By Kristy McCaffrey
While not everyone is set on writing the next great novel, we all want to tell our stories. A wonderful book to help get you started, or to reignite a passion that may have become stagnant, is Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. First published in 1986 and rooted in Zen methodology, her advice is simple: trust in what you love, trust in your own mind, and everything else will follow.
“Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”
Goldberg points out that people often write from a mentality of poverty, thinking they need a teacher to tell them what to do or how to do it. The opposite is generally true. We learn writing by doing it. And to write well one must read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot.
We live in a society that rewards being busy, but that often isn’t fruitful or soul-fulfilling. Beware of monkey mind, says Goldberg, since it likes to create busyness that can keep us from our true heart. She believes that everyone has talent, but it’s obviously easier for some to tap into it than others. Human effort is necessary, so don’t shy away from doing the work. But it’s also more than just the work, it’s allowing and recognizing that the effort has awakened us. This lets a writer become aware and mindful, to shape the talent into something useful, something that resonates.
“Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write. That is painful. Writing is so simple, basic, and austere.”
Develop a writing practice, a writing workout each day. A runner doesn’t improve without consistent running. The same is true for a writer. So, carve out this space, but know that it’s okay to write without a destination. Expectation can freeze the process. It also takes time to reflect on certain ideas, certain experiences, before they can be put down on paper. Goldberg refers to this as composting. These things can’t be rushed, so best to cultivate patience and acceptance. It can make the writing life less anxiety-provoking.
She offers techniques to stop fighting yourself (and the endless distractions that keep you from writing) such as: give yourself free time in the morning to do whatever, but at 10 a.m. you must sit down and write something; or you must fill at least one notebook a month, not with quality but quantity; or, as soon as you wake up, go directly to your desk and write (eating and teeth brushing can wait). Another technique is timed writing and first thoughts. This can remove the critic filter than often shoots down an idea before it can be fully crafted.
Need a writing prompt? Take five minutes to write down your deep dreams. And then? Don’t ignore what you wrote. Actually, it will likely be difficult to avoid your thoughts now that they’re laid out before you. Simply said, it will change your life.
This book can be read straight through, or sporadically when needed. I guarantee that at least one of Goldberg’s many suggestions and insights will spark something inside yourself and may just lead you to write down the bones.
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Kristy McCaffrey has been writing since she was very young, but it wasn’t until she was a stay-at-home mom that she considered becoming published. She’s the author of several historical western romances, all set in the American southwest. She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, two chocolate labs, and whichever of their four teenage children happen to be in residence.