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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

I read Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bonesthe first time in 1990. I was twenty and had just decided that I want to be a writer when I grow up. I had never imagined such a book: a writer writing about writing. It's a simple concept, I know. But it blew my mind. I devoured every word and then went back and read it again. I was so full of hope and ambition and passion. I went out and bought myself a big beautifully bound journal in which I would practice my craft.

I went to a bustling cafe, sat down with my big steaming cuppajoe, got out my new pen and stared at the blank page while I waited for a jewel of inspiration. Nothing. Nothing in my head was worthy of that fancy journal. Crap. Drivel. Cliche. Not a single thought that tickled my brain or twitched the nib of my pen was good enough to commit to paper. How the hell do writers do this? Everyday?


I missed the basic premise of the book: just do it. Don't wait for it to be perfect, don't repaint your walls to create the perfect writing room, don't wait for the soundbites that everyone will still be quoting 50 years after you're gone. Just write. You find the good stuff in editing.

Eighteen years later I reintroduced myself to an old passion that never died; the dream of making a living as a writer. It's different this time. I write every day. Most of what write is crap, and that's a beautiful thing. I celebrate the shit. I write in spiral bound notebooks that pile up and clutter our apartment. I write, I doodle, I daydream, I do timed writes, I write even when my head is completely empty. I write when I don't know what to write. Sometimes I just write "I don't know what to write" over and over until my pen writes something else. It's not glamorous, it's not inspirational, it's not perfect. It's just writing down the bones.

I re-read Writing Down the Bonesand this time I got it. You have to be willing to be not perfect. I still have times when I find it critically important that I reorganize my files, or transcribe an entire spiral bound notebook into my computer, but on closer inspection that usually means I'm procrastinating and I'm afraid I might write crap. So then I sit down and write crap anyways.


thislittlepiggy said...

A lovely post! I'm inspired to first, read the book, and second, to just's like that saying, dance as if nobody's watching! It's hard for a newbie blogger/writer such as myself to post sometimes, and it's nice to read something that can motivate you to just keep doing it. Thanks!

Judy Haley said...

there's nothing quite so motivating for me than to hear I've inspired someone. thank you!

mama said...

We recently (within the past two years) watched a video of a children's author. (I know you aren't into writing for children, but that's where I am right now.) I wondered why, how, he could spend ALL DAY in his studio writing. A kid's book? Twenty pages max? Should be no problem. But what you say makes sense, there's a lot of writing to do before you get the jewels to drop from your pen.

Daddy says, "You're a crappy writer now, but keep it up and maybe someday you'll be a lousy writer. And about the time you're a good writer, somebody's going to think the trash you threw away 30 years ago was good stuff."

(I think he means that as encouragement.)

Judy Haley said...

@mama - that's a great quote, I'll have to remember that.

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