Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within


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The all-time best-selling writer's handbook turns thirty.

With insight, humor, and practicality, Natalie Goldberg inspires writers and would-be writers to take the leap into writing skillfully and creatively. She offers suggestions, encouragement, and solid advice on many aspects of the writer's craft: on writing from "first thoughts" (keep your hand moving, don't cross out, just get it on paper), on listening (writing is ninety percent listening; the deeper you listen, the better you write), on using verbs (verbs provide the energy of the sentence), on overcoming doubts (doubt is torture; don't listen to it)—even on choosing a restaurant in which to write. Goldberg sees writing as a practice that helps writers comprehend the value of their lives. The advice in her book, provided in short, easy-to-read chapters with titles that reflect the author's witty approach ("Writing Is Not a McDonald's Hamburger," "Man Eats Car," "Be an Animal"), will inspire anyone who writes—or who longs to.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611803082
Publisher: Shambhala
Publication date: 02/02/2016
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 35,035
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

NATALIE GOLDBERG is the author of fourteen books, including Writing Down the Bones, which has changed the way writing is taught in this country. She teaches retreats nationally and internationally. She lives in New Mexico.

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Excerpted from "Writing Down the Bones"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Natalie Goldberg.
Excerpted by permission of Shambhala.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Julia Cameron xi

