Writing Down the Bones

Writing Down the Bones

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones has got to be one of the best books for writers on the market. In it, writing is used as a meditation as much as a creative process, something creative, circular, organic. Gone are the rules and regulations from school day writing assignments, the margin enforcements, the different line usage requirements based mostly on instructor preferences. Instead, a focus on nonstop writing, and frequent writing, without judgment, are the focus.

Each short chapter is so easy to read. Goldberg, a teacher, provides personal anectodes and tips—such as calling a friend and making a date to read each other’s writings if you’re not writing, that way you will have to have something done—that can benefit any writer. She also gives lots of very simple yet creative tasks to complete that make you think, “I never thought of doing that!” Each one has very surprising results.

Written in 1986, the book is introduced with Goldberg admitting that she has little computer experience at the time. This may feel like a charming notation in today’s world, but it does not render the text any less relevant. On the contrary, its advice is timeless and useful for any generation.

As much as I tried to make it last—like Julia Cameron’s Artist Way series—it’s such a quick read that you end up devouring it all very quickly on your first read. That’s alright—Goldberg herself says that a first read-through is fine if that’s what the reader wants to do. However, she does recommend using a pen during reading as it’s book about writing, not reading!          

The first time I wrote my daily morning pages—which I’ve been doing, more off than on, since starting The Artist’s Way and its subsequent books—after diving into Writing Down the Bones, I shocked myself by how I immediately followed Goldberg’s advice. Completely ignoring punctuation, page lines and margins, I wrote faster than I’d probably ever written (aside from timed, in-class essays, I suppose), and even had quite a large epiphany by the time I was finished in the third of the time it usually takes for me to do my morning pages! I’m not saying this will happen for everyone, but it was quite an amazing experience.

I have had many great writing teachers in my life; I’ve also had a couple that really stank. Any of them would have done the whole class a service by having this book included in the curriculum as required reading. Sure, it’s Zen-based and might be considered a little New-Agey—but all in all, it’s about the importance of writing every day—and not well, just often—and how doing that can not only make you a better writer, but can also help you get past writing blocks, insecurities, and even the clutter that junks up so many writers’ minds and prevents them from creating. This would be particularly helpful for college writers, I think, as I remember having such mental angst during those times; what a gift it would have been to have had this simple, sage advice to follow!

Like Goldberg suggests, I’ve purchased a handful of cheap notebooks—she goes against what most instructors have told me about having gorgeous journals to hold our thoughts—since they’re on sale right now. She says she fills one a month, and while I’m almost doing this already with my morning pages, I plan on doing the very same thing. Cheap notebooks, she argues, are much easier to write in; beautiful books may intimidate you, making you feel like their pages must contain perfect writing, which is not the point at all.

If you’re a writer of poetry, novels, legal documents or even grocery lists, you could probably benefit from this book.