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Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir
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Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,018 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
Twenty years ago Natalie Goldberg's classic, "Writing Down the Bones," broke new ground in its approach to writing as a practice. Now, "Old Friend from Far Away" -- her first book since "Writing Down the Bones" to focus solely on writing -- reaffirms Goldberg's status as a foremost teacher of writing, and completely transforms the practice of writing memoir.To write memoir ...more
Hardcover, 309 pages
Published February 12th 2008 by Free Press (first published 2002)
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On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
165th out of 542 books — 1,037 voters
How to Write Great Dialog by Dorothy May MercerHow To Better Format Your Paragraphs by Dorothy May MercerThe Writer's Adventure Guide by Beth BaranyScrivener Essentials by Karen  PrinceGoodreads for Authors by Michelle Campbell-Scott
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88th out of 92 books — 68 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,546)
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Joel Friedlander
Oct 21, 2011 Joel Friedlander rated it it was amazing
It took me 6 months to "read" this book. How come? Almost every page is an exercise in reconstructing your own memories of your life and the people you've met along the way.

I decided to work through all the exercises and it turned into a truly transformative experience. I think if you're interested in memoir, in telling your own story but you need help getting started, or if your writing seems to "lack juice" this book is for you.

Through writing exercises and memory-enhancing writing prompts, Na
Saundra Goldman
Jan 27, 2009 Saundra Goldman rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing, memoir
I have finished the exercises for the first two sections of Old Friend, which I'm using as a text in my class, Writing Practice, Memory, and Memoir. I'm keeping a separate notebook for this work, although most of the topics have lead me back to the book I'm writing--but with angles and insights I wouldn't have otherwise reached. I actually conceived this class so I'd do the exercises in Old Friend, because I didn't have the discipline to do them on my own. Nothing like accountability to get you ...more
Jan 15, 2013 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Natalie Goldberg saved my writing life. Stuck in the depths of writing block despair - the longest and bleakest I had ever experienced - I grabbed this off the shelf at my local bookstore. Two pages in, I felt a ray of light break through the thunderhead surrounding me. I ran out and bought a new notebook. I sat down and wrote five pages without stopping.

Writer's block DEMOLISHED.

Been writing well and without blockages ever since.

I love Natalie method of "zen writing". It's easy to identify wit
Apr 25, 2008 Inder rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, writing, read-2008
I just finished reading this book this morning. Now that I've read it, I need to work through it. Which I am very much looking forward to, because, oh, what a lovely little guide! Some of the best writing I encounter is actually writing about writing. Which makes sense if you think about it - why would you follow advice from a badly written book about writing?

Natalie Goldberg does not disappoint - she is as funny, down to earth, succinct, and harsh, as ever. This book is inspiring in the best wa
Sep 19, 2008 Janet rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Great book. I'm going to buy it. I never buy books. It's out in paperback 3/10/09. I can wait.
Jul 26, 2008 Heidi rated it it was ok
The same, old, stuff from Natalie Goldberg. Wordy personal narrative disguised as less than inspiring ten-minute writing exercises. I think of something Amy Hempel said in Paris Review a few years ago - that being "writerly" can overshadow what you are trying to say. "Sometimes, the door is just "open", she said.

"Write everything you can think of about the Fourth of July" just doesn't excite me. I'm passing this on.
Aug 23, 2010 Angel rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: aspiring writers
I liked this book, but as I was reading it through, it was not easy to handle. The reason is that this is a book meant to be read, and for people to do the writing exercises. I constantly wanted to stop and do some writing, but since I was borrowing the book (from my library), I could not stop. I would definitely buy a copy of this book for myself at some point. I remarked in one of the updates that I still liked Writing Down the Bones better, and I can say that statement is still accurate. That ...more
Emily Crow
I like Goldberg's friendly and inviting approach to writing, but I already have Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, and this book contains mostly the same advice. Worth a read but glad I got it from the library. If it's your first book by Goldberg, though, you'd probably get a lot more out of it.
Marian Beaman
Mar 31, 2016 Marian Beaman rated it it was amazing
This review is a combination of Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones (1986) and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir (2007), books I have read concurrently and now am reviewing simultaneously.

