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Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

4.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  18,126 Ratings  ·  1,235 Reviews
For more than twenty years Natalie Goldberg has been challenging and cheering on writers with her books and workshops. In her groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practices, "it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind." This edition inc ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published January 10th 2006 by Shambhala (first published 1986)
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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
4th out of 541 books — 1,041 voters
On Writing by Stephen KingLetters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria RilkeBird by Bird by Anne LamottBeing and Time by Martin HeideggerThe Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Best Books on Creative Life
7th out of 297 books — 484 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jason Koivu
Sep 08, 2014 Jason Koivu rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
Natalie Goldberg's whiny drone sapped the life out of anything of value she had to say. And what did she have to say? Nothing beyond what other books of this kind say and say with more clarity.

This is just your bog-standard cheerleader-style writing advice, but delivered in a cheerless voice.


Yeah, that sort of stuff can be inspiring, but a whole book's worth will take the punch out of any pep talk. Plus, when Goldberg says it, it sounds like, " *sigh* You can..
Michelle Galo
Jul 25, 2008 Michelle Galo rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Young or beginning writers who don't mind hearing a spiritual dimension added to writing
Recommended to Michelle by: Professor Robert Bensen
I've owned this book for six years. My copy is the pocket-size version. Its cover is wrapped in packing tape to slow the dog-earing.

The first time I read this book in college, and many times since, I carried it everywhere with me, reading it before classes, and over lunch in the dining hall. Natalie Goldberg's short, friendly chapters filled with spiritual and practical wisdom and stories made me feel as though a very warm and welcoming teacher had sat down across the table from me and struck up
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Dec 17, 2007 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it liked it
Shelves: read07, writing
I heard about this book a lot while doing Nanowrimo last year, and thought I'd read it. It's a little amusing, written in 1984, so pre-computer really. And some of her advice was pretty repetitive, but I did get some glimmers out of there.
"We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us."

"You're never free unless you are doing your art."

"I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or think a thing and t
Nov 14, 2008 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott struck me as reading two very similar books from two distinct voices. Writing Down The Bones is a personal reflection on the craft and what works for Goldberg and might work for you. It's easy to digest, coming in short chapters, and it really does make you think about what you write, how you sit down to work, whether you're really dedicated to writing. The allusions to Buddhism and Judaism and how they affect her ...more
I picked up Writing Down the Bones when I was still teaching elementary school, and used ideas from it with my grades two to four students. My emphasis on these “10-minute writes” was on unedited (until later) free-writing. The rules were a condensed version of Natalie’s:
-Keep your hand moving
-Don’t cross out
-Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar
-Don’t think

I would set the timer, and on the word, “start”, pencils began moving, some faster than others. And of course I would be writing
May 01, 2008 Jenny rated it really liked it
This is a great starting-point aspiring-writer's book, terrific for getting the creative juices flowing. I have used Natalie Goldberg's techniques both as a writer and as a writing teacher. But eventually, if you want to write Things That Other People Want to Read and not just Things That Are Fun to Write, you need to work on the less free-spirited, less blue-sky, and occasionally less exciting stuff: structure, pacing, whittling away extraneous words. You need to learn to *re*write, to do somet ...more
Caro M.
It was interesting and made sense, but just not really my thing. Too much of Zen and Buddhism and it's not like I'm against it or something, but it's just not what I expected from this book, I guess. Might come back to it someday, though.
Aug 12, 2011 Gabriel rated it it was ok
For you poets out there, this book is for you.

For those of you meant to write memoirs and light happy stories about light happy things, this book is for you.

For those of you who want to write about things of no consequence that have some consequence - The Light Coming Through The Window, Your Favorite Meal, Blue - this book is for you too.

For those of us who are busy thinking of short stories, who are thinking of horror, who think of sf that may deal with harder topics, that think of things that
Sep 14, 2008 Laurie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to improve their writing skills, or understanding of the writing process
Recommended to Laurie by: Dr. Michael Angelotti
Shelves: favorites
This book changed my life as a writer, a teacher of writing, and as an individual!

