Writing Down the Bones is a Masterclass on Writing (and maybe Life)

Writing Down the Bones is a Masterclass on Writing (and maybe Life)

February 8, 2021

I have watched a lot of videos on writing, plotting, editing and overall improving my language. But I think Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is probably the best book you could own on writing. I put it higher than Stephen King’s On Writing which was pretty great itself, but did not work for me as much as this did.

Every chapter is like a mini hug and a mini boost to pull yourself up and make that arduous but wonderful writing journey. The bite-sized chapters are standalone, and work really well as a shot of caffeine in your veins.

🔥 The book makes you feel things. It entices and ignites the little fire in you.

💨 It blows you away. There was this one chapter where I did not take any notes. I just wrote, “Read this again and again.”

👀 It makes you introspect. So many times I had to close the book and face my own internal demons and guardians.

🤥 Stop the lies you feed yourself. Goldberg wants you to separate your work from yourself. The work is not you, and you are not the work.

🥰 There is a sense of love and compassion that the book allows you to carry with yourself.

Here are some of my most memorable quotes

Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.) Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.) Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.) Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

Natalie Goldberg

When you write, don’t say, “I’m going to write a poem.” That attitude will freeze you right away. Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say, “I am free to write the worst junk in the world.” You have to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination. I’ve had students who said they decided they were going to write the great American novel and haven’t written a line since.

Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this “composting.”

We must continue to work the compost pile, enriching it and making it fertile so that something beautiful may bloom and so that our writing muscles are in good shape to ride the universe when it moves through us.

on enriching your thoughts.

If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you. Besides, those voices are merely guardians and demons protecting the real treasure, the first thoughts of the mind.

Unfortunately, those two fighters often come with you to your notebook since they are inside your head. We can’t always leave them in the backyard or basement or at the day-care center. So you might have to give them five or ten minutes of voice in your notebook. Let them carry on in writing. It is amazing that when you give those voices writing space, their complaining quickly gets boring and you get sick of them.

on the Guardians and the Demons of the mind

Nabokov says, “Caress the divine details.” He doesn’t say, “Jostle them in place or bang them around.” Caress them, touch them tenderly. Care about what is around you.

Timing your writing adds pressure and helps to heat things up and blast through the internal censor. Also, keeping your hand moving and not stopping add to the heat, so a beautiful cake may rise out of the mixture of your daily details. If you find yourself checking the clock too much as you write, say to yourself you are going to keep writing until three (or four or five) pages, both sides, are filled or until the cake is baked, however long that takes.

What if someone is afraid of losing control? To be alive, we have to deal with a loss of control. Falling in love is a loss of control. When we die or someone we love dies, it’s a tremendous loss of control. And what’s nice about writing practice is it’s a measured way to dip yourself into that huge vast emptiness, that loss of control, and then pull yourself out so you can feel safe again.

I want to keep reading these quotes every time I am stuck in a rut and want to pull my hair out. There are some chapters in the book which I will be revisiting. Writing Down the Bones has become one of those books which I would not want to give up. It will forever stay in my personal library and I hope it is in yours too.


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