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones touches bone marrow, muscles, tendons, even the gristle that surrounds the writer’s life. If you are looking for an expert writing manual that discusses anatomy of creative writing with insight, humor, and practicality, this is the book for you.

Charles F. Herr
Jul 27, 2014 Charles F. Herr rated it really liked it
I'm reading this book slowly, because it isn't a book you just read. It is filled with exercises to stimulate the process of memoir writing. I find the exercises freeing and that I am getting excited about writing about different periods and events in my life and enjoying both the precess of actually writing about my experiences and the anticipation of writing more. It feels like a process of discovery, self-discovery. And it also has the quality of treasure hunting. (Part of me remains shy and ...more
May 26, 2009 Beth rated it did not like it
"This revolution in personal narrative that has unrolled across the American landscape in the last two and a half decades is the expression of a uniquely American energy: a desire to understand in the heat of living, while life is fresh . . ."

au contraire --- it is because we are a country of self-absorbed, egotistical narcissists.

Ms. Goldberg has not only jumped on the bandwagon, she's now driving it.
Theresa P
Sep 10, 2014 Theresa P rated it it was amazing
This book is an absolute gem. I honestly don't think I've ever enjoyed a non-fiction book as much as I enjoyed reading this. Natalie Goldberg leads a fascinating introspective journey through one's writing and through life itself, her dry wit keeping it interesting throughout. Technically, this is a book aimed at those writers concerned with memoirs, but it could really work for any genre. I don't think this would be the type of book everyone would enjoy, as it is absolutely aimed towards the wr ...more
Ron Seybold
Mar 18, 2014 Ron Seybold rated it really liked it
This is such a treasure of exercises and invitations into the spirit of writing your own life. It's got the trademark "just write 10 minutes, go!" of Natalie's practice. Yes, she really does urge you on like that in person, something I got to experience at a workshop with her at Kripalu. Highly recommended, full of the kinds of suggestions a great coach will nudge you along with. Easy language, and her examples show how writing at a 7th grade level is most inclusive, while preserving rich meanin ...more
Jul 15, 2008 Andi rated it it was amazing
So I did it, I finally finished Natalie Goldberg’s new book (is it even new anymore?) Old Friend from Far Away. And I really appreciated it. It’s not a book I would say I loved, not because it’s not great, but because it’s not the kind of book that you read right through. It’s made up of chunks - some of one or two lines and some of several pages - that all address various aspects of memoir writing. Some of the sections are writing prompts, and some are reflections on the writing process. I love ...more
Jan 02, 2014 Hella rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobio
Je autobiografie is niet een opsomming van hier geboren, daar naar school, keurig langs het gangpad van je leven.
De momenten moeten erin staan, waarop je de auto keerde en van de brug af in de rivier sprong omdat het water zo helder was, en je opeens moest denken aan boterhammen met pindakaas, en het liedje dat de bakker vroeger floot.
Of toen je besefte dat je er helemaal niet van hield om aandrijfriemen voor tractors te verkopen.
Een autobiografie is ook geen ouwemensenland. Duik erin, hoe oud o
Jenny Alexander
Mar 17, 2016 Jenny Alexander rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-on-writing
As I expected from the author of Writing Down the Bones, this book on writing memoir is a fascinating read with loads of practical writing exercises designed to help you remember past experiences more vividly and capture them in writing. Nathalie Goldberg has a very friendly, conversational writing style, which I always enjoy. She feels like a writing friend, rather than an author I've never met from the other side of the pond.
Cheryl Crotty
Mar 10, 2016 Cheryl Crotty rated it it was amazing
I didn't read this straight through so it took awhile. Every time I picked it up I loved what I was reading. Then I would spend time thinking about it. I have no intention of writing a memoir but still, lots of good tips and intention for writing anything. Natalie Goldberg is wonderful. I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend in a writing retreat with her. If you love ant kind of writing, you will love this book.
Mary Stobie
Dec 08, 2014 Mary Stobie rated it it was amazing
This book got me started writing memoir in little pieces. Goldberg's writing exercises are great for getting started on your memories, on any kind of writing you do. She gives in many cases an object to begin with, to write about.
Ashley Lauren
Jun 29, 2013 Ashley Lauren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It's not really fair to say I've "read" this book, because you don't read this book - you do the book. Each chapter is a task, each is ten minutes, and it's to get you writing. It's not even so much about the craft the memoir itself, but the craft of writing for the memoir. This book will help you understand yourself and your experiences in a whole new way.