I use this book currently in my high school Creative Writing I class. I read chapters to the students; we talk about what they might mean, and how the advice given could change their writing. I wasn't sure if this approach would be successful with high school age students, but within weeks I have seen more free writing, more stream of consciousness writing, and more unedited writing than ever before! My students ar
Jul 11, 2011 Anne rated it it was amazing
I went to a Writing Group in the Hague today for the first time. Seeing the half-read paperback "Writing Down the Bones" on someone's table made me curious as I had heard of it before.

I simply couldn't put it down.

So I negotiated with the owner of the book, the friend who introduced me to the writing group, to swap the book I was reading (something about taking back your life, another self-help book I was half-way through and wanted to finish and give away because there were too many of such bo
Tim Dudek
Feb 28, 2010 Tim Dudek rated it it was ok
Having heard great praise for this book from several people I respect I had high hopes. Like many, I found it lacking. Golberg wrote a book not about writing but about using Zen to overcoming self doubt. I am sure this could be quite helpful to many prospective writers. Judging by the many positive reviews this is the case. And to those of you I say, “More power to ya”. I rarely wallow in self doubt of my writing ability. I fail to write not because I am afraid, but because I am lazy and easily ...more
Jan 26, 2008 Angel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers, starting out or veterans. Those interested in Zen
I put it under inspirational, since it does have a lot of that, but this is also the best writing book I have read. I got it on the recommendation of a colleague of mine when I was still teaching high school English. It has inspired me to be a better writer myself. And it is just a good book to read when you need something that is easy and relaxing. Goldberg is very encouraging, inspiring, and gentle with a bit of an erotic element. I am finally adding it now as I am rereading it yet again. True ...more
Daphne Stanford
Jul 07, 2007 Daphne Stanford rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to write!
This book is what got me writing. Absolutely stunning in its simplicity, but also much more deep than one would think upon first glance. Natalie Goldberg is a brilliant teacher who compares writing to many other crafts that necessitate discipline and daily practice, including meditation, friendships/relationships, athletics, and just about everything else.

A (very!) paraphrased/off the TOP of my head quote:

[You may have $2 in the bank account, your children are screaming, your loved one is begg
J.F. Penn
Apr 24, 2013 J.F. Penn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I read this book again every few years. I love it. It takes me back to the fundamentals of writing & gives me pages of notes , thoughts, lines of poetry & my own inspiration and memory. A must for all writers.
Jan 30, 2009 Gina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: librarianish
Great book of non-dork writing prompts.
Cassandra Hawkins Wilder
Jul 14, 2011 Cassandra Hawkins Wilder rated it it was amazing
Yesterday, I finished "Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within," by Natalie Goldberg. I started reading this book years ago. I began this book, when I was attending the University of Mississippi Writing Project Summer Institute. This Summer Institute was designed to teach teachers how to write and teach writing. At that time, I was only a special education teacher with a Master's degree in English, yearning and longing to teach English. Who would have thought that years later I would f ...more
Jan 22, 2015 Zaki rated it liked it
This is an excellent tool to loosening up the writing muscles.
Feb 27, 2013 Jade rated it really liked it
At a time when I was ready to quit writing (yet again), I read Writing Down the Bones and felt revived and excited about writing, something I haven't felt in awhile. Even beyond the helpful advice is the author's energy, the ability to stir up in the reader an excitement for writing because she is excited about it, and it clearly shows. Her words gleam and sing with personality; her writing style is sensitive and down to earth.

While the book heavily emphasizes writing freely in a notebook, I f
Dec 28, 2012 Owen rated it liked it
For me, this book was more about philosophy and spirituality than writing. Natalie Goldberg even admitted she was a hippie, but there is no proof in here that she is an author. I felt that these short essays left something to be desired, and the way she writes about writing itself seems like it could apply to any other activity, such as painting or music. You know, "Write with your soul. Put your whole mind into it." She never discusses anything past jotting something down, so the lack of discus ...more
Apr 28, 2013 Lisa rated it did not like it
I tried to read this book many, many years ago and quit because I didn't get much out of it. There were occasional insights, but not nearly enough meat to keep me going. It is still on all the "must read" lists for writers, so I thought I'd give it another chance. After all, I was a teenager the last time I tried and I didn't have a lot of patience for things I didn't understand.

I should have trusted my teen self.

I was able to hit upon a few nuggets of wisdom, but for the most part, I was readi
Karri Shea
Apr 11, 2011 Karri Shea rated it it was amazing
I took only one book with my on my recent trip to Mexico. It was this one.

