Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

by Natalie Goldberg
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Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

With insight, humor, and practicality, Goldberg inspires writers and would-bewriters alike to take the leap into writing creatively and well. SizeA.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590302613
Publisher: Shambhala
Publication date: 12/06/2005
Edition description: Expanded
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.45(w) x 8.41(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

NATALIE GOLDBERG is the author of fourteen books, including Writing Down the Bones, which has changed the way writing is taught in this country. She teaches retreats nationally and internationally. She lives in New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

"Julia, come on in! It’s great!" Natalie Goldberg’s voice carried over the roar of the Rio Grande river. She had invited me to go swimming, assuring me that our jumping-off point would be safe and placid. It was nothing like safe and placid. The river’s current was strong, and it took a strong swimmer—like Natalie—to brave its depths.

"Come on in," she called again, "You’ll love it." And so, egged on by her enthusiasm, I stepped into the current. It was both strong and swift. Losing my footing, I found myself sputtering. Natalie laughed. "Don’t you love it?" she called. "Just relax." True to her word, Natalie herself rode the current. "You’re doing fine," she assured me, as I mentally wrote my obituary, "Writer takes the plunge and drowns."

Asked to write a foreword to this, the thirtieth anniversary edition of Writing Down the Bones, I found myself remembering that afternoon on the Rio, and the way that Natalie’s bold enthusiasm lured me from the shore. “Why, it’s just like her teachings,” I realized. A million-plus readers have followed Natalie’s bold plunge into the world of words. "Just dive in," urges Natalie, teaching, "Begin where you are." Inspired by her conviction that all of us have lively stories to tell, Natalie’s students put pen to the page, following her enticing leads. Writing Down the Bones is a book of short essays. True to her word, she begins at the beginning: "Beginner’s mind, pen and paper." From there, it’s time to push off from the shore. "Keep your hand moving," she commands. "Don’t cross out, don’t worry about spelling, punctuation and grammar; lose control, don’t think, don’t get logical, go for the jugular."

In other words, take the plunge.
"Do you want a tomato?" It’s another afternoon with Natalie, twenty years later. This time, we are standing at her kitchen counter, and she is urging me to just take one succulent bite. The tomato is home-grown, plucked by Natalie’s own hand. And though I’m not used to eating a tomato like a peach, Natalie models the daring it takes to consider the tomato an end in itself, and not a mere ingredient.

"Why, it’s just like her teaching," I caught myself thinking. It’s a matter of appetite. It’s a matter of satisfaction. Natalie’s writing is filled with savory details. The tomato she plucked from her garden can yield an entire essay.

"Include original detail," Natalie urges her students. Our lives are filled with details, like the ripe red tomato plucked from the vine. Natalie’s writing is filled with food, and her appetite for life gives us food for thought.
—Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way
July 2015