I stupidly checked this book out of the library. This is not a book to be loaned. This is a book to keep and methodically work through. My m
Aug 17, 2014 Cathy rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Good! A gazillion suggestions/creative writing exercises, most 10 minutes long. Lots of food for thought even if not writing a memoir.
Jun 16, 2013 Carol rated it it was amazing
I frist read this book 2 years ago and found it excellent for writing and then discovered it is a magnificent book for the DAYS OF AWE--those ten days for reflection between the new year and the day of stonement. We are forced to genuuinely look at our lives, not as we wish they were, not as we pretend they were, but as they really lived out with texture and various senses. We start with something as simple as a writing exercise about a nut and it opens us up to an whole world of memories. So no ...more
I like to have one craft book as a companion when I write, something I can turn to and help "grease the wheels", so to speak, and I think this will be a good one. While I'm not planning on writing a memoir, I picked it up b/c memories are the mine for creating our characters - particularly, it seems to me, the emotional beings of our characters, so I thought this book would be helpful. Lots of exercises here to help you access memories from forgotten-points in time. :) I also ust plain like her ...more
Cindy May
I'm currently dipping in and out of it doing some of the writing exercises, etc.
Alice Osborn
Aug 14, 2008 Alice Osborn rated it liked it
As a fan of Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, I want to read her latest "how-to" book. I own the audio version of this title, but would like to experience the updated print version. A review from this month's The Writer (Aug 2008) wasn't too positive, so I'll need to judge "Old Friend" for myself.

I'd like to use this book as inspiration for my upcoming "Journaling Your Memoir" class I'm teaching Wed. at the Sertoma Arts Center in Raleigh off of Millbrook/Leadmine at Shelley Lake. The c
Apr 17, 2014 Sara rated it really liked it
This is not what I expected, but I really enjoyed it. Goldberg is a very good writer and writing teacher, so her thoughts on memoir writing are gold. The book is almost entirely made up of writing prompts, which are excellent, but I wish she had included more of her thoughts about memoir as a genre.

I'd highly recommend this to anyone interested in memoir writing, but beware that this is not a "sit down and read" book - it's meant to be used as a guide to remember and WRITE your own material ove
Joanne Heidkamp
Jul 13, 2015 Joanne Heidkamp rated it really liked it
One of the few books I have kept to go back to again and again.
D.G. Kaye
May 12, 2014 D.G. Kaye rated it it was amazing
I bought this book to learn of Goldberg's approach to writing memoir and discovered more. Her writing prompts to break through writer's block with her flair for detailed descriptions was so inspiring. This is not a book you read and take something from and put on a shelf. This book is an excellent writing tool. You can open up to any page and take on a writing prompt to motivate the imagination and get the pen moving. The beauty is, you can use these prompts over and over creating different stor ...more
Aug 11, 2015 Crystal rated it really liked it
Excellent for writing prompts!
Jan 30, 2015 Nora rated it it was amazing
Great writing prompts and exercises.
Diana Higgins
May 18, 2008 Diana Higgins rated it liked it
This was pretty good. A lot like her other books and other books of this ilk. I deducted one star from the four I might have given just because I found the constant repetition of, "10 minutes. Go." to be tiresome.

I think one blanket statement in the beginning that most of these prompts should be attempted in 10 minutes, along with the explanation as to why, would be sufficient and really, I don't need a cheerleader to tell me to "go."

Otherwise, though, it was good reading and it provoked good t
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Natalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six, when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe , which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twe ...more
More about Natalie Goldberg...

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“The things that make you a functional citizen in society - manners, discretion, cordiality - don't necessarily make you a good writer. Writing needs raw truth, wants your suffering and darkness on the table, revels in a cutting mind that takes no prisoners...” 20 likes
“Too often we take notes on writing, we think about writing but never do it. I want you to walk into the heart of the storm, written words dripping off hair, eyelids, hanging from hands.” 10 likes
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