"Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Expanded Edition," by Natalie Goldberg

Pros: Gorgeous, inspiring, deep, wise, truthful, blunt, supportive
Cons: Not everyone is ready to listen
Rating: 5 out of 5

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It took me a long time to get around to reading Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”, but I’m glad I finally got there. This book is a collection of short essays on writing and life, exploring all aspects of our minds, our desires, our passions–our will to keep on writing. It combines a vast wealth of personal experience at writing and teaching with Buddhist wisdom and a great deal of insight into people.

This book will seem too non-practical for some, too caught up in notions of meditation and writing as a practice and writing from our truths. But this is practical, and honest, and immensely helpful if you’re willing to let it sink in and give it a chance to permeate your way of writing.

I have so many thoughts about this book swirling around in my head. At times while reading it I read entire sections aloud to my husband because they burned inside of me and the light they shed wanted to be shared. There are a few thoughts that stand out particularly strongly, however, so I’ll share those with you.

Natalie Goldberg strikes a wonderful balance between encouragement and bluntness. She understands that these things are not incompatible. She believes that anyone can learn to do great things with their writing, and that there’s no point in criticizing a piece of writing that is going nowhere into the ground, but she also sees that this doesn’t mean that all pieces of writing have equal energy to them or will work equally well. She exhorts us to see the value in our work without needing to see it as perfect. This is something we’ve lost sight of in recent years–so many people believe that in order to see value in something, we must see it as perfect. She understands that this need not be so. And in sharing this with us, she helps to give us confidence in our work while allowing us the space to continue improving it.

Because this book was written as an intense series of snippets, you don’t have to read it in order. In fact, one of the most wonderful ways to read it is simply to keep it nearby and, whenever you need a break for a moment, read a single section. It will help you to push past your excuses and your resistances and sit down to write. It can help you to see your writer’s life more clearly, if you give it the chance.

Writers get confused. We think writing gives us an excuse for being alive. We forget that being alive is unconditional and that life and writing are two separate entities.

It’s an incredibly inspiring–and humbling–little book, and I highly recommend it for any writer. It includes a wonderful little afterword consisting of an interview with Ms. Goldberg conducted some time after she originally wrote this book:

We give a lot of names to our excuses, to the reasons we don’t want to write or we’re afraid to. Finally, if you want to write, you have to just shut up, pick up a pen, and do it.

I feel as if there’s so much more I could say about this book, but in the end, it speaks for itself. Pick up a copy today.


Shut up and write–button

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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