Writing tips from Natalie Goldberg

I just finished Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”, a book filled with her advice about writing (and living, really). Her view of writing is strongly influenced by her Zen practice, and the parallels she draws, and her resulting advice, are interesting even if (like me) you aren’t a Zen follower. If I had to sum up her book in a few bullet points, here would be some of the highlights:

  • Use timed writing practice to get yourself going, be committed, be productive, and be uncensored.
  • Write about subjects, and then let them go.
  • Consistency and integrity in writing will increase your confidence and commitment.
  • Originally, she wrote for self-expression… and then her goal shifted to communication. I think writing is all about communication, even if you are the only person who ever reads it; you can communicate with your own self when your thoughts go out, bounce off a page, and come back.

  • She also has a delightful use of metaphor:

  • “Like grating a carrot, give the paper the colorful coleslaw of your consciousness.”
  • “[Writing practice is] our wild forest where we gather energy before going to prune our garden.”
  • “Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through to the solid ground of black soil.” (I love the idea of writing as an act of composting!)

  • And a few final quotes I found worth saving:

  • “I had a belief in something real below the surface of life or right in the middle of life, but often my own mind kept me asleep or diverted; yet my own mind and life were also all I had.”
  • “There is no permanent truth you can corner in a poem that will satisfy you forever.” (So perfectionism is impossible, and it’s okay to let it go.)
  • “You have all these ingredients, the details of your life, but just to list them is not enough. You must add the heat and energy of your heart.”
  • “So while we are busy writing, all the burning life we are eager to express should come out of a place of peace.” (Still not quite sure I understand this one, but I’d like to.)