Writing Down the Bones is a collection of essays on writing. If the act of writing was a car, then Natalie's book is a map. Use it to navigate the city of your writing life. Natalie Goldberg is a teacher who channels the experience of life, work and Zen, a school of Chinese Buddhism, into her lessons. She formally studied Zen under Zen Master Dainin Katagiri.
As a teacher, Natalie wants her students to be "writing down the bones". She considers this the essential, awake speech of a person's mind. Writing Down the Bones helps to keep us observant and awake.
The following are chapters from Natalie's book with quotes and thoughts that resonate with me.
"This book is about writing. It is also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane."
On free writing. Natalie talks about tapping into our subconscious and letting our minds pour forth. I get similar results clustering.
Writing as a Practice
Although she doesn't specifically mention it, the subject of Natalie's chapter here is Julia Cameron's Morning Pages.
"Our senses...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 collect experience from the decomposition of the thrown-out egg shells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds...come nitrogen, heat and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories."
A List of Topics for Writing Practice
In addition to generating topics, this essay helps us to observe when we are out there in the world.
Power in the Writing
"The power is always in the act of writing." The more we write the more our thoughts evolve. Continue to write.
Man Eats Car
Your mind is a movie camera and your writing is the projector. Natalie talks about metaphors in this essay.
"There is freedom in being a writer and writing. I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it."
I am personally attracted to the pieces of freedom that I find in others. Pieces of Freedom are unoppressed elements of our lives when we're the person we most wish to be, doing what we love.
"Basically, if you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things. Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot..."
"If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you."
Don't Marry the Fly
"When we write, many avenues open up inside of us." It's happened to me. Writing is like walking down the road and around the bend. If you don't actually walk you'll never see what keeps opening up around the bend.
A Tourist in Your Own Town
"A writer's job is to make the ordinary come alive, to awaken ourselves to the specialness of simply being."
In "Why Do I Write?", "Every Monday" and "More About Mondays", Natalie explores what writing means to her. In my own writing I write to elicit an emotional acknowledgement from readers. If I can get that then I've connected in a deep and meaningful way.
I've read Writing Down the Bones multiple times and with each reading I discover new meaning. The theme that does remain constant and the one that I envision is that of Natalie as a teacher slash big sister. She tells me, "Soak in your life David. Allow your soul to swirl in it. This experience will manifest in your writing. Trust in it, be kind to it and place no pressure upon it. You will make those emotional connections."