As a writer, I get writer’s block every now and then. The best remedy is a revisit to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. The book approaches the art of writing using simple, clear language to illustrate difficulties of creativity. Goldberg’s aim is to help writers free themselves from the obstacles that hinders good writing. With examples from her own life, Goldberg, a writer, poet and a teacher, guides the readers towards a new comprehension of what writing is all about; “to do writing practice means to deal ultimately with your whole life” (Goldberg 3). She believes that our approaches to life reflects our approaches to writing, and that in order to write one must be capable of using all our senses and absorb the details of our surroundings. In other words, writing is an extension of how one relates to one’s world, whether conscious or unconscious; “You learn to trust your deep self more and not give in to your voice that wants to avoid writing” (11). Her perception of writing started with an epiphany when Goldberg, working as a cook back in 1971, discovered poems about food – things she knew of, which made her realize she could actually write about ordinary and familiar items. Over the years she has been teaching workshops in creative writing using the methods in her book.
Writing Down the Bones is a delicate piece of non-fiction where the author involves the reader into the art of writing, using colorful, vivid descriptions in examples from her own life to convince the readers that anyone can write – the power is within ourselves.
Goldberg’s advice on writing is interconnected with wisdom from Zen meditation. She points out that her book is about writing, but “it’s also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane” (3), and further on, “Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else” (41).
Is writing really that easy, then? What do you think? Does describing the ladybug on a man’s shoulder on the train make it an interesting piece of writing in the audience’s eye? Probably not, but it’s all a matter of the proper context. Seeing is a subjective action, and the way we view things differ considerably from one person to another. But Goldberg’s intention is merely to shift focus on people’s awareness of the universe; “We should always concentrate, not by blocking out the world but by allowing it to exist. This is a very tricky balance” (73).
Natalie Goldberg’s strength is her unique style and choice of words where all sentences are perfectly constructed. To read her book is like snacking on a bag of candy, a sweet pleasure that leaves one craving more, and where each chapter is as colorful and tasty as a bowl of Skittles. Each piece has its own content and flavor, but still in tremendous harmony with the rest. What strikes me the most is Goldberg’s carefully chosen subjects; all with rich and lively verbal illustrations showing the readers what she is talking about. After having read her book we have gained extended insights in the fine art of writing, which trigger our confidence and enthusiasm – “I a saying everyone has a genuine voice that can express his or her life with honest dignity and detail” (154).
The bottom line is this; we should use all resources we have been given, all our senses and use it to write. Her intentions are benevolent, but is it really that easy for everyone to approach this same method of writing? What do you think? How about those moments where our heads are filled with thoughts and images, but none of them can be expressed because we cannot find the right words to describe them? It has taken Goldberg several years and practice of meditation to reach the professional level at where she stands today. Some of her suggestions are literally on the far side, such as buying a horse in order to overcome the fear of the animal. A horse is a living creature who needs a lot of care, so what happens to the horse when the owner is occupied every day writing? Having said that, I have to compliment Goldberg in that she often points out her own struggles and obstacles. She brings her past experiences and memories to underline and demonstrate the very essence of her book; to avoid bad writing. As a personal meditation and dwelling on how to obtain creative writing – Writing Down the Bones will serve as a nourishing supplement in the work of passionate writers. It will not change your life, but make you aware that good writing comes from within, and it takes a lot of practice.
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