Foreword Bill Addison xiii

Preface to the Thirtieth Anniversary Edition xvii

Preface to the Second Edition xxi

Introduction 1

Beginner's Mind, Pen and Paper 5

First Thoughts 8

Writing as a Practice 11

Composting 15

Artistic Stability 18

A List of Topics for Writing Practice 21

Fighting Tofu 25

Trouble with the Editor 28

Elkton, Minnesota: Whatever's in Front of You 29

Tap the Water Table 32

We Are Not the Poem 34

Man Eats Car 36

Writing Is Not a McDonald's Hamburger 39

Obsessions 42

Original Detail 45

The Power of Detail 47

Baking a Cake 50

Living Twice 53

Writers Have Good Figures 55

Listening 57

Don't Marry the Fly 60

Don't Use Writing to Get Love 62

What Are Your Deep Dreams? 65

Syntax 67

Nervously Sipping Wine 72

Don't Tell, but Show 75

Be Specific 77

Big Concentration 79

The Ordinary and Extraordinary 81

Talk Is the Exercise Ground 84

Writing Is a Communal Act 86

One Plus One Equals a Mercedes-Benz 89

Be an Animal 90

Make Statements and Answer Questions 93

The Action of a Sentence 95

Writing in Restaurants 98

The Writing Studio 103

A Big Topic: Eroticism 105

A Tourist in Your Own Town 108

Write Anyplace 110

Go Further 112

Engendering Compassion 114

Doubt Is Torture 117

A Little Sweet 119

A New Moment 120

Why Do I Write? 122

Every Monday 126

More About Mondays 128

Spontaneous Writing Booths 130

A Sensation of Space 133

A Large Field to Wander In 136

The Goody Two-Shoes Nature 140

No Hindrances 144

A Meal You Love 147

Use Loneliness 149

Blue Lipstick and a Cigarette Hanging Out Your Mouth 151

Going Home 152

A Story Circle 156

Writing Marathons 160

Claim Your Writing 164

Trust Yourself 167

The Samurai 169

Rereading and Rewriting 172

I Don't Want to Die 177

Epilogue 179

Afterword: An Interview with the Author 181

Natalie Goldberg in Her Own Voice 196

Notes 198

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Writing Down the Bones 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
Richard_Szponder More than 1 year ago
So many books on writing delve specifically into the craft of writing, explaining how to structure sentences, create memorable characters, move plotline along, or write interesting dialogue. Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg is not one of those books. In her writing how-to, Goldberg discusses the writing life, including why writers write, how to engage with the universe through the act of writing, and how to get past the internal blocks and censors that would prevent writers from writing. Natalie Goldberg is a writing teacher, and in Writing Down The Bones, she promotes the act of writing practice. Writing practice is daily journal writing, handwritten and free flowing thought. Goldberg refers to this type of writing as "first thought," the rich and vibrant thought that accompanies the act of letting go. A student of Zen and meditation, Goldberg marries the two concepts, often quoting her Zen teachers and discussing making writing a part of daily life. Those interested in understanding how to craft a novel or write memoir or delve into poetry can all benefit from this little book. No, it will not specify the secrets to public success as a writer. However, it will provide the encouragement and explain the reward with allowing oneself to be a writer. Goldberg specifically discusses the concept of what she refers to as "monkey mind," that internal censor that challenges all artists. It asks them, "Who do you think you are?" when delving into creative endeavors. She strategizes methods of dealing with money mind and shutting down the censor, returning to writing as the solution. Goldberg is a proponent of writing mirroring life, and she challenges writers to explore all aspects of their lives in writing, explaining that avoiding uncomfortable topics will be evident to readers. Often, Writing Down The Bones gets quite abstract and new age. She explains that writing has less to do with talent than it does with practice, and she insists that writers write using all of their senses, engaging their readers with detailed explanations the environment in which the event is occurring. For writers of fast-paced or genre fiction, Goldberg's tactics may seem more useful to someone writing in other genres. However, Goldberg's perspective of writing as art and as having higher meaning as a form of art serves as a reminder to all artists the higher power they, themselves, are serving. Goldberg meets her topics with humor and enthusiasm, challenging common writing dilemmas like where to write, how to write, when to write, and finding time. Her simple solution? Two words that can sum up all of the concepts in Writing Down The Bones: just write. Make no excuses, for the internal censor will be very creative itself in encouraging writers not to write. Just write, and appreciate life, and bring that appreciation and understanding to the page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Natalie Goldberg makes you want to write, even if you have no desire or ability. She is inspiring. Whether you have an interest in writing or not, this is a good book to have in your library. It could be helpful for anyone who does any type of writing. She forces you to think in detail and to be more descriptive.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a virtual bible in the creative writing circles on the process of freeing the writer within. Before Julia Cameron¿s bestselling Artist¿s Way there was Natalie Goldberg¿s Writing Down the Bones in 1986 and now a staple in workshops around North America. Goldberg¿s Zen meditation training has greatly influenced her teaching style and methodology which is reflective in this book. Writing Down the Bones brings a collection of techniques and practices for writers at various stages in their career, published or not. Goldberg mixes her methods with her Zen wisdom for a rich text on using the sensory faculties to bring out narrative whilst maintaining the clear mind focus required completing a creative project. There is no systematic rigid method in this book which allows a reader to jump around and still benefit from Goldberg¿s guidance. The fundamental of Writing Down the Bones is stimulating our senses and primal reactions to scent or sight to inspire what one writes about. There are real nuggets of gold in this book and one has to be quite a prospector when going through its sections. Some of the best advice for a writer includes the following from Goldberg: ¿ Timed writing ¿ keep your hand moving for 10 to 20 minutes without stopping. This is a form of ¿stream of consciousness¿ writing. ¿ No editing while doing timed writing. ¿ Forget spelling and grammar ¿ just go and write, write, write! ¿ Lose control in the narrative ¿ just say it with the pen without restraint! ¿ Don¿t think. Don¿t get logical. Lose