Table of Contents

Foreword Julia Cameron xi

Foreword Bill Addison xiii

Preface to the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition xvii

Preface to the Second Edition xxi

Introduction 1

Beginner's Mind, Pen and Paper 5

First Thoughts 8

Writing as a Practice 11

Composting 15

Artistic Stability 18

A List of Topics for Writing Practice 21

Fighting Tofu 25

Trouble with the Editor 28

Elkton, Minnesota: Whatever's in Front of You 29

Tap the Water Table 32

We Are Not the Poem 34

Man Eats Car 36

Writing Is Not a McDonald's Hamburger 39

Obsessions 42

Original Detail 45

The Power of Detail 47

Baking a Cake 50

Living Twice 53

Writers Have Good Figures 55

Listening 57

Don't Marry the Fly 60

Don't Use Writing to Get Love 62

What Are Your Deep Dreams? 65

Syntax 67

Nervously Sipping Wine 72

Don't Tell, but Show 75

Be Specific 77

Big Concentration 79

The Ordinary and Extraordinary 81

Talk Is the Exercise Ground 84

Writing Is a Communal Act 86

One Plus One Equals a Mercedes-Benz 89

Be an Animal 90

Make Statements and Answer Questions 93

The Action of a Sentence 95

Writing in Restaurants 98

The Writing Studio 103

A Big Topic: Eroticism 105

A Tourist in Your Own Town 108

Write Anyplace 110

Go Further 112

Engendering Compassion 114

Doubt Is Torture 117

A Little Sweet 119

A New Moment 120

Why Do I Write? 122

Every Monday 126

More About Mondays 128

Spontaneous Writing Booths 130

A Sensation of Space 133

A Large Field to Wander In 136

The Goody Two-Shoes Nature 140

No Hindrances 144

A Meal You Love 147

Use Loneliness 149

Blue Lipstick and a Cigarette Hanging Out Your Mouth 151

Going Home 152

A Story Circle 156

Writing Marathons 160

Claim Your Writing 164

Trust Yourself 167

The Samurai 169

Rereading and Rewriting 172

I Don't Want to Die 177

Epilogue 179

Afterword: An Interview with the Author 181

Natalie Goldberg in Her Own Voice 196

Notes 198

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Writing Down the Bones 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Richard_Szponder More than 1 year ago
So many books on writing delve specifically into the craft of writing, explaining how to structure sentences, create memorable characters, move plotline along, or write interesting dialogue. Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg is not one of those books. In her writing how-to, Goldberg discusses the writing life, including why writers write, how to engage with the universe through the act of writing, and how to get past the internal blocks and censors that would prevent writers from writing. Natalie Goldberg is a writing teacher, and in Writing Down The Bones, she promotes the act of writing practice. Writing practice is daily journal writing, handwritten and free flowing thought. Goldberg refers to this type of writing as "first thought," the rich and vibrant thought that accompanies the act of letting go. A student of Zen and meditation, Goldberg marries the two concepts, often quoting her Zen teachers and discussing making writing a part of daily life. Those interested in understanding how to craft a novel or write memoir or delve into poetry can all benefit from this little book. No, it will not specify the secrets to public success as a writer. However, it will provide the encouragement and explain the reward with allowing oneself to be a writer. Goldberg specifically discusses the concept of what she refers to as "monkey mind," that internal censor that challenges all artists. It asks them, "Who do you think you are?" when delving into creative endeavors. She strategizes methods of dealing with money mind and shutting down the censor, returning to writing as the solution. Goldberg is a proponent of writing mirroring life, and she challenges writers to explore all aspects of their lives in writing, explaining that avoiding uncomfortable topics will be evident to readers. Often, Writing Down The Bones gets quite abstract and new age. She explains that writing has less to do with talent than it does with practice, and she insists that writers write using all of their senses, engaging their readers with detailed explanations the environment in which the event is occurring. For writers of fast-paced or genre fiction, Goldberg's tactics may seem more useful to someone writing in other genres. However, Goldberg's perspective of writing as art and as having higher meaning as a form of art serves as a reminder to all artists the higher power they, themselves, are serving. Goldberg meets her topics with humor and enthusiasm, challenging common writing dilemmas like where to write, how to write, when to write, and finding time. Her simple solution? Two words that can sum up all of the concepts in Writing Down The Bones: just write. Make no excuses, for the internal censor will be very creative itself in encouraging writers not to write. Just write, and appreciate life, and bring that appreciation and understanding to the page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Natalie Goldberg makes you want to write, even if you have no desire or ability. She is inspiring. Whether you have an interest in writing or not, this is a good book to have in your library. It could be helpful for anyone who does any type of writing. She forces you to think in detail and to be more descriptive.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a virtual bible in the creative writing circles on the process of freeing the writer within. Before Julia Cameron¿s bestselling Artist¿s Way there was Natalie Goldberg¿s Writing Down the Bones in 1986 and now a staple in workshops around North America. Goldberg¿s Zen meditation training has greatly influenced her teaching style and methodology which is reflective in this book. Writing Down the Bones brings a collection of techniques and practices for writers at various stages in their career, published or not. Goldberg mixes her methods with her Zen wisdom for a rich text on using the sensory faculties to bring out narrative whilst maintaining the clear mind focus required completing a creative project. There is no systematic rigid method in this book which allows a reader to jump around and still benefit from Goldberg¿s guidance. The fundamental of Writing Down the Bones is stimulating our senses and primal reactions to scent or sight to inspire what one writes about. There are real nuggets of gold in this book and one has to be quite a prospector when going through its sections. Some of the best advice for a writer includes the following from Goldberg: ¿ Timed writing ¿ keep your hand moving for 10 to 20 minutes without stopping. This is a form of ¿stream of consciousness¿ writing. ¿ No editing while doing timed writing. ¿ Forget spelling and grammar ¿ just go and write, write, write! ¿ Lose control in the narrative ¿ just say it with the pen without restraint! ¿ Don¿t think. Don¿t get logical. Lose yourself in the experience and get raw with your writing. ¿ Go for the jugular ¿ say with your writing exactly what you have in mind and forget about rules for a while. This is an intimate experience for you only so no external judgment will come upon you. ¿ Keep a list of writing ideas ¿ Try to fill a notebook a month ¿ Forget writer¿s guilt over unfinished products or breaks in your writing practice. ¿ Don¿t use writing for love ¿ a key wise woman saying especially given the propensity for melancholy in literary types 'ouch!' lest one get addicted to journaling instead of publishing and polishing their writing craft! ¿ The action of a sentence ¿ chapter on using verb as the energy behind a sentence and Natalie¿s exercise on constructing a connection between nouns. ¿ Consider participating in a story circle for creative support. ¿ Have a writing marathon once in a while. There are actual weekend writers¿ marathons throughout North America. One concept that Goldberg talks about in the ¿Afterward¿ section of the expanded edition of Writing Down the Bones is the importance of place. Location, just like real estate, is everything. Goldberg states that environment can really make a particular writing project come alive. For her, a place is the third character, particularly in novels. No wonder some authors love to go away to another part of the world to complete a story. The sensory experience of a town or city or building can evoke with intimacy a sense of story that goes deeper than a textbook description. Writing Down the Bones frees the writer within by pulling them out through their own senses. Goldberg¿s book is another mainstay for writers everywhere to keep their art fresh, engaging, and alive.
