Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
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.