yourself in the experience and get raw with your writing. ¿ Go for the jugular ¿ say with your writing exactly what you have in mind and forget about rules for a while. This is an intimate experience for you only so no external judgment will come upon you. ¿ Keep a list of writing ideas ¿ Try to fill a notebook a month ¿ Forget writer¿s guilt over unfinished products or breaks in your writing practice. ¿ Don¿t use writing for love ¿ a key wise woman saying especially given the propensity for melancholy in literary types 'ouch!' lest one get addicted to journaling instead of publishing and polishing their writing craft! ¿ The action of a sentence ¿ chapter on using verb as the energy behind a sentence and Natalie¿s exercise on constructing a connection between nouns. ¿ Consider participating in a story circle for creative support. ¿ Have a writing marathon once in a while. There are actual weekend writers¿ marathons throughout North America. One concept that Goldberg talks about in the ¿Afterward¿ section of the expanded edition of Writing Down the Bones is the importance of place. Location, just like real estate, is everything. Goldberg states that environment can really make a particular writing project come alive. For her, a place is the third character, particularly in novels. No wonder some authors love to go away to another part of the world to complete a story. The sensory experience of a town or city or building can evoke with intimacy a sense of story that goes deeper than a textbook description. Writing Down the Bones frees the writer within by pulling them out through their own senses. Goldberg¿s book is another mainstay for writers everywhere to keep their art fresh, engaging, and alive.
RajivC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book about writing. It is somewhat philosophical in bent, and dives into the philosophy of writing. Having said that, Natalie gives you lots of little tips. These are hidden away in the pages of the book, and when you read the book slowly enough, you find them. The book has been written in a style that is light and lucid. I think her Zen training shows there somewhere. In that sense, you can read through the book rather quickly. And then, you can come back to sections of it whenever you want.Definitely worth reading.
jpaulett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A meditation, practice-driven approach to writing with a heavy dose of Buddhism. You can dip into the chapters anywhere and find great ideas to help you get your writing going.
bkwriter4life on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best writing book I've ever read. So inspiring, supportive, and wonderful - Natalie talks about writing so simple that it works. A book every writer should own this book and read when they are feeling blue, out of it, incompetent, in a funk, or ready to throw in the towel; this book will bring you out of it, guaranteed. Fantastic book.
cuttoothom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have an inherent distrust of "How-To" books when it comes to creative activities such as reading and writing, but Natalie Goldberg's unorthodox, charming approach to writing tactics is hard to argue with.Students will find the meditative style of her prose soothing, and this may encourage them to enjoy the process of writing, rather than dread it.Although Goldberg is primarily concerned with creative writing, I see no reason why her tactics can't be applied to academic writing as well.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Writing Down the Bones reminds me a lot, in its style and structure, of Zen Mind, Beginner¿s Mind. It is presented as a series of short essays, each one focusing on a very specific lesson or aspect of writing. I¿m sure this isn¿t a coincidence, as Goldberg is a Buddhist who has read that book (I believe she mentions it at least once), and she constantly refers to writing as ¿practice,¿ similar to the practice of meditation. This approach makes the book conducive to reading in short chunks and then spending some time digesting each chunk, as I¿m also sure Goldberg intended. All while writing, of course.I wouldn¿t say that the writing advice in Goldberg¿s book is all that revolutionary. It¿s the same kind of advice you¿d find in most books by writers for writers: write every day; don¿t edit while you write; use detail; don¿t worry about being perfect. Goldberg offers some useful tips for keeping a daily writing practice that I may try, but she also admits that you have to keep changing up your routine just to keep yourself interested.Goldberg is supportive and encouraging, though, and that¿s what writers need to hear, because writing is lonely, often unrewarding work. That¿s where the value in these writers¿ manuals lies ¿ not in any earth-shattering insights into how to be a better writer, but a gentle reminder that what you¿re doing is worthwhile and you should keep on doing it.
kewpie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have owned 4 - 5 copies of this book. When I lend them, they never come back! This is probably the most fun, relaxing and still productive book of writing prompts and encouragement. I am the worst sort of wanna-be writer. I love to read about writing but rarely actually do it. This book is written in such an active yet inviting style that almost everyone who reads it ends up participating.The exercises can be done in any order and changed to fit your style or mood. I highly recommend it for anyone who writes anything -- journals, web pages, poetry, or short stories. It's that good!
wordygirl39 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the classic "so you want to be a writer" texts out there. Goldberg's gift is not in telling writers stuff they already know about writing, but getting them to do it.
nilchance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely vital reading for any writer. It's on my shelf next to the dictionary.
ladycato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've seen this book mentioned time and again for being a huge inspiration to writers. I lucked out and found a copy at Goodwill recently; it is a first edition, so therefore it may not be the exact same as the current edition.The full title of the book is Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. That sums up the book very well. Goldberg draws heavily on her Buddhist faith (mixed with her Jewish background) to show how mindlessness and freedom help a writer to actually write. Discipline is part of this freedom. She encourages the reader to write everyday and pull inspiration from common objects, and to keep writing even when everything seems like complete drivel.I've read several books on this subject. Writing Down the Bones may have been the first of this sort in the mid-'80s, but there are several other more recent books I feel I connected with more strongly - Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and The Mind of Your Story by Lisa Lenard-Cook. I loved how Goldberg connected the fundamentals of Zen Buddhism with writing, and I really wish that could have been more prevalent. In all, it's a good book, and one with hundreds of inspirational quotes for writers... but it's not necessarily the best available.
