readers what to do in order to write better, but her essays show us that the author practices what she is preaching.
Grāmatu "Rakstīt par būtisko" lasīju pirms gandrīz diviem gadiem, BET! šogad nolēmu to pārlasīt vēlreiz, jo ļoti gribēju nokļūt uz tāda paša vai līdzīga viļņa, uz kāda biju, lasot grāmatu pirmo reizi. Un! Man tas izdevās, kas, manuprāt, pierāda šīs grāmatas milzīgo iedvesmošanas spēku.
Хочу, щоб ця неймовірна жінка стала моєю наставницею. Уявляєте, можна писати, навіть якщо не маєш ідеї для цілого роману. Просто писати. Оце так відкриття, Олю. Добра книга про підтримку, прийняття і з практичними порадами. Потрапила мені в руки дуже вчасно.