Writing Down the Bones

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg has been on my bookshelf for a long time as one of those books about writing that every writer should have.  I am familiar with the general principles - improving your writing through the use of writing practice with various prompts and allowing your writing to flow uncensored and unchecked.  Goldberg stresses the use of details to make writing more authentic and interesting.  I have utilized writing practice in multiple writing clinics and classes and found it to be a useful tool, but seldom do it on my own.

Goldberg stresses telling the truth and telling it in detail.  "Going for the jugular" is one of my favourite phrases from her writing practice tips.  While it is a phrase I often utilize in reference to writing or otherwise, it is more challenging to put into practice as is always tempting to pull back from that which is dark or too revealing.  But in the end it is probably the only writing that matters - that we remember.  This is related to Goldberg's title "Writing down the Bones."  She refers to these also as "first thoughts" and suggests that we live often in second or third thoughts that are filtered by our internal censor, but that first thoughts are where the energy is and to make our writing come alive, this is where we must go to what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should feel.

A key phrase in the introduction - "using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and make you sane"  resonated with me.  I feel often that my writing, or a lot of art forms really, can dangle me on that tantalizing precipice of almost penetrating my life.  And yet just like the jugular I don't quite get there.

Some of her recommendations are common within writing practice circles - allowing yourself to write the worst junk and just continuing on, not editing or worrying about grammar.  She stresses that writing practice is like any sort of practice.  We do not expect to run ten km without training and writing is the same.  She talks about showing up even when you don't feel like it - much as I discussed in Writing when you don't feel like it.  That writing practice is about learning to trust your mind and body in the same manner that a runner does.  And yet while we would never consider trying to run a race without training, we don't feel entitled to training to write.

She talks a lot about trusting in love, and what you love.  She also refers to writing practice as "loving arms that you come to illogically or incoherently."  Having experienced the power that a muse temporary or otherwise can lend to my writing, it is interesting to think that writing practice itself can serve the same function, creating an internal and potentially much more reliable muse.

There are many other valuable suggestions in Goldberg's book which is broken into short chapters that can be read as an inspiration to one's morning writing practice (that I have yet to take up).  I close on the notion of obsessions which she also makes reference to.  Most writers are familiar with the notion of identifying your obsessions as your writing is going to go there anyway whether you like it or not.  So as Goldberg suggests - "you might as well give in to them."  They are a power to be harnessed and that is where the energy in your writing will lie.

Now go. "Write your asses off."