Writing Down the Bones

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is probably the most popular writing book out there based on my unscientific sampling of people who keep recommending it. Not so much a book with a sustained narrative, the book is structured as a series of exercises and anecdotes that emerged from Goldberg’s experience as a writing instructor. The book eschews topics such as character and narrative, but instead relies on vignettes that say one thing — it is ok to write lousy stuff. With the premise that writing the bad stuff will lead to the good stuff. This is not radical stuff not much different than the notion of constant revisions that John Gardner advocates in On Becoming a Novelist (to be overviewed later). 

Goldberg’s approach is heavily influenced by her practice of Zen Buddhism, and could have as easily been titled “Zen and The Art of Writing” In a contradiction fitting of a Zen koan, she says that the way to become a good writer is to become detached from your writing. Do not let the quality of the writing reflect on yourself. A good example is one of her exercises to open a poetry booth at a local fair. Let people pay you to write a poem on a topic of their choice, and then read it once and let it go.

Writing Down the Bones doesn’t make you a better writer, but it does its best to inspire you to practice and persevere with the act of writing and write more, and by writing more you should become better. If you have strong perfectionist tendencies, than you may struggle with the ideas presented, but you would probably be the best candidate for thinking about what’s presented. 

If you want to be a writer, (and as they say if you say you want to be a writer, you aren’t one, since it’s a job title you have to take yourself no one is going to give it to you) and you are struggling, this is a good book. If you are a writer, you really are beyond this but the exercises can be fun if you are bored or want to try something new.

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