EPClark 28 days ago
Lots of writing manuals will give you a 1-2-3 formula for being productive and successful. "Writing Down the Bones" goes in completely the opposite direction. As Natalie Goldberg tells us in the Introduction: "Learning to write is not a linear process. There is no logical A-to-B-to-C way to become a good writer. One neat truth about writing cannot answer it all. There are many truths. To do writing practice means to deal ultimately with your whole life." What this means is that "Writing Down the Bones" will probably inspire you if you are a writer struggling to do more writing. It may also inspire you if you practice any other type of art, or if you are just trying to pull your life together and/or live in a more authentic way. It brings together Goldberg's experiences and wisdom as a poet and a writing instructor with the insight gained from years of practicing Zen Buddhism, to provide a set of Zen-infused musings on how to write more and write better as well as live more and live better. Goldberg's training and practice as a poet is evident in the structure of the book, which is made up of very short chapters that are full of pithy bits of wisdom, mixed in sometimes bizarre or unexpected stories (something that is also a Zen characteristic). She does offer stylistic suggestions and specific ideas for jumpstarting your writing practice, such as making lists of nouns and verbs and trying to combine them into sentences, as well as general instructions for how to live and be as a writer, for example: "Best come to writing whole with everything in you. And when you're done writing, best to walk out in the street with everything you are, including your common sense or Buddha nature--something good at the center, to tell you the names of streets, so you won't get lost. Something to tell you you can come back to your writing tomorrow and stay with your writing in the hours in between, when you are an animal, out stalking the city." "Writing Down the Bones" is a short work, and can be quickly read, but it is not the kind of fluffy feel-good piece that permeates so much self-help writing these days (and probably in previous days, too). It doesn't promise to make writing fun or easy or lucrative, but it does contain lots of ideas for how to unlock your creativity if you need help unlocking it, and how to find your authentic artist's self. Written over 30 years, it is still highly worth reading for writers who want to make writing an art and a craft as well as a business.
KaneH More than 1 year ago
For a writer, creativity is key, and this book is a great starting point for understanding the writing process and freeing up one's creative juices. This is on my recommended reading syllabus for writers. It's been around for a long time, but still has pertinent advice for those wishing to have their written words matter. If you have interest in any type of writing, go through this book and see what it can offer you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the ideas she expresses. It helps you realize that not everything has to be perfect to be just that. It's helped my writing, as soon as stop havin to use it as a sourse for a stupid essay for english it will be twice as enjoyable!! Essays are such kill joys. Only thing dragging it down. Funny, matter of fact, to the point, yet poetic. I like the short chapter lengths so I don't have to stop in thr middle and be confused when I come back. Seriously, buy the book. But wouldn't recomend a nook copy. Get a hard copy, teust me, you'll wanna mark this up.
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It takes you by surprise it enters your nostrils and sits in our lungs
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Given how heavily this book is promoted to new writers I was shocked at how disappointed I was in it. "Writing Down The Bones" may have been more aptly titled "If You Write Poetry and Need a Cheerleader, I'm Here for You". I really did try to like this book and in that spirit I should add that while I immensely enjoyed the personal stories that, say, Stephen King and David Morrell shared in their memoirs, WRITING DOWN THE BONES  felt like it was all about her, her, her. And how can I possibly pretend to identify with the horrible problem of being so obsessed with her friend's roommate's chocolate brownies that she (a) can't concentrate on a movie and (b) blows off her friends so that she can rush home to eat the aforementioned brownies? I'm not sure what the point of her chocolate obsession story ultimately wasn't funny and it colored the way I saw the author as I slogged through the rest of the book. If you're looking for a deeply personal read written by a poet for other poets, this book will serve you well. If you're looking for a book that actually delves into craft and technique, particularly for novel writers, I suggest Stephen King's ON WRITING or David Morrell's  THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST. If you're looking for a particularly "female" memoir with writing advice, go with Janet Evanovich's HOW I WRITE.  Even that book, which is too shallow for anyone other than the absolute beginner, is more useful than WRITING DOWN THE BONES. I really did try to like this book but the title is misleading and I didn't get what I expected. Unfortunately, even after adjusting my expectations I still little of use here.
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Natalie Goldberg keeps it real and goes deep. A must have for anyone that loves to write
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slartibartfast-lh More than 1 year ago
I was very impressed with the style of this book. It was very easy-going, there were none of those prescribed ideas of writers being "qualified" to write or such and such. The content is somewhat redundant at times. I feel as though she could have squished some short chapters together because of their similarity in content. However, she is very insistent on the idea of PRACTICE writing, in which the writer literally just has to sit down and write in order to produce anything. Had to read for a class, but I blew through it pretty fast and am so glad that I did have to read it! I recommend it to anyone that even has an inkling of journaling or writing.
Aspired2Write More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book. I have only written a few short articles and would like to write childrens stories and this book was very inspirational. I recommend it to everyone who has thought about writing or all ready is a writer.
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