Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg is one book I can honestly credit for helping me start this blog.
Packed with advice for new writers, it inspired me to write from the heart, and its simple but powerful lessons are still with me today.
The book is a collection of very short essays on writing, which the author wrote during her years of teaching creative writing to children and adults of all sorts of backgrounds. It is pleasantly informal and non-theoretical – each chapter is illustrated by stories from her own life, or students she’s come across.
Subjects range from how to chose a good pen and paper, to how to write something new every day, or look at things differently to find inspiration everywhere. Chapters have charming titles like “Writing is not a McDonald’s hamburger” or “A large field to wander in”. The tone is poetic, intimate and often funny, so that you end up learning a great deal without even trying.
The big idea
What makes the difference between this book and many others on writing, is that the author is a dedicated student of zen. She approaches writing like a meditation, and as well as telling you what or how to write, her focus is very much on your state of mind as you are writing.
Like Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, she encourages you to free-write every day as a practice, writing whatever comes to your head without stopping to re-read or correct anything, to help you find your flow. This teaches you to write before you have any chance to think, and it is a powerful method to help you distinguish between what comes from your head and what comes from your heart. It teaches you to “watch the thinker” within you and realise when you say something meaningful, and when you are just waffling on.
Why it will change your life
One of the challenges we face as new writers is finding our own voice – overthinking and self-criticizing are common pitfalls, and as a beginner you are likely to get discouraged when you see how far you have to go to get as good as your favourite writer. Many of us might also worry that what we want to say is not what we should be saying. We edit as we go, and as a result what we see on the page is often a watered-down version of what we meant to write.
By learning to write down the “bones” – the strong ideas that come from your heart and will remain the solid foundations for your stories (even when you do go to editing stage) you become more creative and more free. You become able to say what you really want to say deep down. This makes you a happier person, but also it makes your writing much more powerful and convincing.
This book is worth a read not only if you want to improve your writing, but also if you are curious to explore your creativity, as well as excellent meditation methods that don’t involve sitting still on a cushion until your bum hurts.