TheOnlyMe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A must have for writers. This book has chapters that follow an easy layout and can be read in any order. A great reference tool and enjoyable read. I highly recommend it.
JackFrost on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I¿ve been on a writing book bender, and Writing Down the Bones had been on my TBR pile for much too long. One of the most often-suggested writing books, Writing is yet another mix of bio and craft, this time with a spiritual slant. Goldberg is a Jewish convert to Buddhism, though she treats all religions with equal heft and importance. Focus on yourself and the potential in you, Goldberg says over and over, and you will have words and stories and poems flowing out of you so fast you can barely catch them all. Recommended for the inspiring tone and Goldberg¿s hippie recollective passages. Very interesting.
wwrnblog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
WRITING DOWN THE BONESWhat am I going to write? How am I going to write? If these are your questions or if you often find yourself staring down a blank piece of paper and the paper winning, then Natalie Goldberg¿s book, WRITING DOWN THE BONES, is for you. Of course there are thousands of other reasons for reading this book; any writer will benefit from it.Goldberg is the master of no stopping, no editing, no fear writing. Listening to the book-on-tape version, I felt I sat at her feet while she read her work and she stopped to comment on it from time to time. She giggles and chuckles while she relates stories on her writing practice. She encourages you to write in a notebook, try different locations, meet with a friend for a writing session, and to write whatever comes to mind. She helps you find your creative center.The six cassettes, nine hours of play time, I found to be a delight. I found myself smiling and eager to write.
heatherfeather on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Something to return to time and time again when the words don't come that easily ...
aliaschase on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
truly one of my favorite books! i am so appreciative for the accumulated writing prompts, words of wisdom, and profound inspiration. i reference this book on a regular basis to keep me flowing with my creative writing. i would recommend it to anyone interested in writing down their bones!
susan1963 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best writing books ever. Short 1 or 2 page essays that describe one thing to try, in your writing. Go to a cafe. Make time. Describe something. Natalie Goldberg shares her writing skills and knowledge to help the reader uncover their writing skills and deepen their connection to their writing. Simple, and beautiful, and makes it clear anyone can write.
noodlejet22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Finishing this book on writing I realized that it could teach me about life as well. Writing Down the bones is a series of short essays on writing and ways to open up and just let your voice out onto the paper-you have to practice you have to believe in yourself. I originally frantically compiled books on writing. I was having a moment of panic-well a series of moments over a span of about a week. I was looking for a particular book on writing because as a researcher if you don't understand something what do you do but look up the answer. I stalked around bookstores browsing the table of contents, crept through the library reading jacket covers, and surfed online to see what other folks were reading. I rifled through a few books but they weren't what I was looking for. Goldberg gives us funny stories about writing and life-what worked for her and what did not. So as an exercise similar to those she provides I decided to write this review-no editing, non-stop, and no fear.
rycaut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have given away more copies of this book than nearly any other - probably close to a dozen or more, usually at least one copy a year.More so than any other book this is the one I recommend to anyone who is a writer. Though it was written long before blogging, the exercises in here would add richly to many personal bloggers. Anyone who is a writer will find inspiration for the practice of writing from this book.And by "practice" Natalie Goldberg means in the Zen sense of the word - as an ongoing way of life, a daily activity, a form of meditation.I try to reread this once a year, at least, when I haven't been writing (or when what I have been writing has been diluted and far from what I really want to be writing).
rampaginglibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
one of the best writing books ever written!
amyfaerie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A classic. Goldberg is nurturing and encouraging--any time I pick up this book and read a chapter, I want to write!
ChuckB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Though I don't necessarily identify with her spiritual beliefs, Natalie Goldberg focuses mostly on the writing and on creative writing exercises in this book--which is wonderful. Writing is not a McDonald's hamburger!
heidilove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
one of the best there is
patricia_poland on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow - the first time I got this book and read it I just wanted to try everything and write, write, write. Pick it up and look at "We are not the Poem". Here Goldberg reminds us that writing poetry "frees us" and that "the power is always in the act of writing". But what I really responded to was how she described reactions of others when you read your poems. How they always (always!) think that when you use "I" in a poem that you are writing about yourself - not true! She points out that "every minute we change." And a poem is that given moment, how you felt right then but not necessarily the next day or ever again. This book is a must for anyone who wants to write, longs to write, hopes to write or does write. You will find inspiration in the writing prompts and encouragement in the essays like the one I quoted from above in which she reminds you to "stay fluid" and to not "identify too strongly with your work" for "there is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever." Instead be awake to the moment - write!