I had never cracked it before, but had read reviews along the lines of “every writer should read this,” “changed my life,” etc, that prompted me to buy it a few months ago. I now understand why.

From the first chapter, I was inspired. I don’t know if it’s Natalie’s zen outlook on life, or the way her words move freely on the page, but she’s a master of the craft and within three pages made me want to be a better writer.

Lacey Louwagie
Dec 11, 2010 Lacey Louwagie rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
This is actually the second time I've read "Writing Down the Bones." I wrote a rather scathing review of it the first time around . . . and yet, why did I return?

I was asked to teach a writing class for seniors, and immediately this book came to mind as a potential textbook. Despite the fact that I hadn't liked it much, something about it stuck with me. So I read it again, and decided that yes, I am going to use this as my textbook for the class. But why?

What stuck with me from this book was a g
Jan 27, 2015 Lauren rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2015
Better than good, but not quite great. None of the advice is particularly mind-blowing or something I haven't heard a dozen times before, but it was still useful to hear again. I'd say the biggest draw of the book is the sheer amount of enthusiasm and motivation Goldberg made me feel after reading a few chapters at a time. Would have been helpful to finish this back in november for nanowrimo as I'd originally intended, but better late than never.

*edit* also I wouldn't recommend the edition I hav
Jul 17, 2007 Melanie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers, zen masters, artists
This book is great! Everything about it is great! I especially like that it's four inches high and can fit in your back pocket. Unlike other writing books I've read (incl. "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott) it never gets redundant or dull. You can pick it up and read any section at any time. It has great tips, great little sources of inspiration, and is really fun to read. Can be read virtually anywhere because each section takes approximately two minutes to get through. Also good advice for life. R ...more
May 18, 2013 Julia rated it did not like it
I'm sure this book was trail-blazing when it was originally published in the mid-80s, but a lot of these concepts have been told and retold so many times in the past few decades it was tedious to read again. The author was genuine, and at times very insightful, but annoying. I felt like I went into a time machine and hung out with my kindly stoner art teacher from 3rd grade for a day. There was some value there, but it was work to wade through the self indulgent hippy stories from the 1970s unti ...more
This book is very engaging and should be valuable--to a point. Writing Down the Bones is a collection of short essays about writing, including some general advice, some specific advice, some ideas about the process of writing, and a few exercises. I think that, for me, this book will be most useful in the occasional implementation of the exercises, like "The Action of a Sentence", where the writer takes ten unrelated nouns on the left side of the page, a profession and fifteen connected verbs on ...more
Jul 21, 2014 Rachel rated it liked it
This is another memoir posing as a guide to creative writing. Being a writer requires a healthy ego—writers must believe that other people want to know their opinions. However, when I pick up a book purporting to be a guide to writing, I want to know about being a better writer. The experience of being repeatedly encumbered with personal anecdotes becomes tiresome. To be fair, this book is not as bad as many—but I learned more about the author’s fascination with Buddhism than I ever wanted to kn ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Brittanie rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much.

I am not a fan of books about writing or creativity, but this had been on my shelf for many years. When another writer mentioned Goldberg's Six Rules for Writing Practice, I decided to finally bite the bullet and pick it up. I am so glad I did. Had I known Goldberg was a Zen Buddhist, and that her meditation practice informs her life as a writer, I wouldn't have waited to long to read this. Goldberg operates from the point of view that we all have something important t
Kris Patrick
The chapter, Make Statements and Answer Questions, is a life changer for me. I will be ordering a personal copy next time I need to hit $35 for free shipping on Amazon.
Paula Cappa
Apr 28, 2016 Paula Cappa rated it really liked it
This is an intimate approach to the journey of writing. Goldberg is a writing teacher and a practitioner of Japanese Zen. Goldberg believes that learning to write–that’s the course ahead–hinges greatly on “first thoughts.” These first thoughts have tremendous energy and are unencumbered by the ego. I actually like this path because it probably does free up the writer to let go of all the controls that might deter or stagnate a good story. Of course Goldberg says to trust the mind and body and cr ...more
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The Dinner Scene 3 64 Jan 23, 2012 07:31PM  
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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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“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” 545 likes
“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, "It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home." Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.” 137 likes
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