On August 23rd I started reading Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” It is one of the absolute BEST darn books about writing – and life in general – that I have ever, ever read. It is simple, direct, straightforward, and incredibly beautiful, amazingly profound. Universal truth shines through her words to infuse me with illumination. It is just really remarkable. It is such a beautiful book. I’ve been highlighting sections like crazy. Funny how with some books you can enjoy them, but then nothing really sticks or stays with you or changes you in any way. Other books somehow get right down to your soul and make an indelible impression on you and stay with you forever. This is definitely one of those books. I don’t think there are all that many writers who have this gift. Only certain writers seem to have that ability of impressing my soul. And of all the writing books I’ve read, this seems to be the first one that, halfway through, has already actually affected my writing and changed the way I think about my writing. I think it has helped me relax and change my perceptions in general about writing, particularly in terms of the pressure I put on myself and the emotions that plague me.
The author talks about the practice of writing in a notebook every day. (Sort of like what I have always done.) She talks of the importance of being able to feel the connection and texture of pen on paper and that the tools we use affect our thoughts. The act of moving our hand across the paper engages us with our “first thoughts,” and I know it has always been easier for me to connect with my deepest truth when I use pen on paper.
She says, “Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.” The concepts she writes about in this book she says can be applied to “running, painting, anything you love and have chosen to work with in your life.” It is “about trusting your own mind and creating a confidence in your experience.” And she stresses strongly the importance of writing practice, which cultivates patience, allows us to see the “rich garden we have inside us,” and through this practice we will be “in good shape to ride the universe when it moves through us.”
There is a chapter in which the author lists some ideas for topics to write about if you struggle to come up with something to write about. I don’t think that I have actually ever had trouble knowing what to write about; I just start writing and it comes. But I looked at her ideas and the first one was to write about the “quality of light coming in through the window.” I decided to take a minute to try that and here is what I wrote:
It is foggy this morning; at nearly 10 a.m., there is still no sign of the sun. In fact it feels very much like a typical fall day, although Indian Summer is still with us and typically the hottest time of the year.
The light is very subdued, gray. The sky is a dull white, unbroken. There is no breeze. It looks almost like a still life of my backyard, but for the birds flitting about here and there. And if I were outside instead of here on my sofa, I would undoubtedly feel a little breeze here and there despite my not seeing evidence of it now. And I would hear a lot of birdsong. Sometimes it is nearly cacophonous out there with the birds! And there are always other sounds – the highway, the neighbors, dogs barking, planes in the sky. Not like this “still life” I am currently looking at.
This impression didn’t really register in my awareness at first. Perhaps it is me that is all gray and dim. My state of mind after quitting smoking, Gray and Dim. A Still Life. And it will take time until I feel totally alive again. Whether the sun comes out in reality outside or not. It might be a while before I feel it in my head.
A Gray Day feels just right under the circumstances. And how nice it is, those times when the weather decides to match my internal state. That must be a good sign. Perhaps I will be successful this time at staying Quit.
And perhaps I should stop thinking about that right now because it is making me want to smoke.
Ms. Goldberg writes: “Discipline has always been a cruel word.” I CONCUR. She talks about “fighting the tofu” – when you go against your own resistance. “It is fruitless and boring to try.” Writing isn’t something that can be forced; although if you get slow and quiet and start listening to your thoughts, I usually find I can write. And what I’ve learned is that when writing in my notebook, it doesn’t matter at all what I write. And this is what Ms. Goldberg is talking about. You start with anything and then gradually you will find yourself writing from a deeper, more peaceful place. It is very much like a meditation practice.
This book is just wonderful, the author’s words are wonderful. It’s about just writing all the time and it gives me joy and affirmation. It strikes me that although I have all these years and years of writing, in all of these stacks and stacks of notebooks, perhaps I’ve never really considered that “writing.” I have never really considered myself a “writer” even though it has been my deepest desire as long as I can remember and even though I have been writing nearly daily for many, many, many years. But, YES, it is writing. It has been a kind of therapy, a place to dream, to cry, to plan, to ruminate, to try and figure things out and to see how I might feel about things, decide what I think about things. But I have never really considered THIS as having any real value from a pure writing standpoint. According to Ms. Goldberg, it has great value. She says that a writer is still a writer if not writing. And she goes on to describe what happens to writers when they do not write; they often drink and are often depressed. I can also attest to this sad fact.
But I am writing and perhaps I am mistaken in how I have felt about my writing. I have nearly always been able to write – about most anything and at just about any time or place – although I have tended to feel too self-conscious to write in too public a place, or where there are too many distractions. I am more used to writing in solitude, although I do get very easily distracted, in solitude or not. But yeah, I can pretty much ALWAYS write – as long as it is in my notebook. What I have difficulty with and what I procrastinate about and make excuses to avoid doing is whenever I decide to move from pen and notebook to the keyboard. When I have to face a screen and cursor, it does not come as easily. I have no idea if I really write “well” in my notebooks. But I know I struggle on the keyboard – it certainly takes more time and it doesn’t feel as natural. In fact I will generally always write first in my notebook and then type and edit what I’ve written and that works better than typing something from scratch.
But perhaps all this practice is actually going to take me somewhere. I am a writer, and this book has given me so much hope and inspiration.
I finished reading this book on September 13th. What a wonderful, wonderful book. I will never be the same again after reading it. It is a treasure. She somehow manages to speak to my very soul. Maybe it’s her utter honesty and basic truths, that touches me so deeply.
And I see that she has also written a book about writing Memoir – that might be worth getting based on my experience with this book and her writing. I would love to see what she writes about that.
I don’t want to forget about this book. I need to keep its wisdom and insights close at hand! I found it to be just very powerful, in many ways.