Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

“Don’t worry about your talent or capability: that will grow as you practice. Katagiri Roshi said, ‘Capability is like a water table below the surface of the earth.’ No one owns it, but you can tap it. You can 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.” pg 32

I can’t remember how I first heard about Writing Down the Bones, but I wrote it in my bullet journal early last winter and forgot about it. But I saw it mentioned again in The Artist’s Way, which reignited my interest in it. Since then, it seemed like I was seeing it everywhere, which is usually the universe’s way of telling me to pay attention!

Goldberg is a writer who’s life is steeped in Buddhism, which is evident throughout this book as she quotes the wisdom learned from that way of life. I’d never realized how fitting Buddhist principles are to writing — when meditating, your mind wanders and you have to gently bring it back to the expansiveness of your mind. Writing is exactly the same. Just since starting this post I have wandered at least 5 times – to top off my coffee, to go to the bathroom, to check what’s playing on my spotify playlist (dude, spotify has picked a good one for me this week!), just to name a few distractions. But the underlying principle in both practices is return to the chair. No matter what happened the second, the minute, the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year before: get your booty back in the chair.

This is the most accessible book on writing that I’ve read. It’s composed of a collection of very short essays; if you only have five minutes to sit down and read, you might even be able to read two of the essays! You could definitely read at least one in such a short period of time. If you are just beginning to contemplate a life of writing: this book is for you. If you’ve been writing for decades: this book is for you, too! She covers the entire writing process from start to finish.

This book was first published in the 80s, long before each of us wannabe writers had a computer or tablet in front of us. She starts this book on the merits of finding the right notebook and pen to use — I knew this was going to be a book after my own heart with that very first chapter!

Goldberg believes that with practice, nearly everyone can finish a piece of writing they’re proud of, which was what I’ve been needing to hear lately. Too much of this world seems to rely on genetics and natural dispositions and I don’t believe that I was born to write, so I’ve been feeling discouraged. Not anymore!

Similar to Patchett’s essays on writing, Goldberg compares writing to composting. Everything in your life piles up and you use the decomposing material to fuel your work. But it takes time, just as your compost heap takes time to heat up and break down all of the bits of organic matter that you’ve tossed in there. And after that time passes:

“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.” pg 16

But have no fear because:

“we are already supported every moment. There is earth below our feet and there is the air, filling our lungs and emptying them. We should begin from this when we need support. There is the sunlight coming through the window and the silence of the morning. Begin from these. Then turn to face a friend and feel how good it is when she says, ‘I love your work.” Believe her as you believe the floor will hold you up, the chair will let you sit.” pg 63

Aren’t these beautiful passages? This book is full of them, my friend. If you are a lover of books on writing, you simply cannot miss this one. It’s worth every second and every penny.



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