Writing Down the Bones
by Natalie Goldberg
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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This is the first review I have written where the title of the book completely explains its subject matter. Writing Down the Bones is actually about Freeing the Writer Within.

I first heard of this book because it is mentioned several times in Anne Lamott's little writing instruction manual titled Bird by Bird. After reading both books, I see why Lamott was always referring to Goldberg. Their writing philosophies are quite similar.

Writing Down the Bones is a collection of 66 little lessons on writing. Some of the essays have funny titles such as Man Eats Car, and Writing is not a McDonald's Hamburger. However, just glancing at the table of contents provides a writing lesson in itself. Other essay titles include The Power of Detail, Don't Use Writing to Get Love, Write Anyplace, Go Further, Doubt is Torture, and Trust Yourself.

Don't listen to doubt. It leads no place but to pain and negativity. Instead, have a tenderness and determination toward your writing, a sense of humor and a deep patience that you are doing the right thing.

Goldberg believes there must be discipline in writers' habits. You should have a set time to write every day and stick to it. To motivate herself, the author made a goal to fill a notebook every month.

Write for an hour, or twenty minutes, whatever amount you decide, but write for all it's worth. Keep your hand moving, pour out everything, straight from your veins, through your pen and onto paper. Don't stop. Don't doodle. Don't daydream. Write until you're spent.

There is no instruction on what to write. The important thing is to write and write and write. You may write three pages of worthless paragraphs. But in the end, you'll find a good sentence in that mess that is the beginning of something big. Both Goldberg and her colleague Anne Lamott have made this point.

Goldberg is a very spiritual woman, though not in a "Praise the Lord and pass the collection plate" kind of way. Rather, she emphasizes meditation and quiet observation of the surroundings before writing. That's nice and all, but I wonder what I will do with my 2 year-old as I am tuning in to nature. As I type this, he is running circles around my desk, singing the theme to "Blue's Clues." Perhaps writing parents would do best to skip this portion of the book, or find a substitute for meditation.

Writing Down the Bones is an ideal starting point for beginning writers. Like a person starting a diet, a new writer has no regimen. It's hard to the dieter to jog the first day. In time, it gets easier until it is part of the normal routine like brushing teeth or something. In this book, Goldberg gets potential writers in to their own mental regimen, by telling them they must set time to write every day and make it part of their schedule.

As I stated before, this book is made up of many individual essays. I read the book from cover to cover, but it is probably better digested one chapter at a time, like your own personal daily writing lesson.

Originally written in 1986, there no talk of computers as tools. Goldberg is big on writing in notebooks. However, it wasn't too hard for me to take those lessons and apply them to my trusty computer, where I do 95% of my writing. I only mention this point because I don't believe the book is outdated, even in this computer age.

I recommend all aspiring writers read Writing Down the Bones. However, I am going to go further and suggest that you purchase this book for your reference library. (This is rare, as I almost never tell people they should buy certain books.) The essays are short and sweet. When you're stuck, it would help to be able to pull this book out of the shelf and use it to get back on the writing track.

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